Wednesday, August 3, 2022

BTRTN: Democrats, Ask Not What Joe Biden Can Do For You…

Tom with the BTRTN July 2022 Month in Review.

Imagine this presidency.  You, the new president, came to office after a close election, with a razor thin majority in each House of Congress.  Your vanquished predecessor challenged the outcome of the election, without a shred of evidence of fraud, and, far from participating in a peaceful transition, orchestrated a coup in an attempt to overturn the result.  This delegitimized your presidency in the eyes of about one-third of those you govern.  You inherited a world beset by a runaway virus that your predecessor did little to abate, a languishing vaccination distribution program, a sputtering economy, severely damaged relations with your allies, and truly atrocious relations with your opposition party, who’s cooperation you would need in order to pass most of the legislation required to fix the problems, due to arcane congressional laws not suited for these polarized times.  Congratulations!

And yet, in less than two years, you have managed to vaccinate any American who wanted to be, nurtured the country back to some level of normalcy, and returned to productive and unified relations with our allies.  Your legislative record, even in the face of those slim margins, has been astonishingly productive:  you have signed into law several milestone pieces of bi-partisan legislation on issues (infrastructure and gun control) that vexed your predecessors; are on the verge of further breakthrough legislation on climate change (including important provisions on health care and debt reduction) and business competitiveness (particularly in the vital semiconductor industry); and kept Americans afloat during the pandemic with a jobs-driven stimulus package that helped drive unemployment to historic lows.  On top of all this, when Russia unilaterally attacked Ukraine, you formed a coalition of allies to counter the threat, by arming the Ukrainians, who performed exceptionally with those weapons to keep the Russians at bay.  Furthermore, you orchestrated sanctions that isolated Russia on the world stage, enough so that Finland and Sweden felt moved to apply for NATO membership.  American soldiers are no longer fighting and dying in Afghanistan, nor in Ukraine, nor, in fact, in any hostile theater around the globe.

Your efforts have been rewarded with, as might be expected, universal acclaim and a soaring approval rating --- wait, what?  With all this, your approval rating has actually steadily dropped -- about a point each month -- since you took office, from 55% to its current level of 39%.  Worse, you are not just losing Trump-rejecting Republicans and independents who largely voted for you.  You are losing the support of Democrats.  Your approval rating within your own party has dropped from roughly 90% to 75%, and some polls say that three-quarters of them want someone else heading the ticket in 2024. 

How can this be?  There are really two answers, one for everyone, and a different one for the Democrats.

The first answer is a single word:  inflation.  Biden is getting crushed by a global marketplace force that he did not instigate, nor can he control.  Inflation is not soaring due to the Biden Stimulus (as his opponents would have you believe).  Rather, inflation has been caused by the laws of supply and demand.  Demand is just fine, thank you.  But global supplies – food, gas, labor – have been sharply curtailed by a combination of the pandemic, which disrupted both supply chains and the availability of labor, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused grave shortages in energy (as the West forsook Russian oil) and food (as Ukraine grain shipments have been stymied).  The only real tools to fight inflation, now over 9%, are to solve the root cause problems of Covid and Russia – talk about a challenge – and use monetary policy to put the brakes on the “demand” side of the equation, which is the Fed’s domain, and they are on a rate-hike frenzy to achieve that mission.

So…Biden did not cause inflation, nor does Biden command the tools necessary to tame it.  And yet he shoulders the blame.  The president may be the most powerful person in the world, but the presidency is no match for global forces such as Mother Nature and the global marketplace.  And inflation is a global problem, not just a U.S. one.

Sure, inflation has not been Biden’s only problem.  He has hardly been perfect.  His communication efforts on Covid have been mixed to poor, his Afghanistan exit looked hideous, and he has made statements about inflation’s duration and Afghanistan’s Taliban threat that were as premature as Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration years ago.  But even the best presidencies have their nicks.

The second answer involves why Biden’s approval rate is dropping among Democrats.  Biden is facing a backlash from the left.  And it is all about expectations.

