The speech comes at a difficult moment for Biden. The administration is facing multiple escalating crises, which are slowly undermining his leadership and political strength. There’s the Russian war in Ukraine, inflation and stock market turbulence, mass shootings, a pending Supreme Court decision that could upend a woman’s right to abortion and an ongoing pandemic, with all the uncertainty that brings.
The notion that a president is not in control during a period of cascading crises can be extraordinarily damaging. To make matters worse, there is a circular effect, since a president’s diminished political standing makes it all the more difficult to tackle the crises, which only exacerbates the problem even more. Just look at former President Jimmy Carter, who lost reelection in 1980 after he failed to swiftly confront a number of issues from stagflation to the energy crisis.
But two years into his presidency, Biden appears increasingly overwhelmed — and powerless. And while voters no longer have to deal with the chaos of near-constant Twitter tirades, they are growing increasingly pessimistic amid an onslaught of bad news. And if Biden can’t turn things around, or offer some modicum of hope, he could meet the same fate Carter did.
If the current trajectory continues, Biden could end up ushering in a new era marked by the radicalized Republican Party, headed by Trump or a more polished — and politically savvy — version in the form of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Biden can also make a bold push for vital legislation such as common-sense gun control and hammer away at Republicans when they stifle progress. It seems that this is the direction in which Biden is moving, given that his speech last night called out Republican obstruction for being “unconscionable.” But one speech isn’t enough, and Biden needs to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire, repeatedly pressuring them on gun control measures in the wake of harrowing shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
Although messaging is often overblown, Biden can certainly help to shore up public confidence with clear, concise and forceful explanations of his plans to move the nation forward out of difficult times. In doing so, he must continue to highlight the kind of radical leadership that a Republican majority would produce and acknowledge the hard reality that this is no time to yearn for bipartisan solutions.
Even if he is realistic, admitting that progress will be slow, voters value a commander-in-chief who acknowledges the many challenges before them and offers a plan to alleviate these crises, as former President Franklin Roosevelt did in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The communication needs to be clear, it needs to be decisive, and it needs to provide hope for the future.
Biden still has time to shore up his standing — many presidents have survived tough second years and gone on to win reelection. Of course, easing inflation will be the most pressing issue, and we can expect Biden’s position to improve if price increases can be controlled.
But if he doesn’t manage to turn things around soon, the mounting crises can quickly erode the paths to victory.