Recent news reports have been filled with results of one poll after another after another showing that President Biden continues to weaken as a candidate for re-election. With an overall approval rating now 21 points underwater, polling shows that Biden has lost support among key demographics that made his 2020 victory possible, especially among younger people and people of color. Alarm bells among pro-Biden pundits have finally begun to break the political sound barrier.
But on Capitol Hill, all is quiet on the Democratic front.
A vast gap has emerged between current assessments in the media, largely based on voter opinion data, and public claims from congressional Democrats, who keep their nose to the talking-points grindstone. One effect of this is that party leaders and backbenchers alike are losing credibility with the party’s base.
The gap is so lopsided that a poll this month found 67 percent of “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters” said they didn’t want Biden to run again. Meanwhile, no more than 1 percent of Democrats in Congress are willing to say so in public. By any measure, a disconnect between 67 and 1 percent is, uh, substantial.
For Democratic lawmakers to be so untethered from the people who elected them tells you a lot about the compliant relationship that usually prevails among elected Democrats toward the White House. It also signifies an unhealthy relationship between Democrats in elected office and the party’s activist base.
While supposedly representing a progressive grassroots base to the political establishment, some members of Congress end up literally doing the opposite: representing the political establishment to the progressive grassroots base.
The dire need for progressive advances in government policies is undermined when elected Democrats reflexively echo the Biden 2024 campaign line and pretend that he’s a sufficiently strong candidate to defeat the neofascist Republican Party next year. When deferring to congressional Democrats who in turn defer to the man in the Oval Office, progressive activists and organizations end up functioning more like supplicants than constituents in a representative democracy.
Top Democrats and their allies have publicly touted the canard that cast Joe Biden as a hero of last year’s midterms. The intoxication of that messaging stands in sharp contrast to the sober clarity from a re-elected House Democrat who spoke to the New York Times “on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the White House.” The newspaper reported that the congressmember said “Biden’s numbers were ‘a huge drag’ on Democratic candidates, who won in spite of the president not thanks to him.”
Polling in the 10 months since then indicates that Biden would likely be an even huger drag on Democratic candidates a year from now. But hope springs eternal, and so does fear of angering the White House. With the start of presidential primaries just a few months away, the crux of the matter is that Democrats in Congress are opting for self-focused, risk-averse conformity rather than visionary leadership.
Now — while even pro-Biden media like CNN and MSNBC are, at last, sounding more realistic about the president’s polling deficits — prominent Democrats are either keeping quiet about the grim possibility of a 2024 political train wreck or are spouting feelgood nonsense worthy of the myopic Mr. Magoo. The more that Democrats in the House and Senate declare that Biden will be an ideal standard-bearer next year, the more it seems they’ve been swallowed up by a Capitol Hill bubble.
Yet mainstream media outlets are now underscoring the wide distance between Democratic players on the Hill and the Democratic voters who’ve put them there. NBC News summed up the situation this way: “When party elites look at President Joe Biden, they see the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt. When voters view the president, many see an old man.”
More important than the president’s age, however, is the fact that many hear timeworn ideas and promises that ring hollow. Working-class voters can see and hear a president who has refused to really fight for their economic interests, while corporate greed has driven prices ever upward. It can only invite eye-rolling from core Democratic constituencies when Biden and his advocates proclaim that he’s going to go all-out to fight for their interests in his second term after not doing so in the first.
To Democratic officeholders, worried about retaining the White House and their own seats, such matters might seem relatively unimportant. But the potentially bleak electoral consequences are foreseeable. Biden simply has not used the bully pulpit of the presidency to battle for progressive measures that are poll-tested and popular with the electorate.
Democrats in Congress have ample reason to be apprehensive about next year. But their silence and spin increasingly make them look more like PR operatives than like leaders. The more they prop up Joe Biden to run for re-election, the better the odds that Donald Trump will return to the White House in 2025.
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