Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues that Biden's approval rating remaining in the low 50's after his first 100 days in office is a direct result of both our polarized electorate and the fact that Biden has stuck to middle-class kitchen table issues and dared the GOP to attack him. They have, and Biden's managed to peel off Republican voters as a result.
The political core of Bidenism rests on his answers to two questions: What accounted for the setbacks experienced by recent Democratic presidencies? And how can his party ease the discontents that led to the rise of Donald Trump?
As President Biden addresses Congress on Wednesday to mark his first 100 days in office, the driving priorities of his administration are clear: the essential task of ending the pandemic, ambitious public investment to drive robust, long-term economic growth and aggressive efforts to reverse 40 years of expanding inequality.
In retrospect, it’s obvious that the Democrats’ big midterm defeats under Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010 were caused in significant part by sluggish economic recoveries.
As a result, Biden has taken no chances: He pressed relentlessly for his $1.9 trillion economic rescue bill, and continues to advance infrastructure investments and other programs to speed growth and lift incomes. He will pursue these plans with Republicans if possible and, more likely, without them if necessary.
Similarly, Biden has touted his climate plan at least as much for its job-creating potential as for its environmental benefits, pushing back against conservatives who have long cast action against climate change as a drag on the economy.
A pain-before-gain policy on climate proved politically deadly when House Democrats passed their elegant but complicated cap-and-trade bill in 2009 to put a price on carbon.
Cap-and-trade or a carbon tax are rational, direct responses to the problem, but neither deals with the fears of workers in regions where the coal, oil and natural gas industries have long supported well-paying livelihoods. Biden’s priority is to make clear that he gets these worries, and the United Mine Workers of America union’s endorsement last week of “a true energy transition” suggests his approach is resonating in unexpected places.
The shaping of Biden’s climate agenda reveals the contours of his larger effort to drive a wedge into the Trump constituency. A majority of Trump’s loyalists — the most fervent Republicans, ardent immigration foes, hard cultural conservatives, gun rights zealots, racial backlash voters — will never be available to Biden or the Democrats.
But Biden is banking on his ability to use populist economics (relief checks, upward pressure on wages, a “Buy America” campaign to bring home more manufacturing work, confining tax increases to corporations and those earning more than $400,000 annually) to win back Trump voters whose dissatisfactions are primarily economic.
Biden’s proposals have thus far won support in the polls from about a third of Republicans and a substantial majority of lower-income Republicans (in the case of the relief act). Their response has allowed Biden to challenge the traditional definitions of bipartisanship — House and Senate Republican votes for his bills — that hamstrung his predecessors. Instead, Biden argues that what he is doing is good for many Republican voters, and that a significant share of them agrees.
Biden continues to move far more to the left than I expected, embracing both the right time and the right thing to do. He's correctly disarming the populism fuse for the GOP by doing widely popular things too. I know it seems simple, but Obama was held back, and it hurt us all. Biden isn't constrained by the additional fetters of racism.
I hate that being true, but it is, and Biden is able to do things Obama should have been, but wasn't able to.