This episode looks at the new shelter-in-place culture and then answers the burning Bernie Bros. question, “where’s Joe Biden?” (Hint: you’re not looking hard enough.)
2020 Democratic primaries
by D.J. McGuire
I’ve said relatively little about the party I joined in the aftermath of Trump’s election victory — besides warning the Virginia branch not to get too complacent about recent election victories. The Trumpster fire that is the Republican Party has, for what I think are understandable reasons, dominated my attention.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Democrats are in danger of making a very serious mistake in whom we nominate for president. Bernie Sanders, should he be nominated, wouldn’t just be the least likely Democrat among the viable field to win in November; his Administration risks enabling the Trumpified GOP for decades — even as he, Sanders, advances much of Trump’s agenda.
I will not spend much bandwith insisting Sanders “can’t win,” because I’m not sure of that. His path to victory is very narrow (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — while giving up any chance of Arizona, North Carolina, or Florida) while requiring the party to play defense in states that have been moving its way (Colorado, Virginia, and possibly even New Mexico and Minnesota), but not impossible. What is being ignored — ironically, because so few pundits think Sanders can beat Trump — is what would happen if he does.
For starters, voters looking for a dramatic departure from the Trump Administration would find — to their chagrin — that they won’t get one. On some of the major issues America faces in the world, Sanders and Trump are in agreement.
They both support — and, indeed, personify — the rise in isolationism that is exceedingly dangerous to America. The revulsion felt by many Americans at Sanders’ potential nomination will be shared by our allies at his potential election.
Indeed, a Trump-Sanders race by its very existence is likely to weaken NATO and our other democratic alliances, to say nothing of our partners in the fights against the Taliban and against Daesh. The lesson of 2016 — namely, that leaving Russia to its own devices means allowing them to attack our elections as well as our interests around the world — will be lost. Our allies will take note, and further distance themselves from us.
There are similar problems on international trade. To some extent, the rest of world has been holding its breath, trying to see if America’s protectionist turn is permanent or not. A Sanders nomination would make than an unequivocal “yes” — and they will act accordingly. Tens of millions of Americans who also support freer trade will be effectively silenced, but the biggest problem is that a failed and backward economic theory will be validated without even so much as an argument.
Meanwhile, the Trumpenproletariat will simply bank the policy victories and go all-in on outrage caused by their differences with a Sanders Administration — one whose re-election chances are nearly zero. Whether you subscribe to the Bitecofer Theory (Politico) about negative partisanship dominating the electorate, or look to economics (where a long-delayed recession is almost certain to hit in the early 20s), the Republican nominee for president in 2024 will be in a very competitive position.
Who would that nominee be is less important than what the Republican electorate wants of them. Trump has exposed a dangerously wide authoritarian streak within the GOP. No 2024 nominee can ignore it. More likely, they will embrace it. Even assuming Trump himself doesn’t attempt a rematch, he could put forth one of his children as his successor. Ironically, that may be the best case scenario, as neither Junior nor Ivanka has the dark genius of Josh Hawley or Tom Cotton.
Either way, Republicans in 2024 will be able to run against a president who promised the moon and delivered only what Mitch McConnell would let him – namely, zilch. All the while the damage Trump has done to our international standing would continue, because the policies that created the damage would be continued.
Democrats still have numerous options before them in 2020: Barack Obama’s Vice President, a youthful mayor untainted by Washington, a moderate Senator from the Upper Midwest, a successful Mayor of New York City, and a policy wunderkind. They have their weaknesses, too, to be sure, but all of them would be a better general election candidate than Sanders.
More importantly, all of them would make a better president than Sanders.
In this podcast the MPU gang looks back at the third Democratic primary debate, the Iran attack on the Saudi oil fields, Trump’s continued parade of corruption, and how the Felicity Huffman, Brett Kavanaugh and Shane Gillis controversies are redefining justice in America.
by D.J. McGuire
Let’s say you are a Democratic candidate for president of the United States. You are attempting to show voters that you can help fix the broken state of governance in Washington. You are intending to use examples of “reaching across the aisle“ and “working with people despite disagreements on other issues.“
You have multiple options; among them are:
- Bill Clinton working with Newt Gingrich – yes, that Newt Gingrich – to enact tax reform in 1997.
- Clinton working with Bob Dole – his 1996 opponent – and Gingrich to enact trade liberalization in the early the 1990s.
- Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill working together to enact tax reform in 1986.
- Anything involving two segregationist Democrats, one of whom left office before the oldest Millennial was even born and the other from Jimmy Carter’s home state who lost his seat due to Reagan’s coattails in 1980.
If you picked anything but D, you are smarter than Joe Biden – by a country mile. Unfortunately, if you are reading this column it is quite likely that you are not in fact running for president and Biden is. Even worse, many of those running against him don’t seem to understand just how big Biden’s error was.
