The real problem for the Democratic Party is not President Joe Biden. He’s a huge problem, of course, but their real problems run much deeper. The Democrats have an unmanageable coalition and are unable to cobble it together into anything even semicoherent. If Republican leaders were attuned to this dynamic, they could dominate like perhaps never before, but they have failed to do so.
Biden has been a historically terrible president. Biden was not the first choice for many Democratic primary voters. Democrats turned to him mainly because he seemed like the least risky candidate to run against Donald Trump. He was clearly past his prime, but he was the low-risk alternative with lots of governing experience. The dominant left-wing activist wing of the party had other favorites, but they went along because their fear of a second Trump term outweighed any other consideration.
This brought Biden into office without a real base of support. If he was able to pull together a top-notch team and lead effectively from the middle, he may have been able to pull off a political win. That did not happen. Instead, Biden tried his best to appeal to the far left, and he has suffered for it.
For a while after the inauguration, the corporate media and most Democrats showered praise on Biden mainly for not being Trump. That honeymoon is long over. Biden’s tragically botched Afghanistan withdrawal put to bed any notions of competence. His inability to install any semblance of order on the southern border was welcomed by die-hard left-wing activists but turned off practically everyone else. His incoherent energy policy — “no more fossil fuels” followed by “why aren’t you refining more?”— further cemented his incompetence in the eyes of most voters, especially in the face of skyrocketing gas prices. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Biden’s absurd predictions about inflation, followed by his excuses about inflation, turned off voters even more on an issue already hitting them directly.
The question being asked is how Biden could be this incompetent. Part of it is clearly age and diminished capacity. The even bigger problem is Biden is trying to cobble together a majority coalition where none can exist. The core of Biden’s support is the establishment corporate, Wall Street and Washington crowd. The past decades’ economic, trade and immigration policies have worked out well for this group. They have thrived economically, while most have not.
Biden’s problem is this group of true Biden Democrats is relatively small. They are vastly outnumbered by average Americans who have not been thriving. Their policies are no longer appealing to average Democratic voters who are feeling stagnant and restless. To try to energize Democratic voters while keeping his core corporate constituency happy, Biden has tried to engineer a left-wing social agenda that comes at a relatively low cost to corporate America. Biden’s hope was that a focus on race, sexuality and increasing the government social safety net could be the answer. This agenda did not answer the mail for the average Democratic voter who was feeling economically distressed. This agenda specifically turned off a huge chunk of the Hispanic and Black communities, which are more socially conservative than Biden’s corporate supporters. The result is incoherence. There is no way for anyone to make this coalition work. There are too many areas of total disagreement.
Republicans are going to benefit from the Biden mess in the midterm elections. Just how much they will benefit and whether they can extend that benefit to 2024 are still open questions. Their positions on two recent policy debates offer plenty of reason for pause.
There is no more potent political issue in America today than inflation. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell messed up about as badly as possible when it comes to inflation. The higher interest rates needed to tame inflation should have come much sooner, but because Powell was too influenced by the White House, Wall Street or another reason altogether, Powell failed to act until it was too late. Powell’s early statements about inflation would be comical if so many people were not suffering as a result.
Despite this failure, Biden still nominated Powell for a second term. By doing so, Biden put himself in a position to own Powell’s mistakes from a political perspective. Instead of calling Biden out on renominating the one guy who completely screwed up inflation, most Republicans decided to give Powell and Biden a pass. They went along and voted for Powell. They defend their choice by pointing out that Powell is a moderate who was initially appointed by Republicans and that Biden would choose someone more left-wing to replace him. That’s all true, but Republicans and moderate Democrats had the votes to stop radical nominees, and this was the one political fight that Republicans should have wanted more than any other. Instead of calling Biden out on this choice, they went along and further convinced average Americans that once you reach a certain elite level in American society, there is truly no cost for failure.
The second Republican botch relates to China. Most Americans justifiably feel like America’s policies toward China these past few decades have benefitted elites at the expense of everyone else. Free trade works, and it’s popular. Free trade with a corrupt nation using slave labor, stealing intellectual property and otherwise cheating without repercussion does not make sense to people. Trump knew this. His tough-on-China trade policies were popular. They signaled a change to average Americans of all races. Biden is gearing up to cave on these policies, yet you barely hear a word about it from most Republicans. They are too beholden to those who have benefited.
Republicans will likely win a lot of seats in 2022, but they are nowhere near maximizing their potential. All these wins they leave on the table will likely come back to bite them in the end.
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