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Editorial: Biden can't win from the basement

The Editors, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Op Eds

The numbers look grim for President Joe Biden and his party. Donald Trump, despite his criminal convictions, still leads the 2024 race by about a percentage point nationally and by significant margins in almost every battleground state. Biden’s approval rating has been underwater since 2021 and hasn’t topped 40% in nine months. Democratic Party activists report a “full-blown freakout.”

Of course, the polls may be wrong. Trump might still self-destruct (or indeed go to jail). Voters aren’t yet paying full attention. Things can change. But with just five months until the election, alarm bells should be ringing. The president needs to change course if he wants a second term.

Emphasizing things people care about would be a good start. Biden’s advisers reportedly want to keep the electorate focused on the attacks of Jan. 6 and related issues. But such issues barely register in most polls of voters’ top priorities and, disturbing as this might be, the country is about evenly split on which candidate is a bigger threat to democracy.

Where, then, should the focus be? Voters consistently say illegal immigration is a top concern. Yet Biden has failed to establish a coherent approach. After dismantling his predecessor’s policies, he was slow to take meaningful action as a record-setting surge of undocumented migrants arrived in American cities and Republicans made hay. Now he’s about 30 percentage points underwater on an issue that could prove decisive in November.

This month, the president issued executive orders that, in effect, ban asylum seekers who’ve crossed the border illegally. But this move was late, limited and will be challenged in the courts. Biden needs to step up enforcement and curb the incentives for illegal entry. Blaming the opposition won’t work. Voters know where the buck stops.

The same goes for voters’ other top priority, the economy. Biden deserves credit for presiding over a post-pandemic soft landing, with inflation slowing, wages rising and job growth holding up. But voters aren’t happy, and they dislike being told to snap out of it. Biden trails Trump by nearly 20 percentage points on the economy, while almost two-thirds of voters disapprove of his efforts to reduce inflation. Working-class voters — in particular, Blacks and Hispanics — are deserting him in significant numbers, mostly citing the cost of living.

 

Biden’s policies fail to confront the problem, and too many of them risk compounding it. His ill-considered tariffs will impede competition and tax American consumers. His $1 trillion effort to forgive student-loan debt is regressive. He should stop subsidizing housing demand while raising the cost of new supply. He should ease the federal contracting and procurement rules that raise construction costs. He should limit his blitz of new regulations. And he should moderate his endless concessions to labor unions, which help a minority of voters at the expense of the majority.

The president can’t keep doing what he’s doing and expect a different result. He can’t campaign from the basement, as he did during the COVID chaos of 2020. He can’t keep turning down interviews. He needs a vision for the next four years that would broaden his appeal beyond his current base of lukewarm supporters. If he doesn’t change, the election will be Trump’s to lose.

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The Editorial Board publishes the views of the editors across a range of national and global affairs.


©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com/opinion. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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