So much for Bidenomics

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 36

  • Biden’s numbers are every bit as bad as you thought
  • Trump may have talked Blake Masters out of a repeat Senate run
  • New Mexico governor could be creating future  trouble for her party

President 2024

Biden Despair: With most attention on the Republican primary so far and the dominance there of Donald Trump, it is easy perhaps to forget that Democrats have their own problems. The second anniversary of the Afghanistan withdrawal evokes the moment when Joe Biden lost the public’s confidence and saw his approval ratings plunge. They have not recovered since.

A new CNN survey dropped last week, highlighting just how poorly Biden is doing. The top line is stark all on its own: he trails or ties every Republican challenger except political newcome3r Viivek Ramaswamy, whom he leads by just one point. 

Trump leads Biden by one point, 47 to 46 percent. Mike Pence and Tim Scott each lead him by two, and Ron DeSantis ties him. All of the results are within the margin of error, except that of Nikki Haley, who leads Biden 49 to 43 percent. 

All of these results are terrible for an incumbent president. As a rule, incumbent presidents are very likely to lose if they are tied or trailing.

Meanwhile, 46 percent of registered voters say that any Republican is better than Biden. This is even worse than the 44 percent who say that any Democrat is better than Trump.

As a side note, the entire recent “Bidenomics” talking point by the White House has fallen flat, as we expected. Currently, 58 percent of registered voters believe that BIden’s policies “have made economic conditions in the U.S. worse,” up eight points since this time last year. The current share who believe things are going “very or fairly well” in the country today remains close to its post-pandemic low point at 30 percent. The share who believe they are going “very or pretty badly” is 70 percent.

Also, despite a media campaign to deny and downplay the issue, Hunter Biden’s problems are starting to show up as a concern of a majority of voters. Fully 61 percent now believe that Biden “did have some involvement in Hunter Biden’s business dealings,” including majorities of all ages and racial groups, but not of self-identified Democrats. And of those people, 98 percent believe that Biden’s conduct was either illegal (69 percent of them) or unethical (29 percent of them).

Fifty-five percent believe that Biden has acted “inappropriately” with respect to the investigation of his son on tax, perjury, and money-laundering charges.Tellingly, non-white voters are almost evenly split on this question (52 to 47 percent, slightly tilted toward “appropriately”).

Biden Hope? One bright spot for Biden is that an overwhelming majority (61 percent) believe he was legitimately elected. The whole “stolen election” plotline will not be a winner if Trump becomes the nominee and starts pushing it.

That one aside, there is a more serious danger for Republicans that Biden’s current softness is only temporary. The theory behind this is that he is suffering because reliably Democratic voters — younger and more liberal Democrats in particular — are down on him temporarily but will come home by election time. Some of the poll’s results are supportive of this notion. For example, 67 percent of Democrats believe their party should nominate someone else besides Biden. That number has risen by an astounding 21 points since March — a stinging rebuke of a candidate cruising to an easy renomination. 

But if Democrats can eventually get over their lack of enthusiasm, hold their noses, and vote for Biden in order to avoid a second Trump term, they might just come home in time for his numbers to recover and save his presidency.

Even so, there is a strong case that Biden is on a trajectory to lose re-election. He lags behind where successful incumbent presidents seeking re-election (Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama) have stood at this point in their respective terms. His favorable rating, at a pathetic 35 percent, matches Trump’s. His job approval rating is only 39 percent, his worst since taking office, at least according to CNN’s polling. 

Governor 2024

Washington: To no one’s surprise, Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) has announced for governor. He instantly received the endorsement of incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who has spent three terms shaping his state (with mixed results) as a West Coast liberal utopia less dysfunctional than California. 

At this point, Republicans are most likely to nominate moderate former Rep. Dave Reichert, a former sheriff who represented a suburban Seattle-area district for seven terms.

Senate 2024

Arizona: Trump may have talked Blake Masters (R) out of running for Senate. Or perhaps he just wasn’t as determined to do it as people thought.

Trump called Masters, the unsuccessful 2022 Senate nominee, last weekend. The former president excoriated him for failing to fight as hard as Kari Lake (another potential Senate candidate for 2024) to overturn his election loss, even though it was much larger than her loss for governor that year. 

Delaware: Businessman Bill Taylor (R) became the first Republican in the race to replace retiring Sen. Tom Carper (D). The overwhelming favorite to win both the Democratic primary and the general election is U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D). 

Michigan: Former Lansing-area Rep. Mike Rogers (R) just announced and is now officially in the race to replace retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). This puts one serious and prominent Republican into the race. Anti-Trump former Rep. Pete Meijer (R) has created an exploratory committee, and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R) is expected to decide by the end of the month.

Democrats are considered very likely to nominate Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D).

West Virginia: The New York Times observed last week that Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is the “last pivoctal Democratic senator who has not yet said whether he will seek re-election.” Trailing his Republican opponents in most polls, Manchin has repeatedly teased a third-party presidential run under the “No Labels” banner.

The Times also quoted nameless “allies” of his speculating that Manchin would be tempted to quit the Senate if he were given a chance to replace West Virginia University’s 80-year-old president, to help the school overcome its current fiscal crisis. 

Governor 2026

New Mexico: “No constitutional right, in my view, including my oath [of office], is intended to be absolute.” With these words, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) defended her declaration of a 30-day ban on bearing arms in her state on the pretext of a “health emergency.”

Lujan Grisham’s proclamation is the clearest example in decades of a prominent politician poking the Second Amendment bear, and she’s poking it right in the eyes. There could be serious consequences for the state’s Democrats in coming years. Considering the nature of New Mexico as a Democratic but sometimes swingy state with a substantial rural population and high rates of gun ownership, her action rises almost to the level of “courageous” in the “Yes, Minister” sense — as in, an act that can cost you the next election. It’s worth putting a pin in this one for later. 

Texas: The state Senate is now hearing the impeachment case of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Although his allies are framing this up as a case of political persecution, the evidence of Paxton’s ethical misbehavior is substantial.

It is likely at this point that Paxton will be found guilty. Here is the (admittedly political and not legal) reasoning for this supposition: State Senate Republicans could have dismissed this impeachment based on the “prior term” doctrine, which holds that an official cannot be removed for conduct that took place before voters knowingly re-elected him. They chose not to do so, even though this procedure would have given them the politically smoothest path to leaving Paxton in office without suffering political consequences.

Their decision not to take this easy off-ramp, then, makes it seem far less likely that they will go through the circus of a removal trial and then vote to acquit — or so argue some people who understand Texas politics well.

Paxton’s removal would obviously be damaging to his future ambitions, although they may already be irreparably damaged.