Democratic strategists worry Biden's sinking approval means midterm elections will be bleak

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Politico published a story today quoting a bunch of Democratic strategists who are becoming very concerned about what the president’s sinking approval ratings will mean for the results in the midterm elections.

“There’s no good news here. This is all on his watch,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean. “You can argue what he’s doing or not doing, but it’s almost irrelevant. If things are chaotic and wrong, it ain’t going to help him.”

Democrats are already beginning to calculate the potential cost to the party in 2022. Over drinks on the sidelines of a recent meeting of the Democratic Governors Association in Aspen, Colo., party donors and operatives privately took stock of the damage that Afghanistan and the resurging coronavirus pandemic might hold for the party’s prospects in the midterm elections next year. The assessment was bleak.

“When Biden was elected, it was supposed to be, ‘Oh, the adults are back in the room to take charge,’” one strategist who was in Aspen said. “It turns out, we can’t do anything. Any Democratic strategist who thinks this is not going to impact the midterms or impact Biden being reelected, clearly they don’t know what the f— they’re talking about.”

My favorite reaction comes from a former member of the Carter administration. When the Carter guys are having flashbacks, you’re definitely not doing well.

“The guy can’t catch a break,” said Les Francis, a Democratic strategist and former deputy White House chief of staff in the Carter administration. “It’s so reminiscent of reliving those times, where we had Mount St. Helens, we had Three Mile Island … we had the truckers rioting … Then we had the hostage crisis. We had the Soviets invade Afghanistan in December of 1979.”

Biden’s approval is now in the mid-40s according to FiveThirtyEight. Historically that’s not a great place to be heading into the midterms. Politico points out it’s worse than were Obama was before the “shellacking” in 2010.

The piece goes on to quote a number of people who argue none of this is really Biden’s fault. He didn’t cause the delta variant or the hurricane that just hit Louisiana leaving people without power or the west coast wildfires. All of that’s true but I think it’s being a bit generous. President Trump didn’t create the coronavirus either but it didn’t stop Democrats for blaming him for doing and saying the wrong things. Many online progressives were fond of blaming him for every American death, often on a daily basis. As for Biden, he set the bar on COVID himself last year:

Is it unfair to blame him? Maybe so, but he did tell us he could manage this. If it turns out that’s not the case, he really has no one to blame but himself.

Then there’s the border crisis which he personally helped initiate by promising to rescind Trump’s tough border stance. As it stands now, the number of people apprehended at the border this fiscal year is going to be one of the highest ever recorded since 1960. Again, he promised kindness and competence and what he’s delivered has been a humanitarian mess on both sides of the border.

Add to that the mess of a withdrawal from Afghanistan that obviously didn’t go so well. Even if you’d rather blame some other president for that (Trump, Bush, Obama) the fact remains that Biden made the decisions and he’s responsible for the chaotic outcome.

There’s a bit of a pattern forming here. Biden made a lot of promises about his own competence but in retrospect it looks like maybe he didn’t appreciate the difficulty of the problems. In any case, his claims of competence aren’t looking so hot right now. If he overpromised and underdelivered you really can’t blame the American people for noticing.

Maybe that will change in another 3-6 months but I think it’s foolish to assume there won’t be more unanticipated problems between now and next November. If there’s one thing the last 18 months have taught us all it’s that just because things are bad doesn’t mean they are about to get better. I don’t want to be accused of spreading panic but I can think of several ways the world situation could get much worse over the next six months. A year from now, Democratic strategists could well be looking back on today as the best of times before the real trouble started.

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