Hello darkness, my old friend.
You don’t need me to tell you that Joe Biden’s poll numbers are dismal, or that Democrats face massive headwinds in the mid-terms.
Or maybe you do, because elements of the temporarily ruling party seem deeply invested in denial, excuses, and wish-casting.
In part, this is understandable: The GOP is rife with cranks, bigots, conspiracy theorists, and clowns with flamethrowers. So, how could Democrats possibly be losing to these guys. And yet.
Even Time magazine sees what’s coming.
One major party donor predicts a midterm wipeout. “When they f-cked up Afghanistan, they obliterated the competency thesis, and I don’t know how he comes back from that.” If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog, the old saying goes, but Biden can’t even get that right: Major, a rescued German shepherd featured in Biden’s campaign ads, was rehomed last month after injuring the President and biting two staffers.
And Pew is out with the latest numbers:
Biden Starts Year Two With Diminished Public Support and a Daunting List of Challenges
Here’s the bad news. The Democrats’ problems run deeper than just Biden himself, and the last few months have exposed a much deeper disconnect between the party, especially its dominant progressive wing, and the electorate at large.
Do not take my word for it.
I understand that Democrats might be reluctant to take advice from someone like me or Tim Miller, Sarah Longwell, JVL, or Mona Charen. But maybe they will listen to what folks like David Schor are saying — or Ruy Teixeira, whose Democratic bona fides go back decades.
Teixeira is the author of The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think. His book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, written with John Judis in 2002, was widely praised and named one of the best books of the year by The Economist.
But, these days (as The New York Times politics newsletter today notes), Teixeira is a “Liberal heretic,” because he thinks the Democrats have lost the plot.
I spent some time talking with Teixeira on yesterday’s podcast, which you can listen to here.
“The left of the Democratic party has a theory of the case on how their actions will build a dominant progressive electoral coalition,” he argues.
But, in this must-read newsletter, Teixeira compares the progressive “theories” to actual results in the real world. “It’s not a pretty picture.”
Here’s a quick summary:
The Left’s theory: Turnout, turnout, turnout! “You don’t have to talk to anyone on the left of the Democrats for any length of time before they evince their touching faith in the wonder-working powers of high voter turnout…”
The Reality: “The 2020 election presented a pretty darn stark choice to voters. And it was indeed a high turnout election. The problem: everyone’s turnout went up, including among groups the left would have preferred stayed home. The net result of higher turnout did not significantly boost Democratic fortunes; if anything Republicans may have a benefitted a bit more from the higher levels of turnout.”
The Left’s theory: People of Color! “Perhaps no factor is so central to the left’s theory of electoral case than the growth of the nonwhite population in the country and the presumed way being “people of color” welds them together into a voter group with unshakeable loyalty to the Democratic party and loathing for the Republican party.”
The reality: “In the 2020 election, running against Donald Trump (Donald Trump!) and in the wake of a social upheaval after George Floyd’s murder that associated the Democratic party closely with a left stance on the centrality of “systemic racism” to pretty much every policy issue…the Democrats actually lost ground among nonwhite voters. They lost 7 margin points from their 2016 margin among black voters and a stunning 16 points from their 2016 margin among Hispanics (Catalist two party vote).”
The Left’s theory: Cultural Leftism Is a Winner! “The left in the Democratic party insists that cultural leftism is central to consolidating the ‘rising American electorate’ that will power the Democratic party to dominance in an increasingly multicultural, multiracial America. It is a feature they say, not a bug, of current Democratic practice.
The reality: “But in the process, the left has managed to associate the Democratic party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, schooling, free speech and, of course, race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the left but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic party.”
The Left’s theory: The Crisis of Democracy! “Another key link in the left’s theory of the case is the assumption that voters will, if the messaging is loud enough, necessarily agree with the Democrats on the nature and extent of the current threat to democracy posed by the Republican party, and therefore the need to vote Democratic. The January 6th events, especially, are continually cited as an ironclad justification for rejecting the Republicans.”
The reality: This approach is being repeatedly put to the test and repeatedly failing….Democrats, cheered on by the left of the party, pursued a doomed attempt to push extensive voting rights bills through the Senate, accompanied by a truly astonishing level of rhetoric on how only passage of the bills could save American democracy and how those failing to support passage were aiding and abetting a New Jim Crow and siding with George Wallace, Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis.
This was all pursued despite an abundance of evidence that most voters, including nonwhite voters, were not particularly animated by the issue and the rather embarrassing fact that the bills would actually have done little to counter the threat of election subversion, the most common target of Democratic messaging. In the end, the failure has just made the Democrats look ineffective without any real political payoff.
The Left’s theory: It’s Transformation Time! “It’s odd that Biden’s narrower-than-expected Presidential win with downballot losses and, finally, whisker-thin control of Congress was interpreted a suggesting it was transformation time in America.”
The reality: “Any reasonably clear-eyed look at the election strongly indicated that Biden was elected to get the country back to normal by containing the covid pandemic and fixing the economy. But the need to barrel ahead with transformation was pushed consistently by the Democratic party left—pushed in fact to the point of collapse in 2021.”
