Where Does Joe Biden Go From Here?
The 46th president must assess the path forward after a tumultuous month-and-a-half for both his domestic and foreign policy agendas.
To say Joe Biden is at a crossroads is to batter his predicament into cliche and rob him of the unique standing afforded the president of the United States.
As we enter what is now functionally month 19 of a coronavirus world, anyone who tells you he is not at a crossroads is a psychopath. It’s a new decade, with a new White House, and the path ahead, particularly in America… Well, it’s been a long time since it’s been this hazy.
President Biden is coming off a month-and-a-half of momentous decisions that have come with political costs: most notably, and laudably, to leave Afghanistan come hell or high water (and hell came). The relative decrease in the president’s popularity looks real. Nevertheless, the oldest president in history appears to be plunging ahead.
Now, Biden is throwing in with his so-called progressive left flank to push forward an ambitious domestic agenda: a relatively bipartisan infrastructure deal combined with the largest social spending proposal since the Great Society. The “realignment” has been the watchword in U.S. politics in recent years; it’s not a total stretch to imagine a right-populist president such as Tucker Carlson pushing forward a similar crush of spending in the future.
But, for now, partisanship is winning the day.
On the left, progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and a sudden rising star Rep. Pramila Jayapal are endangering the infrastructure deal by tangling up the vote there with the Great Society redux.
And on the right, whatever sympathies the populists have with a big league spending plan of national renewal are subsumed by somewhat understandable suspicions of the left. That is, that the spending will simply be funneled to a hodgepodge of murky progressive causes, as well as piecemeal repairs to national infrastructure, instead of tackling big problems.
Who, after all, truly remembers what exactly President Barack Obama spent $1 trillion on in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009?
Moving over to social spending, the sheer size of the near $4 trillion price tag is indicative of Biden’s ambition to outdo his old boss, as well as demonstrate that the government can work. Congressional Republicans are doubtful, both on the merits of the policy as well as the politics. A source told me that, at a recent meeting of several key House Republicans, all in the room were “100 percent confident” the Grand Old Party would retake the House next year. Republicans are similarly licking their chops at the prospect of an upset coup in the Virginia governor’s race.
Here’s a thought: What if a party elite that once tried to anoint Jeb Bush as its standard-bearer is misreading the room?
Democrats lead by a full four points on the generic ballot, according to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregator. Despite the establishment hype, Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin, again according to polling, is doing no better than Donald Trump did in the Old Dominion, where the 45th president, whatever his clear political gifts in the Rust Belt and the Rio Grande Valley, accelerated the abysmal decline of the state party in Sweet Virginia.
The only major data point on offer lately, Gavin Newsom’s cruise-control survival in California, has clear implications nationally. The governor won even in Orange County. Quite plausibly benefitting from the riots of 2020, two surprise Republican Congresswomen hail from Southern California. But absent a similar state of siege, that the duo holds on to the seats is no guarantee.
Which is all to say that a repeat performance is not guaranteed for the emerging, multiracial working class coalition that so shocked in 2020, and is so clearly the GOP’s only plausible future. After all, the special elections in Georgia in January 2021 were negative omens for the Republican brand of doubting the validity of the elections they had just overperformed in. It already cost this party the Senate, and in 2022, it could cost it the House.
At the risk of another cliche, it should be underlined that victories can be pyrrhic. It’s unclear that Republican triumph in 2022 on a message of opposing Biden’s Afghanistan policy, of essentially opposing vaccines, of opposing spending on roads and spending on the poor, and with Donald Trump as de facto party standard-bearer… it’s unclear that would set the party up well in 2024.
So for now, it’s likely a political mistake, as it has been for 50 years, to write off the president, Joe Biden.