Poor Joe Biden.
Less than a week after the best political news for Democrats in months—the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and generating mountains of money and voter motivation for the blue team—the same court handed the president what is technically a win—siding with the administration that Biden can end the Trump-era policy forcing migrants seeking asylum in the United States to remain in Mexico—but it’s a serious political loser.
This is just the latest unfortunate victory for the 46th president. It’s a string that runs all the way back to January 2021 when Democrats unexpectedly took control of the Senate following a matched set of surprise wins in Georgia’s Senate runoffs. The victories for Jon Osoff (by 1.2 points) and Raphael Warnock (by 2.1 points) would have been almost unimaginable at the time Biden secured his presidential victory two months prior.
One could see how the races featuring a newly appointed Republican incumbent who had faced an ugly primary challenge (Kelly Loeffler) and a political incompetent (David Perdue) could have ended up in runoffs during a good year for Democrats and with the high tide of a presidential election. But for low-turnout runoff elections in January in a still-Republican state? No way. But thanks to Donald Trump’s effort to swindle his way into a second term, Georgia voters rejected the GOP and handed Democrats the barest majority possible in the Senate.
This was no good for Biden. He went from having to meet the expectations for a caretaker president elected as an alternative to an incumbent who had very clearly lost the thread to expectations he would besome kind of progressive Moses sent to bring America into the land of milk, honey, and subsidized daycare. The squandered opportunities of 2021 for Democrats relate mostly to the party’s and the president’s misunderstanding of where they were. Biden, who rode to power with no coat tails, had fulfilled his mandate on day one simply by not being Trump. All of his fulminations about Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema betraying progressive goals on voting laws, social welfare spending, and climate change were truly aimed at the far-left in his party. It was him saying that he wanted to be LBJ and FDR rolled into one, but it was just those two meanies who wouldn’t let him. If the Democratic senior senator from Arizona really was like Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis, one would have probably noticed before. Biden learned to speak the language of the captive reformer fluently.
Here’s Biden talking to reporters while in Austria this week for a meeting of the G7. He was asked about concerns surrounding America’s leadership role in the world given all of the tumult and pessimism at home: “The one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States.” Holy smokes! Going from being the unity candidate to trashing another branch of government while overseas is quite a journey of two years, even for a politician. But Biden’s anger at the decision reflects what most of the rest of his party seems to believe: That Republicans’ overreach on social issues will reduce the pain at the polls for Democrats this fall.
There’s certainly some truth to that. But, no sooner had Democrats started to get comfortable with the idea of losing a lawsuit but winning the political war, the Supremes hit them with the Uno “reverse” card. The court’s decision today allows the Biden administration to end Trump-era requirements, negotiated with the Mexican government, that migrants seeking asylum in the United States from other countries must remain in Mexico if they pass through our southern neighbor on their journey. It was a win for team Biden. But only in the legal sense.
The big issue in this year’s elections will be, as usual, voters’ perceptions of the condition of the economy. That is not good for Democrats. Abortion could help them in key states like Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia as a secondary, motivating issue for base voters. But there is competition for those secondary and tertiary issue slots. Crime is a perennial driver of persuadable voters, and so is immigration. While Trump is not a popular figure with the broader electorate, Democrats have continued to underestimate the popularity of his hardline stance on immigration. If Biden, as expected, moves to admit thousands more asylum seekers into the country, and especially if the process is chaotic and produces disturbing images, as it surely will, this will be yet another log on the bonfire of Democrats’ hopes of keeping the Senate and mitigating losses in the House.
If three of the four major issues for midterms are seriously bad for Democrats, the capacity for Roe backlash as a mitigating factor will be extremely limited.
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Biden job performance
Average approval: 38.0 percent
Average disapproval: 56.4 percent
Net score: -18.4 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.4 points
Change from one month ago: ↓ 2.2 points
[Average includes: Ipsos/Reuters: 38% approve-57% disapprove; AP-NORC: 39% approve-60% disapprove; NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College: 40% approve-53% disapprove; American Research Group: 40% approve-55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 33% approve-57% disapprove]
Generic congressional ballot
Democrats: 42.4 percent
Republicans: 42.2 percent
Net advantage: Democratic Party +0.2 points
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↓ 0.4 points
Change from one month ago: Republican Party ↓ 2.8 points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College: 48% Democrat, 41% Republican; Suffolk University/USA Today: 40% Democrat, 40% Republican; Fox News: 44% Democrat, 47% Republican; Ipsos/Reuters: 39% Democrat, 37% Republican; Quinnipiac University: 41% Democrat, 46% Republican]
TIME OUT: RUDOLPH HAD A VERY SHINY… EYEBALL?
