Now, I’m not here to argue that a 35 to 40% approval rating is no problem. What I want to do is put these numbers into some perspective, taking into account some challenges that few, if any, Presidents had to face in their first year in office.
For starters, no incoming President until Biden has had such a crazy transition from Election Day to Inauguration Day. Because then-President Trump fought the results of the election all the way to January 20th (and still considers the results false), his administration offered no help given they believed they were still in office. Not getting the traditional assistance during the transition certainly hampered the early days of the administration.
Keep in mind Biden inherited probably the worst mess of any incoming President in history. For example, the pandemic that was under Trump’s management for the first year was mishandled in so many ways. Yes, Trump pushed for warp speed action on getting vaccines, but more than off-setting this effort was his instilling in his supporters that the virus was not that big of a problem. Then after acknowledging the negative impact of the pandemic, Trump proceeded to tell his supporters that taking the vaccine was not smart. All the while, Trump was activating his army of supporters in opposition to just about everything the government was pushing to help address COVID-19 challenges.
Here is another example. Biden inherited a civil service team that had been brutally treated. President Trump had no respect for professional public servants. At every opportunity, he placed inexperienced political hacks into positions where there had been career professionals who often had worked under several administrations. In addition, there were voluntary exits from civil servants who could not tolerate an environment so counterproductive to serving the best interests of the nation.
Also getting key positions filled that require Senate confirmation slowed things down. The Republicans in the Senate took almost every opportunity to stretch out the process for weeks and in some cases months. In the first fifteen days they had only confirmed five of Biden’s fifteen Cabinet selections. For comparison, the Senate had confirmed 90% of the Cabinet secretaries for Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama combined during a similar transition time frame. The bottom line is that Biden is still filling some key leadership positions including ones that Trump never saw fit to fill because he really didn’t want the government to work efficiently.
Biden has received little or no help from Republicans across the board, even on issues they really want Congress to deliver for the American people. I have no doubt that many of the Republicans who will be voting ‘no’ on all Biden’s major proposals including infrastructure will find ways to take some credit back in their states and districts even if these proposals are successfully passed by only the Democrats. As well, in time, when key projects on climate change get done and public support grows, these Republicans’ message will be that progress could not have happened without their support.
Observers of Biden’s first nine months often compare his results with that of previous administrations. The logical focus is with Lyndon B Johnson who also pushed major initiatives and with great success. Pundits often ignore the fact Johnson had strong Democratic majorities in both Houses. Biden has little or no margin for error, and the Democrats are struggling to find consensus on almost everything.
Yes, Biden has made mistakes. All Presidents do. But given the hurdles he has had to overcome, drawing conclusions this early in his term of office does not fairly represent where things really are. The keys for more success going forward are how much has been learned so far and how much getting the full team on board will make a difference.
In the end, Presidential polls are interesting and for the moment give a sense of where things appear to be, but to project conclusions for months and years down the road makes no sense. Things do change, and that includes for the better.