The White House is hoping President Joe Biden, with his reputation for verbal missteps and mistakes, can be his own best messenger.
Biden has reiterated his desire to criss-cross the country and connect with the public, but multiple crises have derailed his plans. Now, five months before the midterm elections, he and the White House are floating travel again, optimistic they can turn the public opinion tide against them and congressional Democrats.
Biden has “a very uphill climb” to improve his former President Donald Trump-low approval ratings, according to Republican strategist Douglas Heye. That task is further complicated by economic outlooks or at least gloomy consumer sentiment, a fractured media environment, and Biden’s performance.
For instance, Biden frequently interrupts his remarks with references to the fact he has been speaking for a long time. The tic tends to undermine his authority rather than render him overly relatable.
“He’s not a perfect messenger,” Heye told the Washington Examiner. “But he is perhaps the person who is most capable of delivering those messages and getting the attention necessary. … You’re not going to have your secretary of commerce or of transportation being the messenger that’s going to change political fortunes for the administration. That has to start at the top.”
Although Biden’s appearances could hand fodder to Republican operatives, the White House is grasping for a response and cannot simply cede the debate to the GOP.
Biden is averaging 41% approval and 54% disapproval, driven partly by independents, according to FiveThirtyEight. Those numbers are below Trump’s at the same point during his administration. In addition, on average, 22% of respondents think the president is taking the country in the right direction, RealClearPolitics found. Seventy-one percent consider the country to be on the wrong track.
Biden’s concern about Democrats’ prospects in November was evident in his decision to address California’s liberal policy rejection, including those of recalled San Francisco “progressive prosecutor” Chesa Boudin. Before departing Joint Base Andrews for the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, the president commented on the primaries in a prepared statement.
“The voters sent a clear message last night: Both parties have to step up and do something about crime, as well as gun violence,” he said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre attempted to ease Democratic anxiety about the fall during an Air Force One reporter briefing.
“The president is going to continue to do what he’s doing right now, what he’s about to do, which is focus on the American people, continue to make that his No. 1 goal as we talk about the economy,” she said.
Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman, predicted a GOP sweep if Democrats keep, for example, “telling people it’s even worse in Spain.”
“The direct action of a president on inflation can be limited,” he said. “But that’s not the message that voters want to hear from him.”
For Heye, voters yearn for assurance that Biden “gets it and that he has ideas to fix it.”
“They want to hear from a guy who made it very clear during the campaign trail that he was going to be a competent leader with a competent team, unlike Trump and the Addams Family, but also that he was a buck-stops-here kind of guy,” he said. “Their messaging is really going against that with, ‘Well, this is transitory and there’s only so much we can do.’”
Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg welcomed Biden trips to states such as California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania, remembering a supporter Zoom call to commemorate the president’s first anniversary in office. Biden “was clearly bummed out” during the virtual celebration by the real-life distance between him and his allies because of the pandemic, according to Rosenberg.
“What we see of Biden has been mostly him behind the podium in the White House,” he said. “That’s never the presidency that Joe Biden would have imagined for himself when he started running back in 2019. … It’s presented to the public an incomplete picture of who Joe Biden is as a political leader.”
According to Politico, first lady Jill Biden and Valerie Biden Owens, the president’s sister and longtime adviser, have urged White House aides to send Biden on the road more. Another Biden inner circle member implored staff to “let Biden be Biden.”
Biden pledged “to get out of this place” and “be deeply involved in these off-year elections” in January during his second stand-alone White House press conference.
“We’re going to be out there making sure that we’re helping all of those candidates,” he said. “Scores of them have already asked me to come in and campaign with them, to go out and make the case in plain, simple language as to what it is we’ve done, what we want to do, and why we think it’s important.”