Biden’s brilliant campaign

The other day I responded to an anti-anti-Trump Facebook friend by pointing out that pretty much every criticism of Joe Biden – he mangles his words, he seems like he’s not all there sometimes, he’s a bit handsy with women, he’s in thrall to the most radical elements of his political party – apply at least double to Donald Trump.

As Jonathan Last and Sarah Longwell put in on The Bulwark Secret Podcast (which is absolutely worth sending a few bucks to The Bulwark to access it): every Trumpy criticism of Biden works only if you assume Biden’s opponent is not Donald Trump.

And right on cue, here’s the top story on Mediaite this morning:

Jonathan Chait says that contrary to popular belief, “Sleepy Joe” is actually running the perfect campaign for 2020:

It would obviously be a fallacy to attribute Biden’s current lead entirely, or even mostly, to his campaign strategy. The polls primarily reflect a massive public repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency. But Biden is also doing some things right.

For all the derision that has surrounded Biden’s generally low profile, it is the broadly correct move. Trump is and always has been deeply unpopular. He managed to overcome this handicap in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was also deeply unpopular, though somewhat less so, and turning the election into a choice allowed anti-Clinton sentiment to overpower anti-Trump sentiment. The fact that Biden has attracted less attention than Trump is not (as many Democrats have fretted) a failure. It is a strategic choice, and a broadly correct one.

Second, Biden’s isn’t just hiding out. He is doing some things. He has delivered speeches, given interviews, and met with protesters. These forums have tended to display his more attractive qualities, especially his empathy. Only one of them (his Breakfast Club interview) yielded a major gaffe.

And third, Biden has managed to communicate a coherent campaign theme. This is often a challenge for Democrats, who usually want to change a whole bunch of policies (health care! environment! progressive taxation!) that resist a simple unifying slogan. But Biden has been able to carry forward the message he used to start his campaign, which he built around Trump’s shocking embrace of racist supporters at Charlottesville, into a promise of healing racist divisions.

[…]

…Biden has also done an effective job of using the most popular parts of the protesters’ message while distancing himself from its unpopular elements. Biden speaks for the transracial majority that supports systematic police reform and opposes defunding the cops. Trump is left to represent the minority that sees Floyd’s death as an outlier requiring no serious changes.

Electability was a subject of bitter contention during the Democratic primary. Many progressive critics argued either that electability is inherently unknowable, or that the key electability dynamic was the ability to motivate left-wingers who might otherwise not vote. Instead, Biden’s campaign seems to be vindicating a more conventional theory of the case. He has appealed to progressives by adopting some of the most popular pieces of their program, while steering clear of its controversial aspects. And he is winning in the very conventional way: by stealing voters in the middle who are conflicted.

2016 was a choice between two deeply unpopular candidates. In the end, Democrats nominated the only person who could lose the election to Donald Trump, and Republicans nominated the only person who could lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

In 2020 it’s between an incumbent Republican President who is still widely hated, and a Democrat whom no one (outside of the far-right and far-left fringe) really seems to mind all that much. And as long as Biden can keep this election campaign a referendum on Trump, he was win bigly.

I still have post-2016 stress disorder, so I won’t take anything for granted until Joe Biden is taking the oath of office. But if the election were held today, Trump would be struggling to hang on to Texas and Georgia, much less the rust belt seats in which he narrowly beat Clinton.

Biden’s opponents are making the same mistake the PC Party made while campaigning against Jean Chretien in 1993: they assumed he was yesterday’s man, out of step with the times and easy to beat.

That’s far from the only reason the once-mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was routed – the PC vote was split badly by the emergence of the Bloc and Reform Parties, and the party was being led by a hopelessly incompetent future Twitter troll – but the fact is, Chretien didn’t last so long in politics without learning how to play the game skillfully. The same applies to Joe Biden in 2020.

Trump’s strongest allies

If Hans Christian Heg didn’t want people tearing down his statue, he shouldn’t have engaged in shameful behavior like (checks notes) giving his life in the fight against the institution of slavery:

Fury exploded outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday night as protesters smashed windows at the statehouse, attacked a state senator, and tore down two iconic statues — including one of an abolitionist who died trying to end slavery during the Civil War.

