Joe Biden: The Stealth Triangulator
Biden has been triangulating between the MAGAs and progressives without anyone noticing.
Programming note: No Thursday Night Bulwark this week. The gang is in New Orleans for the live show.
Speaking of which, I’ll be at our November 16 live show in D.C. where Charlie will interview Brian Stelter, the former CNN media correspondent and author of the forthcoming book Network of Lies about Fox News. Then Sarah, Tim, and I will tape The Next Level live. We’ll stick around after the show to meet anyone who can stay up. It will be a fun night. I’ll be comatose for days afterwards.
For tickets, head over to TheBulwark.com/Events.
1. Biden’s Liberal Problem
Yesterday Charlie noted that Joe Biden has a problem with the left on Israel and that’s true. The Democratic party has been solid on Israel post-10/7. Certain portions of the progressive movement have not been and the polling on younger progressives is very not great.
But Biden doesn’t just have a problem with the left on Israel.
And here I want to get to the second half of my Focus Group talkback: What Democratic voters have been telling Sarah and what that means for Biden.
In Sarah’s first episode of the season she heard from a number of Democrats who were unhappy with Biden’s performance. Here’s a sampling of their complaints:
Guy #1: “The George Floyd bill—that still hasn’t passed. That needs to happen.”
Lady #1: “He never passed the ERA. How long has that been on the table?”
Lady #2: “I feel there needs to be executive action to codify abortion rights and the rights of transgender people that are being eroded across the country.”
Guy #2: “Climate change—he’s kind of been back and forth on that.”
Lady #3: “The shootings. I know it’s almost every president since Columbine . . . but you can’t go anywhere. . . . This is something that our leader, whoever it is, especially Biden right now because he is in the chair, needs to do something.”
Lady #4: “A commissioner, an office for the gun, barely scratches the surface.”
Lady #5: “On paper there have been many gains under Joe’s administration, but I think the reality is, is that the only thing you hear about now is income inequality and the struggles, particularly for young people.”
These are not “vibes” complaints. These Democratic voters have specific policy areas where they believe Biden has not moved aggressively enough:
Criminal justice reform
Now the reality is that the Biden administration has passed legislation on most of these issues. But the legislation he has passed has been quite . . . centrist.
He signed an executive order to accelerate police reform.
He passed—with Republican votes—the Safer Communities Act, which was the first substantive federal gun reform law in 30 years.
He passed both the Inflation Reduction Act and a bipartisan infrastructure law, which spend a lot of money on environmental concerns and are probably the most significant government attempts to address climate change to date.
In the American Rescue Plan, he created a landmark child tax credit for working families to help address income inequality—only to have Republicans let it expire.
My point here isn’t to judge Biden’s accomplishments as good or bad.
Rather, the point is that Biden has substantively addressed these issues. But he has done so in a manner centrist enough to (in many instances) garner Republican votes. Which has left some Democrats—and many progressives—disappointed that he did not go farther.
In other words: He’s been triangulating. Some progressives complain that Biden has been too tough on immigration, while Republicans complain he hasn’t been tough enough. Progressives complain that he didn’t go far enough on student loan debt while Republicans complain that he went too far.
This is what centrism looks like. It’s messy.
Here are two ways to think about centrism: