The Biden Bunker Mentality

President Biden Departs the White House for Illinois
The recent, panic-inducing Times/Siena poll largely backed up what the chattering class has been saying for months: The party’s ideas are popular, it’s the candidate who is the problem. Kevin Dietsch/Getty
Tara Palmeri
November 9, 2023

So, you may have heard about a recent New York Times/Siena poll suggesting that Joe Biden would currently succumb to Donald Trump in five key swing states… and you may have also come across a provocative tweet from the president’s old Obama administration colleague, David Axelrod, delicately suggesting he reconsider his plan to run for re-election. Well, as you can imagine, this is what every single Democratic operative and adviser in town has been talking and texting about, ad nauseam, all week long, even despite a series of elections that benefited their own party on Tuesday.

Broadly speaking, there is a cyclone of frustration building among non-Biden-affiliated Democrats in town, who feel that the president is truly vulnerable to Trump. And that frustration was compounded this week by a belief that the White House took an unearned victory lap after the positive electoral developments on Tuesday: Gov. Andy Beshear’s re-election in Kentucky, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s humbling in Virginia, the referendum protecting abortion access in Ohio. “[Tuesday] confirmed that the Democrats should lead with abortion, not Joe Biden,” said a Democratic operative close to party leadership. “People are going to tell him that he’s fine because they make millions of dollars off of him.”

Yes, people outside the White House have been known to second-guess those working inside the building—and Biden’s team, in particular, is accustomed to the criticism—but there is a genuine panic that the president’s advisers are not sufficiently freaked out. A number of people pointed me to the appearance of surrogates on cable news, taking credit for the battleground triumphs, suggesting it’s a harbinger for 2024 and a victory for team Biden. Indeed, the Biden-Harris Twitter handle specifically blamed the media for sleeping on their big wins and fixating on “random Democratic consultants who fear Democrats can’t win under Joe Biden”—a shot, perhaps, at Axelrod. (A tweet from former White House official Kate Bedingfield particularly rankled some. “Polls come and polls go—votes are forever,” she wrote, linking to her op-ed arguing that Biden has some real work to do. “Or at least until the next Election Day. A terrific night for Dems last night with some great signals from voters to help them navigate 2024.”)