News & Politics

Shades of Jimmy Carter

AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File

Like the last two Democratic presidents, Joe Biden is heading for a midterm disaster. Just how big that disaster will be is hard to say at this point.

Will it be as bad as the 1994 Bill Clinton wipeout? Democrats lost 54 House seats and eight Senate seats, handing Republicans control of the House and Senate for the first time in more than 40 years.

Perhaps it will be as bad as Barack Obama’s Obamacare catastrophe in 2010, when Democrats lost 63 seats? The best indicator for the health of the party in power has always been the president’s approval numbers. And Biden’s numbers are in freefall.

Biden’s approval numbers are currently in the 40s and are bound to get worse as the economy sputters and the Afghanistan debacle lingers. Still to come is the humanitarian disaster at the border as Biden is trapped by his own “open borders” rhetoric.

True, Biden can’t control the entire confluence of events that has resulted in his falling approval, but what he can control, he has clearly botched.


Democrats are already beginning to calculate the potential cost to the party in 2022. Over drinks on the sidelines of a recent meeting of the Democratic Governors Association in Aspen, Colo., party donors and operatives privately took stock of the damage that Afghanistan and the resurging coronavirus pandemic might hold for the party’s prospects in the midterm elections next year. The assessment was bleak.

“When Biden was elected, it was supposed to be, ‘Oh, the adults are back in the room to take charge,’” one strategist who was in Aspen said. “It turns out, we can’t do anything. Any Democratic strategist who thinks this is not going to impact the midterms or impact Biden being reelected, clearly they don’t know what the f— they’re talking about.”

A president’s approval numbers track closely with gains and losses in the midterms. Biden’s numbers are about as bad as Clinton’s were at this point in his presidency and they’re worse than Obama’s numbers in 2009.

“The guy can’t catch a break,” said Les Francis, a Democratic strategist and former deputy White House chief of staff in the Carter administration. “It’s so reminiscent of reliving those times, where we had Mount St. Helens, we had Three Mile Island … we had the truckers rioting … Then we had the hostage crisis. We had the Soviets invade Afghanistan in December of 1979.”

Francis added: “Now you’ve got a hurricane and a million people without power in Louisiana. You’ve got wildfires in the West. You’ve got the Delta variant on Covid. Nobody could criticize him for those things, but they have a way of infecting the overall political environment.

The hostage crisis in 1979 was not a natural disaster. To mention it in the same breath as Mount St. Helens erupting is typical Carter apologia — blaming others for his own incompetence. Another hostage crisis today — a real possibility given what’s happening in Afghanistan — would also be Biden’s fault. And it could make Afghanistan as toxic for Biden as the hostage crisis was for Carter.

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“He sold himself on competence,” political pollster Paul Maslin told Politico. “I think in six months, people are not going to be attacking the policy [of withdrawal]. … But the fact that it jumped him so fast, the fact that he said it will never be like Vietnam, you’ll never see the helicopters, and it all happened, and it all happened in two weeks, I think that obviously raises questions about the very thing that he’s supposed to be best at.”

What Biden appears to “be best at” is making a bloody hash of everything he touches.  And his party is very likely to pay for that in 2022.