By Arab News
By Dr. John C. Hulsman*
Pare away the daily mystifications of the 24-hour news cycle and, at base, American political analysis becomes beguilingly simple. In a big picture way, you can take the current temperature of any White House by knowing only three things: The approval rating of the president, what time stage of the presidency the White House finds itself at, and the party composition of the Congress.
We have talked at length about the critical congressional component and now must spend a little time thinking through the other two basic parameters determining the health of a presidency. During my Washington days, old political hands in both parties let me in on a commonly agreed secret: The president’s approval rating was like taking the temperature of a child; in both cases, it determines the patient’s overall health. Presidents with an approval rating below 40 percent can be safely ignored by Congress, as the chief executive’s political health is so perilous as to make them a nonentity. On the other hand, those with an approval rating above 60 percent can pretty much do what they want, given their countrywide acclaim. So, below 40 percent the president is enfeebled; above 60 percent, omnipotent.
Second, historically, everything domestically gets done in the first two years of a presidency. This was true for Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive agenda, the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, and the radical economic program of Ronald Reagan. The basic political reason for this is that the first midterm of any presidency since 1934 — the height of the Great Depression — results in the opposing party making big gains at the expense of the new White House, as buyer’s remorse sets in. After this, with the composition of the Congress arrayed against it, the White House turns to foreign affairs, which constitutionally gives the president far more freedom to maneuver, with far less congressional oversight.
So these are the basic, unbending rules of the American political game. It is within this unchanging analytical framework that we ought to look at the new report card, grading the state of the Biden presidency. The Gallup poll of July 23 found Joe Biden’s overall approval rating falling to 50 percent, the lowest of his presidency, down from 57 percent at the time of his inauguration.
While still relatively high, the decline will be worrying to the White House, especially as the president’s overall slide has been led by a fall in support from pivotal independent voters, who are usually the decisive bloc in US elections. According to Gallup, Biden’s support from independents has rather dramatically fallen from 61 percent at the start of his term to just 48 percent today. While there has been no single overarching reason for the decline, a series of smaller setbacks have congealed into the public’s more negative perception of the White House.
Renewed fears of systemic inflation (and Biden’s seeming blithe indifference to the danger), the tie-up of his two mammoth spending bills in Congress (as Democratic Party progressives and moderates publicly squabble), the introduction of deeply unpopular racial “wokeness” into children’s education (led by the Democratic-leaning teachers’ unions), Biden’s halting performance at the CNN televised town hall meeting (where verbally the president often seemed tied in knots), the dramatic rise in the crime rate (with homicides in Los Angeles rising a stratospheric 200 percent), and an influx of illegal immigrants on the Mexican border (as hapless Vice President Kamala Harris tries to laugh off the problem) are all to blame for the immediate fall.
The overall picture being painted by these mini-crises is deeply damaging to the White House. Biden is increasingly seen as an amiable, if weak, moderate figurehead for a whole leftist Democratic agenda that is entirely out of touch with what culturally remains a center-right country.
Worse, if 100 years of historical precedent is to be believed in terms of the critical parameter of time, Biden must know his own is running out, in terms of his chance to implement his ambitious domestic program. The midterms of 2022 loom dead ahead. The early indications are that, while the Democrats may do better than the historical norm in the evenly divided Senate, due to both redistricting (which favors Republicans) and the usual voter fatigue for the party in power, control of the House is likely to pass to the GOP. If this proves to be the case, for all intents and purposes, Biden’s chance to run with the domestic football is over.
All these factors, which accurately gauge how Washington really works, point to the same analytical conclusion. While Biden’s presidency is still viable, time is running out on his expansive domestic agenda due to his falling popularity, the coming of the midterms, and the public’s worry that he is just the smiling, acceptable face of a far more left-wing agenda. As a result, if Biden is to pass his two mammoth spending bills, he must do so very soon, before the window of opportunity closes entirely. To put this in energy terms, we have probably already passed peak Biden. It is now or never for his ambitious agenda, as the usual forces limiting any presidency begin to close in all around him.
- Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via chartwellspeakers.com.