A Biden Blood Bath?

A recent poll truly shocked me.

Quinnipiac University found that President Biden’s approval rating had sunk to just 33 percent. You might argue that this was just one poll, but Biden’s approval is down in multiple surveys.

As CNN’s Harry Enten pointed out Friday, there were four major national polls released last week, and in three of them — including Quinnipiac — Biden had his lowest showing of his presidency. In the fourth, he was “one point off the lowest.”

These are just devastating results on the heels of a historic Supreme Court confirmation and only seven months out from the midterms.

When Politico’s Ryan Lizza last week asked Biden pollster John Anzalone how dire the situation had become for Democrats, Anzalone responded in blunt terms, saying that no Democratic consultant would say “that this is anything but a really sour environment for Democrats.”

Anzalone, like many Democrats, seems to believe that a major part of the problem is messaging, saying in the interview, “We’re scared of our own shadow on taxes and it … makes no sense.”

But what if the issue is not the messaging but the messenger?

Poor messaging may contribute to the problem, but I think the problem is more on ground level, a gut level: How do people feel? They feel stuck and angry, they’re tired and overwhelmed, and that energy is being directed at Biden.

Biden is a decent man. As a matter of course and tactic, he strikes me as not entirely built for hyperbole and hype, for beating his chest while he boasts. It’s not part of his character. He is sober and straightforward. Many Americans wanted him as an antidote to Donald Trump for precisely this reason.

But America has changed its mind and its mood. It wants a show and a showman to distract from its misery. Biden is not that. And he is being punished for not being a huckster.

There is an old saying that is some variation of, “People will forget what you said, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.” Biden isn’t constantly tweeting and hamming it up for the cameras — in fact, too often, he has shied away from interviews — and his reticence has left a void of emotional connection to him.

I hate that emotional connection plays such an outsize role in our politics, but I also can’t deny that it does. If Americans can’t cheer you, they’ll chide you.

Biden’s presidency is far from a failure, but it has been stymied on some big promises that Biden made during the campaign on issues like voting rights and police reform. Lately it feels like, on domestic policy, Biden has moved from the macro to the micro, taking steps that will indeed benefit many Americans, but are too narrowly focused to transform our society or fix the core problems that plague it — trying to recruit more American truckers, focusing on Black maternal health, announcing an emergency waiver to allow higher ethanol blend gasoline to be sold this summer.

All the while, two major perennial issues are resurgent: crime and the economy. The fear of crime and the pinch of inflation aren’t abstractions, or complicated foreign policy, or perks for special interests. They creep into every door and lurk under every kitchen table.

And on the other side, Republicans are playing heavily into culture war issues like challenging the teaching of Black history and the history of white supremacy in schools, as well as restricting discussions of L.G.B.T. issues and campaigning against trans women and girls competing in sports with other women and girls. And they are using parental rights as the Trojan horse to enact their agenda.

Democrats, for their part, have almost ceded the parental rights argument, instead of fighting back and framing these efforts as oppressive and backward. They do not recognize that oppression by conservatives in this country is like an amoeba: simple, primitive, pervasive and highly adaptable. It simply shifts its shape to fit the environment and argument.

Republicans are using white parental fear, particularly the fears of white moms, worried about harm coming to their children, to attract suburban white women and get them to the polls. The oppression is a bonus.

There was another worrisome sign in the Quinnipiac poll: Biden’s approval rating among people identified as Hispanics was even lower than it was among those identified as white. Pundits have been discussing Biden’s declining numbers among Hispanics for months. In October, FiveThirtyEight pointed out that “there has been a drop in support for Biden among all three racial and ethnic groups we measured, but the drop among Hispanics — from the high 60s to slightly below 50 percent — marks Biden’s most precipitous decline.”

The reasons for this drop appear to range from a response to the pandemic to the fact that Hispanics hew conservative on some social issues.

But all this taken together — in addition to voter suppression and racial, political gerrymandering — may prove hugely problematic for Democrats and for the administration, unless they can turn things around before Election Day. If not, we could well be looking forward to a Biden blood bath.

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