On the surface, Joe Biden seems to be doing pretty well. But underneath, there are signs of problems, areas where partisan overstretch threatens the underpinnings of what some are hailing as the new order of things.
Joe Biden enjoys a 54% average job approval rating, a good mark for a president midterm or facing reelection but below the 100-day numbers of every post-World War II president except Donald Trump. Biden’s 42% disapproval is higher than theirs and about equal to Trump’s. That may understate things if, as The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter suggests, polls are undersampling Republican voters.
The deepening partisan divisions of the last quarter century are not over and done with.
Biden’s appeal to white non-college voters apparently remains limited. Thus the retirement of downstate Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, head of House Democrats’ campaign committee for the (disappointing) 2020 cycle. Her district voted 58% for Barack Obama in 2012 and voted 50% to 48% for Trump last year; she won by a margin of only 52% to 48%.
Similarly, Rep. Tim Ryan is leaving his Youngstown-Akron district for an iffy U.S. Senate run in Ohio, and suburban Pittsburgh’s Conor Lamb may do so in Pennsylvania. He hasn’t been helped by local Democratic environmental regulators whose decisions caused U.S. Steel to cancel a $1.5 billion investment.
Nor are Biden Democrats doing all that well among the upscale voters repelled by Trump. The May 1 special election in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex resulted in the nomination of two Republicans in a district that Trump carried by only a margin of 51% to 47% last year. Republican candidates won 62% of the votes and Democrats only 37%.
This may reflect liberal apathy. The audience for Joe Biden’s April 28 speech was about 30% smaller than Trump’s audience for his 2020 State of the Union. Viewership of pro-Biden MSNBC and CNN is down by even larger percentages. And the never-Trump constituency seems to be fading as well.
Now that Trump is out of office and off Twitter, Trump haters are no longer watching to savor his latest outrage and schmooze over it with likeminded friends.
Meanwhile, upscale voters don’t seem enchanted with the woke Biden agenda when they see it up close. Across the metroplex, turnout was high as voters in affluent Southlake, Texas, voted 70% to 30% to oust school board members who mandated critical race theory instruction, which the Biden Education Department wants to encourage.
Their reactions were apparently similar to those of New York elite school parents, as reported by the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz. So much for “systemic racism.”
Even in hyperliberal Austin, 57% of voters reinstated a law banning camping in public spaces. The desire to “keep Austin weird” evidently doesn’t go so far as endorsing California-style tent cities under every overpass.
Biden’s connection with homeless policy may be tenuous; not so with what’s happening on our southern border. Despite administration insistence that there’s no problem, even Biden himself has described it as a “crisis.”
His insistence in his televised April 29 speech that it was under control didn’t impress Democrats with border constituencies. “What I didn’t hear tonight was a plan to address the immediate crisis at the border,” said Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly.
Though Biden might “say that we have everything under control,” said Laredo-based Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, “we’re not paying attention to the border’s communities. And it’s not under control. I can tell you that.” He’s right: One hundred and seventy thousand people were apprehended at the southern border in March, the highest monthly total since 2006.
Perhaps that’s the reason for the retirements of border Democratic Reps. Filemon Vela of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Ann Kirkpatrick, who represents Tucson and Cochise County, Arizona.
There’s no question that most voters — other than hardcore Democrats — reject the administration spin, like Kamala Harris’ pathetic claim that “lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience” are causes of the surge of migrants at the border. A CNN poll shows 78% agreeing that the border is in “crisis,” while an NBC poll shows 59% disapproval to 35% approval of Biden’s performance on border security and immigration.
The Biden-Harris claim that nothing is amiss at the border bespeaks an inability to understand what is absurd — which can be fatal in politics. It’s also apparent in the claim of there being “systemic racism” among police, which reached absurd lengths when Democratic partisans criticized police for shooting one black girl who was about to stab another.
As homicides increase in city after city at the highest rates ever measured, and as tens of thousands keep crossing the border illegally, a lukewarm overall-positive rating and a de-energized core constituency may not be enough for Democrats to hold on to their current tenuous majorities.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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