The unrest began earlier Tuesday following the arrest of a Black man who was arrested after bringing a megaphone and a baseball bat into a Capitol square restaurant. It followed weeks of mostly peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer.

[…]

In Madison, statues of Wisconsin’s motto “Forward” and of Col. Hans Christian Heg were dragged away from their spots guarding the statehouse.

Heg was an anti-slavery activist who fought and died for the Union during the U.S. Civil War. His nearly 100-year-old sculpture was decapitated and thrown into a Madison lake by protesters. 

The mob also attacked a Democratic state senator for the unforgivable crime of filming activity in a public place. Because, by and large, they’re neither Democrats nor democrats.

They reject electoral politics on principle and are at best indifferent to what happens this fall. On some level they probably prefer Trump to a moderate Democrat, because they think he is hastening the demise of the system. “After Hitler, our turn.”

Megan McArdle, no Trump supporter, says the President called it after Charlottesville:

…most of us have slowly forgotten about what else Trump said, although it was almost as controversial at the time: “So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

This came in for much derision. In The Post, Princeton historian David Bell declared that the distinction between slavery-defending Vice President John C. Calhoun and George Washington “is not difficult to make.” Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, called the attempt to equate Confederates with Founding Fathers “absurd” and “unacceptable for the president of the United States,” while Douglas Blackmon of the University of Virginia said, “The most kind explanation of that can only be ignorance, and I don’t say that to insult the president.”

Three years later . . . can it be? Trump looks prescient, and his critics perhaps a touch naive. The iconoclasts, having largely defeated the rebel army, are turning on the Founding Fathers. It was supposed to be trivially easy to articulate those distinctions, yet I have not seen a flurry of commentary from historians eager to educate the protesters as they schooled Trump.

Even George Washington University, whose very name constitutes an endorsement of our first president, seems to have quietly removed a bust of Washington for safekeeping after it was toppled from its pedestal, rather than loudly condemn an attack on the father of our country.

[…]

What Trump understood, and his critics perhaps didn’t, was that you cannot credibly declare that some revolution in social affairs has a natural stopping point unless you personally commit to stopping it when it goes too far. It’s not enough to say that very clear distinctions can be drawn between allowing gays to marry and forcing people to cater weddings that conflict with their religious beliefs; between the father of our country and the traitor who led a rebel army in defense of slavocracy. When the moment arrives, you have to actually draw them.

If you don’t, you will cede issue after issue to the radicals. And if uou make those tacit concessions again and again and again, then however privately you may rue it, you will nonetheless end up with something very different from your idealistic vision. Something that looks like . . . well, like the Republicans who quietly ceded their party and their conscience to Trump, one outrage at a time.

Trump may be too far behind Biden to win this fall. (The latest New York Times poll has him at 36%, approximately Alf Landon’s percentage of the vote running against FDR in 1936.) But a lot can happen in 144 days, and Trump’s only real chance is if he has this kind of culture-war red meat to throw to his fanatical supporters.

If Joe Biden hasn’t loudly spoken out against this, he needs to get in front it immediately.

Bring on Bolton’s Book

After months of delays, a book by Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton is about to be released. And according to Axios, the contents are damning:

In a memoir coming June 23 that the White House has tried to delay, former national security adviser Bolton will offer multiple revelations about Trump’s conduct in office, with direct quotes by the president and senior officials, according to a source familiar with the book.

Why it matters: Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush, is a lifelong conservative and longtime Fox News contributor who is well-known by the Trump base, the source pointed out.

In “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” Bolton will go beyond Ukraine, and argue there was “Trump misconduct with other countries,” the source said.

Axios agreed to grant anonymity to the source in order to give readers a window into the book ahead of publication.

Behind the scenes: People close to Trump have been worried about the book because Bolton was known as the most prolific note taker in high-level meetings, Jonathan Swan reports.

Mind you, there seems to be a damning Trump White House book out every week, so Bolton’s book may not have much shock value. But I still don’t understand why anti-Trumpers seem downright angry about a potentially damaging book coming out.

