It has presumably been one of the longest years of Joe Biden’s life. After a historic presidential victory, a democracy-enshrining rebuttal of January 6th, the professional management of Covid, and some historic legislation, the president has been beset by one political headache after another—Afghanistan, Joe Manchin, Omicron, a slowing economy, inflation, historically high gas prices, and the faint murmurs, louder by the day, that his age disqualifies him from re-election. As my Puck partner Tara Palmeri has noted, the return to the White House of Anita Dunn, the Obama-era messaging guru and SKDK principal, has recently made Biden seem more active and visible, but that’s hardly boosted a 33 percent approval rating.
During the election cycle, Biden projected the image of a wise older statesman who had seen a thing or two in his day, and knew how to lead with valor. Sure, he’d always been well-known for the occasionally regrettable line, like frontrunning the Obama administration on gay marriage, but that’s also part of what made Biden so likable. Even in his late 70s, polished after decades in the Senate, he shot from the hip, albeit with an inordinate amount of dignity and honesty. Some White House aides may have been privately furious when Biden announced in a March speech that Putin “cannot remain in power,” but many within his base heard the echoes of the guy they voted for. It may have reminded them, perhaps, of when then-candidate Biden once said he vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after all, has achieved a unique level of scorn in our culture for his role in the murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (U.S. intelligence concluded last year that the Crown Prince was responsible for the murder.) During the Trump years, the feckless administration papered over the association. But those were Trumps, many assumed. (In fact, Jared Kushner recently raised $2 billion from a Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund for his new investment vehicle.) Biden surely wouldn’t bow to the level.