Looks like we’ve achieved nearly a full consensus on Mitt Romney’s vindication — even before Russia invaded Ukraine. A Gallup poll conduced between February 1-17 shows anger rising rapidly toward Russia, across all political denominations. It had already gotten bad shortly after Barack Obama’s 2012 bon mot to Romney that “the 80s called and they want their foreign policy back,” but Vladimir Putin’s aggression has turned it into a consensus even before the first shot was fired.
You don’t often see Americans in this much agreement on anything:
It’s not just that Americans dislike Russia. They have increasingly concluded that Putin’s Russia is a real threat, unlike Obama ten years earlier, and that the Ukraine crisis matters to US security. Again, look at the consistency between the political demos on this point:
Before the invasion of Ukraine, amid rising tensions between Russia and the West, 52% of Americans see the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as a critical threat to U.S. vital interests. That’s a change from 2015, after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, when less than half of U.S. adults, 44%, thought it posed that serious a threat. …
Today, as in 2015, essentially equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats are likely to see the conflict as a critical threat to U.S. vital interests. Currently, 56% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats see the conflict as a critical threat.
When asked separately about the broader threat Russia’s military power poses to U.S. vital interests, an even higher percentage, 59%, consider that to be a critical threat. This is up from 44% a year ago and is the highest Gallup has recorded since the item was first asked in 2004. The previous high, 52%, occurred in 2019. The low point was 18% in 2004, a time of better U.S.-Russia relations.
Views have hardened around Joe Biden’s handling of Russia as well. Bear in mind that this took place before the invasion, as it might change a bit afterward. Or will it?
Prior to the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine situation this week, Americans were not convinced that Biden was in command of the situation, with just 36% approving of how he is handling relations with Russia. This is lower than Biden’s overall job approval of 41% in the same poll and reflects fewer than two-thirds of his fellow Democrats approving (64%), along with a third of independents (35%) and just 11% of Republicans.
Biden might see a slight bump upward with a rally effect in a crisis, but probably not by much. He’s most likely to pull back disaffected Democrats in the short run after the invasion, and certainly calculated his pugnacious rhetoric (and cautious, incremental response) to generate that rally effect. The problem for Biden in February 2022 is that he’s failing on the metrics set by Biden 2020, as Jim Geraghty makes clear:
President Biden’s halting, a-day-late-and-dollar-short approach to rebuking Russia is infuriating. Half-measures in the economic realm can’t repel a full-scale military invasion. But it is even more infuriating when we remember how often on the campaign trail, Biden posed as John Wayne, just the right steely-eyed tough guy who could stare down Vladimir Putin in any showdown …
Jim brings a few receipts too, which will come back to haunt Biden in this crisis eventually unless Russia’s invasion collapses:
Russia undermined our democracy by interfering in the 2016 election. That's a fact. We need a President who will stand up to the Kremlin, push back against Putin, and take immediate steps to ensure the security of our elections.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 25, 2019
Vladimir Putin doesn’t want me to be President. He doesn’t want me to be our nominee. If you’re wondering why — it’s because I’m the only person in this field who’s ever gone toe-to-toe with him.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) February 21, 2020
Time and time again, President Trump has refused to stand up to Putin. His silence on the poisoning of Mr. Navalny is just the latest example.
As president, I'll do what Trump won't: hold the Putin regime accountable for its crimes. https://t.co/z11YyV6lq0
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 3, 2020
It’s not just conservative media outlets making the case for Biden as a failure. Politico has a message for its readers today — “Putin was playing Biden all along“:
When the two met last June in Geneva, Biden urged Putin to end his yearslong aggression against Ukraine and stop hacking the United States, telling Putin that he was hurting his “credibility worldwide.” In a call in December, as Putin was assembling tens of thousands of troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, which he first invaded in 2014, Biden pushed him to deescalate and “return to diplomacy.” Earlier this month, Biden warned Putin that reinvading Ukraine “would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing.”
None of these efforts mattered. In launching a massive assault on Ukraine this week, Putin proved that he sees the world, and his interests, very differently than Biden hoped. He also proved resistant to many traditional tools of diplomacy and deterrence.
Biden’s appeals to Putin’s geopolitical ego didn’t work. Neither did threats of sanctions, words of condemnation, emotional appeals on human rights grounds, deployments of U.S. troops to NATO countries and weapons to Ukraine, or the relatively united front put forth by the United States and its allies. Even an unusual tactic employed by the Biden administration — publicizing significant amounts of intelligence about Putin’s plans — didn’t stop the dictator.
And Nahar Toosi argues that Biden’s still getting played by Putin, even after the invasion:
On Thursday, Biden doubled down on the existing strategy, unveiling more sanctions, deploying more U.S. troops to Europe and promising more diplomacy to keep America and its allies unified. He warned that “Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will end up costing Russia dearly economically and strategically. We will make sure of that. Putin will be a pariah on the international stage.”
At the same time, Biden dismissed questions about whether he’d fully appreciated Putin’s thinking. “I didn’t underestimate him,” he insisted.
But even some supporters of the Biden administration beg to differ.
Everyone’s begging to differ at this point, because Biden’s failure to grasp the moment is so obvious. He’s still working from the incrementalist playbook while Putin’s openly running the imperialist playbook. That clear disconnect and impotence will not just dampen any potential for a rally effect, but will likely accelerate the confidence-crisis cascade that began with Biden’s disgraceful retreat from Afghanistan and abandonment of thousands of Americans to the Taliban. And in this case, that’s not just a rational reaction but one well-earned by Biden and his administration.