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.
— Stewart Gandolf (@StewartGandolf) November 25, 2020
Biden, simplified: The adults are back in charge https://t.co/vAvO6YKkjp
— Chris Cillizza (@ChrisCillizza) June 16, 2021
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.
“No president elected after World War II lost more public support in his first few months of office than he has, according to Gallup. Biden’s losses are particularly steep among independents.” https://t.co/9fHIBzPYMs
— Mark Dubowitz (@mdubowitz) November 3, 2021
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.
“After nine months in office, Mr. Biden has conducted roughly a dozen one-on-one interviews with major print and television news outlets. That compares with more than 50 for Mr. Trump, and more than 100 for Barack Obama, in the same period.” https://t.co/ybRiPkQ1Yv
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) November 23, 2021
Reporter shouting to Joe Biden: “When will you answer our questions sir?”
Walking away without taking questions is one of the most consistent themes of his presidency. pic.twitter.com/q5p9T02d5A
— Chris Martin (@chrisjdmartin) November 23, 2021
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.
“That is hilarious,” US Energy Secretary Granholm tells @BloombergTV. “Would that I had the magic wand!” For all the pressure the US put on #OPEC+, it doesn’t seem to know what it’ll do now it’s been defied. All it’ll say is that SPR releases are possible. https://t.co/xPv6xD9lRm
— Paul Wallace (@PaulWallace123) November 7, 2021
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?
REPORTER: “How many barrels of oil does the U.S. consume per day?”
Energy Sec. Granholm: “I don’t have that number in front of me. I’m sorry.” pic.twitter.com/lToOjsLNLu
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) November 23, 2021
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.
Jennifer Granholm may be less experienced and knowledgeable about energy than Pete Buttigieg is about transportation.
— Tom Bevan (@TomBevanRCP) November 23, 2021
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.
— Ronald Klain (@WHCOS) October 14, 2021
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.
How Americans view President Biden’s job overall mirrors how they view his handling of the economy — and inflation is top of mind for voters. His approval rating is the lowest since he took office. https://t.co/TO4VbKwXJ7
— NPR (@NPR) November 24, 2021
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:
When NYT reporter Michael Shear asks about the ongoing supply chain crisis, Psaki jokes about “the tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed”
— Washington Free Beacon (@FreeBeacon) October 19, 2021
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.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently said “no economist out there is projecting that (the Build Back Better bill) will have a negative impact on inflation.” PolitiFact determined that is false.
— Austin Statesman (@statesman) November 24, 2021
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.
— DemocratVideos.com (@DemocratVideos) July 8, 2021
FLASHBACK: Psaki says that it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/gptriWr8Kh
— The First (@TheFirstonTV) August 30, 2021
The idea that he takes 20-30 questions per week is made up. 7 is actually a lot for Biden https://t.co/c0k4FTmKv4
— Tommy Pigott (@TommyPigott) November 18, 2021
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.
.@SecMayorkas on the reason for the rise in border crossings: “Former President Trump slashed […] the resources that we were contributing to the root causes of irregular migration.” pic.twitter.com/vSUj1hhnr1
— The Hill (@thehill) August 13, 2021
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.