The course of his presidency, whether he wins a second term or can accomplish anything else of consequence in his first one, may hinge on whether Democrats can preserve their narrow congressional majorities.
Right now, it’s not looking good.
Republicans lead on the generic congressional ballot by nearly 3 points, according to RealClearPolitics. Only one major pollster has Democrats ahead. Cook Political Report projects that the House is as good as gone and the Democrats’ best-case scenario for retaining any power on Capitol Hill is keeping the Senate 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.
Biden predicted the polls would shift back in the Democrats’ favor once more before Election Day. His own travel schedule suggests otherwise. With the significant exceptions of regular barnstorming in Pennsylvania and one stop in Florida, Biden has headed recently to blue states: California, New York, New Mexico, and Illinois.
That reflects two sobering realities for Democrats: that the possible red wave is starting to seep into areas Biden carried easily in 2020 and that these are the only places the president and his top surrogates can actually help.
A Civiqs poll shows Biden with a 36% approval rating to 56% disapproval in Arizona, the former 1 point below where he stands in Florida. Biden is at 35% in Georgia to 54% disapproval. In Nevada, he’s at 36% approval to 57% disapproval. In Ohio, it’s 36% to 56%. North Carolina, 39% to 54%. Even in Pennsylvania, where Biden has traveled frequently, it’s 39% to 53%.
Those are six of the closest Senate races in the country, representing the three best pickup opportunities for each party. In every one of them, Biden is below his national approval rating of 40%, with 52% disapproving. These Civiqs numbers are slightly better than where Biden stands in the RealClearPolitics national average.
Biden struggled to pass legislation with small Democratic majorities until a spate of bills sailed through over the summer. If Republicans win the House, the liberal legislative agenda is dead for the next two years. Democrats will not be able to originate tax or spending bills.
If the Senate flips to Republican control, which requires only the net gain of one seat, Biden won’t be able to fill executive or judicial branch vacancies without GOP support. The latter becomes especially important as Biden resorts to executive authority to pursue his goals, as the Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority unchanged by Biden’s successful nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, could take away his pen and unplug his phone.
“It’s not a referendum,” Biden insisted in California on Thursday, in a line he has repeated in many other places. “This is a choice: a choice between two fundamentally different versions of America.”
Biden has tried to take the economy and inflation away from Republicans. He has argued that his government spending actually makes things more affordable rather than drives inflation and isn’t all that exorbitant in light of recent deficit reduction. He has pointed to the resiliency of the labor market amid recession rumors and Federal Reserve interest rate hikes. And he has steadfastly maintained Republicans would make everything worse, perhaps deliberately.
The president has also struggled to change the subject, making the election about former President Donald Trump, abortion, Social Security and Medicare, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, and democracy itself. “Democracy is on the ballot,” he has said frequently.
If Republicans win, many of these arguments can be repurposed to campaign against the new majorities in 2024. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rebounded and won reelection after disastrous midterm elections precisely by following this strategy. And the White House may declare a qualified victory if their losses are less than the 40 House seats the party in power lost under Trump, the 54 endured under Clinton, and the 63 suffered under Obama.
A “very small group” of advisers has already begun meeting with the president and first lady Jill Biden to map out a possible reelection campaign, the Washington Post reported.
But Joe Biden will turn 80 soon after the election. Polls have already shown majorities of Democrats preferring a different unnamed nominee in 2024. And the loss of unified control of the federal government to a Republican Party many liberals view as deranged could prove difficult to spin away.
He came into office promising to unite the country after Trump and slay the pandemic. He dreamed of a legislative legacy on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, drawing on his 36 years in the Senate.
Now, it could all slip away.
Joe Biden has argued Democrats can expand their Senate majority, reform if not eliminate the legislative filibuster, codify Roe v. Wade, and sign that bill into law on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that was overturned this summer.
If anything less than that occurs, the questions surrounding Joe Biden will grow louder and increasingly come from Democrats themselves.