This One Basic Mistake Is Blowing Up Biden’s Presidency

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  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

Yogi Berra was right. “It gets late early out here.” Just nine months into his presidency, Joe Biden’s support is collapsing.

This isn’t just me saying so, although I’ve been warning about it for months. According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, Biden’s approval rating is just 42 percent, with 50 percent of Americans ​​disapproving of how he’s handling his job. Amazingly, that’s good news compared with the Quinnipiac poll, which shows his approval rating at just 38 percent. It should come as no surprise, especially when you consider the policies that have dominated the headlines these last few months. When it comes to his job as commander in chief of the U.S. military (perhaps best demonstrated by the Afghanistan debacle), just 37 percent approve of how he handled it, while 58 percent disapprove. Or take the crisis at the Mexican border, where 23 percent approve and 67 percent disapprove.

Sagging approval numbers aside, Biden is running neck and neck with Trump when it comes to one group of voters. As The Washington Post’s Henry Olsen points out, among independents, “Biden is about as unpopular as Trump was at this stage in his presidency.”

It Took Biden 48 Years to Be President and 8 Months To Fuck It Up

Speaking of Donald Trump, I’ve continued to emphasize that Biden’s only real mandate was to not be Trump. This meant a return to normalcy. This meant calming things down, bringing people together, and creating a more tranquil nation. This meant being more honest and empathetic. This meant being competent. Unfortunately, none of those things materialized, which helps explain why his polling with independents mirrors Trump’s. When Quinnipiac looks at Biden’s personal traits, only 49 percent say he “cares about average Americans.” Just 44 percent say he’s honest, and a mere 41 percent say he has good leadership skills.

Some of this is normal and to be expected. Presidents always have a tendency to over-interpret their mandate. And presidents are generally rebuked during their first midterm election. Following Trump, Biden—billed as a highly experienced politician who also was a centrist—was supposed to avoid this trap.

All he had to do was keep the implicit promises his campaign made to voters. Remember, Biden won the 2020 election by making inroads with traditionally center-right constituencies—as opposed to winning by juicing traditionally Democratic constituencies. Based on that knowledge, you would think he would attempt to govern in a manner that would keep this coalition on board. Instead, he made a huge mistake and decided to bet big on progressivism—he was lured by the hope of being the next FDR or LBJ but also plagued with a razor-thin majority.

Rather than trying to ease into the job, Biden signed a bunch of executive orders, some of which likely exacerbated the looming border crisis. He also pushed through big spending policies, while ignoring warnings about inflation. Rather than trying to bring conservatives into the fold, he pursued pro-abortion policies. Rather than working with Republicans to pass COVID relief out of the gate, he steamrolled them. Later, when a group of Republicans worked across the aisle on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, he sandbagged them, announcing that the bill would be linked with a $3.5 trillion social spending bill that would pass on a party-line vote.

Biden Misread His Moderate Mandate, and Missed His Moment

He also prevaricated and misled us about multiple things, ranging from independence from COVID-19 to thinking the Taliban wouldn’t take over Kabul to telling us that “over the horizon” technology could prevent terrorism from abroad. He said the border crisis was “cyclical” and inflation was just “transitory.” Rather than restore norms, he insisted that everything he wanted to do was “infrastructure,” and pretty much everything Republicans wanted to do was forced under the rubric of “Jim Crow 2.0.” His administration talked about “people” being evacuated from Afghanistan, without noting that a small percentage of these people were U.S. citizens or special immigrant visa (SIV) holders. His poll numbers reflect both his failed policies and the lack of trust he has engendered.

Not only is this bad news for Biden, but it also spells trouble for next year’s midterm elections (not to mention the neck-and-neck gubernatorial election in Virginia in a few weeks). Here’s where bad news can have a cascading effect. If Republican Glenn Youngkin defeats Democrat Terry McAuliffe, that shockwave would reverberate across America, and it would warn Congressional Democrats to distance themselves from Biden and his agenda. That, in turn, would stall whatever hopes Biden and the Democrats might have of accomplishing additional agenda items in the next year.

Another problem for Biden is that his bad numbers are more likely to evoke a “circle the drain” mentality than to force him to come to the center, the way Bill Clinton did after the midterm drubbing of 1994. The conventional wisdom of the day suggests that base turnout is the key to political success. Because Biden lacks the kind of cult following that his two predecessors enjoyed, the first step toward recovery would entail firming up his base support. Think of how this might affect the way he handles, say, immigration. What I’m suggesting is that Biden’s first step toward boosting his numbers would likely involve further alienating the kinds of centrist or independent (or, in some cases, disaffected Republican) voters who made him president to begin with.

So where does that leave Biden? Not in a good place. Bad things happen in a fallen world, and presidents can’t fairly be blamed for all of it. Biden shouldn’t be blamed, for example, for the Delta variant. Likewise, presidents always get more credit for a good economy than they deserve and more blame for a bad one. Biden inherited a violent crime rate that was on the upswing, and even though we can argue about whether his policies and rhetoric have exacerbated that, you cannot blame him for it.

With that caveat, though, Biden’s horrible poll numbers are not an accident. They are the product of a president who misread his mandate, ignored the fundamental reasons voters trusted him with this office, and chose to pursue a more ideologically left-wing agenda than his campaign suggested he would. He also invited problems (such as withdrawing from Afghanistan and ignoring advice to leave a residual troop presence), and then he lied about them.

Biden’s campaign promise was to be a competent uniter who calmed things down. And while it isn’t over till the fat lady sings, he has so far failed miserably.

His failure is made all the more perplexing and troubling by his experience and presumed preparedness for this role. Americans, for now at least, are not happy with Biden or the direction he has taken this country. And that’s not our fault. It’s his.

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