By Howard Kurtz
It’s almost like someone flipped a switch and the press suddenly discovered that Joe Biden is unpopular.
Or perhaps it’s that Democrats are increasingly nervous about the fate of the Biden presidency.
But the previous conventional wisdom—that Biden had simply hit a rough patch—is being replaced by a more anguished debate.
Each poll has been dutifully reported, each setback adequately chronicled. But there was no sense of critical mass, as with yesterday’s Politico headline:
“‘The President’s Decline is Alarming’: Biden Trapped in Coronavirus Malaise.”
Now I always hasten to add that polls are a snapshot and politics can be ephemeral. It would make no more sense to write off Biden than it did when he got trounced in Iowa and New Hampshire (and there was a flood of political obits).
Biden’s problem is larger than the press, but his unusually low media profile isn’t helping him. He grants few interviews, takes questions a couple of times a week, and seems uninterested in driving a consistent media message. So the story becomes about vaccine mandate battles or Hill gridlock or Haitian migrants, with Biden and his team playing catchup or, worse, looking like bystanders.
Biden doesn’t need to talk to reporters four times a day, as Donald Trump often did. But while sticking to mostly scripted events worked fine in the campaign and when things were going well, it’s a strategy that is ill-suited to turbulent times.
After nearly nine months in office, Biden is starting to own the lack of results as well as the blunders, such as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. He looks like he can’t control his own party as progressive and moderate Democrats fight about trillion-dollar spending bills, when most of the country isn’t sure what’s in that legislation.
At a presser yesterday, a reporter asked Nancy Pelosi: “Could you do a better job of messaging?”
“I think you all could do a better job of selling this,” Pelosi replied.
Madame Speaker, it’s not our job to sell your complicated legislation. We do tell people about the provisions on climate change and Medicare and child tax credits—which poll well individually—but that’s overwhelmed by mind-numbing process stuff like reconciliation.
If Biden had taken the win on the infrastructure bill—rather than bowing to the Bernie wing by tying it to a gargantuan measure that is way too costly to pass—his fortunes would be looking different now.
And of course, it’s not a surprise that Biden’s plunging numbers pretty closely track the Delta variant surge, which thankfully is starting to decline.
Politico reports that nine members of a Pennsylvania focus group gave Biden grades of C- or lower, and kept circling back to Covid.
Biden supporter Sarah Longwell, who had been a Republican strategist, uses the word “malaise”: “People don’t feel like their lives have been improved. They did sort of feel that promises aren’t being kept.”
Veteran Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg says “the president’s decline is alarming. It’s serious. But it also can be reversed.”
In National Review, Deroy Murdoch says the Republicans are being too nice to the president by saying things like “Biden’s not in control. He has no idea what’s going on. Biden doesn’t know what day it is.”
That’s “nonsense,” says the Fox News contributor: “This is Joe Biden’s White House, and he calls the shots — or at least goes along with what happens there and across the executive branch that he oversees.”
That’s true—and ripping Biden’s policies makes more sense for the GOP than denigrating his mental acuity or pretending that someone else is pulling the strings.
How worried are Biden backers? Michael Gerson, the Bush White House staffer turned Washington Post columnist, says that total GOP control of the government “in the hands of a reelected, empowered Donald Trump in 2025” is now “the likely outcome.” For Gerson, a NeverTrumper, that is a “nightmare prospect.”
That seems like a pretty pessimistic take for an election more than three years away. But it suggests that Biden has to dig his way out of a deep hole just to regain the confidence of his supporters.