Should Biden LBJ It?

Photo by The White House


Presidents always have a full plate. But Joe Biden is now carrying the weight of the full buffet. Inflation skyrocketing. Record gas prices. The Dow and S&P in downward spirals. COVID is back. Power outages coming. A potential mass migration event at the border. And of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which just put $40 billion on America’s tab.


We could debate whether any one of these items is truly the “fault” of the president. But the reality is that they are all unfolding on his watch.


And here come the midterms. Typically, the party in the White House sees the loss of about two dozen of its congressional seats. This year Democrats seem headed for much worse.


There just aren’t enough “Ultra-MAGA” candidates like Doug Mastriano nominated in the primary process that could allow focus to be taken off this national funk next November. A few aberrant diversions to be sure, but too few to stop the tidal wave in the forecast.


Americans are really feeling the pinch with inflation at a forty-year high. Until recently, there had been some consolation for the 58 percent of Americans in the stock market because it was still doing well. Well, that’s no longer the case.


This week, the S&P and Dow had historic down days. Friday the S&P 500 briefly fell into bear market territory, slipping more than 20% from its record high. Target reported a stunning 52% drop in profit for the first quarter. Shares plunged 25% in one day – its worst day since 1987’s “Black Monday.” The retail giant blamed higher expenses due to continued supply chain disruptions, and inflation making consumers hold off on nonessential purchases.


Gas prices, which affect all of us, are hitting new highs, with a record average of $4.59, and already 6 dollars in California. By August, JP Morgan predicts, the national average will be 6 dollars a gallon. In Washington state, the national gas chain ’76 is already reprogramming its pumps, to accommodate the possibility of prices exceeding 10 dollars a gallon.


Meanwhile, runaway diesel prices are threatening America’s infrastructure, because of how deeply it hurts farmers, truckers, and trucking companies.


Then there’s the fragile power grid. Fossil-fuel sources are being cut back faster than new ecological alternatives can replace them.


This week regulators warned that this summer’s extreme temperatures and ongoing drought could cause the grid to buckle across vast areas of the country, potentially leading to electricity shortages and blackouts.


Looking beyond economic issues – how about immigration? In the month of April, a record 234 thousand people were encountered at the Mexican border. And though a federal judge blocked Monday’s lifting of Title 42, if and when it does end, there are estimates that as many as 18,000 will show up every day.


In other international crises, there’s our complicated involvement with Ukraine fighting Russia’s invasion, which feels like it’s slipping lower and lower in the public consciousness – even as Thomas Friedman of The New York Times warned us last week that we’re edging toward actual war with Russia.


And this week – as President Biden visited South Korea – US intelligence reports say North Korea may now be getting ready to fuel an intercontinental ballistic missile, meaning a possibly imminent test launch.


And if you thought that COVID was in the rearview mirror – think again. Cases are rising and could get even worse in the coming months. About a third of Americans are living in areas where the rates of COVID are so high, officials are recommending masking in indoor public places.


And now we have to worry about monkeypox?


So, what could be even worse for optics than the all the above? How about empty shelves for baby formula? Could there be any worse political optics than moms not being able to feed their babies? As I said, it’s a Category 5 political s-storm!


No wonder that in a recent AP/NORC poll President Biden scored his lowest ever – a mere 39 percent job approval rating with 60 percent disapproving. And I don’t see an opportunity for a reset on the horizon.


With the Senate deadlocked 50-50 plus Vice President Kamala Harris, let’s stop kidding ourselves – the Republicans won’t give this administration the satisfaction of passing anything of significance between now and the midterms. So there’s just not a prospect of rescue legislatively. God forbid there’s some catastrophe that makes us rally around the flag – though I don’t know we would anyway. But politically, it is the bleakest of pictures imaginable.


So what’s the president to do?? This week, Amie Parnes and Hannah Trudo published a piece in The Hill, saying, “everywhere you go in Washington, people are wondering the same thing: Will Joe Biden run for re-election?” Clearly they are not taking him at face value because he has said he will. No doubt the fact that he will be 81 in November of 2024 is a major reason some people are disbelieving.


I’m among the skeptical. I don’t say that with animus – to the contrary, I wish good things for the president’s leadership and personal health. But I can’t see him running again. And maybe he needs to deal with that reality sooner than later.


There’s precedent. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson, who in 1964 had won the biggest political landslide in American history when he defeated Barry Goldwater, found himself weighed down by the war in Vietnam. On March 31, 1968, he scheduled an Oval Office address about the war. After speaking for 40 minutes, President Johnson then stunned even his close associates by reading a statement that had not been included in the printed text, and which he had written himself.


The president said there was “division in the American house” and said he was withdrawing from the race in the name of national unity which he said was the “ultimate strength of our country.”

“With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”


Imagine if President Biden decided likewise – and said so now. Some will argue that he’d make himself a lame duck. But in this divided environment, that’s a relative expression.


The filibuster precludes any legislative achievement now, and certainly after the midterm. He wouldn’t be sacrificing any power that he holds today. He might just strengthen his hand.


The president has told us that he ran for office after Charlottesville, calling it a “battle for the soul of the nation.” He ran in a bid to stop Donald Trump from a second consecutive term – and succeeded. He can announce with his head held high that the totality of calamity faced by the nation demands his every waking moment, and he doesn’t think it appropriate for him to divert his attention to his re-election.


The alternative is to be the face of the shellacking Democrats will likely take in November and then face pressure within his own party to re-evaluate his future plans.


Maybe better to do it on his terms – more immediately.


Michael Smerconish

Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.


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