The Democrats are a big tent Party, a coalition built among a diverse set of white, elite liberals and various minorities who have been marginalized for centuries.  The constituencies care about an array of issues, self-organized into a loosely allied set of interest groups who are rightly demanding urgent action on climate change, gun control, immigration reform, reproductive health rights, voting rights and election integrity, police and criminal justice reform, access to health care at lower costs, student debt and much, much more. 

In order to get elected – with the existential threat of four more years of Donald Trump hanging in the balance – Biden did what he had to do to motivate everyone in the big tent to get out and vote:  he made promises.  He championed the rather quaint notion that he could revive the lost art of working across the aisle to achieve bipartisan legislation that would address these issues.  This claim struck virtually every jaded political commentator as hopelessly naïve.  The progressives, however, believed him, perhaps a little too much.  They expected Biden to act immediately on their specific cause in return for their support.

But as the month’s passed, various sticks were poked in the spinning wheels of congressional machinations to enact the Biden agenda by Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.  The media, filling the void left by the absence of Donald Trump, breathlessly tracked every twist and turn in the Manchima saga, giving the perception that absolutely nothing was happening. The progressives, rather hysterically and prematurely, felt betrayed.  The Biden Administration does not manage optics very well.

But what was lost in all of this is what the Biden Administration is actually pretty good at -- which was the actual substance.  One by one, those promises are being kept.  Maybe not when measured against the lofty ambitions of the left, but clearly material progress, adding up to trillions of dollars and meaningful progress.  FDR may have been inspiring, and LBJ knew just how to grab those lapels, but it sure did not hurt that each had Democratic supermajorities in Congress to get the New Deal and Great Society through.   Biden has exactly a four-seat edge in the House, and Kamala Harris in the Senate.  Plus he has little – no, zero – leverage over Manchin.  The left wants Manchin “punished” by stripping him of his committee chairmanship, which would simply drive Manchin to the GOP in a heartbeat, allowing Mitch McConnell to snatch the Majority Leader’s gavel from Chuck Schumer within seconds.

Congress acts in linear fashion.   You can only vote on one bill at a time.  You cannot do everything at once, and every single Democratic Senator and every House bloc essentially has veto power over everything; and congresspersons love the attention that that veto power grants them.  It is a process that requires an exceedingly large amount of patience, and the left exhausted their quota of that long ago.

Despite all this, Biden – the master of the “art of the possible” – has compiled a legislative record that is already impressive and could become historic before the midterms:  the stimulus, the infrastructure bill, and the gun control bill have been signed into law, and, quite likely, the climate change (a.k.a. “Inflation Reduction Act”) and business competitiveness bill will be passed soon.  There is an election reform bill being worked on by a bipartisan group of Senators, and action on student debt is still possible, and who knows what else.

Biden is getting little credit for this legislative record, nor for his COVID vaccination distribution program, the actual accomplishment of exiting Afghanistan, the near perfect handling of the Ukraine invasion, the near-full employment status of the economy and yes, even the sudden drop in gas prices over the past month.  Biden also just undercut one of the major critiques of his Afghan exit – that it would strengthen terrorist activity without any “on the ground” intelligence to track them – with the remarkable “over the horizon” killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Yes, we are safer now under Joe Biden’s leadership.

Despite all this, the majority of Democrats want Biden’s head.

Democrats are guilty of very lazy thinking in somehow completely missing the root causes of our biggest issues (Covid and Putin), the mood of our electorate (center right), the composition of Congress (nothing near a mandate for progressive action), how laws actually get passed (it’s up to Manchima), and the composition of the Supreme Court (six conservative votes).  Blaming Biden for inflation, gas prices, Dobbs v Jackson, and the failure to pass, 18 months in, every desired piece of legislation, et al, is insanity. 

