Buffeted by a Russia scandal that proved false, Donald Trump ended the first year of his presidency on a high note with passage of historic tax cuts. In contrast four years later, Joe Biden's first year in office is ending with a stunning rebuke from a senator in his own party.
On Sunday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) gave a resounding "No" to Biden's signature Build Back Better legislation, leaving an uncertain path for the Democrats' ambitious agenda despite the fact they control the Senate, House and White House.
Their future is further complicated by an aging president already beset by low poll numbers, soaring inflation, a stubborn pandemic and stinging losses in the courts and the Afghan withdrawal.
Voices on both side of the political aisle said Sunday the failures could be traced to a common problem for the Biden White House: expectation setting. Setting a Christmas deadline for an expensive bill may have been unrealistic and left an inevitable course to failure, they said.
"They made so many promises," said Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy, according to Politico. "What one wants to try to do is under-promise and over-deliver. They did the opposite."
James Carville, the Democratic strategist who guided Bill Clinton to victory three decades ago, suggested Sunday there was no reason to create an end-of-year deadline for passage of the Build Back Better bill.
And, he said, the failure overshadows some of the victories Democrats achieved, like a bipartisan infrastructure bill, job and wage growth and the end of America's longest war.
"2021 is the greatest story never told," Carville lamented during a CNN interview in which be blamed Biden and Democrats for messaging that failed to highlight accomplishments or set realistic expectations. "... I think this is a good news year, and I think we need to tell people about it."
The Biden White House clearly felt slighted by Manchin's high-profile rejection, lambasting the senator before urging Democrats to pivot to a new legislative priority involving federalizing voting rules.
The collegiality that Biden promised to bring back to Washington clearly slipped away Sunday, as Sen. Bernie Sanders accused his colleague Manchin of bowing to big drug firms, while White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused him of a "breach of his commitments to the president and the senator's colleagues in the House and Senate."
Liberal TV pundits went even further, suggesting the West Virginia Democrats had put democracy itself in jeopardy by refusing to vote for a $1.7 trillion spending plan in the midst of soaring inflation.
"What's worse — that Manchin is killing the Biden legislative agenda, and perhaps the future of American democracy too, or that he wasted most of this year dragging this whole thing out to do it *and* wasted half of the time that Dems control Congress and the White House," MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan tweeted in exasperation.
Former Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, now a liberal commentator, used similar dire language to rebuke Manchin, suggesting the senator might also block Democrats' voting bill.
"This also goes into the question of voting rights, because unless there's something that can be done about the filibuster rule in the Senate which Manchin again has indicated he will not change, there is not going to be an effective legislative means of doing what needs to be done to guarantee American democracy through the right to vote for all Americans without being suppressed as we're seeing now," Bernstein said.
While the finger-pointing has only begun, there is already one clear consequence. A Biden presidency that many thought would bring Washington a newer, calmer normal has not thus far delivered.
Politico summed up the failure succinctly in the final line of its Sunday story on the Manchin development.
"Biden was supposed to bring order to the chaos of D.C. But chaos is prevailing," it declared.