U.S. President Joe Biden’s first anniversary in the White House is mere days away. When that moment arrives on Jan. 20, he and his Democratic staffers may opt to toast each other (in a virtual space, one assumes) for a job well done.
In reality, they should keep the champagne on ice for a bit longer. Much longer, in fact.
Biden’s left-leaning support base was obviously thrilled when he took office, and Donald Trump left the White House. They were pleased when he cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, returned the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, withdrew the nation’s military forces from Afghanistan and halted the construction of his Republican predecessor’s border wall with Mexico. They supported his announcement of several stimulus bills and infrastructure projects to help individuals, families and businesses. They cheered when he increased the number of COVID-19 vaccinations across America.
Then, reality began to set in.
The Taliban took control of Kabul, meaning the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan had been done in a rushed, ineffective manner. COVID-19 cases surged this past summer due to the Delta variant, leading some Americans to start doubting the effectiveness of the vaccines and whether herd immunity was achievable.
As for the $3.1 trillion in stimulus spending, it was gradually viewed as expensive and wasteful by conservatives and some progressives. In turn, the Build Back Better Act, which was supposed to cost $3.5 trillion and was lowered to $2.2 trillion last November, may not pass at all. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has refused to sign the bill unless the amount is dropped to $1.75 trillion and Biden’s signature social policy and climate change bill are eliminated. Manchin’s heroic stance in support of some fiscal prudence in these difficult times has been praised by most Republicans, and predictably condemned by his colleagues.
That’s why Biden’s approval ratings have slid from 53-36 percent on the plus side (Jan. 23, 2021) to 43.2-51.5 percent on the negative side (Jan. 12, 2022), according to FiveThirtyEight.com. This has been a fairly consistent pattern since Aug. 30, 2021, and it takes into account polling data from firms like YouGov, Rasmussen Reports/Pulse Opinion Research, Ipsos and IBD/TIPP.
Gallup has shown a similar trend. Biden’s latest job approval rating is 43 percent, which covers the period of Dec. 1-16, 2021. This drop has been consistent since Sept. 1, 2021, and his first year term average is 49 percent. This isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Trump’s average was lower at 36 percent, while Reagan (49 percent), Obama (50 percent) and Clinton (53 percent) were about the same. Nevertheless, his dip from a high of 57 percent (Jan 21-Feb 2 and Apr 1-21, 2021) is notable, and he’s only slightly above his lowest recorded job approval rating of 42 percent (Oct 1-19 and Nov 1-16, 2021).
Everything is working against Biden. If the Omicron variant keeps surging this winter, or if his domestic and international agenda continues to tank, so will his numbers.
This partially helps explain why Biden went on an aggressive attack against Trump during his Jan. 6 speech. On the first anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Capitol, he used fiery language against Trump and his supporters, claiming it was a “dagger at the throat of American democracy.” Biden also said, “The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”
The political left was euphoric. They seemed ready to celebrate in the streets with COVID-19 masks and proper social distancing. Once again, they should keep that cork in the champagne bottle.
Biden’s speech played right into Trump’s hands. He used the language, tactics and mannerisms the former President worked to his advantage in 2016. It helped create an “us vs. them” environment and “me vs. you” image of a political showdown, which is exactly what Trump was hoping for. It also shifted the image of Biden from political conciliator to a partisan firebrand, which is neither wise nor politically viable for his re-election bid.
Trump is gearing up for 2024. He has a 43 point lead (54-11) over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the choice of Republicans to be the party’s presidential candidate, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. His press releases remain tough-nosed, but his media appearances are significantly different. For instance, he confirmed that he received a COVID-19 booster last month during a tour with Bill O’Reilly. In a One America News interview on Jan. 11, he said that “vaccines saved tens of millions throughout the world” and his opponents don’t want to say whether or not they got the booster “because they’re gutless.”
Things can change in politics overnight. We know this. Nevertheless, the more reasonable that Trump sounds, and the more irrational that Biden sounds, will work to the former’s advantage. If the latter maintains his newfound persona, the door to a second Trump presidential term could potentially open up more widely.
Let’s see what Year 2 of the Biden presidency brings.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.