No. No, the Senate would not have done an additional goddamn thing if Bolton’s book had been out before impeachment. They can’t even bring themselves to condemn the President’s twitter conspiracy theories about an assault victim. What, in the past three years, would make you think that any Republican Senator not named Romney would do anything to offend the Dear Leader?

If The Room Where It Happened had come out before impeachment, it would be as forgotten as Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and its sequel, Siege. Did you even know there was a sequel? Exactly my point.

I’m glad it’s coming out now, instead. If anything, I’d like the release to be delayed further and have it come out maybe a month before Election Day. If its contents are as shocking as we’re being told, it might still make a difference.

There is one person still in the Trump White House book whose book I really can’t wait to read someday. I’m so excited for it, I may even try to read it in the original Slovenian.

What year is it anyway?

The joke going around these days is that halfway through 2020 we’ve already had 1919 (pandemic), 1929 (stock market crash), 1968 (civil unrest) and 1974 (impeachment).

The #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protests, and associated rioting and police brutality, are conjuring up memories of this famous Nixon campaign ad from 1968:

Trump has modeled much of his political career on Nixon’s 1968 campaign, and some fear the unrest of 2020 will help his re-election campaign. I don’t know. Unlike Nixon, who could point to civil disorder festering during the Presidency of Democrat Lyndon Johnson, the current situation is happening on his watch.

Trump’s position is more like that of President George H.W. Bush during the L.A. riots in 1992, only he’s handling the situation much more ham-handedly. But David Frum thinks the best comparison is with 1920:

…Trump will not repeat Nixon’s success in 1968, because he does not understand that success. Nixon joined his vow of order to a promise of peace at home and abroad. Trump offers only conflict, and he offers no way out of conflict, because—unlike Nixon in 1968—Trump is himself the cause of so much conflict.

If Trump seeks historical parallels for his reelection campaign, here’s one that is much more apt. There was a campaign in which the party of the president presided over a deadly pandemic at the same time as a savage depression and a nationwide spasm of bloody urban racial violence. The year was 1920. The party in power through these troubles went on to suffer the worst defeat in U.S. presidential history, a loss by a margin of 26 points in the popular vote. The triumphant challenger, Warren Harding, was not some charismatic superhero of a candidate. He didn’t need to be. In 2020 as in 1920, the party of the president is running on the slogan Let us fix the mess we made. It didn’t work then. It’s unlikely to work now.

Hopefully Biden will be an improvement on the guy who won in 1920. He will almost certainly be better than the guy who won in 2016.

Some take a knee to protest, others bend the knee to submit

This man was considered the future of the Republican Party, once. Now he’s defending his God-Emperor having protesters (and allegedly actual clergy) tear-gassed so he could have a photo-op holding a Bible as awkwardly as Michael Jackson kissed Lisa Marie Presley.

Trump’s opponent this fall, acting like an actual leader, met with demonstrators in person and talked to them.

But I want to go back even further, to another time when the United States of America was at war with himself. The President back then was loathed passionately by his political opponents. I’m sure death threats flooded into the White House every day. And then a shooting by authorities inflamed tensions even further.

But that President nevertheless went to the Lincoln Memorial one night, without a heavy security presence, and spent two hours talking to anti-government protesters and hearing their concerns.

That President’s name was Richard Milhous Nixon.

Update: speaking of Tricky Dick…

Two things that can be true

One: When unarmed African-American men keep dying at the hands of police, and these police officers aren’t promptly charged and ultimately convicted of murder or manslaughter, and the police departments in question have long, disturbing histories of singling out Black people for mistreatment, and all of this is happening on the watch of a President who plays footsie with racists and neo-Nazis and even personally spreads conspiracy theories about his African-American predecessor, it is perfectly understandable that frustration will eventually boil over and some desperate people will resort to violence.

As Martin Luther King Jr., an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience whose life was taken by a white racist, said: “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Two: whenever people protest peacefully against an injustice by the state, there are always a few shit-disturbers and self-professed “antifascists” who break off, start wrecking things and ruin it for everybody. Even Sean Hannity is on their side for once, but they’re going to piss away an opportunity to advance real social change. And among those rioters are opportunists who see an opportunity to cash in by stealing things. Burning down Autozone isn’t going to end police brutality. Burning down a freaking affordable housing development isn’t going to end racism.

