Who can blame President Biden for nodding off at the COP26 summit on Monday? It was an astronomically boring session — opening statement after opening statement, pompous speaker after pompous speaker, insisting that the time for words on climate change is over. Now is the time for… zzzzzzzzzzzz. It’s a miracle the jet-lagged, 78-year-old leader kept his eyes open for as long as he did.
Poor Joe. He has a lot on his addled mind. He’s been in office for less than a year and his presidency is already a catalogue of crises. On Tuesday, as the President stood on the COP stage in Glasgow, impotently lecturing China and Russia about their absence, another disaster was happening back home. His Democratic party lost the governorship of Virginia, an election widely seen as the first big test of the political temperature in the Biden era. Virginia is increasingly thought of as Democratic territory. This time last year, Biden beat Donald Trump by ten points in the state — so the result looks damning.
Last month, as the polls tightened, Biden decided to invest his own political capital in the race. He joined the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe on the campaign trail and tried to brand the Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, as a Trumpkin wolf in sheep’s clothing — ‘extremism… can come in a smile and a fleece vest,’ he said.
Biden’s intervention only made a bad situation for the Democrats worse. The fleece-wearing Youngkin was clearly not an extremist. He successfully disassociated himself from red-raw Trumpism. He also picked a culture-war fight and won. He turned education, and the Democrats’ apparent eagerness to brainwash children with critical race theory in schools, into a rallying cause. His opponent moronically said that teachers, not parents, should decide what children learn. Showing even less nous, the National School Boards Association then demanded that protesting parents should be investigated for ‘domestic terrorism’. The Virginia election thus became a ‘nationalised’ battle between American families and Biden’s hyper-progressivist elite. The families won.
It’s silly to read too much into the Virginia result, even if the Democrats also underperformed in other races. Looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections and beyond, however, the picture for Biden and the Democrats is extremely grim.
America is a lot bigger than Virginia. Yet Biden’s polling has been tanking nationwide. His job approval rating has fallen fairly steadily since he took office, from 55 per cent in January to 43 per cent today. He isn’t quite as unpopular as his predecessor at the same stage in his presidency, but Trump’s popularity bounced off a low base throughout. Biden’s seems so far only to go down. And no postwar president has fallen faster.
The number of Americans who think their country is on the ‘wrong track’ is 71 per cent. The young are giving up on Biden: 43 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds approve of his job performance, a drop of 20 points since June. Perhaps most alarmingly of all for Democrats, the latest NBC poll found that Republicans now hold an 18-point advantage over their rivals when it comes to ‘dealing with the economy’. That is the highest recorded gap since 1991, when the survey started asking the question.
Americans think a lot about money and are understandably worried about what Biden is doing to the financial universe. He came into power promising to ‘restore the soul’ of their nation through preposterous amounts of government spending. What could go wrong?
Various trillion dollar bills barrelled into Congress. Americans didn’t mind at first. People like receiving large stimulus cheques. Media sycophants hailed Biden’s Build Back Better agenda as the 21st-century answer to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. But Biden was conspicuously vague about how the government would pay for it all — aside from his insistence that the two million Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year might have to cough up. Now Build Back Better is Collapsing Very Quickly as political and fiscal realities catch up with the executive branch. A supply-chain crisis is causing bottlenecks across America and the world. Inflation is biting harder in America than in Britain, and institutions are panicking. The Federal Reserve is this week expected to ‘taper’ its enormous stimulatory bond-buying programme. The Biden administration hopes that once its $1.75 trillion infrastructure bill gets through Congress, the public mood will shift in their favour again. But spend, spend, spend is not always the most sensible political strategy. The Democrats have been squabbling over the bill and the Republicans have done a good job of presenting themselves as the voice of economic sanity.
Still, Biden’s strength is the weakness of his opposition. With notable exceptions such as Youngkin, the Republicans continue to be hopelessly divided over their identity. Are they post-Trump these days? Given that the 45th President seems almost certain to run for the party’s nomination in 2024 and is highly likely to win, who wants to steer the Grand Old Party in another new direction? Even if Trump magically disappeared, how can Republicans appeal to their Trumpist core, who believe the last presidential election was stolen, as well as to the less rabidly partisan voters they need to win? There’s a reason senior Democrats mention Trump as often as they can.
