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President Biden marked his first year in office on a downbeat note: low approval ratings, a defeat of the Democrats’ voting rights bill in the Senate, and the Build Back Better Bill stalled. But perhaps Biden's biggest political concern is how he fares within his own party. For a look at why this is crucial, along with some historical context, Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins.
So, Jeff, when we see these twists and turns, where does the President stand with his own party among Democrats?
Well, a new Associated Press poll says his approval rating among Democrats is 71 percent, which might sound high, except that's a sharp decline from the near-unanimous 97 percent approval rating he had at the start of his presidency. And also, only 48 percent of Democrats say they want Biden to run in 2024. That's three years away. You can't overanalyze that, but he's also hurt among women, the young Latinos, lacks core elements of the Democratic Party.
So what's the kind of short-term implication of that?
Well, it's pretty obvious that if you go into a midterm where the president's support is always up against it, with an unhappy Democratic electorate, that affects everything from working to get out the vote to actually showing up at the polls. But there's even a more fundamental problem for an embattled president if he doesn't have a united party behind him, think back to Watergate. When Nixon began to get in trouble, a number of Republicans started to ask very tough questions, people like Howard Baker and Lowell Weicker. When impeachment came up, seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon. And for the end, people like Barry Goldwater, stalwart Republican, went to the White House and said, You've got to leave. Contrast that with Bill Clinton's impeachment. Virtually no House Democrat voted for impeachment. No Senate Democrat did. And the party itself was so solidly behind Clinton that in the fall of 1998, Democrats actually won seats in the midterms, which is a rarity. So that can tell you how important it is for a president to have his own party united, especially given how stalwart the Republicans are in opposing virtually everything Biden wants to do.
So even though we're at the midterms, how does party support affect your reelection chances?
You know, it's a fascinating statistic. This is not science, but some things really strike you as almost a rule. For 70 years, every president who's faced serious problems in his own party has failed to win another term. Harry Truman in 1952, after being challenged by Estes Kefauver said I'm not running again. Lyndon Johnson in 1968, challenged by Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, said, I'm not running again. Gerry Ford was almost unseated by Ronald Reagan. He lost to Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter was pushed hard by Ted Kennedy. He lost to Ronald Reagan and even the first President Bush, who was kind of pushed a little by Pat Buchanan, that hurt him in his reelection, and he lost to Bill Clinton. And the contrast is, every president who has had a united party has won reelection, except one. And that's Donald Trump.
Wow, so is there anything that Joe Biden can do or what does he do to improve his prospects?
Well, the first thing that would be helpful is if COVID finally got under control because it's making the entire country just basically unhappy and frustrated and annoyed, and that's never good for an incumbent. Beyond that, I think he has to be and to remind his party and the country about what has been accomplished. Instead of having Democrats complain about what hasn't been done on voting rights or on Build Back Better, he's got to say, Look, we have this big infrastructure bill. We had an American rescue plan. We've got unemployment way down, and go around the country to purple and even red states saying, I know you may not vote for me, but here's what we have done in the face of opposition from the people you have sent to Congress. And lastly, I think it would be really significant for Biden to keep Donald Trump front and center in the minds of Democrats because nothing will unite the Democratic Party than the feeling that Donald Trump is trying to put his own candidates into governorships and Senate and House seats, maybe trying to rewrite the rules for 2024 because every election is a choice. And it's not a choice for Joe Biden between me and perfection. It's a choice between me and the fellow who I beat last fall and who is still very much on the horizon.
Jeff Greenfield. Thanks so much.
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