There is certainly something tone-deaf about Biden’s use of James Eastland and Herman Talmadge (the Senators in choice D). He has earned all criticism received on that score. However, to quote Joseph Fouche of Napoleonic France: “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.”
The “blunder” flows from a misconception about swing voters shared by all three major Democratic candidates: namely, that said swing voters are Obama-Trump voters.
Biden’s strategy appears to be soft-pedaling social justice issues. Elizabeth Warren‘s strategy appears to be hard-pedaling left-wing economics. Bernie Sanders’ strategy appears to be a combination of the two.
Here’s the problem: Obama-Trump voters aren’t swing voters; they are converts. They are not coming back. Bob Dole tried to win back voters who switched to Clinton in 1992; he lost over 30 states. Walter Mondale tried to win back voters who switched to Reagan in 1980; he lost over 40 states.
The actual swing voters in 2020 are the swing voters from 2018 – suburban, college-educated, and far more likely to lean to the center-right on economic and international issues than on social issues. Sanders and Warren act as if these voters don’t exist. Unfortunately, Biden doesn’t apparently think they exist either. Otherwise, he would have remembered – and discussed – when the two major parties resolved differences and found common ground on issues that appeal to current moderates, rather than harken back to days when his own party had a faction that appeals to no one outside of Trump’s base.
That Warren and Sanders are choosing not to appeal to the swing voters of 2020 does not surprise me; they’ve spent their political careers avoiding those voters. Biden, on the other hand, has a history of supporting moderate economic policies, especially on trade and on tax reform. That heis choosing not to use that history is more troubling for the party as a whole.
This short podcast serves as a prequel for the upcoming 200th More Perfect Union episode, covering Betsy DeVos and her attack on the Special Olympics.
We need to talk some more about Joe Biden.
I was on here a couple of weeks ago denigrating the former Vice President for floating the idea that he could make up for a lack of diversity in his own self by bringing Stacey Abrams along for the ride if (when) he announced his candidacy. I was not alone in brushing that idea aside; Stacey Abrams didn’t like it much either. I can’t say for sure what her plans are, but they apparently do not involve hitching herself to someone else’s wagon.
So, now we’re left with Joe solo. We are mere days away from the beginning of the second fundraising quarter of the political year and this is the most likely moment for a Biden entrance into the field. His polling numbers look solid, I’m sure he can find big donors to bankroll this, and the media is getting bored with their Buttegieg love-fest and need a new object of affection. I fully expect Biden to join the primary race and, as I said in my last essay, I fully expect him to lose.
The primary. I think Biden will lose the primary. But I still believe that Joe Biden could beat Trump in the general.
Here’s the deal with Biden. He is a 100% vetted candidate. We know the Ballad of Biden from intro to outro, and if he launches a presidential campaign as a coda to his already long career, we still won’t be surprised by him. We all know the story of the death of his wife, his trips back and forth to Delaware on the train so his kids could stay in their schools. We know about his childhood in Scranton and the death of his son Beau to cancer. We remember him coldly questioning Anita Hill and we know he has been part of the machinery of many military actions over the years. We know that he added his name alleged reforms that ended up hurting people in poverty and people of color for generations. We know that he may know more about foreign policy than any other candidate and we know he’s more politically tone deaf on social issues than any other candidate.
We know Joe Biden. Right, left and center knows Joe Biden.
That knowledge is why the left is justifiably skeptical of Biden. For all his true blue Democratic bona fides – and he has plenty – he’s also an old, white, man with a lot of mistakes in his lengthy political past. He’s committed the kinds of sins that progressives don’t want to forgive any more. We are ready for the next generation of leaders and that’s why we are likely to pass over Biden on the road to the 2020 election.
But as a candidate in a general election? Our familiarity with Biden is his biggest strength. Trump could hire the best opposition research firm money can buy and he still won’t be able to find a single fact about Joe Biden that isn’t already common knowledge. There’s not chance of an October surprise when we’re talking about a candidate who’s a completely open book. Unless it turns out that Biden secretly killed Jimmy Hoffa, there’s nothing new that Trump can throw into the discourse that will change the entrenched public perception of Joe Biden.
Moreover, Biden doesn’t have a soft underbelly. He’s not afraid of making mistakes and he’s not afraid of apologizing. He’s not terribly good at apologizing, based on his latest half-hearted attempt to do so regarding Anita Hill, but he’s willing to try. He’s not controlled by shame or fear. He owns his past. He lets his record stand for what it is.
In those respects, Biden is Trump’s opposite. Trump is a man controlled by secrets and lies, terrified of being caught out, and reckless in his attempts to deflect criticism. There’s a new revelation about him at every turn and he can’t control his own emotional responses to them. He’s defensive, petty, and cruel and his record? Well, his record speaks for itself and all it says is “I put babies in cages”.
