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Stirewaltisms: Erin Go Biden
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Stirewaltisms: Erin Go Biden

How the president reversed his fortunes in a year.

President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House Friday. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

St. Patrick’s Day is a fine time to check in on the political progress of Joe Biden, one of only two Irish Catholics to ever hold the presidency. 

Of all the ways we understand Biden, underappreciated is one that would have been very obvious a generation ago: He’s an Irish-American Democrat. Biden is a traditionalist in many matters but a staunch man of the left on economic policy and a big booster for organized labor and party loyalty. His rhetoric is that of emotional connection, and he seldom lets the facts get in the way of a good story.

On this day a year ago, Biden was in some deep colcannon politically. The economy was getting crushed by inflation, which he and his team couldn’t fully bring themselves to admit. Russia looked like it might be poised to hand a humiliating defeat to the West in Ukraine. That, combined with spiking post-pandemic demand, helped push domestic gas prices past $4.30 a gallon on their way to their peak at more than $5. Biden was 15 points underwater in his job-approval rating, and Democrats were careening toward a midterm face-plant in November like those suffered by the parties in power in 2018 and 2010. 

At this point in 2022, Democrats were already starting to pre-blame Biden for the expected shellacking, and you could see potential presidential primary challengers lining up on stage left. 

Today, the economy is shaky, but the long-anticipated recession has yet to arrive. And while inflation is still taking a big bite out of people’s savings, the burden is easing and gas is in what we might call the high-normal range at about $3.50. The bigger worry about Russia now isn’t its rapacious ambitions, but what Vladimir Putin might do as his grasp on power is slipping. Biden is nearly 8 points under water on his approval rating, which isn’t great, but certainly puts him in better stead than he was a year ago and in roughly the same spot as Donald Trump at this point in his term—which is to say, in serviceable shape for starting a re-election campaign in a polarized nation.

It was Trump’s shadow over the Republican Party, in fact, that proved to be the greatest boon to Biden since the last Feast of St. Patrick. Biden’s luck has depended a lot on the continued presence of his 2020 adversary. The bad choices and disunity that Trump pushed on the GOP helped Democrats escape with only some scrapes and bruises from an election year that would have otherwise been a thrashing. And that narrow escape helped Biden with one of his biggest problems: Democrats’ own disunity.

How might the 2024 Democratic field look today had the expected wave arrived? I doubt Biden would still be alone, save whatever gurus and goofballs who have already started nosing around. But Bidenism as a political premise has now been doubly proved in practice, once in 2020 and once in 2022. A lot could change between now and next March, but for now, Biden looks like he will avoid a serious challenge for the nomination. That was not the case a year ago.

Republicans, though, don’t yet seem to understand that. It is human nature to assume that others think as we do, and it is easy to see how Republicans would imagine that the nasty factionalism that divides their party for and against their leader Trump has similar purchase on the Democratic side. When the red team sees numbers that show Democrats pining for someone other than Biden, Republicans misunderstand that as a hunger for a primary fight or an unwillingness to support Biden as the eventual nominee. Trump unites the Democrats more than enough to cover the ideological differences in their own coalition. That allows Biden leeway on issues like drilling for oil and crime that he needs to appeal to the general electorate.

These nominating contests do not happen in vacuums. Right now, Democrats assume that Trump will be the GOP nominee again and will stick with Biden to try to beat him. Republicans are working under the dangerous assumptions that 1) Biden will be easy to beat and 2) kooks have the same degree of influence in Democratic electoral politics as they currently do on the Republican side. In 2019, Stacey Abrams was on the rise on the Democratic side despite refusing to concede her defeat in her gubernatorial run. Now, it’s Kari Lake and the GOP.

The Republican misunderstanding about Biden’s real circumstances and the state of play on the Democratic side is a St. Patrick’s Day blessing for the president, indeed.


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STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 43.6%
Average disapproval: 51.4%
Net score: -7.8 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.8 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↑ 1.2 points

[Average includes: Quinnipiac: 39% approve-55% disapprove; Fox News: 44% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson: 44% approve-50% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 49% approve-45% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 42% approve-52% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: EXTRA, EXTRA New York Times: “They say that print is dead and local news is dying. But in the small patch of Lower Manhattan that is Greenwich Village, there are four local newspapers vying for supremacy. Here, print is very much alive. And local news is vicious. This is the story of a crusty 95-year-old publisher, an ambitious caregiver, a breakaway staff, a Sept. 11 conspiracy theory, a liberal neighborhood and a group of committed writers who are willing to work for nothing. … WestView News is a little neighborhood newspaper, dropped free on people’s stoops once a month. Editors worked for $10 an hour; contributors worked for nothing. But inside its doors, passions for the paper ran high. … Finally, last fall, it all came apart. … The bulk of WestView News’s contributors … started their own paper, assembling the first issue in 10 days. They called it New WestView News. Both papers published articles denouncing the other. Enter yet a third paper … ”


