The Clinton Playbook

Dr. Malcolm Cross

As President Biden’s missteps and problems mount, his popularity sinks, and Republican
fortunes rise. But Biden may yet be able to wage a successful re-election campaign in 2024, if he makes
wise use of Bill Clinton’s playbook.
Much in the news lately have been Biden’s alleged stumbles and fumbles, along with a rising
tide of problems and crises with which he must deal—a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, seeming
insensitivity to the families of the latest 13 American soldiers to be killed by Islamofascist terrorists over
there, confusing messages on Covid-19 booster shots, a mounting immigration crisis on the Texas-
Mexico border, a diplomatic tussle with France over the prospective sale of nuclear submarines to
Australia, his advocacy of a multi-trillion dollar spending bill to be paid with tax hikes, etc. The Wall
Street Journal Editorial Report noted yesterday that since modern public opinion polling began, only two
previous presidents had notched lower public approval ratings at comparable stages of their
presidencies than the 42% recently reported for Biden—Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
Trump’s popularity ratings remained low throughout his presidency. Unable or unwilling to curb
his tweets and overall public nastiness, he effectively sandbagged his popularity even though his tax cuts
and booming economy (before the pandemic) would have given another president with the same
policies much greater popularity—popularity which might even have protected him in dealing with the

Bill Clinton’s case is more similar to Biden’s, suggesting not only how Biden came to be in the fix
he is in, but also how he can save his administration and win a second term should he choose to run.
Like Biden in 2020, Clinton sought the White House by presenting himself as a moderate Democratic
centrist who could, with compassion and competence, deal with problems President George H. W. Bush
seemed unable to solve. Also, like Biden, Clinton quickly brought into question both his competence
and his moderation. He advocated tax hikes, pushed with only partial success for the integration of gays
into the armed forces (enough to mobilize hostile social conservative sentiment but not enough to
satisfy social liberals), and unsuccessfully attempted a seemingly radical expansion of federal health
insurance programs. Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party successfully exploited growing voter
dissatisfaction with Clinton to achieve, for the first time in 40 years, Republican control of both the U. S.
Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously (between 1954 and 1994, the GOP had control
of the Senate from 1981 through 1986, but remained in the minority in the House the entire period).
But despite predictions of his impending political doom, Clinton successfully fought back. His
popularity slump in 1993 and the sting of Democratic losses and Republican victories in 1994 spurred
him to action. He abandoned his liberal initiatives and resulting image, adopted more right-of-center
policies to promote welfare reform and fight crime, opposed gay marriage, and successfully pursued
fiscal policies which would balance the budget. Running for re-election in 1996, he was aided by a
strong economy and an inept and lackluster Republican presidential campaign. His victory on election
night solidified his right to call himself the “Comeback Kid.”

Can Joe Biden do the same, especially if the GOP, as expected, wins back the Congress in 2022?
Maybe. His support for massive new spending programs and tax increases belies the moderation he
professed in last year’s primary and general election campaigns and may begin to alienate more
moderate Democrats and independents whose support he must rely on in 2024. Scaling back his tax and
spending programs may be necessary to retain his more moderate supporters, even at the risk of
alienating Bernie Sanders, AOC, and other self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialists.” Whether the benefits of a more moderate stance which can restore the image he fashioned for himself in 2020 is
worth alienating the Democratic Party’s left wing is debatable, but definitely worth considering.
Also worth considering are personnel changes, especially in his national security team, should
the hearings the Senate and House must hold on the Afghanistan debacle show systemic incompetence.
After all, despite Biden’s promise of greater competence than Trump, he has shown little evidence of
success to date, especially in foreign policy and national security matters, despite his clear-eyed
recognition of the need to restore international friendships and combat the threat China poses to the
international order.

Much of Biden’s success will also depend on the GOP. The voters’ rejection of Democrats at the
polls in 2022 could be a harbinger of GOP success in 2024—but not necessarily. The greatest mistakes
The Republicans can make are to become too complacent about a 2024 presidential victory following
the probable 2022 recapture of the Congress, and to conduct a campaign so extreme and nasty against
Biden that voters become repelled and determined to vote against the GOP, no matter how poor
Biden’s record may become. Indeed, how the GOP has squandered its opportunities and “snatched
defeat from the jaws of victory” can be the subject matter of an entire column—or book.
It’s still early in the Biden’s term. He still has time to turn around his administration should he
pursue more moderate policies with greater competence than he has yet to show. Neither success nor
failure, for either Biden or the GOP, is a foregone conclusion yet.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

1 Comment

  1. If you can think, and do about the debacle that is now happening across the board, I really hope the Hiden voters are getting what they asked for. #sellingoutamerica
    To debate it is absurd.

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