Who’s the loudest Democrat?
It’s not President Joe Biden, despite the “bully pulpit” he commands as president. Biden merits daily news coverage, befitting his position, but he’s not especially bombastic or combative.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is much noisier, with a potent political machine attacking anybody opposed to his high tax, anti-corporate agenda. Sanders’ protégé in the House, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, may have more star power than any other elected Democrat. Other "progressive" Democrats have blocked a bipartisan infrastructure bill and dragged Biden in their direction on other issues.
Biden won the presidency last year by running as a centrist who dispelled the "socialist" label President Trump and other Republicans tried to pin on him. Moderate and independent voters put Biden over the top. But 10 months into Biden's presidency, Sanders and his band of leftists have sewn fresh concern in voters' minds about the party's big-government drift, which could directly threaten its hold on power.
The recent governors races in Virginia and New Jersey were a sharp rebuke of Biden's "Build Back Better" vision and a painful reminder that voters didn't necessarily ask Biden to enact massive new government programs. The Virginia Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, lost, while the New Jersey Democrat, Phil Murphy, won by a nose. But both vastly underperformed compared with 2020 presidential results, as voters indicated they are thoroughly unimpressed with whatever the bumbling Democrats are trying to do in Washington. Instead, they're worried about kitchen-table issues Democrats aren’t addressing, such as crime, education and class tension. If this mismatch persists, Republicans will likely win both houses of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.
Alienating centrist voters
Biden isn’t the socialist some of his critics claim. But his effort to appease the liberal Democrats whose votes he needs in Congress makes it easy for Republicans to lampoon him as one. Biden literally has to please everybody in his party to get anything to pass, because of the needle-thin majorities Democrats have in both houses of Congress. Biden recently sided with his party’s liberals as they blocked a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that ought to be an easy win for Biden. He’s banking on social benefits such as an expanded child tax credit—which Biden wants to make permanent—to win voters over to a vision of permanently larger government. He compares his agenda to that of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, who largely created the social-safety net millions rely on now.
The 2021 election outcomes demonstrate that while trying to please everybody, Biden is alienating centrist and independent voters who sent him to office in 2020. Those voters didn’t really ask for Biden’s “Build Back Better” overhaul. Many just wanted Donald Trump gone, with somebody more trustworthy leading the nation out of the Covid pandemic. Voters liked the American Rescue Plan Democrats passed in March, which sent more stimulus money to most U.S. households. But majorities did not exactly clamor for the deep grab bag of social spending Biden is pushing for now.
Biden seems to think voters will finally come around when they see what the Build Back Better legislation will do for them. But what’s in the bill? Nobody knows. Literally. Democrats keep stuffing and cutting, to satisfy the latest objector whose vote is essential. A paid family leave program was out of the bill but now might be back in. Tax hikes on businesses and the wealthy were in but are now reportedly out.
Will there ever be a final bill? Probably. Maybe. Maybe not.
By when? The end of 2021, or maybe never.
What about the infrastructure bill most people like? Liberal Democrats won’t vote for it.
Why? Because then the other bill might die.
The one Democrats can’t pass? Yes.
Isn’t this self-defeating folly? Yes.
When you can’t define yourself, your enemies will do the job for you. Right now, Biden and his fellow Democrats are trying to be everything to everybody, and confused voters aren’t buying it. That gives Republicans who label the Biden agenda as socialist, radical and incoherent a stronger claim on voters’ minds. Biden can still convince them otherwise—but not if Bernie Sanders keeps out-shouting him.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips, and click here to get Rick’s stories by email.