John DeQ. Briggs
A few days ago, Boris Johnson declared that under no circumstances would he resign as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Within 48 hours, he was gone. Nearly a dozen cabinet ministers resigned. In effect, BoJo, as he is sometimes called, was abandoned by his own ministers and his own party. Most of the press stories that I read talked about his “clown fall” and made the point, one way or another, that the conservative party in Britain had finally woken up to the fact that they could no longer tolerate a dishonest, crude, clownish entertainer as head of their party. Nearly all of the media ink spilled on the subject (both here and in the UK) dwelt at length on this aspect of Mr. Johnson’s collapse, while at the same time hectoring American Republicans to take heed and abandon all vestiges of Donald Trump who is perceived by our mainstream media, and by the UK media too, as largely analogous to Boris Johnson, especially in his crude and dishonest clownishness. Thus, we have these sorts of snark:
The New York Times: The delightful implosion of Boris Johnson. His career is ending the way Donald Trump’s should have. However, the schadenfreude brought by Johnson’s collapse is mixed with envy.
The Independent: During the former president’s worst excesses, there was no mass uprising against him from within his own government, as with Johnson.
The Washington Post: The resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is testament to the power of elected politicians to hold their leaders accountable. It is a lesson that has been lost on Republican Party officials as they have weighed repeatedly how to deal with former president Donald Trump.
It is not my purpose here to suggest that there are not important analogies between Boris Johnson and his Conservative party on the one hand, and Donald Trump and the Republicans, on the other. But the commentary on it all seems shallow and facile. The media raining down these analogies seems uniquely positioned to state the obvious and a uniquely poorly positioned to state the less obvious.
Just two weeks ago I wrote that:
In recent days and weeks, there have been quiet whispers and murmurings among Democratic party and media grandees that Mr. Biden should declare after the midterms that he will not seek another term and will abdicate. See Mark Leibovich’s June 16 article in The Atlantic “Why Biden Shouldn’t Run in 2024.” But the democrats who would like Biden to abdicate might get and regret what they wish for.
But in the last few days, and without even a nod to Boris Johnson and his calamity, these whispers and murmurings have evolved into grand mal panic, driven by some of the most anemic poll ratings ever seen in American politics in the last 100 years. The whisperings and murmurings of two weeks ago have become shouts and screams. This is the most immediate and salient analogy with Boris Johnson and the British conservative party. Remember, what BoJo said upon resigning: “When the herd moves, it moves.” Well, the Democratic herd in this country is moving. And it is moving mainly because of oil prices, food prices, the perception that the economy is doing poorly (even though unemployment seems at an all-time low), the lack of any coherent foreign policy, and now a widespread and seemingly irreversible perception that the administration is simply aimless, rudderless, and incompetent not just in devising policy, but in the execution of policies.
Given the leaked Roe opinion last May, the administration had months of notice regarding what was going to happen in connection with Roe v. Wade and yet it seemed completely unprepared to take strong action of any sort in the wake of the actual opinion. The administration in particular, and the Democratic Party in general, also seemed unprepared to address the Supreme Court’s decision establishing a right under the Second Amendment to possess firearms outside the home. Whether one agrees or disagrees with these Supreme Court decisions, the administration’s response was bellicose, and not really connected to the underlying merits of either case. Rather, the response was to declare war on the Supreme Court, to attempt to generate enthusiasm for a court packing scheme, and to attempt to keep the focus on the January 6 hearings so as to keep as much of the media as possible focused on the sins of Donald Trump and his White House staff, thereby distracting the electorate from life on the ground. The slowly building Hunter Biden story was altogether ghosted. And as this is written, Mr. Biden is off on a begging-for-oil trip to Saudi Arabia.
But the root problem is the President’s continuing (and to many stunning) collapse in the polls. Mr. Biden’s disapproval rating now exceeds 60 percent in essentially all the polls. In the eight separate Wrong Track/Right track polls, the wrong track range is from 87%to 70% with the RealClear Politics average at 76%. This is unheard of! And a Harvard-Harris poll finds that 71% of Americans do not want President Biden to seek reelection. It is thus not as large a surprise as it might otherwise be to see CNN running an article about the White House going out of its way to tamp down on whispers that he might not run for a second term in 2024. Even poor Kamala Harris was called into play to declare “Joe Biden is running for reelection, and I will be his ticket mate. Full stop.” However, she later revised her remarks to say just that Biden “intends” to run. Big difference.
Just yesterday, CNN ran this headline: “As worries about Biden in 2024 grow, other Democrats aren’t stepping forward to challenge him.” This displeases CNN given the “overwhelming sense of frustration among Democrats with Biden and … what many in the President’s party describe as mismanagement permeating the White House. Top Democrats complain the President isn’t acting with — or perhaps isn’t even capable of — the urgency the moment demands.”
A least three democrats seem to be positioning themselves for a run if and when Mr. Biden finally exits, whether à la BoJo or otherwise: California Governor Gavin Newsome, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, all chief executives of states of some size and importance. Neither Pete Buttigieg nor Kamala Harris are likely to be taken seriously this time around, and so it could be an interesting primary season next year. What Bernie Sanders might do could of course matter, and he and Elizabeth Warren (not to mention Sandy Cortez) could become disruptive forces within the Democratic party.
But given where we were just a few weeks ago, it seems increasingly clear that, like Boris Johnson, President Biden has thoroughly lost the confidence of his party and of the electorate. What remains is for him to find a face-saving way out of the next campaign lest he suffer the fate of being primaried (as Jimmy Carter was by Ted Kennedy) and watching the party splinter even further, all to the benefit of the Republicans.
I will leave for another day some comments about the Republicans, who seem to me to be on the verge of displaying a number of candidates who are not Trump, but who are aiming to appeal to many Trump voters, a delicate balancing act indeed. The Democrats evidently presume that Governor Ron DeSantis has the inside track in this regard and their wannabe candidates are traveling to Florida to make speeches and generally trying to make trouble for DeSantis.
As early as it is in the presidential season, it feels like the end days for Biden and the early days for his several would be successors.