According to a recent story in The New York Times, in a meeting with the president last month to discuss the party’s messaging, Speaker Nancy Pelosi came armed with an alternate slogan to replace the “Build Back Better” phrase, which some Democrats call “toxic” these days. Pelosi’s substitute? One of the worst political slogans in recent memory — “Democrats Deliver,” which the Times reported had tested at the bottom of a list of potential messages.
One can only wonder whether anyone on her team raised the obvious follow-on question, “Deliver what?” It’s just too easy.
Republicans would have a field day answering the question for them. What have Democrats delivered? How about the worst inflation in four decades thanks to President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan and misguided energy policies? They’ve delivered near-record prices at the pump and at the grocery store. Delivered endless supply chain woes. Delivered a wobbly economy and equally volatile stock market. Delivered an open border and growing concerns about the security of the nation.
But there’s more. Democrats have delivered prosecutors who are weak on crime, especially in the nation’s biggest and bluest cities. They’ve delivered more division in an already divided country, more hostility between schools and parents, and a foreign policy record that gives new meaning to the words “leading from behind.”
So, “Build Back Better” has now been relegated to the dustbin of failed slogans, along with Gerald Ford’s “WIN – Whip Inflation Now,” Kamala Harris’ “For the people” and the unforgettable Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s “I am not a witch. I’m you.” “Democrats Deliver” deserves a similar fate.
What Democrats need is something more akin to Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning Again in America.” The problem is that it isn’t a good morning in America and saying it over and over again won’t make it so, despite the best efforts of the president and Hill Democrats to convince voters that life is good in America.
With the world literally exploding around them and polling numbers continuing to sink, the president and congressional Democrats gathered in Philadelphia last week to mourn the passing of Build Back Better as they repackage its provisions and search for a new message, a reset if you will, that will bring an unhappy electorate back to the Democratic fold in November.
The president’s remarks to what appears to be an increasingly frustrated House Democratic Caucus were classic Biden. He spent much of his 37-minute speech bragging on his record, boasting about the “success” of the American Rescue Plan and the progress of his battle against COVID-19. In between calls for unity and pats on the back for the nervous House members, he blamed Vladimir Putin, oil companies, Wall Street, COVID-19 and Republicans for everything wrong in the world, from inflation and gas prices to his stalled progressive agenda.
Biden even went so far as to include the electorate in his finger-pointing when he said about Democratic accomplishments: “The American people just trying to stay above water don’t understand this. You tell them what the American Recovery Act was, and they look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
A better question for the president is, “What are you talking about?”
Members of the House Democratic Caucus may have been buoyed by the president’s pep rally remarks and his masterful manipulation of statistics to fit their upbeat narrative and soothe their midterm fears. But the American people, his real audience, simply aren’t buying the Biden administration’s rosy take on its first year.
With optics like bloodied Ukrainian women and children filling American TV screens and people experiencing sticker shock filling their gas tanks, Democrats make a big mistake when they underestimate voters’ ability to see happy talk for what it is and isn’t.
In our latest Winning the Issues survey (March 12-14), out of the field on Monday, we asked voters whether they believed or didn’t believe the following statement:
“Government policies under President Biden and Democrats in Congress have caused inflation to increase and prices to go up.”
By a 59 percent to 31 percent margin, people said they believed that Biden’s policies are to blame for inflation.
Regarding Biden’s job approval on his handling of gas prices, the results were equally bad — 59 percent disapproving his actions with only 32 percent approving. And on his economic policies, we asked whether they were correct or incorrect. Forty-seven percent said Biden’s policies were incorrect, while 39 percent said they were correct.
Independents, by a significant 51 percent to 27 percent, said the president’s economic policies were incorrect. That is very bad news for Democrats only seven months before an election.
In The Wall Street Journal’s last national survey, taken after the State of the Union address, March 2-7, Biden’s dismal job approval came in at 42 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove. His favorable/unfavorable was 41 percent favorable and 56 percent unfavorable, while 63 percent of voters said the country was going in the wrong direction and 26 percent believed the country was headed in the right direction.
But despite sinking polls and growing concerns for our national security, neither Biden nor Pelosi seem to be able to get their messages straight.
Just days after the issues conference, Biden, who barely mentioned BBB by name to House members in Philly, told a group of Democratic donors, “We have to pass the other provisions in my Better Back — Build Back America plan,” just hours after Pelosi tweeted, “The results are in: #Democrats Deliver."
Two days before, after Vice President Harris returned from her less-than-triumphant visit to Eastern Europe, she told a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, “Our task is to show people that, in many ways, they got what they ordered. Right?”
In the last election, the American people wanted a centrist agenda and a competent, unifying president. Democrats have delivered neither.
David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.