By MARSHA MERCER
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Joe Biden won more than 81 million popular votes, the most of any presidential candidate in American history. He won 306 electoral votes, well more than the 270 needed for presidential victory.
And yet, one year into his presidency, only 43% of Americans approve of the way he’s handling his job and 56% disapprove, the latest Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll reported Thursday.
It was one of many recent polls that show Biden underwater. There are many reasons for his fall from grace: the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, inflation and lasting COVID-19 misery, to name three.
But no other president has had to deal with the headwinds of a predecessor who refuses to accept defeat, goaded his followers to storm the Capitol in hopes of overturning the will of the people, and continues to cling to his delusions that he won.
This should scare everybody who cares about democracy. To this day, many Republicans stubbornly believe the Big Lie, although the former president and his supporters have failed to prove any of their allegations.
Candidate Biden promised to restore integrity, dignity and competence to the White House. People were grateful for his steadiness and calm after four years of unrelenting craziness.
In his inaugural address last year, Biden cautioned that overcoming the many challenges facing the country would require “that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. Unity.” And he asked every American to join him in the cause.
Sadly, they didn’t. Biden has had to fight to keep progressive Democrats on his side. Meanwhile, Republicans solidly united against him.
“I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” Biden said in his news conference Wednesday.
Only 28% of people think the country is on the right track, according to the most recent Real Clear Politics average of polls.
Biden says he doesn’t believe polls, but they show a disturbing trend in an election year. Both political independents and Democrats have turned away from him.
Gallup reports that Biden’s job approval rating -- 50% among independents during his first six months – has plunged to 33%. Early on, 90% of Democrats said Biden was doing a good job; that support has dropped to 80%.
Biden’s numbers are almost as bad as his predecessor’s after a year. Only 38.4% of Americans approved of President Donald Trump’s job performance then, Gallup reported.
Biden’s news conference lasted nearly two hours. Although nearly everyone agrees it went on too long, Biden showed a command of many topics, which should dispel criticism he’s not mentally up to the job. But he left unclear how the United States and NATO may respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Biden defended his record, citing 6 million new jobs created in the last year and a drop in the nation’s unemployment rate to 3.9% from 6.2%.
He also suggested he plans a reboot. Let’s hope so. A shift in approach and tone will be necessary to mend relations with voters and save his party from ignominy in November.
He will spend more time traveling, campaigning with congressional candidates, and raising campaign money, he said. He hopes looking voters in the eye and telling them where he stands will remind them why they voted for him and persuade them to back Democratic candidates.
He also will consult experts from academia, editorial writers and think tanks for “constructive criticism about what I should and shouldn’t be doing.”
That Biden is open to advice is an encouraging sign.
Hours after the news conference, the Senate jettisoned a massive voting rights bill, dealing the president another blow.
Biden vows not to give up on his stalled legislative agenda, though it will not be as grand as he hoped. He likely will break up the Build Back Better bill into digestible parts and press for passage of popular items, such as the climate section.
By focusing on the most important issues, he can challenge Republicans to put up or shut up.
Previewing a theme we’re likely to hear often, he said:
“Think about this: What are Republicans for? What are they for?”
© 2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.