White House aides have been encouraging media coverage that credits President Biden with “a slew of legislative achievements” that give him “significant momentum” and leave him with “a stronger hand to play” in 2023. As he contemplates re-election, his approval rating has “surged” after the midterms.
Not according to the RealClearPolitics average. It has Mr. Biden’s approval rising, but only from 42.1% Election Day to a little under 43% today. That’s a budge, not a surge, and 3 points lower than Donald Trump’s approval rating when he lost in 2020.
Admittedly, the Republican Party’s weak midterm showing gave Mr. Biden a better election than expected. But victory owing to your opponent’s weak candidates doesn’t mean you’re strong, only lucky. Luck often disappears in politics, especially if you’re making mistakes yourself.
The president’s bragging about the economy is certainly a mistake. His remarks last Thursday were filled with rosy descriptions. Inflation is dropping “month after month, giving families some real breathing room.” Gasoline and food prices are falling, wages are rising, unemployment is low—and because of Mr. Biden’s policies, “Americans are starting to feel the benefits in their everyday lives.”
Cue the band for “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Except voters aren’t happy. Year-over-year inflation has slowed modestly, but in December it still was almost five times as high as it was when Mr. Biden took office. Wage increases have lagged behind price hikes for almost two years. Mr. Biden’s approval on the economy is 38%—down about 2 points from Election Day. On the question of the country’s direction, a mere 29% believe America is headed the right way. This economic reality looks particularly grim next to the president’s claims that we’ve entered an economic land of milk and honey. Voters will think he’s content with a possible recession.
The president would be better off saying sacrifice and hard work will bring better days, with the help of his American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act. But underpromising and overdelivering have never been Mr. Biden’s strength. Just as he has embellished his own life—claiming he was arrested in South Africa, grew up in a Puerto Rican community, graduated in the top half of his law-school class and more—so he exaggerates his policy achievements and the country’s condition. This creates a disconnect between the world he describes and what Americans are experiencing.
Team Biden is compounding this problem with its handling of the discovery of classified documents in an office Mr. Biden used at the Penn Biden Center after leaving the vice presidency. They were found on Nov. 2—six days before the midterms—but this information didn’t become public until Jan. 9, in a news report. The administration also sat on a Dec. 20 discovery of classified materials at the president’s Delaware home until Jan. 12. This raised further suspicions.
Team Biden dismisses all this as a simple oversight caused by the hectic nature of Mr. Biden’s final days as vice president. That won’t fly. If chaos is a legitimate excuse, what White House departure was more chaotic than Mr. Trump’s?