President Joe Biden is a popular president with an agenda supported by a solid majority of the American people.
That is not a statement of partisan political analysis, though I happen to agree with it. That is a statement verified by opinion polling that has measured the popularity of all American presidents.
In the latest opinion poll from AP-NORC, Biden has a 63% approval rating after almost four months on the job. The area where he has the most notable support is in his response to COVID-19, where 71% of people give him high marks, including even 47% of Republicans.
By contrast, in the same poll, Donald Trump had a 40% approval in December of 2020 – and that is before he incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6.
Trump never had a day in the presidency, for all four years, where his average approval was ever above 50%.
What Biden’s approval represents is two things.
One, people generally feel he is doing a good job. Faced with multiple crises on day one, Biden has backed landmark legislation (The American Rescue Plan, The American Jobs Plan, The American Families Plan) and signed a flurry of executive orders and policy changes that are progressive and populist.
And secondly, the numbers show the continuing failure of the right-wing assault machine.
Led by Fox News, the Republican Party’s all-but-official propaganda arm and ideological thought factory, the right has tried to undermine Biden since before he took office.
They said he was not fairly elected, that he was personally mentally deficient, and that his agenda was far-left socialism out of step with the American people.
This attack was, as usual, parroted and repeated ad nauseam by Republican elected officials as they simultaneously sung from the same hymnal. They were relentlessly on message, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and all the rest. Pounding at everything, from his stutter to his press secretary’s anodyne use of the term “circle back.”
If you were awake from 2009 to 2017 the playbook was as familiar as the same playbook executed from 1992-2001.
So far with President Biden, it isn’t working.
If you accept the absurd Republican premise that Biden is enacting socialism (he isn’t, it’s just common sense), then Americans have made it very clear that they love “socialism.”
The right’s smear machine is a powerful thing. It has destroyed lives and careers and has ultimately made America worse off. The Democrats could do to inject its most efficient features into the party’s collective bloodstream rather than stumble from crisis to crisis as they have ever since the Reagan landslide of 1984.
But the GOP machine hasn’t put a serious dent in Biden, just as it failed to do last year during the presidential election.
I suspect that Biden’s resistance thus far comes from the fact that he is a well-known and well-liked public figure who has been in the middle of American politics for nearly 50 years. That kind of earned goodwill is hard to dent even for the Republican Party’s political equivalent of the blitzkrieg.
And to be blunt, it also helps that Biden is a white man, the default setting in American politics since there was ever the idea of an America.
Republican attacks on Biden tend to fall flat because at a superficial level he looks just like most of them and their voters. It’s a lot easier to demonize Barack Hussein Obama and his purportedly “exotic” background (one he shared with millions of Americans) versus an old white guy from Scranton.
Finally, there’s also the fact that Biden has not overall adopted the tired old defensive crouch that has been a hallmark of Democratic politics for decades. It has not been a flawless execution, but Biden has not caved to Republican faux caterwauling on topics like deficit spending or government control.
That means a lot. The Republican attack system is built for Democratic retreat – and it’s hard to blame them because that’s usually how it works.
President Clinton adopted a lot of bad Republican frames on fiscal policy because it was believed at the time of his election and reelection that this is a country with Reaganesque conservatism at it’s core.
President Obama is a naturally cautious man who fully understood the unprecedented nature of a black president and took great pains – sometimes far too many – to reassure reactionaries that their nightmares of a black nationalist with the nuclear launch codes weren’t coming true.
Biden has mostly ignored these same brands of criticism, either good-naturedly laughing them off or paying them lip service while working to shore up the support of Democrats who understand the clock is ticking on how much time they will have in leadership.
The opinion polls are showing Democrats that embracing much of the party’s base instincts is paying political dividends, which are what elected leaders respond to rather than feel-good nostrums that activists would prefer.
Joe Biden is winning, strongly, and the Republicans and Fox News and the right-wing media and political machine are badly failing. There’s no guarantee the dynamic will last, but it is worth highlighting as a future marker for what to do when darkness eventually returns.