Are Democrats in trouble for 2022 and 2024?

A public opinion firm says it looks that way (read story here).

They point to polls showing a drop in public approval of President Biden and the Democrats who control Congress.

Biden, for example, has gone from 57% approval and 38% disapproval in May, to 41% approval and 55% disapproval last week.

He’s had a lot of bad luck: Afghanistan, the border, Covid resurgence, and inflation. As Shakespeare wrote, “When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions.” (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene V) Luck doesn’t stay bad forever. Things may get better. There’s time.

Historically, it’s been better for presidents to do the hard things in their first months. Reagan ate a stiff recession in his first year to strangle inflation. Nixon invaded Cambodia early in his first term. Both were re-elected.

What’s happening to Biden is largely out of his control. The Kabul government might have survived if he had stayed in Afghanistan, but the American public didn’t want that, and scrapping Trump’s deal with the Taliban to pull out would have resulted in far more U.S. casualties than the 13 service members our country lost last week (to Taliban-hating ISIS terrorists, not the Taliban).

Another poll said “likely 2022 voters” trust Republicans more than Democrats to manage the economy, and 63% “are convinced by the [GOP’s] argument that Democrats are being irresponsible and recklessly spending, which has led to higher prices on consumer goods.” Whether or not the Democrats’ spending plans are irresponsible or reckless, which is subjective, it’s not true these plans are causing the inflation we see now.

That’s not possible. Money which isn’t even appropriated yet, much less spent, can’t cause inflation. The inflation we’re seeing now is caused by (a) supply bottlenecks, shortages, increased costs, and disruptions caused by the pandemic, and (b) the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies, spearheaded by Jerome Powell, a Trump appointee. (Last year, the Fed decided to let inflation “run hot” to keep the economy growing and bring down unemployment — details here — and that policy is working exactly as expected and intended.)

Nor is Biden responsible for the conditions in Central America driving droves of refugees to our southern border. And the Republican governors who’ve fought against Covid-19 safety measures since the pandemic began deserve far more blame for the Delta surge than Biden does. He’s done everything humanly possible to get people vaccinated and encourage safe practices.

But presidents get blamed for what happens regardless of who’s at fault. They’re also expected to be miracle workers. The public is fickle; if they don’t like how things are going, they’ll fire the incumbent and get someone else.

But who? It’s easy to imagine the Democrats losing their congressional majorities in the midterms. The president’s party almost always suffers midterm losses, even in better times than these. But this time, there’s a wild card in the deck: The GOP has gone berserk. “We’re not them” isn’t a strategy the Democrats should rely on, but the GOP’s radioactivity among many voters might save them.

Should the Democrats worry about these polls? Certainly. To the public, everything’s in the toilet right now, and that’s not politically sustainable. The Democrats can’t just rely on the Republicans’ awfulness. They have to hope things get better. Make things get better.

Afghanistan will soon be behind Biden. The media may report Taliban horror stories in the months to come, but the public won’t care, as long as they’re no threat to us. (If another terror attack comes from Afghanistan, all bets are off.) It would help to clean things up on the border, or at least look like he’s trying. Inflation is already beginning to moderate, and the pay raises being doled out by businesses to attract scarce workers will help blunt it. Biden also has a card to play if Powell’s policies are hurting him and his party: He’ll have an opportunity to replace him early next year. The Delta surge may peak quickly, and it’s motivating more people to get vaccinated; today’s full hospitals and deaths may be a distant memory by next spring.

Polls are snapshots of the moment. As quickly as Biden’s and the Democrats’ ratings fell, they could revive. They need some luck to break their way, do the right things, and win some victories before the 2022 elections. Most Americans don’t have a whole lot to be happy about right now, and want things to improve across the board.

In 2024, Biden will be 82, and it’s not a given he’ll seek re-election. The Democratic nominee could be someone else, and not necessarily Harris. The Democrats have a fairly deep bench to draw on. The Republicans are likely to be stuck with Trump, DeSantis, or Abbott, all of whom have toxicities. But 2024 is too far away to speculate about what might happen then.

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