Yet all the talk of the dreaded orange man cannot conceal the Democrats’ problem-in-chief, which is their own Commander-in-Chief. It’s the senility, stupid. Democrats may still bat away talk of his advancing dementia as nasty gossip. But it’s not just right-wing news anchors who wonder aloud about his health. Everyone does. Biden is pushing 80, has had two brain aneurysms, and often seems to have no idea where he is or what he is doing. He can get through a speech, just about, but the way his press team shield him from difficult question-and-answer sessions has gone from running joke among frustrated Washington journos to a source of international concern.
Biden recently got through a ‘townhall event’ with CNN’s Anderson Cooper without any major mind malfunctions. There was, however, the legendary ‘jet-pack moment’. Asked about inflation, Biden suddenly adopted a bizarre pose, raising two clenched fists in front of himself and standing rock-still for about 15 seconds. He also performed his weird whispering routine, theatrically hushing his voice for no clear reason.
Most revealing, perhaps, is Team Biden’s desperate insistence that he’s raring to go. His spokespeople talk about how ‘laser-focused’ the President is on finer policy details, which suggests that he doesn’t have the foggiest what is going on. ‘When I saw the President yesterday, he wasn’t just wide awake,’ said White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy on Tuesday, even though nobody had asked her about Biden’s Glasgow snooze. ‘He was really on fire.’
There’s a realisation all over the world that Biden is not OK. He has honesty issues on top of his memory issues, which blur his strategy. For instance, according to reports, the American, Australian and British governments had all agreed the Australians would break the bad news to France about the cancellation of the £45 billion French-Australian submarines deal on 16 September, the day the Aukus security pact was announced. Yet after meeting the French President Emmanuel Macron in Rome last weekend, Biden said he felt the diplomacy around Aukus had been ‘clumsy’. ‘I was under the impression France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through, honest to God,’ said Joe. Was Biden being devious or dopey — or both? Was he throwing Australia under the bus? Had he forgotten the agreement? Or had his national security advisers kept him in the dark?
Such ‘strategic amnesia’ could be useful in international relations. And American voters might be sanguine if they believed that behind the doddery frontman, the Biden administration was brilliant, switched-on and dynamic. The evidence increasingly points the other way. His Vice-President, Kamala Harris, who many assume will emerge as Biden’s replacement, seems to be less forgetful than Joe Biden but is equally barmy and much more disliked. She’s been put in charge of the immigration crisis at the southern border — a bum gig, no doubt. But she’s made countless gaffes and missteps. The administration is now falling back on Trump-era tactics to stop illegal entry into the US, while incentivising the lucky ones who make it through with large cash prizes.
Harris’s laugh, which she deploys a lot, is widely recognised as the most irritating noise in America. A video of her speaking with hysterical gaucheness to some child actors about the wonders of space went viral for all the wrong reasons. If she is the break-glass-in-case-Biden-stops-working option, the Democrats must be dreading 2024.
The brain rot spreading across the whole administration only started to become clear — to non-obsessives, at least — in August, when Biden pulled America out of Afghanistan. That was unfortunate, since a large majority supported bringing the 20-year conflict to an end. But Americans found the botched withdrawal humiliating. The establishment media, which had hitherto slavered over everything Biden did, suddenly turn on their hero. It’s been downhill ever since. From August, Covid began to spread again, the vaccination programme slowed, and the daily death toll rose again to almost 3,000. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s coercive vaccine mandates triggered a backlash.
Rather than tackle these manifold emergencies, Biden’s government has chosen to bury itself in ever madder progressive activism. As American missionaries were kept hostage in Haiti, the State Department sent out a tweet celebrating International Pronouns Day. As China stepped up its manoeuvres around Taiwan, the Department of Health and Homeland Security announced a ‘giant step forward’ with the appointment of America’s first four-star transgender admiral. As the supply chain crisis took hold, the White House declared a new comprehensive ‘strategy on gender equity and equality’.
Who voted for all that? Donald Trump and his team always said that Biden would be a ‘trojan horse’ for the radical left. But that sounded like more right-wing propaganda. Last year, Biden came across to most Americans as Barack Obama’s amiable vice-president, a Silent Generation type, Irish and scrappy; Catholic and decent. The public assumed that he would have no truck with critical race theory or transgender insanity. Ten months into his presidency, Americans have realised they got that wrong.