It’s historically ignorant to describe Joe Biden as a failed president, which hasn’t stopped pundits from trying. From MSNBC to New York Magazine, opinion has emerged that if Biden’s infrastructure and spending package falls flat, it will be his political death sentence. Centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are described as holding the president’s very career in their hands. By refusing to support the repeal of the filibuster, and then putting up obstacles to his proposed $ 3.5 trillion spending program, they are apparently preventing Biden from doing anything.
This is undoubtedly a big political problem, because if Biden can’t do great things before Democrats lose Congress in the 2022 midterm election – which is extremely likely – he certainly won’t be able to. afterwards. If he chooses to run again in 2024, it is believed, he will be a sitting duck for Donald Trump or any other Republican who opposes him: a “failed president,” like Trump himself.
Except history suggests it doesn’t work that way. Take the case of Bill Clinton.
Around this time of Clinton’s first term, he was also widely viewed as a failure. Like Biden, he’s had a handful of positive accomplishments: signing the Family Medical Leave Act, signing the Brady Act (at the time, a landmark gun control measure), appointing Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. (Biden’s main accomplishments are his vaccine policies, COVID-19 stimulus measures, and numerous judicial appointments.)
Clinton also experienced a number of damaging scandals during this time, ranging from unflattering reports of his business activities and fundraising policies to accusations of his handling of a federal raid in Waco, Texas. He also committed a number of serious political blunders. In the 1994 midterm elections, he enacted the now infamous Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, fueling an era of mass incarceration directed largely against black men; accepted the blatant “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military, which treated LGBT rights as a bargaining chip; failed to adopt an ambitious healthcare plan led by Hillary Clinton; oversaw a military debacle in Somalia; accepted the “free trade” agreement known as NAFTA; and implemented austerity-driven tax policies that drove Democrats to the right in unrecognizable ways.
Clinton had just warmed up. Before Election Day 1996, he would also lose control of Congress mid-term in 1994 to Republicans propelled by Newt Gingrich’s “contract with America” and preside over a government shutdown in a battle. budget with those same Republicans, which was largely theirs. The US economy was generally strong during those years, but Clinton’s approval ratings fluctuated wildly. (Biden, for what it’s worth, has been solidly in the 1940s and 1950s.) It seemed entirely plausible throughout Clinton’s first term that he was losing to whoever the Republicans named, who turned out to be turned out to be Senator Bob Dole, a widely admired World War II veteran.
But American voters didn’t (and don’t) have long political memories and weren’t focused on the granular details. When the 1996 election was held, they knew the economy was doing well and the nation was at peace both at home and abroad. In keeping with the presidential election precedent, Clinton won easily. As with every election, loads of comments were written about the 1996 contest, but the explanation for Clinton’s victory is ultimately that simple.
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I’m not saying Americans don’t care about politics. But the people who follow the details of budget negotiations, legislative agreements and foreign policy are usually the ones who already know what they are thinking. If you care enough about politics to have a firm opinion on Senate filibustering, chances are you already know who you will be voting for next time around. In terms of determining election results, you probably fall into the category of people that one party wants to make sure they vote, but the other party would rather have the flu that week. It’s very likely that you will not belong to the category of people who sometimes vote for one party and sometimes for the other. This group, however small, tends to be decisive.
As I have already suggested, Biden was elected in 2020 largely because of Barack Obama – a very popular president who created a new political alignment in the 2008 election. Biden almost explicitly introduced himself as the Obama’s political heir, and he won in part for that reason. He was also running against a president – you know who I’m talking about! – who, unlike Clinton in 1996, presided over a crumbling economy and public health disaster.
Biden’s situation is certainly not an exact parallel to that of Clinton – there was no one like Trump on the horizon, and the incumbent president he defeated, George HW Bush, had the decency to s ‘go. But the most important features apply. As Trump’s defeat in 2020 makes clear, he did not fundamentally change the rules of American politics, although it sometimes felt that way. People outside his base pay no more attention to the fanciful fixations of the Trumpist right than to Gingrich’s talking points of the 1990s. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has deepened political divisions and strengthened supporters of the Republican Party. two sides. This probably makes more people vote, but it doesn’t change the distribution of votes. How? ‘Or’ What they vote. And in general, less partisan swing voters tend to vote based on perceived conditions in the country.
That’s the problem that faces anyone trying to predict the 2024 election from here: There’s no way of knowing where we’ll be in three years. Economies can boom or fail unexpectedly; international crises can arise, with leaders opposing or failing; unexpected disasters like hurricanes and pandemics can derail even the best-prepared plans. And that’s the short list. If Biden unexpectedly succeeds or blatantly fails in responding to these externalities, his political lot will improve or decline as a result. If nothing in his presidency moves the needle so much, the public will likely default to their standard voting habits.
Rather, Biden’s biggest political concern should be the Republicans’ assault on the vote. If his current approval ratings remain stable and terms remain acceptable at home and abroad, he will have a natural advantage in continuing to rely on Obama’s coalition of 2008. Yet now that the big lie Trump is used to nullify voting rights and hold partisan election officials accountable, it is possible that Biden will be robbed of a victory in 2024. If political failures right now are likely to hurt him politically in three years, it will be them which limited the ability of his constituents to keep him in power. It won’t just be the end of Biden’s career, it could mean the end of democracy, confirming Republicans’ belief that only they are entitled to political power.
But if we assume for now that people who want to vote will be widely allowed – admittedly a very big if – the 2024 election will be decided on core political loyalties, not on the histrionic bullshit of Donald Trump. Trump would like to believe he changed the world, but the same political rules that applied before he descended that golden escalator still apply today.