Political instincts collide with party lines


It’s a pattern throughout the Biden administration: the president says something in an interview or makes an off-the-cuff remark in a speech, and his staff rushes to correct the record.

Driving the news: It happened twice during last weekend’s ’60 Minutes’ interview – the president said the pandemic was over and he vowed to defend Taiwan if China invaded the island.

  • The administration’s public health officials – led by Anthony Fauci rushed to recast his COVID comments.
  • The White House said US policy towards Taiwan had not changed, sticking to “strategic ambiguity” over whether it would respond militarily to an attack on Taiwan.

Why is this important: Biden’s instincts are often the most popular.

  • Many Americans have returned to pre-pandemic routines. Talking tough with China is a bipartisan cause these days.
  • But with the midterm elections a month and a half away and Democratic control of Congress at stake, Biden will face a series of last-minute messaging tests that will pit his instincts against party or administration lines.

The big picture: Biden’s moderate political instincts are central to his appeal. He campaigned as the candidate who would return the country to normal and built a broad coalition to oust Donald Trump from office.

  • As president, however, he pushed through a partisan $1.9 trillion emergency stimulus package and initially sided with progressives in backing trillions in additional social spending as part of a Build Back Better program.
  • It cost him the support of swing voters, especially as inflation worsened throughout the year.
  • His rise in the polls coincided with a more pragmatic approach, winning bipartisan support for infrastructure spending and a modest gun control bill while backing Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va .) to come up with a climate change and prescription drug regime that everyone in the party could agree on.

By the numbers: This month’s Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index found nearly half of Americans have returned to their pre-COVID lives — the highest number at any time since the pandemic. Almost two-thirds said there was no risk or just a small risk in going back to normal.

  • An August 2021 poll commissioned by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that a 52% majority of Americans favor using US troops to defend Taiwan if China invades the island. This is the highest level recorded since the first survey was conducted in 1982.

Between the lines: Biden initially worried about how canceling student loan debt “would play with working-class people,” a Washington Post ticking revealed. “[He] said the federal government should not bail out Ivy League graduates.”

  • But “relentless campaigning” by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and senior White House officials changed Biden’s mind, according to the Post.
  • The executive order divided the country along class and generation lines, according to a recent NYT/Siena poll. A majority of 49% support the move, while 46% oppose it. (Two-thirds of younger voters support the move, but only 37% of older people support the plan.)

Biden was also pushed back by staff after declaring, “Putin cannot stay in power” during a speech in March in Warsaw, Poland. A White House staffer quickly clarified, “He wasn’t talking about Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

  • But Biden’s view of Putin was in line with that of the American public: A YouGov poll taken shortly after Biden’s speech found that 63% of Americans agreed that “Putin can’t stay at home.” power,” even though the president’s rhetoric worries advisers that it could escalate the situation. crisis in Ukraine.

The bottom line: There is a divide in our politics – including in the Democratic Party – between those who rely on expert opinion and those who are guided by instinct.

  • Like many of his Republican rivals, Biden is an instinctive politician, but he is restrained by the technocratic impulses of his administration.
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