The Atlantic: “During the summer … the inner parts of [reindeer’s] eyes, a structure called the tapetum lucidum, gleam a shimmering gold. But as the landscape dips into the perpetual darkness of winter, their eyes turn a rich blue. …The eyes’ transformation … tunes the organs to the colors of light most relevant to each season, enhancing the reindeer’s ability to detect short, blue wavelengths of light that dominate the Arctic’s dreary winters, then flipping the eyes back to the summer shade that guides them through sun-soaked months. … The tapetum lucidum, is wedged in the back of each eye behind the retina, where it helps many nocturnal mammals better see their surroundings at night. … But the catch-all rainbow-reflectivity of the tapetum, so handy in summer, gets far less useful as the Earth’s orbit plunges the planet’s North Pole into winter. Twilight … can stretch up to 11 hours at a time, casting the snow-draped tundra in tones of teal. And so the reindeer’s eyes adjust.”
PRITZKER RAISES DOUBTS ABOUT BIDEN 2024
NBC News: “Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker told NBC News on Wednesday “it’s certainly possible” that President Joe Biden could face a primary challenge should he run for re-election in 2024. Pritzker, who fueled speculation about White House ambitions this month with a speech in the first presidential primary state, New Hampshire, and has raised eyebrows with generous donations to battleground state governors, added that he’s not pushing for a challenger to step forward. Asked whether there was any set of circumstances under which Biden should face a primary challenge, Pritzker left an opening. “That’s not something I’m encouraging, but it’s certainly possible. We’ve seen it in the past,” Pritzker said in an interview at a downtown hotel Wednesday. … While Pritzker sidestepped questions about Biden’s economic performance, his primary comments nonetheless added fuel to questions about the president’s viability at a time when there’s open discussion about whether he will—or should—run for re-election.”
Vest-ed interest? Youngkin kicks tires on presidential run: Washington Post: “Gov. Glenn Youngkin flew to New York last week to meet privately with GOP megadonors in Manhattan, a move that underscores recent hints that the Republican is considering a run for president in 2024. The day-long visit … comes as the new governor prepares to headline his first out-of-state political event since taking office. … He also has begun speaking more often about the needs of ‘Americans,’ not just ‘Virginians,’ and has subtly changed how he answers questions about whether he will seek the White House. … ‘He won in the state of Virginia by talking to these disaffected votes that had previously been motivated by [Donald Trump], but he did so without having to wear a MAGA hat,’ [Kevin Madden, a Republican operative who advised Mitt Romney] said, noting a plethora of potential contenders for the nomination aside from Trump. ‘The question is, is there really a market for a Trump alternative and, if so, is he the best one?’”
Haley travels to Iowa ahead of 2024: The Hill: “Nikki Haley is slated to attend a fundraiser in Iowa on Thursday, prompting fresh speculation that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is eyeing her own presidential bid in 2024. … The former ambassador’s time in Iowa fuels speculation of a potential 2024 run, as presidential hopefuls commonly visit the first-in-the-nation caucus state before the campaign kicks off. In April 2021, Haley said she would not run for president if former President Trump decides to launch another bid for the White House. … The former U.N. ambassador did, however, find herself up against the ex-president earlier this month, when the two GOP figures backed different candidates in a Republican House primary. … Haley criticized Trump after the Capitol riot, telling Politico in an interview that he ‘let us down.’”