“This was a terrible look for the Democrats, making them seem out of touch with the country and ordinary voters. They are now paying the political price for this, staring into a likely defeat in 2022 and the very real possibility that Donald Trump might return to the Presidency after the 2024 election. The left’s theory of the case now lies in ruins and it is up to Democrats to come up with a theory of the case that gives them a fighting chance of staving off disaster. It won’t be easy.”
Exit take: You really should subscribe to Teixeira’s newsletter, The Liberal Patriot, so I won’t have to keep stealing his stuff.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin:
This, BTW, is false:
The Assembly Majority Leader:
This was the cover of the very first issue of the Weekly Standard, September 18, 1995. In fairness, at the time, no one could have imagined how this would turn out….But still.
1. DOJ Is Investigating the Phony Electors
Philip Rotner reports in today’s Bulwark:
The feds, we now know, are on the case: The Department of Justice is investigating the phony elector certificates submitted to Congress and the National Archives by Republican Trump supporters in five states that had been won by Joe Biden, not Donald Trump. “We’ve received those referrals,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco told CNN yesterday. “Our prosecutors are looking at those and I can’t say anything more on ongoing investigations.”
2. Swing Voters Don’t See the Same Democracy Crisis You See
Richard Thau reports on some recent focus groups:
Add this to the list of reasons why we’re facing a crisis in American democracy: Many swing voters—the people who disproportionately determine the outcome of elections—are not attuned to a looming crack-up in American democracy.
This isn’t to say that swing voters think things are fine. They know plenty is wrong with American democracy. But for many of the 13 Trump-to-Biden voters I focus grouped on January 11, the core problem isn’t the ongoing attempt to undermine the integrity of elections. It’s something else entirely.
3. Inside Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Unlikely Rise and Precipitous Fall at Liberty University
Gabriel Sherman’s piece about Falwell The Lesser is definitely worth your time.
Viewed in hindsight, the scandal was the combustion of a self-immolating fire that Falwell had been stoking for months, if not years. Liberty had spent the better part of 2020 lurching from one PR crisis to the next brought on by Falwell’s boorish and reckless behavior, his race baiting, COVID-19 denials, and slavish devotion to Donald Trump.
Two days after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, Falwell tweeted a picture of a COVID mask that showed a man in blackface posing with a man in a KKK hood. In early August 2020, Falwell posted a photo on Instagram of himself aboard a yacht with his pants unzipped, a drink in one hand, and his other arm wrapped around a pregnant Liberty employee with her belly exposed.
The controversies turned Falwell into an avatar of the rank hypocrisy, know-nothingism, and toxic masculinity that explained why 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted in 2016 for Trump, a thrice-married reality TV star who literally boasted of grabbing women by the pussy.
J.D. Vance tells us who he is. Again.
Not at all completely bat shit crazy.
It seems the media is doing its job in successfully kneecapping Biden to keep the horse race going for ratings, like they did for Trump.
We've seen plenty of pieces on the higher price of milk and gas et al, but none on the child tax credit and how its helping families and lifting kids out of poverty, or the massive job creation and low unemployment, or the millions of lives saved by Biden's successful vaccine rollout, or the incredible positive impact the infrastructure bill is already having nationwide, or Biden's influx of millions to help families pay for heating, or how he just raised the minimum wage to $15 for federal workers.
Mostly, we've been treated to numerous, relentless hit pieces on Afghanistan, the constant pounding of inflation (which, if the media was honest, is to be expected in a pandemic), and interminable droning on his lousy poll numbers, created in large part by the media. It's all negative, all the time. It's truly frustrating and sad.
The problem for Biden is that, as the saying goes, you dance with the one that brung you to the dance and two different, opposing suitors are claiming the title. The gap is one of age: a younger, woke Obama cohort from 2018 and an older, moderate Jim Clyburn one from 2020.
I might personally identify more with the latter, but frankly, I get that we didn't deliver the same landslide margins as in 2018 to claim a mandate. That means the path to actual legislation runs through a dozen or so Senate Republicans looking for a Trump offramp (if they exist, and I say a dozen because none will want to be the 10th vote overriding a filibuster and ending their careers). That leaves Manchin, who has actually proposed plausible legislative solutions, driving the train.
If you're a progressive swept into the House or Senate in 2018, you've already gotten rolled by the establishment on BBB because there just weren't the votes or a clear path to passage and something - infrastructure - was clearly better than nothing. Still, leadership overpromised and then caved. Voting rights, meanwhile, is existential, prompting a further debate on blowing up the filibuster. The problem here is that voting rights is viewed and messaged through the lens of race in the midst of a rightwing coup.
We keep having the wrong debates over bloated bills ticking off the constituency boxes versus nothing. The right blend of ECA reform and John Lewis could address the most dire problems; the rest will take more votes and more seats in both houses in 2022, which at the moment is a long shot. Unfortunately each side has a claim on Biden; he needs the Clyburn side for the Senate and the Bernie/AOC side for the House.
The progressives are understandably tired of taking one for the team, but while the broader public is with them generally on Covid, the economy and the social safety net, it balks at the particulars and the cost. That was the 2020 vote; no on Trump, meh on Dems. The progressives have to blink and serious Republicans have to get off their asses and commit to a democratic future. Period, full stop.