GOP SCHISM OVER UKRAINE, FOREIGN POLICY

New York Times: “Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has sharply broken with Republicans who are determined to defend Ukraine against Russia’s invasion… The statement from Mr. DeSantis…puts him in line with…former President Donald J. Trump. … The statement was broadcast on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’ on Fox News. The position taken by Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump is at odds with the passionate support for defending Ukraine demonstrated by some other potential G.O.P. candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. … Mr. Pence has cast Ukraine’s struggle in a religious light. … Republican hawks, including Mr. Pence and Ms. Haley…have framed the fight to defend Ukraine as a fight about ‘freedom.’”

Iowa Christian group taps Ukraine critic Carlson to grill GOP hopefuls: Real Clear Politics: “[T]he Fox News host will handle moderator duties at the Family Leadership Summit, an influential gathering of social conservatives expected to draw top presidential contenders in the field. … The decision to deputize Carlson for such a major policy forum reveals perhaps as much about the conservative universe writ large as the substance of the answers that the presidential hopefuls will deliver on July 14.”

The trend is not DeSantis’ friend: New York Times: Over the last two months, we’ve gotten about a dozen polls from pollsters who had surveyed the Republican race over the previous two months. These polls aren’t necessarily of high quality or representative, so don’t focus on the average across these polls. It’s the trend that’s important, and the trend is unequivocal: Every single one of these polls has shown Mr. DeSantis faring worse than before, and Mr. Trump faring better.

Don and Ron court Iowans as attacks escalate: NBC News: “Taking aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday, former President Donald Trump told the crowd at a jam-packed rally here that he will ‘protect Iowa ethanol from anyone who wishes to destroy it.’ DeSantis, who made his first visit to the state as a prospective presidential candidate Friday, often voted as a member of Congress to restructure or slash subsidies for agricultural products, including ethanol. … But Trump was met with relative silence from an otherwise raucous crowd when he unleashed his barrage against DeSantis. … That may reflect an uneasiness among Iowa GOP voters — even some of Trump’s most ardent supporters… Many of Iowa’s political leaders remain uncommitted to any candidate in a field that is still developing.”

Trump campaign rethinks Iowa strategy after 2016 mistakes: Politico: “Trump spent the evening in the eastern part of Iowa, which traditionally hosts the GOP’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. After a stop at a restaurant where he snapped photos with customers, he talked up his prospects of winning the state that eluded him seven years ago. … Trump has made clear to his team he does not want a repeat of what happened in Iowa in 2016, during which he felt he was out-organized by his primary opponents and finished second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. … Trump has been making early moves in the state, where organization typically plays a major part in determining the outcome of caucuses. He has advocated for Iowa to remain first on the party’s nomination calendar…” 

Proof is in the pudding: Staffers polish DeSantis before campaign launch: Daily Beast: “Despite having a job that entails exchanging small talk and pleasantries on a daily basis, the Florida governor tends to brush off those obligations and struggles with basic social skills. … The governor’s aversion to pressing the flesh, and his concern over the risk of unexpected interactions with the public, is already so well-known that early primary state players are working to DeSantis-proof their events. … The chatter over DeSantis’ public engagement has also surfaced past unflattering stories about his social skills. … The scrutiny of his social skills, his past interactions, and his openness to unscripted interactions has been inevitable…”

Trump PAC accuses DeSantis of ethics violation: NBC News: “Donald Trump’s allies are stepping up their battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, formally accusing him of violating state ethics and election laws with his ‘shadow presidential campaign.’ Make America Great Again Inc. is filing a 15-page complaint Wednesday with the Florida Commission on Ethics… It asks the commission to probe whether pro-DeSantis super PACs, his ‘personally lucrative book tour’ and a continued wave of state-level campaign contributions, among other things, ‘are unlawful because they serve his personal political objectives’ … ‘Adding this to the list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks — it’s inappropriate to use state ethics for partisan purposes,’ said Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ communications director.”

GOP frontrunners hammer education: Wall Street Journal: “It is telling that Mr. Trump’s first visit to Iowa as a 2024 candidate is for a discussion on education. He wants to show voters that the governor, his current biggest threat for the GOP nomination, isn’t the only one focused on the topic. … Mr. DeSantis has drawn national attention for his actions in Florida schools… In doing so, Mr. DeSantis, who attracted enthusiastic crowds in Davenport and Des Moines last week as part of a book tour, has helped push the issue to the forefront of national policy debates that grew out of the disruptions Covid-19 forced on schools. … ‘It’s clearly a ‘values’ issue for GOP candidates from the top of the ticket down to local school boards,’ said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse.” 

