How Biden can start winning on the economy and Ukraine

President Joe Biden speaks on the March jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 1, 2022.
Anna Rose Layden
President Joe Biden speaks on the March jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 1, 2022.

Within the last month, President Joe Biden gave his first State of the Union address, led the national and international response to Europe’s largest war since World War II and made a historic nomination to the Supreme Court. 

Despite the significance of these events — and the opportunities that each offered Biden to bolster his waning public support — the president has not been able to improve his political position.

Biden’s approval rating hit a new low this week, according to an NBC News poll, which found that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance, while just 40 percent approve.  

The president’s inability to increase his public support is mainly the byproduct of two factors.

First, Americans are pessimistic about the current state of the country under Biden’s leadership and feel that the Democratic Party is out-of-touch and unable to handle major domestic crises, per a recent national poll conducted by Schoen-Cooperman Research. 

The economy — specifically, rising prices of goods and gasoline — continues to be the top area of vulnerability for Biden. His approval rating on the economy is 30-points underwater (63 percent disapprove, 33 percent approve), according to the NBC News poll.  

Second, the inconsistency and incoherence Biden has often exhibited during his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have led many Americans to doubt his ability to lead as commander-in-chief amid international crises. 

Indeed, 7-in-10 Americans express low confidence in Biden’s ability to deal with the war, per the NBC News poll, and a majority disapprove of his handling of foreign policy (51 percent to 42 percent). 

Ultimately, Biden’s perceived weaknesses on the economy — the top domestic concern — and on the Russian invasion of Ukraine — the most important international issue — indicate that Democrats are likely to suffer considerable losses in the 2022 midterm elections.  

Fortunately, there are a set of effective policies and steps that President Biden can pursue to shore up public support on these two pivotal issues and help decrease the chances of a Republican insurgency in November. 

Domestically, economic pessimism over skyrocketing prices is one of the driving forces behind Americans’ dissatisfaction both with the current state of the nation and with President Biden — and if prices continue to rise, Biden’s ratings will likely continue to drop. 

Thus, for both political and practical reasons, President Biden and Democrats should embrace an all-of-the-above energy strategy. 

An all-of-the-above energy strategy is a bipartisan approach that would help alleviate costs at the gas pump in the short term. In the long term, it would protect the U.S. from similar supply shocks, bolster America’s energy independence and help the country transition to cleaner fuel sources in a responsible and incremental way. 

Last month, moderate Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.) proposed a version of this energy plan, which involves tapping existing domestic oil wells, ramping up domestic oil production immediately, working with close allies to reduce America’s reliance on oil from bad actors including Russia, Iran and Venezuela and increasing and maximizing our use of alternative energies like wind and solar. 

By promoting a policy like Gottheimer’s — which addresses the two very politically salient issues of rising prices and American energy — Democrats can help shield vulnerable members of their caucus from G.O.P. attacks linking Democratic policies to rising gasoline prices. 

On Thursday, President Biden announced an unprecedented release of oil from U.S. reserves. While this is a plausible short-term fix, it will by no means solve the problem, and an all-of-the-above energy strategy is an essential long-term solution. 

In addition to an all-of-the-above energy policy, there are other important domestic causes Biden can pursue: namely, holding the line on spending to address concerns about inflation and pursuing a grand bargain with Republicans on immigration to alleviate worries of open borders. 

Separately, to improve public perceptions of his ability to lead on international issues — specifically with regard to the war in Ukraine — President Biden needs to tighten his rhetoric and match his tough talk against Russia with corresponding action.  

Since the conflict began, President Biden has committed a number of problematic gaffes. Last week, he appeared to call for Vladimir Putin’s removal from power and later seemed to imply that the U.S. would be sending soldiers into Ukraine — both of which directly contradict the policy of his own administration.  

In both cases, the White House explained away the misstep while also reinforcing that America’s position had remained unchanged, despite what Biden had said. While the administration has attempted to brush off these verbal blunders as forgivable mistakes, the American people — and the international community — don’t see it that way. 

Gaffes aren’t Biden’s only problem. Oftentimes, his rhetoric — namely, his tough talk against Putin and his grandstanding about global democracy and the significance of supporting Ukraine — is not met with consistent action. This directly undermines Biden’s credibility in the eyes of the American people, and in the eyes of the world.  

In both word and deed, Biden must demonstrate — to Putin, to the American people and to the international community — that the U.S.’s promises are ironclad and that he is prepared to put all options on the table if Putin deploys biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. 

Ultimately, if Biden does not embrace these strategic shifts on domestic and international policy, his ratings will continue to drop, and Democrats are almost certain to be brought down by Republicans in 2022 and beyond. 

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to former President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

Tags Economy of the United States gas prices fuel tensions democratic party increase tax big oil russia invasion ukraine inflation Inflation Joe Biden Josh Gottheimer Ukraine-Russia conflict

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