Super PAC warns Senate Dems: Biden is tanking in battlegrounds and your majority is in trouble

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Not to diminish the important public service supplied by PACs but literally everyone who follows political media already knew this or assumed it.

I mean, we’re averaging two to three “check out these latest garbage numbers for Biden” posts per day lately.

The very best-case scenario one can plausibly imagine for Democrats in next month’s Virginia gubernatorial election at this point is a three- or four-point McAuliffe win. Biden won that state by 10. If Team Blue is looking at a seven-point Republican shift across the map next year, they’re not just cooked, they’re flambéed.

Senate Majority PAC, which is Chuck Schumer’s shop, conducted a poll recently in next year’s Senate swing states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia and Nevada. They focused on persuadable voters since the PAC will eventually be wading into those Senate races and needs to know where its money will be most useful. How are those persuadable voters feeling about the state of the country generally and Democrats in particular?

Not great. Biden’s rocking a 41/52 job approval in the battlegrounds, according to the PAC, but that number is being boosted by diehard Democrats. When you exclude them and focus on the persuadables, uh oh:

The Senate Majority PAC showed Biden’s approval rating across the Senate battlegrounds at 41 percent, with 52 percent disapproving — numbers that are roughly in line with recent national polls. Among persuadable targets, however, just 27 percent say they approve of the job the president is doing while 57 percent disapprove. The group’s private poll from May had Biden well above water, with 49 percent approving and 43 disapproving. Few Senate races in the modern political era tilt against how voters view the president. So if Biden is underwater heading into the election year, holding a 50-50 Senate will prove to be a tough proposition for Democrats.

“We are sleepwalking. We are so focused on getting these deals done, but in the grand scheme of it we have to be focused on Republicans. That’s the key here. They’re getting a free pass,” said one Democrat who was shown the numbers. “It’s going to be really rough, and I really worry about some of our senators.”

From +6 net approval five months ago to -30 today. It’s hard to imagine a politician pulling out of a tailspin that steep and regaining altitude, although another gruesome number from the poll provides Dems with a bit of hope. Fifty-six percent of persuadables listed inflation as the top economic issue and just 18 percent said the economy is getting better. It’s possible that the economic outlook will meaningfully improve next year in time for the midterms, especially if the pandemic eases, and turn those numbers around.

Just like it’s possible that the Democrats’ reconciliation boondoggle will add fuel to the fire and inflation will get worse. The polling in the PAC poll isn’t the best-case scenario for Democrats in the midterms, obviously, but I’m not so sure it’s the worst-case scenario either.

If not for Manchin and Sinema, I wonder if the brutal polling might steer congressional Dems towards going for broke with their agenda over the next 12 months. In 2010, after they passed ObamaCare, they tried to talk themselves into believing that the public would warm to the legislation and rally to them in the midterms, blunting GOP gains. They were disabused of that theory in the rudest possible way. In 2021, reflecting on that precedent, they might be more fatalistic. “There’s nothing we can do to stop what’s coming so let’s make the most of what’s left of our time in power.” Call it “the YOLO strategy.”

That means passing the reconciliation bill but it would also mean nuking the filibuster and ramming through non-spending priorities like police reform and a federal voting-rights bill. Manchinema has opposed filibuster reform adamantly but today’s Senate vote on Manchin’s own voting bill might test that:

In a 49-51 vote, the Senate failed to move forward on Democrats’ latest elections reform bill, which amounted to an intra-party compromise between Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and a group of seven Democratic senators. While Manchin spent weeks seeking GOP input, in the end no Republicans voted to begin consideration of the legislation, effectively killing the bill in the Senate.

Democrats privately hoped that if they gave Manchin the time to reach out to Republicans and he received no buy-in, he might be more open to shifting from his dug-in position against nixing the legislative filibuster or creating an exception to the rule for voting rights. But so far, there’s no public evidence that the West Virginia Democrat will change his mind…

While Democrats are pushing for swift passage, the deadline for some of the provisions in the expansive proposed legislation — notably many of the congressional redistricting provisions — may have already passed in some of the most consequential states. Passing a law with new requirements now would likely ensure intense legal battles that could tie up maps for years.

The battleground polling from Schumer’s Super PAC could strengthen Manchin’s opposition to filibuster reform, ironically. Why the hell would Dems go nuclear now if they’re likely to be in the minority again as soon as 2023? A Republican president getting elected in 2025 would mean that any major Democratic legislation passed with a simple majority over the next year will be repealed by a simple GOP majority as soon as four years from now. Lefties would counter that if they go nuclear and pass their entire wish list before November 2022, voters will be thrilled and will reward them by retaining their congressional majorities. But that’s the 2010 delusion all over again. It’s the belief that the only way to hold onto power is to go full metal progressive. (Some progs will tell you that they would have done meaningfully better in 2010 if the public option hadn’t been stripped from the bill before passage.)

Even if that were true, I don’t think Manchin would go for it. His commitment to the filibuster seems unbreakable and he’s lukewarm at best on the merits of the progressive agenda. If Dems are going to end up back in the Senate minority no matter what his party does over the next year, he might as well stand up for minority rights and try to improve the bills in front of him. Besides, if the GOP lands in the majority in 2023, he could always switch parties then. It makes no sense for him to do that now and cede the enormous influence he currently enjoys over federal legislation. But it might make sense 15 months from now, especially since he has an election coming up in a deep red state in 2024. Exit question: Would Republicans welcome a party-switcher who voted to remove Trump from office twice?