ABORTION TAKES CENTER STAGE IN PENNSYLVANIA RACES
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Pennsylvania is one of 28 remaining states that will continue to allow most abortions; here, it’s up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Even before Friday’s decision, the state already had two of the most-watched races in the country, including one for a U.S. Senate seat that could potentially flip control of the chamber. Now, abortion access will be front-and-center as an issue in Pennsylvania leading up to the general election in November. In addition to the Senate race, whoever wins the governorship will wield the veto pen—a defense current Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has used to block abortion-restricting legislation during his two terms in office. … Each candidate’s stance will be under the microscope as Democrats work to redirect the election to this sole issue.”
Nevada Dems grab Roe: Politico: “Democratic Rep. Susie Lee launched a TV and digital ad in Las Vegas warning voters her GOP challenger wants ‘to make all abortion illegal—no exceptions.’ The spot … stresses Lee’s commitment to abortion rights and will be backed by at least $500,000. … Lee’s spot … offers a window into the broader strategy some House Democrats plan to adopt in battleground districts now that Roe v. Wade … is officially defunct. The Democrats hope to anchor part of their campaigns—especially in suburban, blue-tinged districts like Lee’s, which President Joe Biden carried by less than 7 points in 2020—on the fact that abortion rights are largely popular with swing voters but anathema to most GOP candidates.”
Warnock leads Walker by 10: The Hill: “In this year’s Senate race, incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) has a 10 point lead over Republican candidate and former football star Herschel Walker. In January, Walker led Warnock 49 percent to 48. Warnock’s new 54-44 lead comes after Walker confirmed he has two sons and an adult daughter previously unknown to the public. Walker had repeatedly used his platform to speak against absentee fathers and the importance of remaining part of a child’s life, regardless of the parents’ relationship status. Now, 43 percent of voters believe Walker to be dishonest and 42 percent have an unfavorable view of him.”
Bennet sweating after GOP picks viable challenger: Roll Call: “Construction company owner Joe O’Dea won the [Colorado] GOP nomination on Tuesday, giving Republicans a credible challenger to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in a race that could break their way if the political environment continues to trend away from President Joe Biden’s Democrats. Democrats spent millions of dollars boosting state Rep. Ron Hanks in the primary because he would have been a weaker general election opponent. … Not only did Democrats not pull Hanks across the finish line, but O’Dea looks more moderate after Democratic spending that painted Hanks as the true conservative in the GOP race. Bennet still starts the general election with the edge in a state Biden won by 13.5 points, and gets to run on a ticket with popular Gov. Jared Polis. But the Colorado Senate race is going to be competitive and we’re changing the rating from Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic.”
With the end of Senate majority looming, Dems want action on lower court vacancies —Bloomberg Law
Dems see Hochul as Cuomo without the baggage—New Yorker
Cheney’s worsening primary woes—Wyoming News
Dems hopeful that Medicare plan will help in midterms—Roll Call
WITHIN EARSHOT: ‘IF’
“The president intends to run and if he does, I will be his ticket mate. We will run together.” —Vice President Kamala Harris talking to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times walking back her adamant claim on Sunday that President Biden would seek a second term and that she would be his running mate, “full stop.”
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CUTLINE CONTEST: STRANGER THINGS, INDEED
This week’s winner has us hoping that former Colorado gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez is a benevolent dungeon master:
“I roll to attack the orc … Does a 19 hit?” —Eric Swenson, Winsted, Connecticut
“Anyway, I was holding the whiskey like this when he suggested a mini-Electoral College.” —Jack Funke, Poplar Bluff, Missouri
“Chancellor Palpatine, what do you mean disqualified? I thought Force Chokes were required during floor debate.” —Will Miller, Denver, Colorado
Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!
SHOULDN’T HE BE ALLOWED TO PICK HIS OWN TREATS?
AP: “A New York man and woman face fines of $500 each after they took a raccoon to a pet store to shop for food and a store worker ratted them out, authorities said. A state Department of Environmental Conservation police officer got an urgent call from the Erie County Department of Health about a potentially rabid raccoon on June 2, the department said in a news release. The health department said a couple had brought a raccoon to a pet store for food and supplies and a store employee contacted authorities. Raccoons are considered dangerous wild animals because they are known to carry and transmit the deadly rabies virus. The officer used store surveillance video, a store-issued rewards card and license plate information to locate the couple in the town of Attica in western New York, the department said.”
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a book on media and politics available August 23. Abbey Black contributed to this report.