US consumer confidence dropped in May 2022 to the lowest since February, underscoring the impact of decades-high inflation on Americans’ economic views.
Gallup’s most recent Economic Confidence Index number (that summarises Americans ratings of current economic conditions and whether the US economy is getting better or worse) stands at -45. This is public’s most negative view of the economy Gallup has measured since the end of the Great Recession in early 2009.
NBC News summarised what widespread reporting has made clear for months: President Joe Biden is frustrated with his administration, which lacks a clear message and too often finds itself in reaction mode.
“Biden is rattled by his sinking approval ratings and is looking to regain voters’ confidence that he can provide the sure-handed leadership he promised during the campaign, people close to the president say,” NBC News reported.
As I have noted previously, the incessant efforts from aides to “clean up” the president’s remarks (which often do not need cleaning up) have only made matters worse. NBC News reported: “The so-called clean-up campaign, [Biden] has told advisers, undermines him and smothers the authenticity that fuelled his rise. Worse, it feeds a Republican talking point that he’s not fully in command.”
It is true that every president feels frustrated and blindsided by his own staff from time to time. Nevertheless, it is clear that this White House needs some shaking up.
Don’t hand over reins to Republicans
First, the president should rethink his management strategy. If he doesn’t like the hysterical “cleanup” efforts, fire the people who rush to undercut him. And if he recognises that his economic team was slow to respond to inflation, get new advisers.
He has talent in his administration, such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. He can move these figures up to more prominent positions.
Second, Biden’s language needs to be tighter and tougher. His statement on Monday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is “rational” on gun laws — given McConnell’s history of obstruction — is unhelpful, to put it mildly. And his recent coining of the phrase “ultra-MAGA” to describe Republican extremism does not capture the seriousness of the threat.
Biden would do well to stress as often as he can the danger that a radicalised GOP poses to democracy and sane governance. And if he wants voters to keep Republicans out of power, he should be unstinting in criticising GOP representatives, senators and governors whose inaction has resulted in avoidable deaths from Covid-19 and gun violence. Now is not the time for avuncular cheerleading on bipartisanship.
Moreover, Biden should level with voters that if Republicans regain the majority in Congress, chaos will ensue. They’ve shown their willingness to shut down the government and default on the national debt.
They are preparing their base for non-stop “investigations” and even impeachment. If voters dislike acrimony and gridlock, they shouldn’t give Republicans the reins.
Sharpen the midterm messaging
Third, the White House has consistently tried to do too many things at once (e.g., Biden’s overstuffed Build Back Better bill, a “Unity Agenda,” etc.).
In the lead-up to the midterms, Biden should limit his agenda to a shortlist of inflation-fighting measures (including a prescription drug cost-containment bill and energy bill to bring down fuel prices), a crime bill (including popular gun-safety measures) and a populist agenda targeting corporate irresponsibility.
As to the latter, Biden would certainly find a receptive audience in demanding that corporations pay something in federal taxes and that social media companies police themselves. The GOP would likely stymie these efforts, but at least voters will understand what Biden and his fellow Democrats stand for.
Fourth, Biden should finally take up the cause of reforming the executive and legislative branches, such as banning lawmakers’ individual stock transactions or beefing up the Hatch Act (federal law that limits certain political activities of federal employees).
Biden can press Democrats to advance reforms bills such as the Trust in Congress bill and the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would require presidents to release tax information, enhance the powers of inspectors general and put in mechanisms to enforce the emoluments clause. At the very least, Democrats can force Republicans to defend the Washington “swamp.”
None of these approaches may be sufficient to turn around Biden’s poll numbers, at least in the short term. But collectively, they would improve the administration’s performance and help sharpen the Democrats’ midterm message.
Jennifer Rubin is a political columnist and author