Joe Biden’s highly touted political comeback is failing to live up to the hype.
He’s up from his midsummer trough of an approval rating that averaged below 40%, but he’s still at about 42%. This represents a shift from the cataclysmic to the merely dismal.
The over-optimistic takes early in Biden’s presidency were that he could be another FDR or LBJ. The over-optimistic takes from this past summer were that maybe he’s pretty good at this.
The reality is that he is persistently unpopular and an enormous drag on his party, with little obvious upside potential before he may have to declare that he’s not running again a year or so from now.
After winning the presidency by default in 2020 as the one major-party presidential candidate who wasn’t Donald Trump, he could prove a parentheses in political history between Trump presidential terms or the brief, forgettable bridge to much-younger, more contemporary Democrats like Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg.
He was dealt a weak hand on the economy — any president elected in 2020 would have had to cope with price pressures and supply-chain disruptions — but he has played it badly.
His strategy on inflation has been hoping that it goes away, and, as they say, hope is not a strategy. If he’d been lucky, inflation would have dropped and he could have attributed the favorable trend to the Inflation Reduction Act, even though it’s not by any reasonable metric a genuine anti-inflation measure.
In fact, there’s nothing about it — except the title — that’s any different than if inflation were 2 percent.
Biden could have credited inflation worries early on and scaled back the spending in his initial COVID relief bill. He could have acknowledged the reality of inflation once it was undeniable and adjusted his further spending ambitions accordingly. He could have adopted a bipartisan agenda to stoke the supply side of the economy by deregulating, lifting tariffs and encouraging energy production.
He did none of the above. He contended inflation was transitory until he couldn’t anymore, and prematurely declared we’d turned a corner when we hadn’t.
Now, the Federal Reserve has no alternative but to stomp the brakes on the demand side of the economy, risking a recession that, of course, Biden officials insist isn’t coming.
For a while, it seemed the issue of abortion might fundamentally change the trajectory of the race, but it is proving a second-tier issue, and Biden has understandably been doing all he can to elevate Trump. The Republican looms large for a former president, yet he isn’t on the ballot himself and even he, with all his ability to dominate the stage, can’t overshadow the economy.
For his part, Biden simply isn’t a dominant figure. He’s not bonding anyone to him with his Obama-like charisma. He’s not impressing anyone with his boundless Teddy Roosevelt-like energy. He’s not winning over fence-sitters with his Clinton-like triangulation. He’s not taking the edge off of the opposition to him with his Reagan-like humor.
He’s pretty much a straight partisan Democratic president with no particularly notable talents or appeal, dealing with a enormously challenging political environment at a time in his life when no one would blame him if he were happily retired in Ron Desantis’ Florida.
Biden is fast approaching quasi-lame duck status, an extraordinary fact for a first-term president who has been insistent that he’s running again.
Everyone knows that he’s about to turn 80, and can see it reflected in how he performs. The ABC News-Washington Post poll found that only 35% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents — all of whom presumably have nothing against him and wish him well — want Biden to run for a second term.
Whatever attempts there might be to puff Biden up in the press, these voters clearly have no unrealistic expectations.
(Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry)
(c) 2022 by King Features Syndicate