Democratic discontent with President Joe Biden is boiling in the press. His turnout is low, his age is visible, and Democrats face a possible wipeout in the midterm elections in November. Democrats are taking their complaints, mostly off the record, to journalists.
The Washington Post recently reported, “For many increasingly frustrated Democrats, Biden’s slow response to abortion was the latest example of a failure to meet the moment on a wave of conservative rollbacks.” Democratic commentator Ed Kilgore predicted that “if things went as badly for the Democrats on November 8, many in the party would be quiet and not quietly urging the 46th president to retire at the end of his term.” “
The bad news for Democrats is that Biden is too old and voters may have concluded that he is not ready for the job. The worse news is that they get into even more trouble.
His victory in the 2020 Democratic nomination contest was a sign of the party’s weakness. Everyone knew the risks of choosing a gaffe-prone septuagenarian. But the presidency of Barack Obama had left the Democratic bench thin. Other candidates who seemed capable of winning the primaries, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, looked like risky bets for November’s election. Even today, it remains unclear how Democrats can nominate someone stronger than Biden in 2024. Vice President Kamala Harris recorded even less approval in the polls.
Inflation is eating up Democrats just as it is on purchasing power. Would it have been less if one of Biden’s 2020 Democratic rivals had won? It is more plausible that the massive government spending initiative backed by Sanders would have exacerbated this. Biden began his presidency with the idea that he needed to spend to avoid Obama’s perceived error of providing too little fiscal stimulus to the economy. In retrospect, that decision was wrong. At the time, however, it was held by most Democrats.
Biden has always been close to the center of his party. So it is no surprise that the fundamental political mistakes of his presidency have been party-wide. Expectations of liberal policy gains rose sharply after January 2021, when Democrats regained control of the Senate by the narrowest possible margin. Biden and his team did little to manage those expectations, but they didn’t make them in the first place — and there were more Democrats urging courage than realism.
Democrats in general, not just Biden, wrongly assumed that accusing Republicans of supporting a new version of Jim Crow would pressure them to accept Democrats’ views about the election law. Some voices in the party warned Democrats in the White House and Congress that there is no point in spending months trying to implement a grab bag of spending proposals without any marketable justification.
The liberal disappointment in Biden over abortion is particularly misplaced. Maybe the administration should have prepared its executive order for the day the Supreme Court struck down the 1973 abortion-rights precedent instead of waiting two weeks. But any order would have been overwhelming: Roe v. There is almost nothing the president can do on his own to replicate the broad authority established by Wade. With Congress’s narrow majority, there is little he can do about it. That’s why progressive people are so adamant about crying.
Democrats will almost certainly be in better political shape on the issue, and will be able to defend native abortion if they control their position. They could push for legislation with the support of every senator who supports Roe, for example, rather than try to do more. However, this is not a Biden-specific problem. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is no more willing than the president to break up with abortion extremists.
A recent gaffe by First Lady Jill Biden offers an illustration in miniature of the party’s current plight. She ventured into guacamole by saying that Hispanic breakfasts are as diverse as tacos. He is at the White House. But it perhaps hurts Democrats all the more that it has embraced the quirky linguistic fetish of a narrow working class by associating with the “Latinx Inclusion Luncheon” in the first place.
The Washington Post’s liberal columnist, Dana Milbanks, is defending Biden from progressives’ sarcasm. The president is saying and doing almost everything he wants them to say and do, Milbanks explains, without noticing that it’s probably gone wrong. Democrats, they say, should train their fire on the real culprits: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and a “broken political system” that will not yield the results of contemporary progressives.
The truth is that Biden is a problem for Democrats. But they are a big problem for him.