Nathaniel Rakich: Joe Biden is racing toward the political center. First, reports surfaced that his administration may resume detaining immigrant families who cross the border illegally. Then he came out in favor of blocking a Washington, D.C., law that would have reduced the penalties for certain crimes. Finally, he approved a massive new oil drilling project in Alaska that’s ardently opposed by environmentalists. So today we’re asking the question that a lot of progressive Democrats are asking themselves too: What’s the deal with Biden’s move to the center?
I can’t read Biden’s mind, but I suspect he’s doing this to improve his chances in the 2024 election. Biden hasn’t yet officially announced his reelection campaign, but moves like this leave little doubt that he’s running again. His approval rating is around 44 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average. So he’s got to put in the reps to pump those numbers up.
Now, a lot of the people who disapprove of Biden are Republicans, and he’s never going to win most of their votes. But he could win over independents — and according to a February poll from Morning Consult/Politico, 43 percent of registered voters who identify as independent think Biden is too liberal.
Some of these specific moves seem tailor-made to shore up his biggest weaknesses. According to a February poll from YouGov/The Economist, only 23 percent of independents approve of the way Biden is handling the issue of immigration. And only 21 percent approve of the way he is handling crime.
And Biden probably feels comfortable moving toward the center because he’s confident in the support of his liberal base. According to that Morning Consult poll, only 21 percent of Democrats think Biden is too conservative. And even if that share increases after these moves, he’s got a long way to go before he’s in any danger of losing in a primary. A different Morning Consult poll recently found that among potential Democratic primary voters, Biden is currently leading his only declared challenger, author Marianne Williamson, 77 percent to 4 percent! And that lead is really similar across the spectrum of Democratic voters. Plus, it looks increasingly likely that anyone who could pose a serious threat to Biden is going to give the primary a pass.
Of course, disgruntled progressives could still hurt Biden if they don’t vote for him in the general election. But remember, every independent that Biden persuades to vote for him is worth twice as much as a Democrat who simply doesn’t vote. A converted independent probably takes a vote away from the Republican column in addition to adding one to Biden’s, while a Democrat who stays home is just minus-one for him. Plus, Biden is probably betting that progressives’ hatred of Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis will motivate them to hold their nose and vote for him anyway. And he’s probably right.