HOWARD KURTZ: Biden takes role as bystander on border, campus protests,

on May7
by | Comments Off on HOWARD KURTZ: Biden takes role as bystander on border, campus protests, |

The election might well be slipping away from Joe Biden.

And that’s the view among some who want the president to win a second term.

Biden’s passivity, and his reluctance to communicate, are fueling a narrative that he is a weak leader, and that’s now tied to a larger theme that will be difficult to shake by November.

For years, Biden’s refusal to take dramatic action – unilateral or otherwise – on the record-breaking illegal migration at what has become an open border, has been his greatest liability. It also happens to be Donald Trump’s strongest issue.


Biden speaks at an event near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

President Biden speaks at an event near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday, March 5, 2023.  (Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Then came the violent protests and antisemitic hatred that swept across college campuses like wildfire, and the president stubbornly remained silent for two long weeks. This has been the biggest and most alarming story in America, and Biden felt no need to address it as college buildings were being occupied and police were making mass arrests of pro-Hamas protesters.

The core concern here is that America feels out of control. The outbreak of lawlessness is heightened by a sense that no one is in charge. 

Despite the White House spin, Biden said nothing about the campus protests as a deputy spokesman put out releases under his own name. His two-sentence answer to a shouted question could barely be heard amid the background noise.

A Barack Obama adviser once told the New Yorker, fairly or unfairly, that Obama’s approach to Libya amounted to “leading from behind.” That seems to describe Biden’s approach to the violence and arrests at Columbia, NYU, Yale, Darthouth, USC, UCLA and many other colleges. His words were fine and well-crafted, but it felt like too little too late.


Now, it would be crazy to make predictions about an election six months away. Trump’s law-and-order stance is marred by his having to sit through the first of four criminal cases, the hush money trial. What’s more, the election will probably be decided by perhaps 50,000 voters in five swing states. 

Andrew Sullivan wants Biden to be re-elected, but doesn’t see it happening:

“Biden had an opportunity to move to the center on illegal immigration – his core vulnerability – and decided to move, with his entire party, to the extreme left,” he wrote on his Substack. Besides, it was too late for Biden to have “serious cred” on the issue.

As for the president’s brief and belated speech on violent campus protests, “it was given only when he had no choice, after Trump goaded him, and it reminded me of his sad attempts to distance himself and his party from the rioting and looting in the hellish summer of 2020. He was reactive, not proactive. His quiet words were overwhelmed with the noise of the streets.”

Biden Columbia

L – Protester breaks window at Columbia University R – President Biden. (Getty Images)

All this, says Sullivan, “will help Trump get an Electoral College landslide, just as the new left handily elected Nixon in 1968 and 1972…

“Biden is losing this election, deservedly. And if he cannot pull off an almighty pivot – and I suspect at this point, he really can’t – this election really is Trump’s to lose.”

Another Andrew – former prosecutor and National Review writer Andy McCarthy – is opposed to a second Trump term. He thinks the former president should have been impeached and convicted after Jan. 6:

“I don’t want a Trump presidency,” the Fox News contributor said. “It’s a historic, even if inevitable, blown opportunity by Republicans not to have nominated a reliable conservative who might have ushered in eight-to-16 years of restorative administrations. But a second Biden government, which would likely become a Harris government, would be a disaster.”


Okay, he’s torn, but it’s a binary choice. McCarthy is now hedging his bets on his previous prediction that Trump can’t win a general election.

His original reasoning: Trump’s ceiling continues to be around 46 to 47% in major polls. Plus, he’s at minus-10 in favorability ratings. It’s not clear how much Trump’s numbers will dip after a potential felony conviction, but it would be “negligible” if it’s D.A. Alvin Bragg’s “farcical” case, McCarthy said.

“The Dems haven’t yet unleashed the torrents of negative messaging that are coming. That is not going to help him reel in at least some of the close to one-in-five Republicans who are dead set against him — the voters he needs to have any chance of winning… Put it all together and I still think Trump’s a 2024 also-ran.”

I don’t agree – or at least I’d say that Trump is highly competitive despite running against an incumbent, who happens to be 81, and who has a substantial record of legislative accomplishment.

Trump in court

Former President Donald Trump, with attorneys Emil Bove (L) and Todd Blanche (R), attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 3 in New York City. (Curtis Means-Pool/Getty Images)

What’s more, the major issue for voters remains inflation. Unfortunately for Biden, prices are again creeping back up, even though we’re in a record stretch of unemployment below 4%.

There’s one other potential parallel to 1968, beyond the fact that it was exactly 56 years since the first time Columbia protesters seized control of Hamilton Hall.

The Washington Post reports that “pro-Palestinian activists are ramping up plans for a major show of force at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, increasingly worrying Democrats who fear the demonstrations could interfere with or overshadow their efforts to project unity ahead of the November election.”

If “unruly” protests erupt in late August, “especially if they feature inflammatory rhetoric, property damage or police intervention — they could strike at the heart of the Democratic message that President Biden represents competent and stable leadership” while Trump is “an agent of chaos and confusion.”


Uh, remind me again why the Dems are holding the convention in Chicago, with its horrible echoes, when Illinois is a blue state? Wouldn’t Detroit or Philadelphia have made more sense?

The paper quotes William Daley, whose father, the senior Mayor Richard Daley, sent out the cops who wound up busting heads, as minimizing the comparison. That convention took place not long after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, and the National Guard was sent in to quell the riots.

“To analogize what’s going on in the country today with 1968 is ridiculous,” Daley said. “Only people who weren’t alive in ’68 have that idiotic perception.”

But even less violent protests could utterly distract from Biden’s renomination, and cement the perception that, as with the porous border and campus demonstrations, the president is failing to keep the country safe.

When Biden ran four years ago, it was based on the notion that a president didn’t have to be in the public’s face all the time, commenting on everything from basketball protests to awards shows.


But, somehow, that gradually evolved into avoiding interviews (except with the likes of Howard Stern), terse answers to shouted questions and remaining silent or taking no action as lawless events swirl around him. Whether his staff is shielding him or not, he operates slowly by digital-age standards, his instincts appearing dulled.

And that often makes the president seem like a bystander to grave events. 

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