The people change, the stories are different, society evolves. But in Washington, presidencies still tend to have a rhythm. And with my deepest apologies to Gloria Estefan—the rhythm is always gonna getcha, no matter how hot you started on Inauguration Day.
For new presidents, there’s some built-in goodwill to start, which may even last through those precious first 100 Days, unless you do a Muslim ban or something. Then the reality of governing starts to set in, and that sweet public affection somehow gets lost in the greasy gears of legislating and an onrush of unforeseen events. The president’s popularity begins to fade—a fresh angle for a press blob that has no interest in nuance or long-term thinking, but simply who is up and who is down, until the storylines reset each Monday.
The rhythm has now come for Joe Biden, suddenly an unpopular president after a boastful start to the summer, when he told us that “America is finally on the move again,” with jobs coming back and vaccines coming online. Just three months ago, after his first 100 days in office, Biden was boasting a 54 percent approval mark and a disapproval rating of only 40 percent. But the summer has been ghastly. Biden has presided over slowing job growth, the endless pandemic, and a clumsy exit from Afghanistan that was trailed by 13 dead Marines and clunky answers about what went down. The Kabul video was bad—as Mitt Romney knows, a video always makes it worse—and the air of negativity was magnified by a torrent of hostile coverage from TV networks that sanctimoniously decided to care about a conflict they had mostly ignored for a decade. Today, looking at an average of the polls, Biden is what political savants call “underwater”—his disapproval rating (47.8 percent) is now higher than his approval (45 percent). More Americans today, almost two-thirds, are saying the country is on the “wrong track” compared to when Biden first took office.