Jack Shafer: Biden May Be Cratering at Just the Right Time

From a Jack Shafer Fourth Estate column for politico.com headlined “Why You Can Count on a Biden Bounce”:

Prepare yourself for the Biden comeback.

We’ve already seen the weeks and weeks of coverage marking the end of his presidency, capstoned by his twin failures to navigate his multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better bill past Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and get his voting bill passed.

Here’s another way to see it: He may be cratering at just the right time.

This isn’t to suggest that Biden is about to become so popular that they’re going to break ground for his presidential memorial next week. But there’s most of a year before the 2022 elections, and nearly three years before Americans vote for president again — and two big things have sorted themselves out over the last couple of weeks that could play to the president’s political advantage over the long haul.

First, now that the vast progressive legislative agenda that he adopted — an agenda that was really not very popular — has been flushed to the Blue Plains Treatment Plant on the Potomac River, he can return to the smaller-gauge policies that made him popular in the first place. There’s still legislative time to break out smaller, more executable chunks of the BBB bill for passage — including stuff that Manchin will support — that will give Democratic candidates more to crow about and restore Biden’s previous reputation as a moderate fiscal drinker and not a drunk. The BBB debacle might be the best thing to happen to the Biden presidency yet.

Second, last week he hit the lowest of all his lows in the Quinnipiac Poll, scoring only 33 percent in job approval. That’s as low as President Donald Trump reached at the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot. He’s fallen so far that everything has to be up from here.

Why should we assume Biden has hit bottom? Successful policy initiatives appear to drive popularity upward, academics agree, and policy failures, such as a defeated legislative agenda, drive it down. As his ambitious plans got whittled down and then were finally shipped off to Blue Plains, the crowd that had previously been ga-ga for Biden now took to expressing their disappointment in him to the pollsters. With no more campaign pledges to renege on — and discounting other disasters like an Ebola outbreak or World War III over Ukraine — it’s hard to imagine any additional diehard Biden supporters will desert him and cause his ratings to tumble lower. The only presidents to have rated lower in the Gallup Polls were Harry Truman (22 percent, during the Korean War), Richard Nixon (24 percent on his way out the door) and Jimmy Carter (28 percent, during wild inflation). When you’ve fallen into the subbasement, as Biden has, then almost any vertical improvement looks like a comeback.

As presidential scholars tell us, a rising economy lifts all incumbents’ boats. It isn’t exactly morning in America yet, but things are looking up. We just may be turning the corner on Covid. Despite the burst of inflation and supply chain hassles, the economic signs look great. Unemployment is down. Wages are up. Signing bonuses are common. People are quitting their bad jobs for better ones. Consumers are buying lots of stuff.

If the current economic trends continue into the summer, Democratic candidates on the hustings will have a positive story to tell voters. Had the Build Back Better behemoth passed, the Republicans would have campaigned against big government and more taxes. Instead, with no new taxes in the immediate offing, Biden Democrats have denied Republicans their primary issue, leaving Biden and his followers yet another popularity-enhancing chapter to read to constituents.

How much of Biden’s low popularity is a function of the heckling from other Democrats can’t be easily teased out. At some point between now and the midterms, it’s likely that progressive Democrats will stop with their hardcore hating on Biden and rally around him. After all, what choice do they have? If Republicans make their unifying midterm message all about hating Biden, Democrats will have no option other than to extend to him the sort of reverence they bestow on their favorite plush toy.

Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, former Bill Clinton strategist James Carville unequivocally endorsed the policy of love-bombing Biden. He advised his fellow Democrats to “quit being the whiny party” and start taking credit for Biden’s — and the Democratic Congress’ — accomplishments on child poverty, the economy, and the $1 trillion rail, roads, bridges, utilities and broadband infrastructure bill that passed.

CNN’s Gabby Orr, who tapped sources among Trump’s friends and former and current staffers, reports one Trump adviser saying that if Biden can get his approval ratings to 46 percent or higher, Trump will not run. The best time to buy a politician’s stock is when he’s hit bottom. This is Biden’s. To maximize your political gains, take a flyer on him as he hits an upswing.

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