Are the Republicans getting complacent?
As you may have noticed, this diary hasn’t exactly been heavy on celebration of the Biden presidency. Indeed, our first few months have coincided with a period of distressing mismanagement in the White House. But in a fit of holiday generosity, today’s pre-Thanksgiving offering is dedicated to a thought experiment: what is the strongest realistic case for being bullish on Joe Biden?
After a miserable period for the president, Republican triumph in 2022, and even 2024, is all but taken for granted and question marks loom over whether Biden will even seek a second term. But is everyone getting ahead of themselves? Here’s the case for White House optimism.
Let’s start on the Hill: for all the missteps that have brought Biden’s legislative agenda to its current precarious position, the eventual passage of a reconciliation bill is still the most likely outcome. That would give Biden a much needed political win. And how the legislation lands with the voters remains unclear. The polling is mixed but there’s reason to believe that effective salesmanship could mean it will not be the obvious electoral liability that many Republicans think it will be.
Then there’s the related question of the economy. Voters’ economic anxiety is high right now. Inflation, labor shortages and supply-chain problems are very real and very serious problems. For too long the White House hasn’t taken them seriously enough. But Biden could easily get lucky. These problems may ease, the pandemic will surely become less of a drag on activity, and Americans could soon be enjoying benign economic conditions: low unemployment, healthy GDP growth and wages rising more quickly than prices. This is by no means a far-fetched scenario. Indeed, Republicans banking on runaway inflation to deliver them victory in two or four years are ignoring the exceptional weirdness of the US economy at the moment.
In other words, Biden’s economic gamble could come off. Build Back Better might prove not to have instant inflationary consequences and the administration only needs to do a half-decent job of selling some of its more appealing provisions. Meanwhile, the full fiscal reality of the legislation, creating as it does pressure for more taxes on the middle class to fund fresh entitlements in the long run, may take years to sink in.
Biden may also be helped by unforced errors from the Republicans. It’s not hard to see how the fault lines in the GOP could start to deepen as 2024 approaches. So far in the Biden presidency, Republicans have managed to avoid too much infighting. But the discipline that kept Donald Trump out of Virginia and helped deliver victory for Glenn Youngkin might not hold. As high-stakes primary races heat up, the Republican family could start to look a lot less happy. And if Trump senses that his influence within the party is on the wane, he may feel the need to throw his weight around. That would likely harm GOP prospects in 2022 and make things easier for Biden and his party.
Another thing Biden has going for him is an absence of alternatives. His vice president’s numbers are even worse than his, and though Kamala Harris may have become something of a millstone around the president’s neck, she is hardly an intimidating rival. Now Pete Buttigieg is being talked up as the other big contender. But if the thirty-nine-year-old mayor of South Bend turned transportation secretary is the next best thing, Biden doesn’t need to lose too much sleep over 2024.
The Biden team will need a combination of skill and luck for something like this best case scenario to come off. And the growing sense among voters that the president is not exactly at the top of his game may be hard to shake. Given what we have seen from the White House so far, a bearish outlook may therefore be more compelling. Other presidents have turned it around after a bad start. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan are two examples sympathetic commentators have drawn on recently to boost the case for Biden. So far, Biden has shown little to suggest he is the next Clinton, let alone Reagan. But it would be foolhardy for Republicans to write off their opponent less than a year into his presidency.
Biden’s bougie break
As is family tradition, Joe Biden has flown to Nantucket for Thanksgiving. The president will be taking a break from selling his Build Back Better bill as an urgently needed redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor (in spite of the fact that the SALT cap reform means the legislation is a boon to high-earners). Ever a man of the people, Scranton Joe will be staying at the house of David Rubenstein, the billionaire founder of the Carlyle Group and Washington insider par excellence.
Among the awkward topics of conversation: Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle CEO was hired by Rubenstein and delivered Biden an embarrassing electoral defeat in Virginia earlier this month.
The first Thanksgiving
Theres’s no shortage of delectable Thanksgiving offerings on our site this week. To get yourself in the holiday mood, I recommend tuning in to the inaugural episode of Prufrock, our new podcast on books, arts and ideas. Host and Spectator senior editor Micah Mattix talks to Dr. Thomas Kidd about the history of Thanksgiving. Come for a clarifying discussion of who the Pilgrims were, stay for the surprising (and unappetizing) items on the first Thanksgiving menu.
What you should be reading today
Matt Purple: How cable news ruined Thanksgiving
Nate Hochman: Why I (sort of) stopped using the word ‘woke’
Amber Athey: The Democratic distraction
Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg: Biden includes Taiwan among democracy summit invitees
Jonathan Chait, New York: Joe Biden’s big squeeze
Janan Ganesh, Financial Times: Biden has been a disappointment on the pandemic
President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 41.3 percent
Disapprove: 53.4 percent
Net approval: -12.1 (RCP Average)
Non-parents aged 18-49 who say they are not likely to ever have children
2018: 37 percent
2021: 44 percent (Pew)
A quick scheduling note: this is the last DC Diary this week. We’ll be back on Monday. Have a very happy Thanksgiving!