President Biden begins his second year in office with a 42 percent average job-approval rating. Republicans hold a one-point lead over Democrats in the congressional generic ballot (and the generic-ballot question often underestimates GOP support). The Gallup organization reports that in the final quarter of 2021 Republicans took a five-point lead in party identification for the first time since 1995. As of this writing, 28 House Democrats have announced their retirements, with more expected to follow. Biden’s agenda is stalled in Congress, the Supreme Court blocked his employer vaccine mandate, the coronavirus pandemic continues, and inflation is higher than at any point in the last 39 years. The country — not to mention the president — could use a reset.
We’re not getting one. Instead, on January 19, we got Biden’s combative, discursive, and delusional mess of a one-hour-and-51-minute press conference. Among the reasons the occasion was notable — and notorious — was that it forced the White House to clarify later Biden’s comments on not one but two issues: Biden’s ambiguity over America’s response if Russia launches a “minor incursion” into Ukraine, and Biden’s repeated assertion that the Senate’s failure to pass his election-takeover bills throws the legitimacy of the midterm elections into doubt. To watch Biden at the lectern was to experience shock and dismay interspersed with moments of alarm and dark humor. No wonder he hides from the media. It was the worst presidential press conference since Donald Trump stood next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in 2018.
Biden’s message to the 64 percent of the public that says the country is headed in the wrong direction: Everything is fine. Biden’s message to the 42 percent of the public that says economic conditions are poor: You must be joking. “We created six million new jobs — more jobs in one year than at any time before,” Biden said. “Unemployment dropped — the unemployment dropped to 3.9 percent.” Yes, Biden conceded, there is “frustration and fatigue in this country.” But that is due to the pandemic. As for inflation, Biden went on, it will subside when the Federal Reserve tightens the money supply (true), when Congress passes “my Build Back Better plan” (false), and when his anti-monopoly executive orders take effect (also false). “I didn’t overpromise,” Biden said. “But I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen.”
In one sense that’s true — Biden has turned out to be much worse than anybody expected. Just 28 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal of confidence” in his management of the White House. Forty-nine percent say he is doing more to divide than to unite the country. Less than a third want him to run for reelection. Biden shows no sign of taking these atrocious numbers seriously. “I don’t believe the polls,” he said Wednesday. It shows.