This is no time to whine about legislation that does not meet the full realization of progressive aspiration, nor to complain that Biden has not addressed every issue as yet.  This is a time to celebrate our wins, and organize to hold onto the Senate and, yes, even the House, so that we can do even more in the next two years, thus laying the groundwork for four more beyond that.  Bashing Biden is not only undeserved, it serves no useful purpose.  In fact, for Democrats, it is literally self-defeating.  You want Trump back?  Keep bashing Biden.  Any Democrat who is atop the ticket in 2024, even if it is not Biden, is going to have to defend the record, and they will and they should.  You cannot beat the Republicans by criticizing your own party, not in the world we live in.  You have to motivate them to get out to vote.

Republicans have been very focused on winning elections for over a decade now.  They focused locally first, winning statehouses and state legislatures.  Then, having amassed state power, they managed to win the presidency in 2016 with Trump, despite losing the popular vote.  Trump and McConnell then captured the Supreme Court, and then drained the Federal government of power, letting it slide to the locals, where the GOP calls the shots.

What have the Democrats done in that time?  Well, we managed to win back the White House, Senate and House, because Trump was an idiot, but we failed to understand that slim majorities are not sufficient.  The progressives perhaps assumed that Schumer could reconcile our way to some wins, and kill the filibuster to secure the rest.  Somehow, no one noticed that a certain red state Democratic Senator, who might be open to support some rather substantial progress, had no interest at all in the full progressive agenda or in nuking the filibuster, and he was not alone in that.  And he had veto power over everything.  Why is that so difficult to grasp?

We shouldn’t spend our precious time, breath, energy and resource bashing Biden – instead, we should figure out how to win enough elections to do what needs to be done. 

First order of business:  let’s change the “woe is me” narrative.  It starts with backing Biden.  Let’s get behind the guy.  He defeated Trump, he’s thwarted Putin, he passed legislation that none of Bush, Obama or Trump could get through, and some that none thought possible, he’s restored our global relationships and, perhaps above all, integrity and sound decision processes to government.  On the whole, facing massive, massive challenges, he is guiding us well through extraordinary times.  He deserves full-throated support from the Democrats.

The bottom line:  ask not what Biden can do for you, ask what you can do for Biden.


In this section we typically highlight an incident, or a quote, or some happening that is too much to believe.  But this month, the madness is simply pervasive.

On the one hand, the January 6 committee has done a simply stupendous job awakening America to the very real threat Donald Trump – and his party – pose to democracy.

And on the other, as outlined above, the Democrats have once again organized themselves into a circular firing squad, with the man who saved us from Trump, Joe Biden, in the middle.


Joe Biden’s approval rating for the month of July dropped again down to 39%.   


Biden’s “key issue” ratings on average dropped another point from June levels, although there was another 3-point dip on the question of whether America was on the “right track” or not.  That particular number, now down to 19%, has to be extremely concerning for the Biden Administration, although clearly this reflects Democrats exasperation with more than Biden (note the large gap between the 19% and Biden’s 39% approval rating), and presumably that dissatisfaction is directed at the Republicans in general for some combination of January 6, SCOTUS and Congressional gridlock.


In July polling, on average the GOP continues to lead the Democrats on the generic ballot, but the gap has been reduced from +3 to +1, or back to the level seen earlier in the year. 

Using BTRTN’s proprietary models (which have been extremely accurate in midterm elections), if this lead was still in place on Election Day in 2022, and adding in +4 seats for the net impact of redistricting, the GOP would pick up about 24 seats and take over the House with some room to spare.  While this would be quite a decisive move, it would be of lesser magnitude than the losses experienced by Bill Clinton (-54 seats), Barack Obama (-63) and Donald Trump (-40). 


The “Bidenometer” rose in June for the first time since January 2022, increasing from +2 to +11.  Biden can thus continue to claim that, from an economic standpoint, America is “better off” than it was when he took over from Trump.

The increase was driven by an improvement in the GDP, a drop in the price of gas, and a rise in the stock market.  These gains were offset by a modest drop in consumer confidence, and there was no change in the unemployment rate. 

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +12 means that, on average, the five measures are 12% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +11, the economy is performing slightly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, the consumer confidence is higher, the GDP is stronger and the Dow is higher.  On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move slightly upward to +11 under Biden.



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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.


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