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Biden Collapses with Kabul. Can He Recover?

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Floyd Ciruli

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President Biden’s approval rating was stable over his first six months in office at about 53 percent. Not great, but given today’s polarization and the challenges of governing in the pandemic, not bad. It began to decline with the July resurge of COVID (approval of managing COVID down 12 points) and has now fallen in tandem with the fall of Kabul. Today at 47 percent, Biden’s approval is at its lowest point in his presidency according to the RealClearPolitics average. Most observers expect him to lose another point or two in the next round of national polls.

Biden approval

The speed of the descent is as fast as the Taliban’s advance. Nine days (Aug. 6) after the Taliban captured their first capital in the far southwest of the country, to when they marched unopposed into the presidential palace on August 15, to today as the chaotic evacuations dominate news, Biden has been losing support.

Can he recover? Possibly.

  1. In today’s polarized political environment, the Democratic base is unlikely to abandon him, so like former President Trump, he has a floor of support, probably in the mid- to low forty percent level.
  2. Foreign policy problems or victories are seldom as salient or long lasting as domestic. Kabul will pass and the economy, COVID and the culture wars will continue to dominate the news and political agendas.
  3. Afghanistan, after the early removal of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in 2002 and 2003, was never very popular. It was quickly replaced by the war in Iraq. Most recent polls show the large military commitment was not judged worth it and the withdrawal was supported by a majority of Americans.
  4. The military’s frequent recommendations for more troops and equipment dogged Presidents Obama and Trump, but never caused much political reaction. Of course, this retreat is “above the fold,” but historically, Afghanistan hasn’t been on election issue.
  5. It is largely unknown if Afghanistan produces more bad press for the administration, or just relief it’s over. There will be many news cycles before November 2022.