Poll: GOP voters seek issue alignment over electability: CNN: “The survey suggests sharp divisions within the potential GOP electorate by age, education, ideology and geography, as well as between Donald Trump backers locked into their choice and a more movable group in search of an alternative. … [T]he survey finds that most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would choose a candidate who agrees with their views on major issues (59%) over one who has a strong chance to beat Biden (41%).” 

REDISTRICTING COULD NET GOP 7 HOUSE SEATS

Politico: “Republicans are readying to plow ahead with ambitious gerrymandering despite previous reprimands from state courts — now that they’ve elected judges who are less likely to thwart their plans. … Between [North Carolina] and a similar remap looming in Ohio… Republicans could more than double their five-seat House majority through redistricting alone. That would give Speaker Kevin McCarthy a much-needed cushion in 2024. … Party operatives believe a favorable ruling in North Carolina could clear the way for a new configuration that nets Republicans four more additional seats. In Ohio, it could help the GOP win between one and three more districts. … A best-case scenario for North Carolina Republicans could shift the delegation from an even split to 11 Republicans and 3 Democrats. … [O]n the chopping block: Democratic freshmen Reps. Wiley Nickel, who holds a newly created seat in the south Raleigh suburbs, and Jeff Jackson, who nabbed a safe blue seat in the Charlotte area.”

Liberal outspends conservative $9.1 million to $0 in Wisconsin: New York Times: “As conservatives in Wisconsin seek to maintain control of the State Supreme Court in an all-important election for a crucial swing seat, they would appear to be fighting uphill. The conservative candidate, Daniel Kelly, is trailing in limited private polling of the race. … And perhaps most significantly, Justice Kelly’s campaign has been outspent by a staggering margin on television since the Feb. 21 primary: $9.1 million to nothing. … Only one national organization has spent anything on television to support the Kelly campaign: the super PAC Fair Courts America, which is backed by Richard Uihlein, the conservative billionaire.”

House Dem stars ditch tossup districts: Politico: “As Democrats begin their mission of re-taking the House of Representatives from a razor-thin, single-digit deficit, one thing may be making that harder: the ambition of members of their own party for higher office. So far, five members have already announced plans to run for Senate in just the first few months of the 2024 cycle including Democratic Reps. Katie Porter (Calif.) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), both of whom are leaving ‘frontline’ — or highly competitive — districts. … These open seats were a welcome sight to Republicans. … Losing incumbency advantage translates to losing more established community connections and campaign infrastructure. Coupled with a shrinking number of competitive House seats thanks to redistricting, these factors weigh more heavily on a party when control of the House could be decided by a single-digit number of seats.” 

BRIEFLY

Dems dismayed as Abrams says ‘likely’ to run again—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With Lightfoot gone, remaining Chicago candidates vie for black voters —New York Times

Kathy Barnette bows out of 2024 Pennsylvania Senate race, helping Mastriano—Politico

WITHIN EARSHOT: GOVERNOR OF FANTASY ISLAND 

“We’re flattered, but unfortunately our legal team says the Constitution won’t allow for her to serve as Governor and VP at the same time.”—The campaign team for former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake responds to a CPAC straw poll that selected Ms. Lake as the preferred Republican vice presidential nominee.


MAILBAG

“I have figured out Trump’s plan. Poison the well. He is working on turning his base against DeSantis. DeSantis is a Reagan RINO. [Trump] will signal to his base not to vote for anyone but him in the primaries and likely the general. It would seem all the candidates are only concerned about turning off Trump 35% more than they are going after the available 65%. Either way, vote for Trump or my people will stay home in November. So here is my question. Trump has not increased his pool of voters. It has shrunk. More never Trumpers, Independents turned off. Explain to me how Trump can win the General Election. I do not see any pathway. Even if it’s Kamala…”—Earl King, Colts Neck, New Jersey

