The massive messaging miscues of all the president’s men (and women)

“The adults are back in charge.” That was the message we heard after the 2020 election and in the early days of the Biden administration: Donald Trump and his band of misfits were out, and the experienced professionals were now in charge. Order would be restored, and normalcy would rule once again. 

But then the administration quickly learned that complaining and making pie-in-the-sky promises during a campaign are easy, but actually governing and executing on those promises is hard.

I wrote back in January that President Biden was poised to have a successful first year in office given the hand he was dealt: multiple vaccines, nearly 1 million shots being administered daily upon taking office, a V-shaped economic recovery already in full swing (gross domestic product grew 37.4 percent in the final two quarters of 2020) and a country ready to spend after being locked down for a year. Couple all of that with a hospitable media, and the 46th president was poised to have a solid 2021.  

But as we’re seeing, a presidency can’t be completely scripted. Soaring inflation, gas prices, a supply chain crisis, the border catastrophe and the Afghanistan debacle are all dragging down this presidency. On top of all that, Democrats are now seen as the anti-parent party following their crushing loss in the Virginia gubernatorial election.

No president since World War II has lost this much support this quickly in his first year. 

 

Biden has been largely hidden from the press as a result. He hasn’t done a one-on-one sit-down media interview since August. He rarely takes questions from the press following his speeches. 

 

 

And now, a pattern few expected has emerged around the president’s Cabinet members — the inability to properly message basic policy. 

Exhibit A is Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who laughed heartily when asked recently what she would do to address rising gas prices. 

 

The clip went viral, as it should have. So, the powers that be from the White House communications team gave Granholm a do-over and had her join the daily White House press briefing on Thursday. And she somehow performed worse in not being able to answer a simple question: How many barrels of oil does the U.S. consume each day? 

Answer: 18 million. So, if the Biden administration frees up 50 million barrels from the nation’s strategic oil reserve, that buys the country roughly three days. And by Granholm not knowing that answer, the focus became not only her but the inadequacy of the White House’s response.

 

Exhibit B: White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who retweeted an argument last month that inflation is just a “high class problem,” which drew considerable blowback.

Polls show that anywhere from 70 percent to almost 90 percent of voters are concerned about inflation, making it an issue that all Americans of all economic levels care about. It’s not transitory, as the administration promised it would over the summer. Many economists say it’s here to stay for a while. And the impact could be devastating. Just ask the last one-term Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, what high inflation (along with soaring gas prices) can do to one’s reelection prospects.

 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki may be the most prolific offender on the messaging front.

Supply chain crisis? That’s just a rich-people-aren’t-getting-their-home-treadmills-delivered-quickly-enough problem:

The Build Back Better bill — which would add trillions of dollars in new spending — will not worsen inflation, according to Psaki, who added that “no economist” is saying that the new spending will add to the inflation problem.  

PolitiFact, however, disagreed. 

Throw in comments such as her claim that Republicans favor defunding the police (false) or that there are no Americans still in Afghanistan (false) or that Biden takes an average of 20 to 30 questions from reporters per week (false), and there’s a serious credibility problem facing the administration. 

 

And then there’s Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who still insists that the border is closed while simultaneously blaming the Trump administration for the surge in migrants that will result in more than 2 million illegally entering the country this year.

The blame-Trump strategy certainly no longer resonates with most voters on that issue. According to the RealClearPolitics average of major polls, Biden-Harris is polling at just 27 percent approval on immigration, or 33 points underwater. 

As migrants continue to head north, Biden’s poll numbers are quickly migrating south. 

Of course, there’s still time to turn things around before the 2022 midterm elections that will decide which party controls Congress, let alone the 2024 presidential election. But until the president starts making some changes in messaging and those in charge around him, expect the descent to continue right into the impending disaster that is next year’s midterms.

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

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Barack Obama Border crisis Donald Trump Jen Psaki Jen Psaki Jennifer Granholm Jimmy Carter Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg Presidency of Donald Trump Presidency of Joe Biden Ron Klain

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