President Joe Biden on Monday made no apologies for suggesting over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power."
The extemporaneous remark, Biden explained to reporters, was an expression of "moral outrage" over the savagery Putin has directed at Ukrainian civilians and children, in particular. It was not, however, an articulation of official U.S. policy pushing regime change in Russia.
"I'm not walking anything back," Biden said at a White House press conference. "I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man—just the brutality of it, half the children in Ukraine. I had just come from being with those families."
But, Biden added, "I wasn't then nor am I now articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I feel and I make no apologies for it."
Biden's remarks about Putin came on the final day of his trip to Europe to demonstrate U.S. solidarity with European allies against Russia's unprovoked attack on Ukraine—a war that has quickly reordered geopolitics both across the globe and here at home.
Although Biden's ad-libbed utterance immediately drew headlines and sparked questions about U.S. policy abroad, it also likely captured the heart of how many Americans feel as they helplessly watch a man-made tragedy play out on their screens at home.
It's an absolute atrocity. And when Biden, in a moment of shared anguish, said, "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," he was probably more in-step with the American psyche than out of step with it.
In fact, Biden's handling of Ukraine and Putin's cold-blooded actions appear to be boosting his approval ratings among voters, including both Democrats and independents.
According to Civiqs tracking of Biden’s job approval, the president has seen a net improvement of +7 points among Democrats and +6 points among independents since the start of Russia’s invasion. Biden’s overall approval remains low in the tracking poll at 38% (his polling aggregate is in the low 40s), but Biden’s months-long downward slide in Civiqs tracking has subsided.
The impact of the Biden administration’s competence amid the abrupt reshuffling of the global order seems to have been especially profound among voters who cast a vote for Donald Trump in 2016 and then defected to Biden in 2020. A podcast called The Focus Group dedicated an episode to Ukraine several weeks ago and here's what several Trump-Biden voters had to say in their own words (keep in mind that the following comments are at least a couple weeks old).
While some of those voters think Putin is attacking Ukraine now because he views Biden as weak, one also believed Trump was just crazy enough to launch the next world war.
Person One: "I think if Trump were in office, we might literally have started World War III."
Some also think Biden is forcing Putin's hand.
Person Two: "The thing that he's doing is basically cutting off their money supply, the ruble is like worthless now, right. Their economy is just falling to pieces, right. So it's kind of a wait and see game—is Putin just going keep his foot on the gas pedal and just plow through Ukraine or is he going to realize, ‘Hey, there's no political end game for me here.’"
Trump-Biden voters are also genuinely disgusted by Trump calling Putin a "genius."
Person Two (*I think, sounded like the same person above): "Trump's not even president, he's not president, he didn't win. And he makes me feel good that I voted for Biden ... Something happens in the world—a frickin' war, right. And he thinks it's his duty to give his opinion on what a great strategic leader Putin is ... I can't imagine Trump saying that as president—like, ‘wow, what a military genius.’ They're killing people, right—it's horrible."
Person Three: "I think [Trump’s] comments are disgusting. You look back when he was in office, he praised Putin several times along the way. No one could really figure out why ... I think any of Trump's comments now are disdainful."
For a number of voters—including Democrats, some independents, and Trump-Biden flippers—this hellacious war has been an all-too-vivid reminder of why competence on the world stage matters. And frankly, the more Trump makes headlines by spouting his delusional foreign policy ideas and talking up Putin, the better for Joe Biden and likely Democrats too.