Election 2022: The political environment is dire for Democrats — and it could get worse

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CNN

Joe Biden’s tenure has become a punchline – even for the president.

Biden might have been good sport to poke fun at himself, his dented endorsement ratings and his failure to fully implement his national agenda at the annual Correspondents’ Association gala dinner. White House Saturday night.

But his jokes were rooted in the painful reality of a presidency held hostage by economic and global forces beyond his control and compounded by some of his White House’s tactical errors.

The result is that a year after his approval rating was comfortably above 50%, the president and his party face the most treacherous political backdrop in years as midterm elections approach in November.

It’s possible that high gasoline prices, the worst inflation in 40 years, the war in Ukraine and a lingering pandemic could all ease by November. But the trajectory of these crises — and the impact they have on issues that matter and can hurt Americans, like the price of groceries — could also worsen.

China’s new major struggle with Covid-19, for example – fueled by its low vaccination rate – and its repressive lockdowns again threaten to tighten the global supply chains that helped drive up inflation in the first place. . And if the war in Ukraine, as expected, severely affects the harvest in Europe’s breadbasket this year, Americans could see prices skyrocket for daily staples since the invaded country is a huge global source of grain. and sunflower oil.

So it’s highly likely that the daunting conditions currently dampening Democrats’ hopes could actually worsen before Election Day.

All of this explains a sense of inevitability that creeps into Washington’s conventional wisdom that Republicans are heavily favored to take over the House of Representatives when the Senate could also turn red.

Some economic analysts have suggested that inflation – at its worst level since the 1980s – has peaked. But a key index monitored by the Federal Reserve – the personal consumption expenditure price index – rose 6.6% for the year ended March, according to figures released last week. Energy prices, inflated by the war in Ukraine, rose 33.9% and food prices 9.2% over the same period. Another report released last week showed a surprise drop in gross domestic product of 1.4% in the first quarter. While there are technical factors that could mean the figure isn’t as bad as it looks, it has raised fears of a recession, following warnings of a slowdown on the horizon of several major Wall Street banks.

These numbers illustrate the fundamental weakness of the Democrats’ record as the midterm elections approach. Biden cannot take full credit for the economy’s strong post-pandemic rebound and historically good jobs numbers, as millions of Americans are unhappy with high prices.

Biden’s triumph in beating then-President Donald Trump in 2020 was an example of the power of comparisons. He proposed a return to quiet leadership after the previous four years’ tumult of White House scandals, lies and chaos.

But the 2022 midterm elections are already turning into a referendum on the president and the Democrats, who control all the levers of political power in Washington and therefore bear the brunt of the population’s current discontent.

A new Washington Post/ABC News Poll published on Sunday confirms this.

While Biden’s overall jobs approval rating reached 42%, only 38% of those polled approved of his handling of the economy. And 68% disapproved of his record on inflation. The question has proven particularly troublesome for independent voters who will be crucial in the tight House and Senate races in November.

The president’s inflation predicament has been exacerbated by previous claims from his own White House that the price hike was “transitional” – a messaging error that threatens to damage voter confidence in statements by administration and provides an easy target for Republicans.

And while Biden has taken several steps to combat high prices, including programs to unblock U.S. ports and the clogged supply chain and freed up millions of barrels of oil from the country’s strategic reserves, his efforts don’t seem like much. not have had a noticeable impact on the lives of many Americans. Nor is it clear that attributing the high cost of living to “Putin’s price hike” gets him out of his political stalemate.

“At the end of the day, the administration, when it comes to inflation, needs to stop saying there’s nothing they can do about it, right? That’s usually one of the leads to say it’s not our fault,” Will Hurd, a former Republican congressman from Texas, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“Nobody wants to hear that. And they want to say, ‘Hey, how are you going to get us out of here?’ »

The New York Times reported on Sunday, meanwhile, that Biden had been repeatedly warned in a series of confidential polling notes that inflation and the delicate issue of immigration would erode his standing and Democrats’ hopes in the mid-election. mandate. The memos, written between April 2021 and January 2022, were obtained as part of reporting for a new book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” by Times reporter Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin.

“Voters don’t feel like he has a plan to fix the border situation, and it’s starting to take its toll,” Biden’s top pollster John Anzalone and his team wrote in a statement. note, according to the Times report.

It was against this backdrop that Biden stood up Saturday night in the sprawling ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel and joked, “Special thanks to the 42% of you who actually clapped. I’m so thrilled to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than mine.

That the event took place was proof of one of the successes of Biden’s presidency — the rollout of vaccines and tests that have returned many Americans to a semblance of their old lives two years after Covid-19 has shut down the economy and changed the world. The president can also claim credit for a rare bipartisan triumph – an infrastructure law that eluded his predecessors. And his leadership helped build an unexpectedly unified Western response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which may have helped mitigate some of the political damage wrought by the chaotic U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan. Last year.

Yet either those accomplishments don’t resonate with the public, or the White House has failed to weave them into a cohesive election narrative. The difficulties Biden faced enacting his sweeping social spending and climate plan, which was blocked by moderate Democrats Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia added to the feeling of drift.

Whether Biden erred in pushing a sweeping reform agenda that some critics have complained about wasn’t involved in his 2020 campaign, or that the White House failed to sell items like health care to housing for the elderly and free pre-kindergarten education in the sweeping Build Back Better bill, Biden was robbed of the big win on a measure that was once compared to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Implementation of any of Biden’s plans still looks deeply uncertain, with time rapidly ticking away before the midterm campaign dominates the political summer. The standoff threatens to dampen the enthusiasm of grassroots Democratic voters in November, as the Republican Party runs a campaign rooted in extreme positions on issues such as trans rights, immigration and education in the race in American schools to boost participation among their most engaged constituents. . The GOP layers these themes with claims designed to appeal to more moderate voters that high food and gas prices show Biden wrecked the economy.

The stalled Build Back Better plan has also raised suspicions of acrimony within the Democratic Party. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a leading progressive, warned last week on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Democrats would lose their majority if they “don’t stand up and deliver.”

Biden has come under pressure to keep a campaign promise to reduce student debt burdens after repeatedly extending a Trump-era pause in federal student loan repayments due to the pandemic. But forgiveness of $50,000 of debt per borrower – which Warren has been asking for – is not on the table, the president said at the White House last week after unveiling a request for millions more dollars in aid. to Ukraine. Biden did not say whether he would use executive power to deliver massive debt relief immediately.

Warren’s comments contained more than a hint of a post-election blame game seven months before voters head to the polls. Yet they don’t change the fact that the narrow 50-50 Democratic Senate majority means Biden lacks the technical ability to force much of his agenda into law.

As Biden shed some light on his policy stance on Saturday night, he privately complained that the media failed to focus on comparing his presidency to the anarchy and scandals that defined Trump’s tenure. CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere and Kevin Liptak reported last week.

There’s a chance that Trump’s push for candidates to resume his voter fraud lies in this month’s GOP primaries will allow Biden to flesh out that theme in his own midterm campaign. But as Republican Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in Virginia showed last November, Democrats can no longer rely on a fierce anti-Trump campaign working when the ex-president isn’t on the ballot. vote.

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