As The Onion‘s “Our Dumb Century” book put it, “L.A. Rioters Demand Justice, Tape Decks.”

As for Rod Dreher’s headline, are these riots “unintentionally pro-Trump”? I dunno. Rioting in the late sixties certainly helped Nixon get elected, but his whole message was that he could restore law and order to a country falling into civil unrest under a Democratic President. By contrast, the 1992 Los Angeles rioting certainly didn’t help George H.W. Bush’s re-election chances.

Trump will use violent imagery from Minneapolis in his re-election campaign, with the clear message that he can protect Americans from these people, wink wink. But the fact is, this is happening on his watch. Joe Biden, second-in-command to the first Black President, might be able to do something about it. Trump has proven that he cannot.

Another day, another insane conspiracy theory

Three and a half years after he was elected, we all sort of accept that the most powerful man on earth regularly tweets things like this:

What’s he going on about? When Scarborough was a Congressman, one of his interns died because of a heart condition. There’s absolutely no evidence it was a murder.

…Trump was referring to a longstanding, long-debunked theory that while a Republican congressman for Florida’s 1st District in 2001, Scarborough had an improper relationship with aide Lori Klausutis and, perhaps to cover it up, murdered her. Subsequently, the theory went, local authorities helped to conceal Scarborough’s crime.

Insofar as anyone, including the Fort Walton Beach medical examiner can tell, Klausutis, 28, “lost consciousness because of an abnormal heart rhythm and fell, hitting her head on a desk,” at the congressman’s local district office. “The head injury caused the death,” the medical examiner said.

As the St. Petersburg Times reported shortly after Klausutis’ death, she had suffered from a series of pre-existing conditions. “Relatives said she had been taking medication for acne and that she suffered a head injury in a traffic accident when she was a teenager that left her in a coma,” the paper wrote. “When she recovered, she had signs of short-term memory loss.”

Those in the dark concerns of the media that trafficked in conspiracy theories grabbed this personal tragedy and spun it into internet gold, creating and broadcasting a narrative that eventually made its way to more mainstream outlets, including the Daily Kos (site founder Markos Moulitsas was a particularly outspoken proponent). At one point, documentarian Michael Moore registered the domain name JoeScarboroughKilledHisIntern.com.

A conspiracy theory that started on the fringe left and eventually made its way to the not-so-fringe right. Horseshoe Theory strikes again.

It’s hard to feel too bad for Scarborough, though. If not for he and Mika, Trump might never have made it this far.

Saying the quiet part out loud

Let me be clear: there are absolutely no circumstances, no matter what happens between now and November, under which I will support Donald Trump’s re-election as President. Even if Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden are true, they don’t even come close to the number of times Trump has been accused of assaulting and harassing women, with much stronger evidence to boot. And the Trump Presidency – as the great Anne Appelbaum explains in this Atlantic piece – has strengthened authoritarians around the world and wounded America’s reputation to the point where it may never recover:

…The “disinfectant” comments—and the laughter that followed—mark not so much a turning point as an acceleration point, the moment when a transformation that began much earlier suddenly started to seem unstoppable. Although we are still only weeks into this pandemic, although the true scale of the health crisis and the economic catastrophe is still unknown, the outline of a very different, post-American, post-coronavirus world is already taking shape. It’s a world in which American opinions will count less, while the opinions of America’s rivals will count more. And that will change political dynamics in ways that Americans haven’t yet understood.

[…]

I wish I could say for certain that a President Joe Biden could turn this all around, but by next year it may be too late. The memories of the prime minister at the airport, welcoming Chinese doctors, will remain. The bleach jokes and memes will still cause the occasional chuckle. Whoever replaces Pompeo will have only four short years to repair the damage, and that might not be enough.

And if Trump wins a second term? Any nation can make a mistake once, elect a bad leader once. But if Americans choose Trump again, that will send a clear message: We are no longer a serious nation. We are as ignorant as our thoughtless, narcissistic, ignorant president. Don’t be surprised if the rest of the world takes note of that, too.

