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Biden Head for the Exit

The President, after a half-year honeymoon with high public opinion support, dropped under water in mid-summer and has been holding his breath ever since. A couple of self-inflicted wounds helped put him there: mistakenly heralding the end of the pandemic just before the Delta and then Omicron variants took hold, and the chaotic and catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He hopes to turn things around in coming months. To be fair, he should get credit for the most robust economic recovery in the history of economic statistics, but since that recovery has helped to fuel the highest inflation since the 1980s, he takes the blame for the inflation while people forget about the recovery. 

While he had approval ratings in the 50s before summer 2021, people were still forming their impressions of him then. Since then, the self-inflicted wounds noted above have consolidated negative impressions.

And he should get credit for skillfully playing a weak hand in the Russia-Ukraine confrontation: the Russians are operating with massive military forces right on their border, while the US and NATO cannot possibly muster equivalent force in that location to head off a Russian attack. Yet it could turn out that the Russians don’t attack, either because Putin was bluffing all along, or be cause the threatened sanctions would cost Russia more than the possible benefits of an invasion. Yet people are mostly not that interested in foreign affairs, and are unlikely to appreciate subtle diplomacy as much as successful use of force. Thus in a recent poll done by Morning Consult for Politico, while half of respondents approved of how Biden is handling the crisis, to 42% who disapproved, those who strongly disapproved outnumbered those who strongly approved by nearly two to one (17% strongly approve, 31% strongly disapprove).

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There is reason to think that Biden will have a hard time moving his ratings in a positive direction. While he had approval ratings in the 50s before summer 2021, people were still forming their impressions of him then. Since then, the self-inflicted wounds noted above have consolidated negative impressions.

Moreover, in today’s hyper-polarized political environment, people generally form opinions on particular issues to conform to their general partisan loyalty. Both Trump and Biden have approval ratings in the low 40s, and the pattern is durable. That’s where Trump was through most of his presidential term, and still is. And Biden has been right there since August of last year. No matter what Biden may do, he’s unlikely to get much higher approval than he has now.

We are a closely divided country in which each party can command 42%, more or less, of the electorate, and will fight over the remaining swing voters. The Democrats should have a small advantage here because fewer of their candidates and office-holders are ideologically extreme. The right wing has complete hegemony in the GOP and can control primaries to nominate right-wingers even where moderate candidates would likely do better in the general election in November. In contrast, moderates control the Democratic party except in very liberal areas like Massachusetts. So they are more likely to nominate moderates, except in places like Massachusetts. Thus: advantage Democrats.

impeachment unavoidable

But Biden is a dead weight, for the reasons cited. When he was elected, few expected, at his age, that he would seek reelection. When he nonetheless declared that he would run, it might have been to avoid becoming a lame duck. Now, though, his enduring unpopularity is weighing his party down. He should make way for younger and fresher leadership, now.

John Peeler