- - Wednesday, August 25, 2021

To borrow from a friend, Team Biden seems in some disarray. Ordinarily, that would not be much of a concern. Still, given that they are now taking orders from the Taliban, it poses an existential threat to Americans and our allies in Afghanistan.

Neera Tanden, once a nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, now a senior adviser to President Biden, told the Los Angeles Times at the start of this week that the Biden administration’s top priority was getting the $3.5 trillion budget resolution through the House.

About 12 hours later, Vice President Kamala Harris landed in Singapore and said that the Biden administration’s top priority was getting Americans out of Afghanistan.

Someone had to be wrong.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden broke the tie. Mr. Biden spoke for 10 minutes from the Roosevelt Room (no questions). His remarks were almost entirely about the House vote to spend 3.5 trillion more of your dollars.

Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day, the Taliban made it clear that Aug. 31 is a hard deadline for American troops to leave the country, and Mr. Biden accepted that hard deadline. This despite his promises that the United States would evacuate all remaining Americans and Afghan civic leaders and pretty much any other Afghans who wanted to get out of town.

The bad news is that there is no way to evacuate everyone who wants to be evacuated in the next five days. It turns out when you lose a war, you don’t get to dictate the terms of surrender.

The good news is the administration is trying its best to change the subject. They are tired of talking about Afghanistan and want to get everyone back on message about “transforming” America, irrespective of whether Americans feel like being transformed.

Unfortunately for them, Team Biden’s tone-deafness on Afghanistan is starting to erode voter enthusiasm for the entire enterprise. The most recent survey results (1,000 registered voters by USA Today) indicate that only 41% of registered voters approve of Mr. Biden’s work.

This is despite the certainty from the media elite that approval ratings are pretty much a matter of trench warfare and that large swings are unlikely.

It turns out that many people are willing to recognize that Mr. Biden is not really up to the job. For instance, just 32% of independents approved of the president’s work product. Only 39% of those surveyed approved of Mr. Biden’s work on the economy.

The challenge for Mr. Biden is, of course, that once his approval rating starts to fall, it will be difficult for him to recover. He does not have the capacity to hit the road, speak well and routinely, or answer difficult questions.

This brings us back to the Roosevelt Room. Despite the collapse in Afghanistan, the tempo of Mr. Biden’s days has not notably increased. On Tuesday, he had a virtual meeting before his 10 minutes of remarks. On Wednesday, he had two internal meetings with his team. That does not seem particularly aggressive for a leader in the midst of his own existential crisis.

It is important to note that the Roosevelt Room was chosen intentionally. It is an easy shuffle of perhaps six feet from the Oval Office, and there is no way to fit more than a handful of media people in it, which means scripting questions and choreographing who asks them is easy.

The vice president was right; Afghanistan should be the top priority of this administration. But Mr. Biden very much wants to change the channel. Unfortunately for him, most Americans don’t. They want to see Americans and others rescued from the disaster that is Kabul.

Team Biden does not seem to understand that their credibility and the survival of their agenda are at risk.

The drop in Mr. Biden’s approval rating prompted by the catastrophe in Afghanistan will begin to affect congressional Democrats just as they are preparing to vote for a large, ugly and damaging reconciliation package, as well as an increase in the debt ceiling.

All of it will be mood music for the midterms. For some Democrats, that will be an existential threat.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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