Brian Howey: It’s too early to declare Biden toast


At about the 1:45 mark of President Biden’s recent marathon press, the pool camera panned from a questioner to the president, and in the sweep were Biden staffers in an adjacent hallway. In this fleeting image, more than one of them was fixated on their wristwatches. Later, Biden would do the same himself.

The glance at the wristwatch is dire political code, as Bush41 found out at one of his 1992 re-election debates. It signals that your mind is somewhere else, or that you would rather be anywhere else. White House staffers seemed to be feeling the pressure as President Biden navigated the press for almost two hours.

Here was a 79-year-old president, who had just brushed off a question from a Newsmax reporter about his mental soundness, taking a torrent of questions from a harsh and hostile press. “I think we’ve done remarkably well,” the president said, as he recounted efforts to ramp up coronavirus tests and vaccine. “Nobody has ever organized a strategic operation to get as many shots in arms.”

Gallup measured Biden’s approval at an anemic 40% between Jan. 2 and 16, and for his first year, he averaged 49% approval. Republicans sense Biden blood in the water, citing the 7% inflation and the disastrous exit of Kabul last August.

A Pew Research Survey conducted Jan. 10-16 found President Biden and his Democrats face a daunting 10 months: 41% of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s job performance, which is down slightly from September (44%) and substantially lower than last April (59%). Just 21% of the public is satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. Just 29% of Democrats express satisfaction with the state of the nation, down 18 percentage points since March.

President Biden sees glasses half full: The $1.9 trillion pandemic American Rescue Plan that brought $13 billion in federal funds to Indiana; and the $1.7 trillion infrastructure deal that will improve tens of thousands of bridges and roads and bring high speed wi-fi to the end of the road. The U.S. economy grew last year at the fastest pace since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, expanding 5.7%.

In gauging Biden’s tormented first year, it’s worth examining where other television-age presidents stood after a year in office. The four who were defeated for re-election three years later were all over the map, with President Jimmy Carter at 54%, George H.W. Bush at 80%, and Donald Trump at 38%. In August 1975, President Gerald Ford stood at 52%.

The presidents who were re-elected had mixed polling after their first year: Dwight Eisenhower at 71%, Richard Nixon at 63%, Bill Clinton at 55%, Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan both at 49%.

Reagan, Clinton and Obama were all considered roadkill following their first mid-term elections. Reagan’s Republican Party lost 27 House seats and one in the Senate. In 1994, Clinton saw the GOP gain 54 House seats (including three in Indiana) and eight in the Senate. In 2010, Obama’s Democrats lost 63 seats in the House and seven in the Senate.

Mid-term funk doesn’t mean exile from the White House. In 1984, Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign forged an epic 49-state landslide win. In 1996, Clinton carried 31 states and D.C. for a 379-to-159 Electoral College win (with 49% of the popular vote) over Republican Bob Dole and independent Ross Perot. And in 2012, Obama won 26 states and the District for 332 Electoral College votes in a 51.1-to-47.2% victory over Republican Mitt Romney.

A recent Politico/Morning Consult Poll revealed some better news for Biden: He still holds slim leads over Donald Trump (45-44%), Sen. Ted Cruz (45-39%), Mike Pence (44-42%), and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (44-39%).

Last week’s announcement by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer that he was stepping down is good news for Biden and Democrats. Biden has promised to nominate a black female justice, and this administration will now be energized by this SCOTUS nomination.

While America is as polarized politically unlike it’s been in any time since the Civil War, there are a number of elements in play that would make declaring Biden and the Democrats toast premature at this point.

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.