US

Joe Biden came out punching on Capitol Hill in a way that belied learned expectation.

On the big occasion, he didn’t fluff his lines or miss his targets – unlike the Joe Biden of so many other occasions.

For too many, to watch him is to write him off.

Too much about this 80-year-old president seems too old, too infirm and too incapable of another run for the White House.

And yet, he has said he intends to stand again and there are strong hints of an announcement soon.

That’s why this State of the Union mattered to Biden the candidate – a political setpiece as a campaign platform.

He offered a retrospective that felt like a relaunch, his self-assessment return that had him turning the economy around, saving democracy and, still, restoring the soul of the nation.

It was a vision of work done, and work in progress.

Whatever Mr Biden has delivered as president – and he has scored legislative victories – to the voting public, it seems to have passed them by.

Opinion polls conducted prior to the big speech showed that most people didn’t think he had achieved very much during his presidency; most Democrats don’t want him to run for a second term.

It is a negative public perception that he can’t shake and demands that he shape his strategy accordingly.

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In showcasing his record, he reached out to his Congressional opponents, appealing to “Republican friends” to work together to drive legislative reform.

As a body, they won’t, and he knows it.

This is a divided Congress and, in the House of Representatives, a majority Republican roadblock stands in the way.

Joe Biden might preach progress along bipartisan lines, but he’s aware it won’t wash.

We saw, in flashes, Republican dissent when he spoke about banning assault weapons and raising America’s debt ceiling.

We probably witnessed, too, Biden developing his campaign narrative – Joe the builder versus Republican wreckers.

If he can frame the next election as a repeat of the last, stability versus chaos, then he has form.

It’s a fight he won in 2020 and he’s entitled to expect Democrats to back him once more, particularly if he’s running against Donald Trump.

Biden’s State of the Union will be followed by a flurry of campaigning across a number of states.

Opinion pollsters have had him on the ropes for the duration of his presidency and he sees the immediate future as a time to turn that round.

In this political rope-a-dope, the president has started throwing punches.

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