Biden’s real problem? No mandate

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 29

  • Don’t blame Manchin for Biden’s failures
  • Democrats openly skeptical of Biden re-elect
  • Kentucky, Iowa state Republican Parties reach registration milestones


Joe Manchin’s Washington? We remarked after the election of 2020 that the most powerful Joe in Washington would be Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, the one remaining moderate out of 50 Senate Democrats. Whatever they are trying to do, their caucus can only find the votes for it if Manchin will go along. Right now, Democrats are furious that he is once again preventing them from passing a sweeping reconciliation package that includes huge amounts of new social spending, and global warming-related changes, among other things.

But don’t blame Young Joe (Manchin is actually only five years younger than Biden at age 74) for Old Joe’s failures.

Joe Biden’s biggest problem is not Joe Manchin, but his own failure to accept his limitations. Biden came to office with no ideological mandate. This was painfully obvious when he won. Yet he seems determined to satisfy the lust of his party’s far left for sweeping changes that he simply never had the backing to deliver.

Biden was very narrowly elected president in 2020. His victory hinged on a combined 45,000-vote margin in a handful of key states. As he was squeaking out that victory, his party saw its House majority shrink to just nine seats. Democrats underperformed in Senate elections, coming away with just 50 seats. Even that was only because of Georgia’s peculiar election laws. To round it out, Democrats also lost two state legislative chambers and a governorship in that race.

In short, there was clearly no desire on the public’s part to have Democrats take over and make big changes. Yes, a lot of voters were weary of Trump and wanted to return to something more normal. They wanted the guy who had run as a moderate Democrat to step in and administer the government for four years. 

They did not want the French Revolution. 

And if Biden lacked a mandate at the moment of his presidential honeymoon, he certainly lacks one now. Biden is currently the most unpopular president in the history of polling at this point in any presidency. He has fallen below Trump’s popularity level just this summer. He has long been underperforming Barack Obama, whose party was on its way to a disaster at this point in July 2010. It took George W. Bush more than five years and hurricane Katrina to foul up his own numbers this badly.

The point is that no one is clamoring to have Joe Biden get what he wants. There’s no benefit to it, because voters dislike the man so strongly, and there is nothing in the policies he wants to enact that will change this. At this point, he is just trying to get something through before he inevitably loses Congress, and the desperation is a bad look. 

Why should someone like Manchin put his neck on the line to support a president who is going to be a dead weight for his party this fall?

Democrats 2024 Presidential: As if to underscore Biden’s inefficacy and unpopularity, the big talk this past week has been that even Democrats are beginning to abandon Biden. They are speaking ever-more publicly about their desire to replace him on the presidential ticket in 2024. This is a very dangerous conversation to have in July of the midterm. A party that cannot even keep up a facade of unity through the midterm election is in very bad shape for the following presidential year.

Meanwhile, the Democrats’ 2024 bench is not especially promising.

Were Biden not to run, whom could they pick from? Vice President Kamala Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom clearly have ambitions and are showing them, but they do not seem like inspired choices. Harris is already almost as unpopular as Biden, and if the 2020 campaign is any indication, people like her less the more they see of her. Newsom’s state alone probably makes him too easy to beat.

So do you end up going with a cabinet secretary, like Pete Buttigieg? Or do you look for someone who’s won an election in a place bigger than South Bend, Indiana?

There is sure to be at least one socialist candidate in the mix — maybe Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — but Democrats already showed in 2020 that they are still a bit too savvy to go there when they abandoned Bernie Sanders. And so, at least on paper, probably the best they are going to do is to choose a governor in a relatively successful state. Their failure to win a couple of key governorships in 2018 — specifically Florida, Georgia, and Ohio — limits their options. Some of their governors also won’t be around to run, as they have a good chance of losing this year. 

This leaves two very conventional options, both of whom currently appear to be on glide-paths to re-election: Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis and Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. So for now, those are probably the ones to watch.

Middle East trip: If the goal was to get more oil produced for Americans’ use, then Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia was clearly a big waste of time. Then again, the idea was probably just to get him to prostrate himself before the Saudi royals just by making the trip. Between liberals upset to count the Saudis as an ally at all, and conservatives upset that Biden isn’t increasing domestic production, it only highlighted his problems.

President Biden has now been forced to kowtow to and placate the ruler whom, while campaigning, he had previously accused of personally committing an assassination. As Jimmy Carter learned the hard way, sometimes you have to tolerate unpleasant allies in order to deal with the real bad guys — in his era, the Soviets, in this one, Russia and especially China. 

President Trump received a lot of grief for trying to keep his disagreements with the Saudis behind closed doors, but that’s really the better way of handling disputes among friends. Biden, as the president during what could be called the era of virtue-signaling and leading the party of virtue-signaling, has his work cut out for him in foreign policy.

Governor 2023

Kentucky: it has been a long slog, but there is a new victory that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s state political machine can finally claim. As of last month, there are now more registered Republican voters in Kentucky than Democrats

We have been watching this climb carefully for a decade now. Although Republicans have failed to establish one party rule, they have long been a majority in all but name. In 2015, they had the milestone of having more Republicans vote in the statewide party primary than Democrats. This caps off a long-term transformation from Blue to Red. 

As recently as 1995, there were more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans. In the time since, Republicans have more than doubled their numbers, adding about 900,000 registered voters to their ranks, whereas Democrats have added only about 250,000.  

Senate 2022

Iowa: In case you were wondering, Sen. Chuck Grassley has a respectable eight-point lead over his Democratic opponent, Mike Franken, in the latest Iowa Poll. This led the Des Moines Register to state that this “could be Grassley’s most competitive election since 1980.” 

It is also slightly concerning that his advantage is much smaller than that of Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is seeking re-election. She leads her opponent by 17 points in the same poll, up from just eight points in March.

Grassley probably has little to worry about, given the overall political climate this year. This is a good year to run for reelection when you’re 88 years old, so long as you’re a Republican.

Speaking of which, Iowa Republicans, who most recently overtook Democrats as the largest party in registered voters in 2012, have also just overtaken the number of registered unaffiliated voters.

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