Given his continuingly tanking poll numbers, there should be no surprise how people in red states feel about Joe Biden. But there are increasing reports that even members of his own Democratic Party are growing frustrated with what they see as “inaction” by the White House.
Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated by what they say is a “flat-footed” White House that has been way too slow to react to a seemingly never-ending cascade of problems in the face of crisis after crisis.
They point to the recent baby formula shortage as the latest example of how President Biden failed to get ahead of the story, allowing Republicans to set the narrative as yet another failure for the White House. But they also highlighted Biden’s lag on other issues at the top of voter’s minds, such as inflation and gas prices.
Democrats were also miffed when the White House was caught off guard when a federal judge in Florida lifted the mask mandate on airlines in April and also when a leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was made public, even though both were events that surprised Washington more broadly — not just the White House.
“It’s really simple: ‘Be the f—ing president!,” said one unnamed Democratic strategist frustrated by the administration. “I realize it’s tough, and you’re drinking out of a fire hose every single day, but there are things you can do to control the public perception, and they haven’t done any of that.”
Democratic strategist Christy Setzer added that the White House has shown some naivete in recent months in trying to control the message.
“It may come down to not understanding what they’re up against — both the media environment and today’s GOP,” Setzer said. “Biden did speak out on guns, on baby formula, on inflation … but the traditional tactics aren’t breaking through, and it doesn’t seem as though they’re taking in that information, re-trenching, and trying new approaches; when it’s falling flat.”
The White House routinely defends Biden and the administration’s response to the baby formula shortage, highlighting his invoking of the Defense Production Act to have baby formula flown into the US at least five times in recent weeks.
“The President has led with urgency and solutions needed to deliver for American families due to Abbott’s recall,” a White House official said.
Speaking to reporters during a briefing last week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that Biden is juggling “multiple crises” at one time.
Biden’s polling numbers began to fall last August, around the time he withdrew the last military forces out of Afghanistan after 20 years of war. The chaotic and deadly US exit, marked by the Taliban’s swift and sudden takeover of Kabul, was labeled by both Democrats and Republicans as poorly executed. It was compounded by a terrorist bombing that took the lives of 13 American service members.
The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan pounded Biden deep behind his own goal line, and he hasn’t recovered since.
Most polls have Biden’s approval rating stuck in the low 40s. A Reuters-Ipsos poll released last week showed that Biden’s approval rating had jumped up 6 points to 42 percent from a record low the previous week.
Even when Biden steps up, as he did with his speech about gun violence after the Uvalde massacre, he still seems a day late and a dollar short.
“It should have been done sooner,” another strategist who wished to remain anonymous told The Insider. “It felt like it was too late by the time he’d delivered the speech. The moment was already passing.”
Biden did deliver a speech the night of the shooting after returning from the White House from a multiday trip to Asia, but it was less focused on pushing for specific legislative actions and more about pleading with the public to find an end to mass shootings devastating the country.
Democrats and the country, in general, did feel good about the way Biden took control of the COVID crisis, which many perceived as lacking under Trump. They saw this as a sign of new leadership and a commander in chief who could “get the job done.” But since being elected, crisis after crisis has slid across Biden’s desk, and his response to them has been dismal, always seeming too late to the party and having to play catch up.
Just last week, Biden himself acknowledged in an exchange with reporters that he wasn’t aware of the severity of the baby formula shortage until early April — weeks after the Abbott plant in Michigan was shuttered due to safety concerns and after Americans were already facing empty store shelves.
“My jaw really dropped,” said William Galston, chairman of the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution. “It was someone’s job to warn him and not some low-level flunky.”
One of the unnamed Democratic strategists speaking to Insider said, Biden’s admission that he only found out about the baby formula shortage in April “seems like bad staff work.”
“You should be able to see what’s coming down the pike,” the strategist said.
Can the White House do anything to change the perception that Biden is incapable of getting out ahead of a crisis?
One Democratic strategist suggested Biden needs to “stop trying to put out 20 fires.”
“Pick four or five and do them really well,” the strategist said. “Dive in on baby formula, dive in on gas prices.”
Rodell Mollineau, the Democratic strategist who served as an aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said there aren’t “quick fix solutions” to many of the issues Biden faces.
But Mollineau said Biden should be doing what he does best to help drive his message. Mollineau advised that Biden should be hitting the road more to speak directly to the public, something the president has tried to do more of since the start of the year.
“The more he’s out there, the more he’s talking to people, the more he’s visiting real Americans and sharing in their pain and frustration and being Scranton Joe, the better off it is,” Mollineau said. “It’ll remind people again why they voted for him in the first place. It plays to his strengths.”