Sep 20, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden's team tells nervous Dems: Just chill

President Biden walks across the South Lawn of the White House, wearing a blue suit and sunglasses.

President Biden leaves the White House for a weekend in Delaware last week. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The Biden White House has a blunt message for doomscrolling Democrats fretting about the president's old age and bad poll numbers: Clam up and chill out.

Driving the news: Mike Donilon, a senior White House adviser, is telling anxious Democrats that two issues — abortion and Donald Trump — will propel Biden to re-election, according to people familiar with the matter.

  • In those private conversations, Democrats have been struck by top White House aides' confidence. Some worry it's hubris.

Why it matters: Biden officials dismiss most of the growing concern over impeachment headlines, Hunter Biden's indictment, an immigration crisis, the president's age, an economy that voters don't love, and an auto strike that's testing Biden's union support.

  • Instead, the White House plans to continue its Rose Garden strategy, with a three-pronged message that focuses on protecting democracy, abortion rights and a resilient economy, including a historically low unemployment rate.
  • The recent calls for Biden to step aside are seen internally as just the latest example of elite Democrats underestimating Biden.

The big picture: Trump's upcoming court appearances will allow Biden to sharpen the contrast between his commitment to democracy and the former president's alleged role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

  • "I'm running because democracy is at stake," Biden told donors in New York late Monday.
  • While stressing democracy, abortion and LGBTQ rights, Biden has launched a defense of his economic record that aims to define the GOP's fiscal plans as "MAGAnomics" — an assault on Social Security, Medicare and the middle class.

What they're saying: "We don't take the ups and downs of individual polls to heart," a senior Biden adviser told Axios. "What will matter next year is when our voters are fully engaged."

  • "While Republicans are going after each other, we are already reaching persuadable voters in battleground states," the adviser said. "Our eyes are focused on the long game."

Zoom out: Democratic anxiety over Biden's advanced age and low approval ratings reached a new level last week when The Washington Post's David Ignatius, one of Biden's favorite columnists, wrote: "President Biden should not run again in 2024."

  • That column dropped during a week in which the White House was buffeted by bad news and bad polls.
  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) directed the House to begin an impeachment inquiry into Biden. Meanwhile, the president's son, Hunter, was indicted on three counts related to his alleged illegal possession of a firearm.
  • Just one in three registered U.S. voters think Biden would complete a second term if re-elected, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll released last weekend. It also showed voters prefer Trump over Biden 50-49%, despite the four felony indictments clouding Trump's bid for another term.

Zoom in: Top Biden officials are trying to convince Democratic lawmakers and donors that they have a theory about how the election will play out — and are sticking to it.

  • "A bad column doesn't cause big strategy meetings here," the Biden adviser said. "The basics of governing is what we're trying to deliver on."
  • In his remarks to donors Monday night, Biden acknowledged his age, but also tried to turn it into an asset.
  • "When Russia invaded Ukraine, I knew what to do to rebuild NATO and the alliances, and rebuild our alliances and rally the world," he said.

The bottom line: The president's core team is convinced that the media and Beltway pundits are discounting Biden again. They point out that many insiders left him for dead in the 2020 primaries, underestimating Biden's level of support.

  • They also like to note that pollsters who have Biden underwater now also wrongly predicted a red wave of Republican wins in the 2022 midterms.
Go deeper