The president has an opportunity to retell the narrative on contentious issues that have hurt him, from household spending to COVID-19 to immigration
This particular set of late-summer woes was so damning because it attacked the core arguments of the Biden presidency. He had to be a decent and respectable president, capable, able to conquer the virus, able to work effectively across the corridor, equipped to re-establish smooth relations with allies. The civilized and respectable part remained intact, but everyone else was questioned.
Of course, every president has rough patches, and there’s something to be said for getting out of your way early. People forget that Ronald Reagan, after success in getting his tax and budget plans passed in his first year, suffered a deep downturn in his second year before those programs began. By the end of Mr. Reagan’s second year, his job-approval rating had dropped to a disastrous 35% before starting a more or less steady growth from there in a Gallup poll.
So the question for Mr Biden is: How does he reclaim his presidential narrative? Some steps seem necessary:
Take back control of messaging from the progressive wing of your party.
Let’s assume that Democrats, in the coming weeks, end up with the most modest possible outcome of their push for household spending: a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that would “build back better” than Mr. Biden’s social welfare and climate-change. Coupled with the $1.9 trillion version. Proposal. Mr Biden stacks those on top of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus plan he signed in March, and you’ll end up with nearly $5 trillion in new spending approved this year.
That’s five times the funding former President Barack Obama secured in his stimulus plan to recover from the 2008 financial crisis – a plan that seemed too ambitious at the time. Under this low-range scenario for Democrats, the additional spending approved this year would still account for about 70% of the total Fiscal 2020 federal budget.
Yet progressives are painting that potential outcome as a disaster, the result of a brutal set of “cuts” at the hands of Democratic moderates. Indeed, it will be perhaps the most significant one-year increase in spending on household programs since the Great Depression, something Mr Biden may point more strongly to his critics on the left.
Come back in the face of the Covid-19 problem.
In the intramural war on legislation that is consuming Washington, it is easy to forget that Mr Biden’s election victory in 2020 changed the sense that he would be handling the coronavirus better than former President Donald Trump. He was on his way to justify that sentiment until summer’s Delta edition changed the trend line from success to resurgence, renewing masks, social distancing and bitter fights over school openings.
Now, the spread of vaccines could push the trend line back into positive territory. Employer vaccine mandates, prompted by Mr Biden amid some controversy, are raising vaccine rates in a way that was not cajoling from public health officials. Making schools safe and free from virus controversies is the next and perhaps the last big hurdle. Mr Biden has to create a sense that he has faced that problem.
Use the opportunities that come to re-establish the potential on the world stage.
The upcoming meeting of the Group of 20 industrialized nations, a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a global conference on climate change: all represent an opportunity for Mr Biden not only to take the lead, but to convince voters that Why did they believe it? It is important to leave the fighting in Afghanistan behind to focus on some of the bigger problems ahead.
Controlling the immigration crisis.
Democrats probably underestimate the damage done to them by a series of migrant surges at the southern border this year. We have learned that no president—indeed, no world leader—can fully control the movement of migrants today. They can show that they have a comprehensive plan in place to reduce flow at the source, handle it more smoothly at the border, and ensure more orderly processing of arrivals.
Gerald F. Seib at [email protected]