To play Trump’s advocate for a moment, I would say: “That’s what they said about Hillary.” Now, we know that isn’t a sufficient answer, but it is more than enough for people to rationalize a choice that is personally satisfying. The problem for Republicans who want someone other than Trump is that they are mostly relying on electability arguments instead of ethical or patriotic ones. Hillary Clinton was a bad candidate for Democrats in many, many ways in 2016, but they settled for her because she was, they thought, electable. They nominated a woman who was under criminal investigation and who had left an ethical debris field in her wake. They lost because she was not well liked AND because her candidacy vitiated many of the arguments that Democrats would subsequently try to deploy against Trump. The right answer for Republicans who don’t want Trump is to get on with the unhappy work of prosecuting the case against him. He’s running as an incumbent, so they have to treat him like one. It won’t be sufficient to say that a candidate is better than Trump as a general election candidate, but that it would be better to lose with another candidate than win with Trump. Republicans are facing an overdue bill for Trump’s misconduct, and unless they can reject him for those reasons, Trump may win the nomination and the presidency again. And a party that would seek to return to power a man who showed himself willing to try to steal power is no party at all, but rather a cult of personality. The collective action problem is that such arguments are in the best interests of the party but not of individual candidates. Someone will have to take the fight to him instead of just imitating him. To beat Trump, a candidate will have to be willing to risk it all.

“Sort of picking between the blades, I would not give up on [Nikki Haley]. DeSantis looks good when Trump is the alternative, but both he and Trump have their negatives without much real positive. Heard and met [her] this week and came away swayed that she can handle her earlier waffling on Trump; she seems firm that January 6 was a dark day in American history.”—John Johnson, Tucson, Arizona

I’m not giving up on anybody, Mr. Johnson! There’s a long way to go and certainly many twists and turns. Haley strikes me as a candidate hoping to hang around the hoop looking for a tip-in. Maybe the ball will bounce her way at some point. But the problem is that the longer you are in the paint, the more chances you have to draw a foul. There will be other candidates to come who will not have the baggage she has accrued in her time since leaving the administration. She will have some advantages, à la Amy Klobuchar in 2020. When Republicans start reexamining their options, she could benefit from having an operation in place and having logged time on the ground in key states. But the race will look very different six months from now and there may be others who look like more attractive alternatives.

“Could you please tell Steve Hayes to get someone in the David French/Sunday morning slot? I miss him and it so much; it was my regular Sunday morning routine. It gave us something to think about other than strictly politics. Perhaps your Pastor David Glade?”—Ellen Hohenfeldt, Delafield, Wisconsin

Absolutely not, Ms. Hohenfeldt! I need my David right where he is and doing what he is doing! But consider your message onpassed. Starting Sunday with something wholesome and thoughtful about politics and public life helps us remember to live our values in all we do.


CUTLINE CONTEST: OCCAM’S PUNCHLINE

Jeb Bush speaks at Harvard University in 2016.  (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
Jeb Bush speaks at Harvard University in 2016. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Sometimes, the hardest part of the Cutline Contest is just getting out of the way of the obvious joke. This week’s winner needed just six short words to get the job done, and win his place in the March finals. 

Winner:

“Actually, I have this much energy.”—Bob Goldman, Gilroy, California

Winner, Augean Stable Hands Division: 

“By the end of the debate, the bullcrap was piled this high!”—Paul Williams, Shaker Heights, Ohio

Winner, Mystery Machine Division:

“And I would have won the election if not for those meddling kids!”—Rick Henderson, Raleigh, North Carolina

Winner, Cedar Point Division:

“The sign said: ‘You have to be this tall to run for President.’  I didn’t realize there were other requirements to win.”—Jonathan Falk, Rye, New York

Winner, Right to Rise Division:

“It turns out my ceiling was WAY lower than I had thought!”—John Rawls, Castle Pines, Colorado

Winner, W.F.B. J.E.B. Division:

“But I’m in the top of the Boston telephone directory.”—Gerald Masters, Geneva, New York

Winner, Florida Man Division:

“Jeb Bush regales crowd with his tale of catching a record Marlin off the coast of Florida”—Alex Fordney, Chattanooga, Tennessee

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!


BUY ME SOME PIZZA AND CRACKER JACKS

AP: “Old-time baseball players would be appalled. Italy’s dugout at the World Baseball Classic comes outfitted with an espresso machine. And it’s getting lots of attention. ‘We are kind of shocked, actually, because this is something in Italian culture that’s sort of like water. I mean, coffee would be right after water,’ Italy manager Mike Piazza said. Piazza said he was content with the Nespresso machine in the dugout, but dissatisfied the coffee was being served in a paper cup and not a ceramic one. ‘I don’t like espresso out of a paper cup. It’s kind of sacrilege,’ Piazza said. ‘But when it’s the only option you have, you have to deal with it. Maybe next time we’ll bring the metallic machine with the copper eagle on the top and someone in there knocking espressos out. You have to make the most with the tools you have.’ Andre Marcon, the president of the Italian Baseball Federation, said he was content with the exposure Italian baseball was getting — even for its coffee habits.”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.