I’d wager that the general electorate would look at Biden v. Trump and see their way clear to putting Biden in the White House. He’s imperfect in so very many ways, but he’s also everyone’s favorite Uncle Joe and no one can deny that he’s qualified for the job. Donald Trump is more like Uncle Fester and his incompetence is quite plain.
As for whether or not Biden can bring home a crowd just through personality alone, well. Go back and take a look at his convention speech from 2016. Now think about this story I can share with you: my husband was seated behind the stage in the arena that night and could see the TelePromptrs. The text wasn’t scrolling for a lot of Biden’s speech. This wasn’t a canned message. This was the heart of Joe Biden, on stage for all the world to see.
There’s a lot for Democrats to think about on their way to the primary polls next year and everyone should vote their priorities. But if one of your priorities is the magical formula of electability, consider Joe Biden. I think he has it, even if I don’t think he’ll get the chance to use it.
We need to talk about Joe Biden.
Joe Biden, Senator, Vice President, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, subject of a million memes, is inches away from jumping into the 2020 fray. I picture him like this, poised, waiting to swoop into the race.
But for all the meme-tasticness of Joe Biden, we need to acknowledge one thing about him and that is a thing we should be taking very seriously: he has more foreign policy experience than any other declared candidate.
That is not a minor distinction as the world eddies around the Trump Doctrine of foreign policy. We are on track to emerge from this administration with our traditional allies alienated and dictators emboldened by Trump’s encouragement of their standing as global power elites. The process of realigning our relationships back toward favoring democratic nations above dictatorships and rebuilding the trust we used to enjoy among NATO and beyond will take knowledge, skills, and determination. Biden’s experience as Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and his time as Vice President make him almost as qualified to do that as Hillary Clinton was in 2016.
Almost. She was the most foreign policy savvy candidate in a generation. But, you know. Her fucking emails or something.
We cannot idly dismiss the need for foreign policy expertise going into 2020 and if we have a top of ticket candidate who’s thin on that experience, they need to be damn sure to pick someone for Vice President or Secretary of State who’s a foreign policy powerhouse. Biden’s entry into the race will likely underscore that issue and it’s one we need to consider as we all make our primary choices.
Which brings us to Part Two of the Conversation About Biden. This week, rumors have been flying that Biden will select a running mate early. In so doing, he probably hopes to forestall criticism about his age by implicitly having a younger second in command who stands ready to step in – and possibly run at the top of the ticket in 2024 – if needed. He likely also hopes to bring in diversity with his VP pick and overcome all the whiteness and maleness that comes with the Biden brand.
I love Stacey Abrams. She is smart, she is savvy, and she is the next wave of Democratic politicians. Pretty much everything in Democratic politics is improved by the addition of Stacey Abrams. That’s why I really wanted to be excited by these rumors. Instead, I had a sinking feeling that reminded me uncomfortably of the day when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. It was only a day or two since Hillary had conceded the 2008 nomination to Obama and Palin smirked her way to the podium and told the crowd that the “women of American aren’t done yet!” I stared at the tv and thought “Is John McCain trying to insult my intelligence?”
Yes, as it turns out. He was.
Now, Stacey Abrams is no Sarah Palin. She’s a serious person with serious abilities. That’s why it feels doubly insulting that Biden would trot her out and say “Meet Stacey! She’s a woman! A Black woman! Vote for us!” And if you don’t believe me when I say the optics on this idea are actually that bad, believe Black women who have things like this to say:
Area white man hitches wagon to another Black rising star https://t.co/vVaj4Prb32
— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) March 21, 2019
It’s kind of amazing how awesome a Biden/Abrams ticket would be without Biden on it.
— Kashana (@kashanacauley) March 21, 2019
It's disgusting that Joe Biden or anyone attached to him would even consider using Stacey Abrams as a pawn to help him secure the Black vote for him. That is despicable. It's the worst kind of pandering & it feels like a "one Black friend" moment. Something about it feels wrong.
— Lynn V (@lynnv378) March 21, 2019
What Biden knows in all of this is that no Democratic candidate can win without Black women. They are the base of the electorate. They showed up for Hillary, they showed up for Barack. But if the only way Joe Biden can get them to show up for him is by offering them a side-order of Stacey Abrams, he needs to understand that he himself is not what Black women want. He’s not even really what white women want and white women make some very questionable choices in presidents. More than half of white women voted for Trump. Our standards apparently suck.
Joe Biden needs to be willing to sit down, listen carefully to his critics, and make the case for himself in a clear and uncluttered way. Using someone like Stacey Abrams as a shield to deflect questions about his many shortcomings is a chicken move and he should be better than this. He does have things to offer but he apparently doesn’t know how to do it.
That’s not what wins elections and it’s why Joe Biden has never won a presidential primary and I don’t think he’ll win this one either.