Byron York: Nervous Pelosi insists on not saying ‘retreat’!

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 18, 2022

House Democrats recently went on their annual retreat in Philadelphia. The purpose was to discuss policy initiatives for the coming months and, most of all, to come up with a message for midterm elections that Democrats are widely expected to lose.

In light of negative expectations, the party’s leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was so determined to put on a brave face that she banned the word “retreat” at the retreat, even though that is what the retreat has been called for many years, and even though Republicans also go on a regular retreat. The word went out to Democrats: Do not, under any circumstances, say the R-word.

When Pelosi met the press on Friday, she made sure to call the meeting an “issues conference.” Then she added, curtly: “Cross off the word ‘retreat.’ We do not retreat.”

Later, a reporter made the mistake of beginning a question this way: “Madam Speaker, you talked a little bit about the challenges of holding an issues retreat this week on … “ Pelosi began her response, “Well, let me first not stipulate to you that it is a retreat. That we not — eliminate that word.”

Still later, the No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer, wanted to make sure everyone knew he had gotten the memo, beginning his remarks, “One of the major presentations in this conference, this remote — this renewal of resolve, as I call it, rather than a retreat …” Issues conference, renewal of resolve — call it whatever you want, just not a you-know-what.

It’s easy to make fun of Democrats, but in the big picture, what are they going to do, other than keep up a brave face? Even as the party gathered for its non-retreat in Philadelphia, The Wall Street Journal published results of a new poll that are absolutely devastating for their reelection hopes. In virtually every measure that has predictive value for the midterms, Democrats are looking bad.

First, look at the so-called “generic ballot” question, which asks respondents if the election for Congress were held today, which candidate, Republican or Democrat, they would vote for. Republicans have trailed in the generic ballot for years at a time, but in the new Journal poll, they are ahead, 46% to 41%.

Then there is the president’s job approval rating — historically one of the best predictors of how his party will perform in midterms. If the president’s rating is above 50%, according to historical averages compiled by Gallup, his party is likely to lose seats in the House, but the loss will likely not be catastrophic — say, 12 or 14 seats. If the president’s rating is below 50%, the losses will likely be much larger — more than 35 seats. Biden’s job approval right now, in the Journal poll, is 42%. That is in line with many, many other polls, and it does not look good for the president or his party.

Then there is the voters’ opinion about each party’s ability to best handle key issues. On the most important issue, the economy, Republicans are far ahead. On the question of which party is best able to rebuild the economy, the Journal’s pollsters found Republicans in the lead, 47% to 34% — a 13-point advantage. On which party has a better economic plan to make life easier for Americans, the GOP has an 8-point advantage. And on the big question of the day, which party is best able to get inflation under control, Republicans have a 17-point advantage.

The GOP lead is impressive in some other areas, as well — a 20-point advantage on which party is best able to handle crime. A 26-point lead in which party is best able to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. A 7-point lead in handling foreign policy, and another 7-point lead specifically on the question of which party can best handle the war in Ukraine. The GOP even has a 1-point lead in which party can best look out for middle-class families — an issue Democrats have made their own for many years.

Democrats do have a few strengths. They have an 11-point lead in which party is best able to get the COVID pandemic under control, which may or may not be a big deal by November. They have a 5-point lead on the question of improving education, although the GOP has an 8-point lead on the issue of keeping children in school. Finally, Democrats have a big lead — 15 points — on which party is best able to lower health care costs.

But overall, it is a dismal picture for the party of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. And it appears that the grim outlook is beginning to wear on the president and the speaker. While she wouldn’t allow anyone to say the word “retreat” in her presence, he became visibly irritated when, speaking to the Democratic lawmakers, he discussed the question of being blamed for inflation.

“I’m sick of this stuff!” Biden snapped. What he was sick of was Republicans claiming — accurately, it turns out — that enormous government expenditures, like Biden’s and Pelosi’s spending bills, worsen inflation. Not so, said Biden. Instead, the president had his own explanation. “Make no mistake,” he said, “inflation is largely the fault of Putin.”

Give the president points for effort, but it seems unlikely most Americans will agree with him, because the it’s-Putin’s-fault explanation conflicts with their personal experience. They remember last year, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when inflation worries first arose, when prices started to shoot up, and the Biden White House assured them it was “transitory.” They have been to the grocery store. They have tried to buy a car. They know that inflation is more than just the price of gas, although the price of gas has been going up for a year — again, before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

So it seems unlikely that many Americans will believe the spin. But what can Democrats do? The elections are less than nine months away. Nearly all electoral indicators look bad for them. Barring some huge, entirely unforeseen event, they are headed for minority status in the House, and perhaps in the Senate. If that happens, the president’s ability to pass partisan legislation will be gone. The situation is approaching the code-red level. And blaming Vladimir Putin, or banning a word like “retreat,” won’t fix anything.

This content originally appeared on the Washington Examiner at washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/hopefully-hoping-for-biden.

     

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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