Biden is stuck — and Democrats are stuck with him

News that the White House is working behind the scenes to get flattering media coverage for President Joe Biden is three things: it’s par for the course, it’s eye-opening this close to the election, and it’s ironic because it misses the point.

Presidents always seek positive stories in an election year, but Biden is increasingly desperate as he is losing to former President Donald Trump. His problem, though, is less to do with media critics trashing him than with deepening skepticism about his capacities being openly expressed by Democrats themselves.

Rank-and-file party members have told pollsters for months they want someone other than Biden. But top party strategists have lately broken out into the open to voice misgivings, even alarm. 

James Carville told MSNBC that the issue of Biden’s great age is “suffocating” him. It is not a problem Biden can solve, indeed it can only get worse. David Axelrod focused, rather, on the “constant, constant problem” of Biden boasting emptily about the economy and failing to empathize with ordinary people who are suffering because of his mismanagement. 

It is hard to think of two political operators with more credibility on campaign strategy and tactics than Carville and Axelrod. The former was President Bill Clinton’s wingman on two successful campaigns. Axelrod was much the same for President Barack Obama. They are repeat winners.

Along with other Democrats, they look at Biden and know the old stick might break before Election Day. They know, equally, however, that it is surely too late to replace him. That’s partly because of an 18-month reprieve given to Biden by Republican failures in the 2020 elections. These silenced voices of Democratic dissent, notably from Axelrod. If Democrats had been in unceasing ferment for the past two years, maybe just maybe Biden would have bowed out like LBJ did in 1968. But he has instead been basking in delusional success, abetted by party aides toeing the line. It’s allowed him to reach this stage in the election cycle thinking he’s FDR, not LBJ.

So Democrats are having an anxiety attack — “a full-blown freakout” is how Politico put it. A veneer of unity remains only because “you don’t want to be that guy who is on the record saying we are doomed, or the campaign’s bad, or Biden’s making mistakes. Nobody wants to be that guy,” a party operative close to the White House told the paper.

Tellingly, “aides have made sport of sneering at grim predictions” that the president was heading for failure. This sneering is matched by the president’s refusal to treat voters’ economic anxieties seriously. It is sneering that allowed him and his party to proceed insouciantly to this abject point five months before voters decide who will occupy the White House. They may have whistled all the way to an electoral graveyard.

When Biden lies that he inherited the inflation problem from Trump, saying it stood at 9% when he took office, not the real figure of 1.4%, it is an expression of contempt for voters and for the truth. It makes him seem not just clueless but also indifferent. That is a deadly cocktail, the same brew that turned so many ordinary people against the Democrats and toward Republicans and their deeply flawed champion, Trump.

What is left for Democrats? Some hope Biden will rise to the occasion in his debate with Trump on June 27 and silence mutterers, as he did briefly with his vigorous (read, shouty) State of the Union speech in March. Others, such as Democrats down the ballot hoping for election to lower offices, are distancing themselves from Biden. That’s worth repeating; just when Biden needs support, his party colleagues are running away from him

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Party riffraff, such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), are actively campaigning against Biden. Speaking in Detroit to the People’s Conference for Palestine, she accused her leader of “cowardice” for not siding with Hamas terrorists against Israel, and added, “We’re not gonna forget in November, are we?”

If Tlaib’s rage was all that Biden had to worry about, he could sleep well at night even after dozing all day. But it is different now that he is taking fire from party bigwigs. Democrats have shown over the years, on every issue from wrecking the Senate filibuster at home to betraying allies abroad, that they do not let principle interfere with contingent moves to grab or hold on to power. But they appear to be stuck with Biden. Their one hope may be that Trump is, or can be made to be, sufficiently unpopular that Biden can squeak through and rest his bones for another four years on the Oval Office couch.

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