President Joe Biden’s plunging public approval rating isn’t his problem. It is a reflection of his problem.
Biden held a big ceremony this week to sign the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the $1.2 trillion measure passed after months of wrangling in Congress. The public is well aware of it. And yet, in a new Washington Post poll, taken after the bill’s passage, Biden’s job approval rating has hit a new low — just 38% among registered voters, versus 57% who disapprove. So much for those Democrats who thought passing a big bill would boost Biden’s numbers.
Here’s what’s worse — much worse. For many years, pollsters have asked what is called the “generic ballot” question. There are many ways to say it, but it is basically, “If the election were today, would you vote for the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in your district?” In the new Post poll, 51% of registered voters said the Republican candidate and 41% said the Democratic candidate.
For people who follow the generic ballot, that’s a stunning number. Usually Democrats lead Republicans on the question. In fact, the GOP has never had a number as high as 51% in decades of Post polling. Even before big wins in 1994 and 2010, Republicans did not have that big a lead in the generic ballot. But now, it’s 10 points — a “historically strong result for Republicans on this measure,” according to the Post. Watch for panic among Democrats that a White House signing ceremony won’t ease.
That’s a major problem for Democrats. But an even bigger problem is the state and future of the Biden White House. The issue, simply put, is whether the soon-to-turn-79-year-old president — the oldest in U.S. history — will be able to run for reelection in 2024. And if he doesn’t, whether his unpopular vice president, Kamala Harris, can win the Democratic nomination to succeed him. And if she can’t win, who can?
The speculation, finger-pointing and backbiting caused by the uncertainty is well under way. Recently CNN published a piece in which unnamed Biden allies trashed Harris — the lead to the story was, “Worn out by what they see as entrenched dysfunction and lack of focus, key West Wing aides have largely thrown up their hands at Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff — deciding there simply isn’t time to deal with them right now.”
Even Harris’ supporters, CNN reported, “see no coherent public sense of what she’s done or trying to do as vice president.” Those same supporters pointed the finger at the Biden White House, saying Harris has been “sidelined” by the president.
While Biden is struggling, Harris is struggling even more. Media reports suggest that a number of Democrats — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar — are positioning themselves as possible 2024 candidates should Biden not run and Harris have insufficient support to claim the nomination. “President Joe Biden says he intends to run for reelection in 2024,” Politico reports. “But not all Democrats believe him. Nor are they convinced his No. 2 would be the clear heir if he did choose to opt out.”
Were that scenario to materialize, of course, there would be a huge fight inside the Democratic Party, with an old, weak president leaving the stage and each candidate having supporters, and above it all the Harris side raising the question of what it would mean for the party to cast aside a woman who is both the first female vice president and the first vice president of color.
It’s a mess. To put it mildly, it is not good if you are a new president, less than a year into the job, and people in your own party are speculating that you can’t make it past one term and your vice president isn’t strong enough to succeed you.
All of this stems from one fact: Biden is too old to be president. Democrats knew when they chose him that Biden would be 82 at the end of his term and, if reelected, would serve until he was 86 years old. That is unprecedented in American history. On top of that, Biden has clearly slowed down in recent years — looking at videos from a decade ago, when he was vice president, he was noticeably more vigorous than he is today. (And it’s not as if Biden was ever a brilliant leader, capable of shouldering the responsibilities of the presidency, even in his prime.)
Put it all together, and the Biden White House, just months into power, has become a dumpster fire. Some of its problems are fixable. But other problems are structural — they won’t get better even if Congress passes this or that bill. Biden’s age, of course, was not a secret during the 2020 campaign. Voters knew what they were getting. And now they’re getting it.