The Problem with Biden’s 2019 General Election Campaign

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.

The Only Way Out is Through: There Can Never Be a Return to What Was Normal

I cannot count how many times – in briefings, in operational planning team meetings, in working groups, in other meetings – that I have stated to Soldiers, members of the other uniformed Services, and civilians from the Interagency that one of the end states we should be trying to achieve is not a return to what was normal. That there is no going back to how things were, whether in real life in Iraq or Afghanistan or in a war game’s scenario, the minute before the enemy invaded, the tanks rolled across the border, and/or the air campaign began. Whatever existed politically, socially, economically, religiously, and in regard to kinship as normal for that state and society ended as soon as the invasion started. The whole point of what we were trying to achieve is to establish enough stability to create enough space to begin to build a new normal. And that while the new normal would include some of the old normal, a lot of what existed in the old normal was gone forever. And trying to get it back or reestablish it was a waste of resources.

I was heartened to hear Mayor Buttigieg express this reality during his speech at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame Dinner yesterday (it should be queued up at the 4:31 mark):

For those who can’t watch the video, for whatever reason, he said:

We’re not going to win by playing it safe or promising to return to normal. We are where we are because normal broke.

This is not the first time that he has said something like this. From January:

I get the urge people will have after Trump. ‘Look at the chaos and the exhaustion: Wouldn’t it be better to go back to something more stable with somebody we know?’ But there’s no going back to a pre-Trump universe. We can’t be saying the system will be fine again just like it was. Because that’s not true; it wasn’t fine. Not if we could careen into this kind of politics.

I’m not advocating anyone support the Mayor, let alone anyone else. There are three candidates in the Democratic primary that I’m very enthused about, and another 1/2 dozen or so who I could live with as the nominee and eventually as president. Though I expect that most of the candidates will be out of contention and out of the campaign by the late Fall. But what Mayor Buttigieg is stating is something that is very, very important for everyone to hear, understand, accept, and internalize. And that’s not just because it is what I’ve been telling military and Interagency personnel for over a decade. Or that it’s nice to imagine that Mayor Buttigieg read one of my assessments during his time mobilized in Navy Intelligence and internalized the point I was trying to make. Rather it is because this is our real reality.

There is no going back to how things were before January 21, 2017 or November 8, 2016 or June 15, 2015. The America that we knew on those days – good, bad, and ugly – no longer exists. We can no more restore that America as we can the fantasy of a bygone America that lives in the minds of the Freedom Caucus members, the Tea Partiers, Senator McConnell’s gilded age fetishism, or the theocratic herrenvolk democracy of Vice President Pence.

We can only move forward and attempt to establish a new normal, a new American political, social, economic, and religious equilibrium. That new normal will include some parts of the old normal, hopefully the best parts, but it cannot be the old normal. And doing so won’t be easy. It is easy to break a state, a society, a culture. It is hard to repair them once broken.

The only way out is through.

Open thread.

House Judiciary Committee On the Mueller Report Live Stream

Here’s the live stream.

Open thread!

Open Thread: Save the Iowans – Kill the Caucuses!

There are supposed to be no fewer than 19 presidential candidates at the Cedar Rapids Democratic Hall of Fame Dinner this weekend, so there are liable to be some embarrassing anecdotes that don’t involve Steve King…

Campaigns are costly affairs, both financially and emotionally, and Iowans pay the price for this without receiving the benefits. Presidential campaigns cause burnout among volunteers and voters alike, and they fail to make any lasting contributions to our state while they’re here.

Being able to get a selfie with whichever presidential candidate is in town doesn’t outweigh this cost.

In the 2018 midterm elections, I spent a majority of my time volunteering for Abby Finkenauer’s congressional campaign. Her campaign was exciting — a 29 year-old progressive woman against an incumbent Tea Party Republican. I couldn’t have felt more energized.

Not everyone felt the same.

When I would call or knock on the doors of other Democrats to ask them to volunteer on the campaign, I was frequently told that they were still too exhausted from the 2016 caucuses to get back into politics.

MacKenzie Bills, a lifelong Iowa Democrat currently working for the State Department, explained that the situation is basically unavoidable.

“While there’s a great diversity of political ideologies in Iowa, there’s just not a lot of people here,” she said. “Campaigns today are very metrics driven. In order to get the numbers that they want in our small state, you have to try to get as much out of each person as possible.”
Read more

Tribe’s Impeachment Compromise

Constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe wrote an op-ed for The Post suggesting a compromise that would allow the Impeach the Motherfucker NOW! crowd and Team Proceed Cautiously Because 2020 Is Everything to meet in the middle. The compromise is predicated on the notion that a House impeachment needn’t function explicitly as a prosecutor or grand jury that refers its findings to the Senate for trial — Tribe says the House can conduct an inquiry “in which the target is afforded an opportunity to participate and mount a full defense” and skip the referral.

He cites precedent during the Watergate impeachment proceedings, when Nixon’s attorney appeared to defend Nixon against charges leveled by the House. Since Nixon subsequently resigned, there was no need to refer the articles of impeachment to the Senate, but Tribe says the House Judiciary Committee in that era drafted findings that included “determinations of fact and law and verdicts of guilt to be delivered by the House itself, expressly stating that the president was indeed guilty as charged.” On that basis, Tribe surmises that “an impeachment inquiry conducted with ample opportunity for the accused to defend himself before a vote by the full House would be at least substantially protected, even if not entirely bullet-proofed, against a Senate whitewash.”

Here’s Tribe’s conclusion:

The point would not be to take old-school House impeachment leading to possible Senate removal off the table at the outset. Instead, the idea would be to build into the very design of this particular inquiry an offramp that would make bypassing the Senate an option while also nourishing the hope that a public fully educated about what this president did would make even a Senate beholden to this president and manifestly lacking in political courage willing to bite the bullet and remove him.

By resolving now to pursue such a path, always keeping open the possibility that its inquiry would unexpectedly lead to the president’s exoneration, the House would be doing the right thing as a constitutional matter. It would be acting consistent with its overriding obligation to establish that no president is above the law, all the while keeping an eye on the balance of political considerations without setting the dangerous precedent that there are no limits to what a corrupt president can get away with as long as he has a compliant Senate to back him. And pursuing this course would preserve for all time the tale of this uniquely troubled presidency.

Go read the whole thing — I almost certainly bollixed up some key points by summarizing. But if I’m understanding Tribe correctly, he offers an intriguing alternative here.

Since the Senate won’t do its job, the House will need to get creative, and televised hearings that fully explore Trump’s corruption and abuse of power while not subjecting the process to a Republican cover-up sounds like a good option to me. What say you?