Biden, Democrats risk everything unless they follow the Clinton pivot (they won't)

Biden, Democrats risk everything unless they follow the Clinton pivot (they won't)
© Greg Nash

The year was 1994, the president was Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMaxwell accuser testifies the British socialite was present when Epstein abuse occurred Epstein pilot testifies Maxwell was 'number two' in operation Federal judge changes his mind about stepping down, eliminating vacancy for Biden to fill MORE. And the young president, the first Democrat to take the Oval Office since Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterOhio Senate candidate unveils ad comparing Biden to Carter The massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) The Philippines is a frontline of another cold war MORE, was having a rough year despite his party controlling the House and Senate. On Oct. 20, 1994, Clinton was sitting at just 41 percent approval. 

The midterms would come next, leading to a Republican gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives thanks largely to Rep. Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE's (R-Ga.) "Contract with America." The GOP would also gain eight seats in the Senate to take both houses of Congress, along with 10 additional governorships. 

This wasn't a wave but a red tsunami. Clinton's original agenda was in serious trouble, as were his chances of winning reelection in 1996.


"I think I have some responsibility for it," the 42nd president said after the votes were counted. "I'm the president. I'm the leader of the efforts that we have made in the last two years, and to whatever extent we didn't do what the people wanted us to do or they were not aware of what we had done, I must certainly bear my share of responsibility." 

Clinton then did something that would be met with horror and outrage among today’s progressives. He pivoted and began to work with the opposition party. And in early 1996, after passing welfare reform with then-House Speaker Gingrich, Clinton made a declaration that was downright Reagan-esque:

“We know Big Government does not have all the answers. We know there's not a program for every problem. We have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington. And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means.

“The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. Instead, we must go forward as one America, one nation working together to meet the challenges we face together. Self-reliance and teamwork are not opposing virtues; we must have both.”

Imagine the reaction of the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWar of words escalates in House McCarthy faces headaches from far-right House GOP Noncitizen voting doesn't pass this test MORE (D-N.Y.) wing of the Democratic Party, or the editorial board of the New York Times, if any prominent Democrat – let alone the current president Joe Biden – made such a declaration about the U.S. government not having all the answers, about there not being a government program for every problem, about the era of Big Government being over.

The same howls we've seen lately that Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBiden should seek some ideological diversity Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Pence-linked group launches 0K ad campaign in West Virginia praising Manchin MORE (D-Ariz.) should switch parties because she isn't towing the party line would be aimed at Clinton in the current environment. 

But Clinton's pivot was largely embraced by voters in 1996, leading to an easy victory over Republican nominee Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Reform Party nominee Ross Perot, including in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Arizona and Missouri. 

Fast forward to 2021. The 46th president is also polling in the low 40s. Two polls (Quinnipiac and Zogby) even have Biden at 37 percent and 36 percent approval, respectively. One major reason is patently horrific messaging on the part of the Biden-Harris administration, which often defies logic and basic math. 

The president's claim that his proposed $3.5 trillion spending bill will cost Americans "zero dollars" was called "mythical" and "misleading" by a Washington Post fact-checker. 

The administration also claims that trillions of dollars in new spending will not put the country further into debt but doesn’t offer much proof. 


 But the Congressional Budget Office says the standalone $1 trillion "hard infrastructure" bill would add more than $250 billion to the deficit. Again, that's without the additional $2.5 trillion in social spending currently proposed. 


White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Biden's winter COVID-19 strategy Biden lays out multi-pronged plan to deal with evolving pandemic White House defends travel ban on African countries MORE also claimed that Republicans are responsible for wanting to defund the police. The Washington Post called the claim "slipshod.”

Whether it's refusing to call the crisis at the border a crisis, or insisting that skyrocketing inflation is only “transitory” or a problem only impacting the rich, or claiming that al Qaeda is “gone” from Afghanistan, the Biden administration desperately needs to pivot. On approach. On messaging. On policy. And especially on trying to run the country via one-party rule and executive orders. 

If it doesn't, Democrats are looking at a Republican House and the possibility of losing up to 50 seats in the lower chamber. They’re also looking at a Republican-controlled Senate, where the GOP needs a net-gain of just one seat. 

And they may even be looking at the real possibility of Biden-Harris not being the party nominees in 2024. 


Because when you’re polling at 28 percent among independents, that begs for a change in course. 

President Clinton changed course after taking a shellacking in 1994. He worked with the other side. He showed the American people that the government can work when it works together.  

Team Biden has shown little inclination to do that, underscored by its insistence to link the $2.5 trillion social spending bill to the bipartisan hard infrastructure bill that a solid majority of the public supports

No pivot, no more power. The prospect is staring this hobbled president in the face — so far only to be met by a blind eye. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.