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How did Joe Biden do?
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For some readers, the passing of Meatloaf will be everything.
For David Ignatius, less so.
Every word of today’s Wide World of News (with the exception of the words about Meatloaf) can be overtaken instantly if Putin makes an incursion (major or minor) into Ukraine.
Two days on, there are a pair of ways to evaluate the impact of the Biden marathon press conference: theater criticism and the practical effects.
In terms of theater criticism, American political journalism’s two center-right equivalents of John Simon and Walter Kerr panned the perf.
The long news conference wasn’t a success, though it was daring (almost two hours, live) and probably worth the dare (nothing else is working). President Biden came out swinging, pushed back on critics, made big claims—it’s been “a year of enormous progress.” The White House seemed to want to show him thinking aloud, being reflective, at ease. He gave it his best, but it didn’t work. Unfinished sentences, non sequiturs; sometimes his thoughts seem like bumper cars crashing and forcing each other off course. I still don’t understand his defense of his comment equating opponents of his voting bill with historic Southern racists. Angrily: “No, I didn’t say that. Look what I said. Go back and read what I said and tell me if you think I called anyone who voted on the side of the position taken by Bull Connor that they were Bull Connor. That is an interesting reading of English. I assume you got into journalism because you liked to write.” A lot of things simply couldn’t be parsed. After the Afghanistan debacle he was defiant and defensive. You could see some of that on Wednesday also….
He is misdiagnosing his problem. It isn’t that his stands and decisions haven’t been fully understood and will be embraced if comprehended more fully. It’s that his stands and decisions the past year were basically understood and disliked. It’s not a communications problem, it’s a substance problem. It would be better if he spent his second year readjusting his positions. But politicians always think it’s a communications problem. Because that means the back office is blowing it, not you.
It’s a day since President Joe Biden’s press conference marking the first anniversary of his swearing-in, and I remain in the same state of horrified and stunned disbelief I experienced while watching it.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to see the behavior of an actual human being, as opposed to a character in a spy movie, who’d been given a shot of sodium pentothal. That’s what Biden was like at the press conference. Everything he said he probably shouldn’t have said, but he just couldn’t help himself. It was his Internal Monologue Made Exterior, and it was terrifying.
I don’t know Joe Biden as well as Richard Ben Cramer did. And I don’t know if his mood on Thursday was a result of his own (negative?) critique of how he did in the press conference or – much more likely – of his disdain towards and disappointment at the media coverage of the event.
But I do know that this was not a man in a great mood in reacting to a shouted question:
So let’s review how Mr. Biden did on the important metric of “Did the press conference put him in better shape, worse shape, or no change?” on the most keyest of areas.
Better = 😀
Worse = 🥲
No change = 🤔
1. Putting Putin in his place. 🥲
Halperin says: Team Biden’s best asset in this Cold/Hot fight is/was solidarity with Europe, always tenuous and now, at best, badly frayed via unforced error.
2. Getting Build Back Better in a better place. 🥲
Halperin says: Talk of revival is belied by the sweet, sour, and SALTy tribulations that lie ahead, with perhaps the biggest danger politically that Team Biden-Harris-Pelosi-Schumer will spend months more on this project and end up empty-handed, divided, and finger pointing through the midterms.
3. Having the upper hand on voting issues versus the Republicans. 🥲
Halperin says: The legislative failure is one thing, but acting like Donald Trump in undermining Americans confidence in an election that hasn’t even been held yet will go down in the history books as a bell that can’t be unrung (even by ace bell unringer Jen Psaki).
4. Subduing Republicans. 🤔
Halperin says: McConnell, McCarthy, McTrump all were emboldened and not the least bit cowed by what they saw and heard.
5. Installing confidence in Democrats that he will be a big help to them in the midterms. 🥲
Halperin says: Let’s see who is most in demand on the campaign trail (for reasons besides fundraising) from Labor Day forward: Joe Biden, Jill Biden, M. Harris, M. Obama, B. Obama, H. Clinton, P. Buttigieg.
6. Giving people a sense he is on top of inflation and the pandemic. 🤔
Halperin says: Biden’s job approval rating might not be 33% but it would be surprising if the next round of polls showed it above 45%.
7. Convincing the White House press corps that happy days are here again. 🥲
Halperin says: Unlike the president, the media believes the polls – and will be driven by them until the gates of heck.
8. Imbuing the Gang of 500 with the confidence that he has a comeback/reset/turn-the-page narrative ready to go. 🥲
Halperin predicts: Folks will be laughing until they cry at Lauriol Plaza on Sunday at this paragraph from the New York Times:
Four internal strategy memos drafted by White House advisers this week lay out the shift ahead of Mr. Biden’s first State of the Union address to Congress on March 1: The president will ramp up his attacks on Republicans ahead of the midterm election campaigns to help Democratic candidates. He will travel the nation more and engage with voters. And he will focus more on what he has already accomplished than on legislative victories he hopes to achieve.
9. Staunching the peanut gallery call for some scalps of senior administration officials. 🤔
Halperin says: The loyal/dependent Mr. Biden can resist calls for heads on pikes as long as he wishes – the calls will never die (as long as the poll numbers are what they are); from that same New York Times piece:
Privately, some allies of the president have also raised questions about Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, who is deeply involved in developing strategy and messaging for Mr. Biden, especially on domestic policy, the pandemic and the economy. But Mr. Biden on Wednesday insisted he is not planning any immediate staff shake-ups.
10. Easing fears that he hasn’t lost a step (or two). 🤔
Halperin says: For much of Blue America and the Dominant Media, absolutely; for less invested observers, no.
11. Solving the perception of weakness 🥲
Halperin says: Henry Olsen does not think so:
If Biden can’t even get two wayward Democratic senators on board with their party’s priorities, why would Putin think he can get sovereign countries to engage in economic self-harm? The sheer incongruity of what Biden threatens makes the threat weaker, and thus weakens him as well….
Biden’s [Ukraine] gaffe is consistent with what we’ve seen so far. He is a weak president who is neither feared nor loved. For the United States, that will likely mean a devastating defeat for Democrats in this year’s midterms. For Ukraine and other U.S. allies, it could mean much worse.
None of this means Joe Biden can’t turn things around.
But it is hard to argue that the press conference turned things around.
Rich Lowry’s very smart take on Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, and the near-future of the Republican Party:
After Trump’s presidency, the party is more populist, focused on the culture war, resistant to media narratives and skeptical of business — and it would remain so if Trump retired tomorrow and promised never to utter another word about politics.
Although in many ways an orthodox conservative, DeSantis covers all these bases. Importantly, he’s a lightning rod for criticism from the left — now a major plus for Republican voters — and gives as good as he gets in clashes with the media. There are few causes that light up the Republican base that he doesn’t find a way to address, whether on big tech or critical race theory, and he has emerged as the party’s exemplar on the pandemic, with his strenuous opposition to lockdowns and mandates. This gives him credibility with Trump voters and the foundation to compete with Trump, not as a critic or scold, but as someone who can do it better and, in a few instances, perhaps go further.
In fact, it is likely that the most successful line of attack against a potential candidate Trump will prove, one way or the other, to come from the right.
For all the latest news all the time, check out the 24/7 website the Walking Duck.