The war in Ukraine has thrown American politics into disarray. The more important question for President Joe Biden and the Democrats is how much it is affecting American politics. The globe has been refocused as a result of Russia’s harsh and unwarranted aggression against its sovereign neighbor. Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, has gained international praise and admiration. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has become a global pariah. NATO has been revitalized, and the US is once again at the helm of the Western alliance.
How important is this to American voters, and how important will it be in November’s midterm elections? Inflation and other internal factors are still driving the approaching elections today. One shift brought about by the war is that it has frozen the political situation at home, putting some issues, such as petrol prices, in a broader framework. We know from a smattering of recent history that projecting months into the future at this point of a conflict like the one currently unfolding in Ukraine is risky to foolish. One thing that is certain in politics is that it will surprise you.
Warfare involving the U.S. military frequently serves as a rallying point for the president. President George H.W. Bush’s favor ratings soared to nearly 90% after the United States initiated a war in early 1991 to evict Iraq from Kuwait. He was out of office two years later after losing his reelection bid.
President George W. Bush’s approval ratings surpassed those of his father after the United States responded forcefully to the terrorist events of September 11, 2001. The next year, Republican candidates rode his anti-terrorism rhetoric to victory in the midterm elections. Although public opinion on the Iraq war had not changed sufficiently to prevent Bush from reelection in 2004, resistance to the war was a major factor in the Democrats’ House takeover in 2006.
This war is unlike any other. Biden has established and led an international coalition that has imposed punishing sanctions on Russia, aided Ukraine with ongoing armament shipments, and opened the doors to millions of refugees fleeing the catastrophe. He has branded Putin a war criminal, but he has rejected measures he believes will lead to a larger conflict. There have been no US troop commitments, and Biden has stated that this will not change. Putin, like the trajectory of the fight and various outcomes, is unpredictably unpredictable.
Call it the Putin effect, but the battle in Ukraine has brought Americans closer together on several issues. Putin has given Americans a shared enemy and a feeling of communal purpose at a time when they are divided at home. According to the Pew Research Center, large majorities of Republicans and Democrats feel that cooperating with US allies is the proper approach. A similar pattern occurs when it comes to the decision to impose sanctions on Russia, with moreover 8 out of 10 in each party backing the measures’ continuation.
Republicans have backed away from former President Donald Trump’s views on Putin, who praised him as a “genius” as the war unfolded. The elected leaders of the party rapidly recognized the folly of trying to accommodate that viewpoint. Putin has proven himself to be who he claims to be, and many of Trump’s supporters have sought refuge. Many people have condemned Putin, even if they are still unwilling to criticize Trump: Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House Republican Leader, referred to him as a “thug.”
Some Republicans have pressed Biden to go even further in supporting Ukraine, citing Zelensky’s requests for jet fighters or more powerful antiaircraft weaponry as examples. There are signs that rank-and-file Republicans are more receptive to such measures than Democrats.
Biden might profit from the broad agreement on Putin’s war as the country’s leader. However, support for Biden’s approach to the war has yet to transfer into higher support for Biden himself. According to the Pew survey, more Americans favor of the US reaction than disapprove, albeit there are obvious partisan divides on this issue. Those underlying differences could serve as a proxy for domestic political impact, or lack thereof, so far.
There has been no discernible improvement in the president’s approval ratings. Of course, things could change. At most, his approval ratings have risen a point or two, but some strategists believe this is because he has re-enlisted the support of those Democrats who were dissatisfied with his domestic program last year. He appears to be securing his base but not yet moving others. His approval rating is still in the low double digits overall. Such numbers have often put the president’s party in perilous terrain heading into midterm elections.
Inflation continues to dominate domestic assessments of the country’s state, and both parties are aware of this. The price of gasoline has sparked a messaging war. The phraseology from the White House is “Putin’s pricing rises.” Those higher prices, according to Republican circles, are Biden’s and his alone, despite the fact that the most recent surges are clearly war-related. Even so, if prices continue high throughout the summer, as is possible, Biden will bear the brunt of the responsibility.
Voters are concerned about more than just gas prices. It’s the cost of living in general. The Federal Reserve boosted interest rates this week in an effort to reduce the rate of price rises. The Fed’s problem is to see if that and future rate hikes will be enough to offset the impact of new supply chain disruptions caused by the conflict (on top of those caused by the outbreak) and wage growth in a tight labor market.
Other parts of the administration’s domestic agenda have seen a shift in messaging. Biden still wants to implement parts of his “Build Back Better” agenda, which was stymied in the Senate due to unanimous Republican opposition and, in particular, the opposition of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. But, if it happens at all, it will be piecemeal, and the president and his backers are already referring to the proposed changes as ones that will help cut prices.
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Biden’s State of the Union address was delivered about three weeks ago. Although what he said about Ukraine gained bipartisan approval, most of the address was devoted to domestic matters, and partisan splits were clear throughout. The address was perceived as a shift away from the language of a transformational president pursuing big, ambitious spending plans that dominated last year, to a more modest agenda and more discussion of unity. The State of the Union has quickly vanished in an age of short memories.
The difficulties facing the government are now split-screen. There’s the feeding and caring for the worldwide coalition attempting to assist Ukraine in resisting and fighting back against the Russians, which is substantial and nearly full-time managerial work. Also on the president’s plate are a slew of internal challenges, ranging from transitioning from pandemic to endemic in the fight against the coronavirus to demonstrating progress in the fight against inflation and keeping the economy healthy. Dealing with the first will be critical to the world’s well-being. Dealing with the second will reveal a lot about what will happen in November.