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Editorial: Democrats' infighting invites a GOP midterm sweep, which would endanger democracy – STLtoday.com

President Joe Biden speaks Tuesday during a visit to a New Hampshire bridge over the Pemigewasset River to promote infrastructure spending.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The circular firing squad that is today’s Democratic Party is pursuing policies that most Americans embrace, yet is facing the real possibility of losing both houses of Congress in next year’s midterms because of what voters see as party-wide ineffectiveness. That’s according to a new poll that should be a bright flashing warning light to the Biden administration and congressional Democrats. The party needs to get its act together, and fast. Given the state of today’s GOP, a Republican takeover of Congress would be catastrophic not just for Democrats but for the very future of democracy.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll shows President Joe Biden with an approval rating of 41%. How bad is that? It matches exactly the four-year average approval rating that Gallup measured for former President Donald Trump — which was by far the lowest average approval rating of any presidential administration in that poll’s almost 80-year history.
The poll isn’t much better for congressional Democrats. If the midterms were held today, poll respondents overall said they would back a Republican candidate over a Democratic candidate, 46% to 43%. Among registered voters, the Republican advantage is even greater, 51% to 41%.
Biden and his party are personally losing support even as their policy goals remain broadly popular with Americans. You wouldn’t know it from the mood of Democrats, but Biden has had reasonable success in achieving those goals. His almost $2 trillion stimulus package earlier this year helped drive falling unemployment numbers. And the recent passage of his $1.2 trillion infrastructure package promises still more jobs, along with a long-overdue upgrade for the roads, communications networks and other societal structures that Trump talked about revamping throughout his presidency but never could deliver.
Democrats are notoriously bad at promoting their own achievements — something Republicans tend to excel at, even when they have little to promote or didn’t actually achieve what they claim — and that surely has contributed to the loss of support. Americans watching the intraparty squabbling over the infrastructure package, and seeing Biden settle for less than he wanted from it, might come away viewing it as a failure instead of the historic success it was.
The recent surge in employment (up more than a half-million jobs in October, surprising prominent economists) should have been shouted from the rooftops for weeks, but instead it was allowed to drop off the public’s radar screen almost immediately.
In assessing the tribulations of the Biden presidency, it’s necessary first to separate genuine issues of concern from the imaginary kind that the GOP was always going to hype. Hearing those who enabled the historically incompetent and dangerously dishonest Trump administration now savaging the honesty and competence of Biden would be amusing if it wasn’t such a disturbing reminder that one of America’s two major political parties has utterly lost touch with reality.
That said, Biden has earned his low polling numbers. His withdrawal from Afghanistan was so poorly executed that even the public’s overwhelming agreement with the policy goal didn’t prevent it from going in the “failure” column. He was late to understand the pain that inflation is causing regular Americans, initially shrugging it off as “transitory,” which, true or not, still hits the most vulnerable Americans the hardest. And while Biden’s pandemic response has been a vast improvement over that of his predecessor (the lowest of bars), infection numbers have creeped back up recently, including among the vaccinated.
The frustrating fact is that presidents can’t do much about inflation, and the uptick in coronavirus cases belongs squarely on the doorstep of Republican state officials who continue resisting the administration’s science-driven policies. But, again, perception is reality — and Biden’s inability to effectively communicate to Americans what he has accomplished has overshadowed those accomplishments.
The perception of a party losing its way, true or not, is intensified by the very public infighting between centrists like Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and progressives like St. Louis Rep. Cori Bush and her fellow members of “the Squad,” the small core of House Democrats trying to push the party leftward. Both sides have contributed to the sense of paralysis: the progressives with their all-or-nothing approach to negotiating (which culminated with Bush and five other Democrats voting against an infrastructure bill that will help their country, their party and, not incidentally, their own districts); and the Manchin crowd, with its refusal to eliminate the Senate filibuster — a necessity in the face of a GOP that today has virtually no defining principle beyond obstructing Democrats at every turn in order to regain power.
Democrats must put aside whatever legitimate disagreements they have among themselves and focus on unified messaging to get their voters out to polling places in numbers that exceed those of a highly motivated Republican base.
The infrastructure package will add jobs, which is key to getting the workers through what is hopefully a short-lived inflationary spike. In the meantime, Democrats should remind Americans of what they’ve accomplished. And remind them of what Republicans would offer instead (obstructionism, suppression of voting rights, dismantling of American democracy and expanded pandemic suffering, to name but a few).
The GOP today remains in thrall of an ex-president who tried to engineer a post-election coup to stay in office, and Republicans have since attempted to prevent Congress from even investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. For the party out of the White House to take Congress during the midterms is more the rule than the exception, but if it happens this time, America is in trouble.
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President Joe Biden speaks Tuesday during a visit to a New Hampshire bridge over the Pemigewasset River to promote infrastructure spending.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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