President Joe Biden has suffered falling approval numbers since August 2021, but Ukraine could be his turning point. Unable to quite figure out the old saying “never let a good crisis go to waste,” the commander-in-chief failed to eke out a win with his response to the continuing pandemic, an economy in shambles, and even the early days of the Russian invasion. But now that things are rolling, can he finally capitalize on the crisis? Will Ukraine finally save Biden’s brand?
Leading From Behind
As Liberty Nation Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner pointed out, Biden’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – as his answer to most issues throughout his presidency – was effectively “can’t do much right now.” He passed the blame, shirking responsibility and offering no real solutions.
But then others began to act, and the risk of doing nothing became greater than doing the wrong thing. He claimed the price of gas in America is all Vladimir Putin’s fault – forget about the actual price trends, which paint a different story – and there wasn’t much to be done about it, well, until there was. He signed his executive action banning Russian energy imports, after the House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan bill to do precisely that; legislation which sailed through by a remarkable 414 to 17.
Biden “led the way” with crippling economic sanctions against Russia, after much of NATO agreed to act as well, and still these measures don’t go into effect until June. He can boast of all the money he’s sending Ukraine – thanks to Congress’ effort to work it into the annual spending package.
The president approved $200 million worth of weapons and equipment to be rushed to Ukraine, but not until after Poland offered to give the beleaguered nation its entire supply of MiG-29 fighter jets and asked the US to use an American base to transfer the planes. The request was denied, of course, but not long after Poland went public with the offer, approval came down from on high for the American ground equipment.
Biden has the opportunity to present himself as a leader now, even if he’s leading from behind, which, as Donner explained, means “saying you are in charge while hiding behind nations you should be leading.”
Paying the Problem Away
In the 2022 annual funding omnibus, Congress approved – and, therefore, Biden can claim credit for – $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine, specifically in response to the Russian invasion. Earlier, on Feb. 28, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the administration’s “response” to that point:
“Last fall, as the present threat against Ukraine from Russia developed, under authority delegated by the President, I authorized the Department of Defense to provide $60 million in immediate military assistance to Ukraine. In December, as that threat materialized, I authorized a further drawdown worth $200 million. Today, as Ukraine fights with courage and pride against Russia’s brutal and unprovoked assault, I have authorized, pursuant to a delegation by the President, an unprecedented third Presidential Drawdown of up to $350 million for immediate support to Ukraine’s defense. This brings the total security assistance the United States has committed to Ukraine over the past year to more than $1 billion.”
Then there’s the additional $200 million in weapons and equipment, announced March 12, and almost certainly more American tax dollars will make their way to Ukraine as the war continues. It’s easy to give freely to help out a friend when it’s only money, especially coming out of someone else’s pockets, but all that additional funding is an excellent opportunity to say, “Look at me. I have our friend’s back – right in the trenches with ‘im!” From a man who claimed numerous times to have been arrested for marching for civil rights, this chance should be glaringly obvious.
No matter how well – or poorly – the president manages to capitalize on the crisis, the friendly media are already doing their part to hype him as the man leading the charge. Little is being reported right now about that scuttled Polish jet deal; most of the coverage is either in defense of the call not to go through with it – it could, after all, be seen as American interference by Russia – or highlighting how the weapons and ground equipment en route are so much better than Polish MiGs.
NBC even took a page from Biden’s book and lobbed attacks at the 45th president with the headline: “Ukraine dents ‘America First’ thinking deep in the heart of Trump country.” In the same vein is Politico’s “Trump’s shadow lurks over Biden’s support for Ukraine.” Then there’s general positive messaging, like these from The New York Times: “Ukraine War Ushers in ‘New Era’ for Biden and US Abroad” and “Don’t Blame Biden for US Gasoline Prices.”
What can Ukraine do for Biden? Americans are outraged, and if the president and his allies in the press play their cards right, the US response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can perhaps do for Biden what 9/11 did for George W. Bush. But even if it does, it likely won’t have a long-term benefit.
In February 2001, W. enjoyed a 57% approval rating, according to Gallup, and he remained in that vicinity through the Sept. 10 poll. Then terrorists attacked the homeland on Sept. 11. By Sept. 15, his approval had shot up to 86%. It pushed even higher, into the 90s, but dropped again by March 2002, returning to the low 60s by year’s end and high 50s shortly after.
Then the war with Iraq began in March 2003. General approval spiked to 71% almost immediately. This time, however, the peak was neither as high nor as broad. By May he was back in the low 60s. Things went, for the most part, downhill from there. Month after month, Bush’s general approval rating fell until it wallowed in the high 20s/low 30s for his final year in office.
Bush 43 began his presidency in a slightly better position than Biden – judging by general approval ratings – and he held those numbers until the attack on American soil got the patriotic blood flowing and served as his unifying disaster. But neither polling boost lasted, and the president ended up worse off than he was to begin with.
History shows us a tragedy can lead to an immediate spike in public approval, but Biden hasn’t seen it yet. His general approval-disapproval, according to Rasmussen Reports, sits at 40%-58%, with only 20% strongly approving compared to 50% strongly disapproving. If there’s improvement to be made, he has a much deeper hole to dig out of – and a much longer drop if he falls back.
~ Read more from James Fite.