President Biden increasingly shows flashes of rage, responding to reporters with angry outbursts and prickly retorts when he doesn’t like the questions.
The president is clearly irritated about the likely midterm disaster for Democrats and is taking out that anger on reporters who challenge his version of reality, political analysts surmise.
“Biden is looking at the polls, and he’s very afraid of what’s coming. He’s expressing that frustration at the people who relay his message,” said Robert Rowland, who teaches presidential rhetoric at the University of Kansas.
Mr. Biden and reporters had some particularly testy exchanges last week. On Thursday, the president snapped at reporters who asked him about the abortion issue and Democratic candidates who don’t want to be seen with him on the campaign trail.
At the White House, he was asked whether there “should be any restrictions on abortion at all?”
“Yes, there should be,” Mr. Biden replied.
The reporter followed up: “What should they be?”
“It’s Roe v. Wade. Read it, man! You’ll get educated,” Mr. Biden snapped.
Later that day, Mr. Biden campaigned alongside Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. When a reporter asked Mr. Biden why only a few candidates were campaigning with him, he cut her off.
“That’s not true! There have been 15!” Mr. Biden said.
Before storming off, he barked: “Count, kid! Count! All right!”
Mr. Biden had a cantankerous back-and-forth on Wednesday with Fox News’ Peter Doocy.
Mr. Doocy asked the president whether abortion or inflation was a bigger priority for his administration.
“All important! Unlike you, there’s no one thing. It crosses the board … domestic … ask me about foreign policy, too,” he said.
Earlier this year, Mr. Biden called Mr. Doocy a “stupid son of a bitch” when asked about inflation.
The White House refused to comment on the president’s brusque exchanges.
Ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, which will determine control of the House and Senate, Mr. Biden has been saddled with problems. His approval rating remains stuck at 40%, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
A New York Times/Siena College poll showed likely voters are inclined to vote for Republicans by a 49% to 45% margin. Independent women, who were expected to support Democrats, have moved sharply toward Republicans over the past month, the poll found.
At the same time, gas prices are rising again after dropping for several weeks. Inflation is raging, and the stock market has taken a drubbing. The Republican message that Democrats are soft on crime and ill-equipped to handle inflation has resonated with voters, according to polls.
As Mr. Biden’s troubles mount, the press has stopped giving him the kid-glove treatment he received during his first year in the White House and that has made him irritable, Republicans say.
“It’s been a pretty bad week and a half for Joe Biden,” said Jimmy Keady, a Republican Party strategist. “The press was pretty kind to him and gave him a lot of passes. Now the press is asking him questions, and he’s not used to that.”
Brad Bannon, a Democratic Party strategist, didn’t deny that Mr. Biden showed a short fuse with the press, but he chalked it up to the stresses and challenges of a tough midterm election season as it enters the homestretch.
“A lot of people, including the president, who has a lot at stake here, get very passionate at the end of a campaign. That’s what’s happening here,” he said.
The skirmishes with reporters clash with the promise of transparency and respect for the press that Jen Psaki announced at her first briefing as White House press secretary. Ms. Psaki, who quit the White House in May, made the pledge in an attempt to contrast Mr. Biden with his predecessor.
President Trump was antagonistic toward the press with angry rhetoric and labels of “enemy of the people” and “fake news.” He also admonished reporters, a journalist who asked him in late November 2020 whether he would concede the election to Mr. Biden.
“Don’t talk to me that way,” Mr. Trump snapped. “You’re just a lightweight. Don’t talk to me that way.”
For Mr. Trump, the tough talk with reporters was part of his persona as a rough-and-ready political pugilist standing up to the media elites. The Trump base ate it up, but the same behavior could backfire for the current president, Mr. Rowland said.
“Trump was playing to a narrative that reinforces his persona with his base,” Mr. Rowland said. “Biden is not doing that. Biden is just expressing frustration with the political situation. He isn’t helping himself.”
Mr. Bannon, however, said Mr. Biden’s fiery answers make him relatable.
“It shows that Joe Biden is a human being, and Americans like it when presidents show passion. They get into trouble when they don’t show any passion,” he said.