Biden's faltering in polls because he lacks big, magnetic personality

John Krull

President Joe Biden is struggling.

His poll numbers have dropped to about the same level his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, occupied for the entire four years of that troubled administration.

Knowledgeable observers predict a Democratic bloodbath in the fall general election, largely because of Biden's anemic public standing.

The economy is at the heart of the president's political troubles.

Galloping inflation is a genuine problem, one that has fueled the perception--a perception amplified by Republican talking points and conservative media--that the nation's economy is in tatters.

The truth, as it always is, is more complicated than that.

Most economic indicators suggest that the U.S. economy actually is in good shape.

Unemployment is at its lowest level in more than a half-century. Wages have climbed dramatically. We're amid one of the fastest -- if not the fastest -- economic recoveries in history following the COVID-19 pandemic meltdown of 2020.

And the tribulations that do devil the American economy -- inflation, supply-chain breakdowns and backups -- aren't specific to the United States. Every nation on earth is dealing with those problems because they are worldwide.

But all this raises the question: If much of the news is good and the rest isn't the president's fault, why is Joe Biden in so much political difficulty?

Some Democrats think they have the answer. They say that the president simply needs to tell his story -- sell his successes to the public.

That's the real challenge.

Joe Biden just can't do that.

The problem isn't that the president is old. Contrary to the caricature crafted by right-wing media and activists, Biden isn't doddering or senile.

He's a man of considerable energy and focus, one who understands policy implications and can be remarkably effective persuading people one on one or in small groups.

But he can't move large audiences to action. He doesn't have the skill set.

He didn't have it the first time he ran for president in 1988, when he was in his 40s. Nor had he acquired it when he ran again in 2008, when he was in his 60s.

It's just not a gift he has.

It pains me to write that, but not because I have any great political sympathy for Biden. My decades of covering politics and politicians have taught me not to hold the breed, whatever jersey worn, in reverence.

No, I wanted Biden to succeed as president because, particularly after the Trump presidency, I was tired of having a president who constantly was in everyone's face, hogging the spotlight, demanding attention every waking second.

Trump was by far the worst offender in this regard, but even the successful presidents of the past half-century -- and maybe especially the successful ones -- also have done their best to look disproportionately large in American life.

To drive their agendas, they had to become celebrities and ubiquitous ones at that.

Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- the three most successful occupants of the Oval Office in recent memory -- leaned hard on their abilities to manipulate audiences both real and extended like rock stars.

If Clinton were president now, he would offer a master class on why the inflation exists and how to cope with it. He would have drawled that, yes, inflation was a problem, but wasn't it good that everyone was working now and explained that when people are working and wages rise, prices go up, too.

Reagan and Obama would have called America to a kind of crusade. They would have summoned moral fervor to the task of figuring out how to temper the excesses of rapid growth and worldwide economic dislocation.

Although each of the three would have used different rhetoric and offered different arguments, they all would have leaned on their personal magnetism to carry them through.

That's beyond Joe Biden.

And that is unfortunate.

I can't be the only American who was looking forward to a dose of normalcy -- just a little peace and quiet -- after four years of bombast, self-manufactured crises and reality-show psychodrama. I wanted to see if a guy who doesn't need everyone to love him every moment of every day could succeed in the presidency.

But it's beginning to look like he can't, no matter how hard he tries.

In this era, it seems to be a job only big, outsized personalities can perform.

That is a shame.

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