Greg Sargent at The Post says there’s a “fault line in Democratic politics” between those who believe Trump is the problem and those who see Trump as a symptom of “broader pathologies afflicting the Republican Party — its increasing comfort with ethnonationalism, authoritarianism, and procedural and policy extremism, all of which predate, helped create and will outlast Trump.” A snippet of the column:
Biden took a beating Monday night for offering a stark version of this rhetorical move [focusing on Trump rather than calling out the GOP in general], while explaining how he’d work with Republicans as president.
“With Trump gone you’re going to begin to see things change,” Biden said at a fundraiser. “Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.”
As many pointed out, this prediction is profoundly absurd. Biden should know this, having lived through scorched-earth GOP opposition as Barack Obama’s vice president.
What’s more, as others noted, the notion that many Republicans feel secretly apprehensive about Trump’s many degradations is belied by the George W. Bush years. We saw authoritarianism and lawlessness (torture, secret prisons), politicized law enforcement (the political firing of U.S. attorneys), procedural radicalism and hostility to science (violating the law by refusing to regulate greenhouse gases) and disinformation (the Iraq War).
Given all this, does Biden really believe what he’s saying about Republicans?
Two things: 1) I don’t think there’s a significant split among Democrats at all on the question of whether Trump is the disease or a symptom, and 2) It doesn’t matter if Biden is really that gullible or if he’s cynically appealing to low-info voters who just want the orange blob off their TV because they’re sick of hearing about him and want to go back to ignoring politics. Either way, it’s bad politics for the Democratic Party.
But if I’m right about it being bad politics for the party (more on that in a minute), that doesn’t necessarily make it bad politics for the Biden campaign. Maybe what we’re seeing is Biden defying conventional wisdom, which is that candidates should run to the left during the primary and sprint to the center during the general. Maybe Biden is staking out a general election strategy now. If that’s the case, will it work?
So far, Biden’s poll numbers are pretty good, but it’s hard to know how much of that is based on fear (i.e., “electability”-based support) and how much is based on genuine agreement that Republicans can quickly recover from the radical extremism they’ve exhibited for decades and/or that things will return to “normal” once Hair Furor is gone.
Every candidate has to signal willingness to work across the aisle, and they’ve all done so to varying degrees. No candidate can afford to call tens of millions of Trump voters out for being racist, sexist, xenophobic morons, so they’ll talk about how Trump snookered people instead. But Biden seems to be the only one who’s making “Trump is an aberration” the centerpiece of his campaign. As far as I know, no other candidates have praised Mike Pence or said nice things about Dick Cheney.
I don’t see how this general election plan flies once we get to the debates. To paraphrase Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Biden’s Democratic primary opponents will be lining up to take a shot at this fantasy about Republicans, and my guess is that either Biden will get a fucking clue, or we’ll nominate someone else.
But more importantly, the “Trump is an aberration” strategy sucks for the general election too because it undermines the urgency of separating the nihilists from the levers of power. The eventual nominee needs to level with voters about the problem, which is that the Republican Party is radicalized and corrupt.
Otherwise, even if you win, what do you gain? Yes, Trump’s ouster will be a reason for rejoicing all by itself, but unless the Republican Party is also kicked in the nuts (and hard), a Democrat in the White House with McConnell’s rapacious claws around his or her throat for four years sounds like an ideal set-up for a smoother, more competent Republican demagogue to come along in 2024.