Every way President Joe Biden turns, he is beset by difficulties. Whether it is the 40-year high inflation at 7.5%, his fellow Democrat governors plotting a divergent course on COVID restrictions, or even just poor polling, the commander-in-chief appears out of luck and on the brink.
Is there a way back for the president, and can it be achieved before the all-important 2022 congressional elections?
When the numbers for inflation were released yesterday, Feb. 10, the wait-and-see game that has been playing out in Washington, D.C. came to an end. For months, Biden’s experts have tried to assure the American public that the inflation rate – and with it, the rising cost of goods – would be at most transitory, and was of no great cause for concern. As part of a media effort to bolster the president, some news outlets even pitched the idea that inflation was helpful to the overall economy. But the sharp rise from December to January has finally hit home, and the administration is out of answers.
The president sat down with NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview that will air later this week. In a teaser released by the network, Holt asked what Biden’s definition of “temporary” might be, considering he had declared inflation temporary in July 2021. “Well, you’re being a wise guy with me a little bit,” Biden began, not without an element of humor in his voice. He said that according to 14 “Nobel laureates” who he says had contacted him, “it ought to be able to taper off as we go through this year.”
The problem for Biden’s fellow Democrats is that they are campaigning now … not at some unspecified time further down the line. With an estimated inflation hit of $250 per month from gas, energy, food, and housing for each voter, campaigning on any economic issue will become almost impossible.
For his own part, the president has continued the drumbeat of passing his Build Back Better legislation as the roadmap out of price inflation, a message that appears to be falling flat with his political allies.
As Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) put it:
“As inflation and our $30 trillion in national debt continue a historic climb, only in Washington, D.C. do people seem to think that spending trillions more of taxpayers’ money will cure our problems, let alone inflation.”
Driving Away Candidates
Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, once again on the campaign trail, spoke with reporters Feb. 10, regarding his run for governor of Texas. He was quick to highlight that his campaign “is not going to be about Joe Biden,” signifying that the president could be more a hindrance than a help.
In Georgia, gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams bluntly noted that she had a “scheduling conflict” when the president visited Atlanta to speak specifically on Ms. Abrams’ key campaign platform: voting rights. That she would not – or could not – take the time to make a joint appearance suggests that Joe Biden is a political albatross for those hoping to take office later this year.
But it is not only newcomers who seem to be abandoning the good ship Biden. At least 29 House Democrats will not be seeking to retain their seats come November, eight of whom are looking to win another position. With a razor-thin House majority, the name recognition of an incumbent representative is political gold, and yet, the lack of confidence displayed by these retirements hands the Republicans a golden opportunity to seize the lower chamber. In contrast, only six GOP representatives have announced retirement from office ahead of the upcoming elections.
A Lifeline from the Past?
Recent polling for the president has not only showcased how the American public feels about his present course of action but also that he is not the candidate people want in the next presidential election. In late January, an Associated Press/NORC poll showed that 48% of Democrat voters would support President Biden for a 2024 election run; overall, just 28% of Americans backed his re-election. These numbers suggest that the all-important independent voters are far from enamored with the incumbent.
And the media seems to agree.
CNN, The Hill, and other formerly Biden-friendly outlets have each run articles listing candidates who could vie for the top spot should Biden not be in a position to run. Making most of the lists are Vice President Kamala Harris, Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but notably absent is the name Hillary Clinton.
Clinton has never been shy in her political ambition, and many pundits are beginning to speculate that she is ready to try for the top spot once more. Clinton allies report that the unsuccessful 2016 candidate is expected to speak at next week’s New York State Democratic Party Convention. Although she has publicly stated that she would not seek high office again after her defeat by President Donald Trump, such announcements have a way of being more a springboard than a closed door.
President Biden has become a problem for the Democrats. If he can’t muster support from voting Americans or his own party, prospects appear dismal for both 2022 and 2024. Should the congressional elections in November be as devastating as pollsters predict, the choice to run again may not be his to make.
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.