That said, don’t think I didn’t notice this:

Tolchin, a former New York Times reporter and founder of Politico, was responding to a Times editorial calling for the Democratic National Committee to investigate allegations against its nominee. And Tolchin, an alleged journalist, thought this was too much and that the media has a duty to cover for Biden.

I, too, think defeating Trump is our top priority. But I am not a journalist and do not pretend to be a journalist. I express my opinions on a blog when I’m not busy with my day job.

Tolchin does purport to be a journalist, and he is demanding that his colleagues put their thumbs on the scale. He is entitled to his opinion as much as anyone else – indeed, I kind of appreciate it when journalists reveal their partisan and ideological leanings – but that is not the same as openly calling for his profession to refrain from doing its job.

And I don’t doubt for a second that many of his colleagues agree with him, even if they’re more discreet about it. In the long run, that will destroy the reputation of mainstream journalism more than anything the President tweets about.

#NeverTrump means Never Trump

Joe Walsh (not the “Ordinary Average Guy” guy, but the former Illinois Congressman) says he will not be voting for Trump under any circumstances. Yes, even if the Democrats nominate socialist Bernie Sanders:

No, never-Trump isn’t an official designation. It’s not (yet) a political party. It’s not a club with bylaws. But it is an idea. It means that President Trump — his impeachable conduct, his nonstop racist jabs, his tariffs, his nepotism, his knee-jerk foreign policy and his insistence on turning the presidency into a cult of personality — is the real bridge too far, not Sen. Sanders.

Never-Trump means that you still believe in the Constitution. It means you knew what Benjamin Franklin meant when he warned that we Americans have been blessed with a republic, “if you can keep it.” It means you recognize that Trump is enough of a threat to our founding principles that you won’t vote for him under any circumstances. And, at least to me, it also means you’ll suck it up and support his Democratic opponent, no matter who that is.  …

[…]

In 2016, sadly, I supported Trump. [Did he ever – DP] I freely admit that I’m a second-wave never-Trumper. But once I got here, it was always my plan to stay. Because, for me, the ways in which Trump threatens this country go beyond left-right ideology. He lies constantly. He grants pardons to toadies. He conflates America’s financial interests with his own. He uses his bully pulpit to air a never-ending, year-round list of Festivus grievances.

He surrounds himself with lackeys and purges staff who won’t do his bidding. He’s an authoritarian who once said, with a straight face, “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want.” That’s a bigger threat to America than free college, a $15-per-hour minimum wage and Glass-Steagall part deux. Yes, I’m a fiscal conservative who still worries about the national debt. But not as much as I worry about Trump wrecking my country.

I really, really, really don’t want Sanders as the alternative to Trump. But even he won’t be…this.

It won’t necessarily be Sanders, though.

I’d forgotten what political courage looks like

Romney’s note to his Senate colleagues, via Axios.

Yes, being part of a high-profile Mormon political dynasty probably makes you invincible in Utah. And, yes, Romney did once seek Trump’s endorsement and later angled for a position in the Trump cabinet.

And even with all that in mind, this still took some serious guts:

Sen. Mitt Romney sealed a place in history Wednesday by voting to convict President Trump of abuse of power, becoming a lone voice of dissent in a Republican Party that otherwise has marched in lockstep with the president throughout the impeachment proceedings.

Romney voted against the second article of impeachment, which accused the president of obstruction of Congress. But on the first article, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee said that he found the evidence against Trump overwhelming and the arguments by the president’s defense ultimately unconvincing.

Romney’s decision, announced in a deeply personal speech on the Senate floor, where he spoke of his faith and constitutional duty, sparked an immediate and intense outcry among Trump’s supporters — fury that Romney acknowledged is unlikely to fade.

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, called for Romney to be “expelled” from the GOP, while many of Trump’s congressional allies cast him as a bitter and irrelevant relic of a Republican establishment that has all but crumbled before Trump in recent years.

Between this and being proven right about Russia, the passage of time has been pretty good to ol’ Mitt, hasn’t it?