Big talk and weak response sinking Biden
Former President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy credo was “speak softly and carry a big stick.” President Biden’s appears to be “talk big and carry a toothpick.” The Biden administration’s backward thinking is not only damaging American security interests and encouraging Russian aggression; it’s sinking Biden in the polls. And with Russian war atrocities mounting, Biden and the ever-temporizing Germans are under increasing pressure to more forcefully support Ukraine.
The Biden administration has signally failed to get in front of events in Ukraine, operating in a completely reactive fashion, in spite of correctly anticipating the Russian invasion. Reactive to Russian aggression, reactive to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands, reactive to public opinion. This is an administration without a plan and petrified of “escalation” — which has only served to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate.
Biden’s timidity is generating a political disaster, with the American public firmly opposed to Russia. A combination of Russian massacres of civilians and masterful public relations by Ukraine is only going to make things worse for Biden.
Public consensus: Get tougher
The American public is split on many issues but not Ukraine: Not only are Republicans and Democrats in agreement on supporting Ukraine and punishing Russia; they support a harder line than the Biden administration. In the April 5 YouGov benchmark, Republicans and Democrats supported sanctions, aid and more military assistance by margins of more than 40 points, although Democrats were more supportive. It is independent voters who are least keen on Ukraine — but even their support does not drop below 58 percent.
Majorities of Republicans and Democrats support more troops to NATO countries in Eastern Europe and oppose concessions to Russia. Republicans favor a tougher response — 60 percent to 12 percent opposed — while a plurality of Democrats also wants tougher action — 47 percent favor to 33 percent satisfied with current sanctions.
Incredibly, when Biden decided to try to get ahead of the issue, he managed to get on the wrong side of it. Biden’s impetuous talk of regime change is supported by only 20 percent of the public (26 percent Democrats, 22 percent Republicans) — it polls worse than everything except direct combat by American forces.
And forget the canard that Putin has a sizable base of support in the GOP. Putin’s favorability is awful with both parties: “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable with 80 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats. Putin gets positive marks from just 9 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of independents and 14 percent of Republicans. The lunatics in the conservative movement excusing Putin should wise up before they sink themselves with Republican voters. Putin’s best result? It’s with 18- to 29-year-olds, 19 percent of whom give Putin a favorable rating, and only 61 percent unfavorable.
What’s saving Biden is the loyalty of Democrats.
Once Biden’s name is inserted into a question, favorable responses go up for Democrats. His foreign policy approval is under water 40 percent to 48 percent, but he maintains a 76 percent approval with Democrats — in spite of a plurality favoring tougher action against Russia.
Republicans still disapprove of Biden on all categories, and he continues to sink with independents.
It’s not just one poll: The April 4 Morning Consult poll put Biden’s approval rating on national security under water at 42 percent approve to 50 percent disapprove, with independents at meager 33 percent approve to 53 percent disapprove. Biden’s overall job approval has fallen to 42 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable. Morning Consult is roughly in line with the RealClearPolitics average of 41.3 percent approve and 53.8 percent disapprove, with YouGov (42 percent to 50 percent approve/disapprove) continuing to be more favorable to Biden but not by much.
It’s worth noting that former President Trump has not benefited from Biden’s woes: Trump does worse than Biden in both polls at 38 percent approve to 54 percent disapprove (YouGov) and 41 percent approve to 56 percent disapprove (Morning Consult). Republican approval is still high but slipping, while Trump performs as abysmally with independents as Biden.
Biden timidity will get much more costly
As bad as the current polling is, it’s likely to get much, much worse. While the immediate problem for Biden is sympathy for Ukraine and antipathy toward Russia, the long-term problem will be the multiple knock-on effects of the conflict, which is not just inhibiting flows of energy but also reducing grain exports from two of the world’s largest exporters. Fertilizer supply is also under severe stress. That all adds up to a looming food crisis, which is likely to raise prices in the developed world and lead to significant shortages in developing nations. The prospect of actual famine in some countries cannot be ruled out.
As the conflict drags on, these problems will increase and likely result in rising inflation, political instability and increased refugee flows. Just as the Biden administration is loosening border controls, the conditions for a rising flood of refugees are building. Does anyone think this administration is prepared for a major surge at the southern border?
For Republicans, all these problems play to their strengths. Issues of economics and security have worked for the GOP. Both parties lose when the economy is stressed under their watch. Inflation is a disaster for Biden and the Democrats. As bad as unemployment is, inflation is worse as it affects everyone. And no amount of sober discussion and analysis will allow Biden to escape blame. The fact is presidents get blamed for whatever happens on their watch, and that’s been true for Republican and Democratic presidents alike. Now it’s Biden’s turn.
Republicans also benefit from security issues — not just national security but crime. And both issues are moving against Democrats. After languishing for years, national security is back as an important issue. National security is now cited as “very important” by 64 percent of the public, and crime by 60 percent. Issues such as climate change and criminal justice reform have fallen under 50 percent — and their importance is far greater with Democrats than Republicans and independents.
For Biden and the Democrats, world events and the issue environment are moving sharply away from them.
The Ukrainians’ refusal to roll over — combined with Russian incompetence and corruption — have turned the Russian invasion into a vicious slog. A defeat of Ukraine would be a disaster — and the timidity in arming the Ukrainians is preventing them from achieving a decisive win.
The failure of Biden and the Europeans to act more strongly and decisively is now lengthening this war, and the Democrats are going to pay a steep price for the half-measures in November.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.