Dems' new hope: Americans may have given up on Biden but they'll love his legislation

There are five stages of grief when people are confronted with the prospect of certain death, psychologists say.

The first stage is denial.

This afternoon Biden finally put pen to paper and signed the bipartisan roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill, which means his party has now officially entered the denial stage.

With President Joe Biden’s approval sliding in recent months, Democrats are rallying around the sustained popularity of his signature economic plans to save them in the midterm elections, increasing the pressure on slim majorities in Congress to deliver after a stinging electoral defeat in blue Virginia…

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll illustrates the dichotomy: Just 41 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s job performance, while 63 percent support his bipartisan infrastructure bill and 58 percent support his nearly $2 trillion social spending and climate package…

Democratic strategists say that’s evidence that voters want Congress to pass the economic programs. They argue that Biden and the party’s sagging approval will recover once they deliver.

Biden’s approval rating didn’t tank because he was taking too long to deliver on infrastructure. It tanked because he ran as an experienced, highly competent problem-solver who’d return the country to normalcy. He has … not delivered on that, starting with the withdrawal fiasco in Afghanistan. Americans are consumed with inflation and the supply chain; those are the problems Biden could fix that might plausibly raise his approval. But neither neither will be solved near-term by any of the infrastructure programs he’s proposing.

And so, an earnest question for election junkies and assorted historians: Has there been a case since the start of public polling in which an unpopular, untrusted president’s party did well in midterm elections due to the popularity of his agenda? If ever there was a figure whose personal popularity was divorced from the popularity of his agenda, it was Trump, not Biden. He had a roaring economy until COVID hit and likely would have won reelection without the pandemic despite the fact that most Americans disliked him.

Yet even Trump got walloped in the 2018 midterms despite the strength of the economy at the time.

“Signature legislative accomplishments are never any more popular than the president who signs it,” said former McConnell advisor Josh Holmes to NBC, doubtless remembering how Obama and ObamaCare fared in 2010. I think the bipartisan infrastructure bill will remain durably more popular than ObamaCare since there’s no public debate over the value of improving roads and bridges. But it’s borderline meaningless to Biden’s popularity unless it boosts the public’s sense of how competent he is at the job, especially since lefties remain focused not on roads and bridges but on the social programs in Build Back Better. Yesterday’s brutal WaPo poll found Biden’s approval sliding from 86 percent within his own party to 80 percent with the share who “strongly” approve falling from 54 percent to just 44 percent. That will turn around if inflation does, of course. But if it doesn’t and the BBB bill gets flushed by Joe Manchin, Biden may shed further support among progressives that he’ll have difficulty getting back.

Here’s another taste of Democrats in the first stage of grief:

Privately, many administration officials and allies contend that the state of affairs cannot get worse, thinking that Biden and the Democrats have hit their floor in negative approval ratings, according to people familiar with their thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations. By next year’s elections, top Democrats say, the national environment will look dramatically different. They project confidence that the coronavirus pandemic will fade, allowing Americans to fully return to their normal lives, and that supply chain bottlenecks and inflation will also ease, allowing the economy to improve.

It can get worse. Inflation could deepen. We could get hit with another nasty winter wave of COVID or, God forbid, a new variant. China could make a move on Taiwan and Biden could flinch, extending perceptions of America’s weakness. Trump had a granite floor in the polling of around 43 percent because he led a movement; his supporters would never abandon him no matter how bad things got or embarrassed they felt. Biden has the opposite of a movement behind him, a messy coalition of lukewarm lefties, centrists, and anti-Trump voters all of whom can and might grow disaffected with him for different reasons. Things can absolutely get worse.

As I say, he signed the roads-and-bridges bill this afternoon, which at least is a positive step for him. The Sphinx of centrism, Kyrsten Sinema, got to speak for a few minutes since she led the Democratic side in negotiating with the GOP:

Vice President Shemp also got some camera time, although even this simple photo op couldn’t come off without an indignity:

Finally, there was Biden. I’ll leave you with this excerpt and footage of the signing ceremony, at which he and Harris were all smiles despite the sniping their two camps are engaged in behind the scenes. The second stage of grief, by the way, is anger. Expect some of that from Dems next week when the next round of polls shows that signing the bipartisan bill hasn’t boosted his approval rating.