Responding to the deaths of 13 service members and the wounding of 18 others in Afghanistan, President Biden stated the obvious: “Been a tough day.” These are difficult days eight months into Biden’s presidency. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan is “messy,” as Biden has ruefully acknowledged. COVID-19 is causing a surge in hospital beds and intensive care units. Biden’s executive orders regarding immigration and rent relief have been reversed by the Supreme Court. Biden’s honeymoon is over, so it was.
Low polling numbers can often reveal how many people will stick by you in good times and bad. In 1992, Bill Clinton was plagued by scandals that many pundits thought would end his bid for the presidency. Clinton wrote to his draft board in 1970 that people had “come to love their country but loathe the military”, and stated that he would not serve to preserve his “political viability” within the system. Shortly thereafter, Gennifer Flowers divulged telephone conversations that appeared to confirm Clinton’s 12-year extramarital affair with her. On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Clinton pleaded with voters to make the election about them, not him, promising, “I’ll be there for you until the last dog dies.” Clinton’s second place finish made him “the comeback kid.”
For measuring presidential support, it has been a political motto to be there until the last dog is gone. Clinton was barely into his first term and he experienced several low points. Clinton authorized the 1993 “don’t ask don’t tell policy” for gay military personnel. Clinton said, “In the short-run, I got both the best and worst of both worlds: I lost the fight [to openly accept gays in military] and the gay community was very critical of me for the compromise.”
Clinton also introduced his radical overhaul of the country’s health care system in the same year. Both were highly unpopular. Gallup showed that 55 percent of respondents disapproved Clinton’s handling on gay rights and that 58 percent disagreed with his proposed health care plan. By June 1993, Clinton’s job approval sank to 37 percent. In 1993, Republicans took control of Congress.
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Joe Biden, like Clinton, has faced strong headwinds. A recent NBC News poll found Biden’s approval rating fell from a healthy 53 percent approve/39 percent disapprove in April to 49 percent approve/48 percent disapprove. Numerous alarming warnings were contained in the survey. Only 25% liked Biden’s Afghanistan management. Support for his control over the coronavirus pandemic dropped 16 points to 53%, and 47% favored his economic management. Biden’s fall among independents is particularly notable: Only 46 percent supported his COVID-19 approach, and only 45 percent liked the economic management. Independents were crucial to Biden’s victory in 2020 – he won 54 percent of their votes.
It is important that you have a loyal following in presidential politics. A stalemate in the Korean War saw Harry Truman’s approval drop to 22 percent – an all-time low in the history of the Gallup poll. In 1968, the Vietnam War saw Lyndon Johnson’s support fall to 35 percent. Watergate slashed Richard Nixon’s remaining stalwarts to a mere 25 percent. Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon saw his ratings drop to 37 percent. By 1979, Jimmy Carter’s support fell to 28 percent, prompting Carter to deliver his infamous “Malaise Speech.” Ronald Reagan’s approval fell to 35 percent in 1982 due to a 10.8% unemployment rate.