The Debate About Joe
He's old. He could lose. But what's Plan B?
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The Hammer Philosophy of Government
In Tuesday’s podcast, Will Saletan and I discuss the Wisconsin GOP’s end-run around democracy, Elon Musk’s embrace of antisemitic tropes, and the impeachment of Texas AG Ken Paxton.
I also make a prediction about the next big monument in D.C.
The debate over Biden
For the most part I agree with JVL’s argument that (1) Yes, Biden is old and could lose, AND (2) There’s really no better option at the moment.
But it’s still a conversation we can’t avoid.
Over at Politico, former Obama hand Jim Messina pushes back against the “Biden bed wetting.” He makes the case that:
The economic fundamentals are strong.
Abortion is a major X factor.
The election is a choice, not a wish.
Pressed on the dismal voter views of Biden, Messina said he is confident the qualms will wash away as the horse race takes shape. “It’s a choice between two parties, two ideologies, between two people,” he said. “And that choice matters. … People didn’t see the Democratic turnout in 2022 coming.” And while Messina assumes it’s a Biden-Trump rematch, he argues that even another GOP nominee can be painted as extreme and Trump-y.
His major caveat: A possible third-party spoiler.
“I don’t care what they do. I don’t care how much money they spend. I don’t care who their nominee is. They’re going to get zero electoral votes. The question is who do they take the votes from?” Messina said. “You just can’t split away votes if you want to beat Donald Trump. And I just cannot overstate how crucial it is to make sure that we don’t create a vehicle that takes enough votes up to elect Donald Trump.”
Now for the counterpoints
The legendary Joe Klein writes in his (quite excellent) newsletter, The Sanity Clause:
I’ve known Biden for more than 30 years and he has had bad moments—the Clarence Thomas hearings, for example—but he has almost always acted from a foundation of sanity and pragmatic politics rather than ideology. His presidency has been like that, for the most part.
So it’s sad to watch him now, past his sell-by date. His campaign seems creaky, contrived—this whole, lame Bidenomics pitch is an apt metaphor. Old Joe was out on Labor Day, trying to be enthusiastic, touting his economic record, shouting “Jobs!” while the public was moaning, “Prices!” (It is a conundrum: inflation is “down”—the Fed seems to be gliding toward a soft landing, a real feat—but prices are up, higher than last year, every trip to the market a shockeroo, and so neither Biden nor Jay Powell are getting the credit they deserve for slowing its course.)
And there are all the things the President won’t talk about: Immigration, education (especially charter schools, supported by the vast majority of Democrats), fentanyl, Trump, Hunter. He is running as a void: he isn’t Trump. That may be enough to win, but I’m sensing—or maybe it’s just me feeling this—a growing frustration among Democrats. A growing desire for…energy. Biden is a ghost of what the country needs right now….
His alternatives? “[There] is a fascinating generation of Democratic governors on the horizon—Newsom, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Colorado’s Jared Polis, Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro…and around the next corner, Maryland’s charismatic Wes Moore.” Klein thinks any of them could beat Trump.
Bret Stephens in the NYT reminds us: “Why So Many Americans Are So Down on Biden”
The news isn’t all that good. Americans are unsettled by things that are not always visible in headlines or statistics but are easy enough to see.
Easy to see is the average price of a dozen eggs: up 38 percent between January 2022 and May of this year. And white bread: up 25 percent. And a whole chicken: up 18 percent. As for the retail price of gasoline, it’s up 63 percent since January 2021, the month Biden became president.
Yet none of these increases make it into what economists call the core rate of inflation, which excludes food and energy. The inflation ordinary people experience in everyday life is not the one the government prefers to highlight.
Easy to see is the frequent collapse of public order on American streets…
Easy to see are tents under overpasses, from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York to the I-5 in Seattle. And the zombified addicts passed out on sidewalks in practically every city and town. And the pharmacies with everyday items under lock and key to prevent shoplifting. And women with infants strapped to their backs, hawking candy or gum at busy intersections. And news reports of brazen car thefts, which have skyrocketed this year.
“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” Adam Smith said. Not all the ruin mentioned above is Biden’s fault, and none of it is irreversible. But there’s much more ruin than his apologists — blinkered by selective statistics and too confident about the president’s chances next year — care to admit.
Meet you in Texas?
September 21-23 our friends at the Texas Tribune are hosting their annual festival of ideas, TribFest, in downtown Austin, Texas—and they’ve invited Charlie, Mona, Tim, and Bill to join the program too.
At TribFest you can expect bright minds with bold ideas across three days of must-see programming. Attendees can expect to hear from leaders, innovators and change-makers from the worlds of politics, government, media, tech and beyond.
Meet The Bulwark: On Saturday, September 23 The Bulwark will be on the stage at St. David’s Church for a morning of politics followed by a meet-and-greet with Bill, Mona, Charlie, and Tim.
9:15am Charlie will host the panel Trump Ever After with Bret Stephens, Olivia Nuzzi, Alexi McCammond, and Ben Terris. Crail Hall, St. David’s Church
10:45am Tim will join The Florida Man panel moderated by Jane Coaston and with Molly Ball, Marc Caputo and Nicholas Nehamas. Crail Hall, St. David’s Church
12:30pm No Bull From The Bulwark featuring Mona, Bill, Tim and Charlie and moderated by Evan Smith. Crail Hall, St. David’s Church
1:30pm Bulwark Meet-and-Greet. St. David’s Church.
2:30pm Bill joins the recording of the "Talking Feds" Podcast with Harry Littman and featuring David French, Jason Kander, and Jennifer Palmieri. Omni Hotel Downtown, Trademark Ballroom
Bulwark readers can get $30 off a general admissions ticket with the code BULWARK-TTF23.
We hope to see many of you in Austin on September 21-23 for TribFest. We’d love to hear from you if you plan on going—simply reply to the email and drop us a note.
1. The Super PACs Are Worthless. Donors Should Stop Torching Their Cash.
Sending paid door knockers and inside-the-box TV ads into that environment is just pissing into the storm.
The best investment that Republican billionaires considering whether to fund Haley or Scott or DeSantis or Pence could make at this stage is redirecting their resources to lower-ballot candidates or general-election efforts to stop Trump (a boy can dream). Or just pouring that money into their charitable causes du jour. Because what they are doing now ain’t working.
My hunch, though? I suspect the GOP donors and strategists behind these PACs will triple down on the exact same approach that has failed the last two times they tried it.
Trump might be the crazy one—but you know what they say about the definition of insanity.
2. Trump Disqualification: How Feasible (or Radical) Is It?
A DEBATE HAS EMERGED as to whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bans Donald Trump from running for president given his role in the attempt to overturn the 2020 election and the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. Section 3 of the amendment specifically states that “No person shall . . . hold any office, civil or military, under the United States . . . who, having previously taken an oath . . . as an officer of the United States . . . to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof” (emphasis added). Anyone with a basic command of English can read this language and conclude that Trump’s deliberate, multi-tiered efforts to use the powers of the presidency to wrest the 2020 election from the lawful winner—a ruse that culminated in bloodshed, gallows erected to hang the vice president, multiple deaths, and prison sentences for participants—qualifies.
But as a legal matter, the question is loaded with ambiguities:
What constitutes an “insurrection or rebellion”?
Who gets to decide—voters, Congress, state legislatures, or the Supreme Court?
3. Clarence Thomas’s Flimsy Defense
LAST WEEK, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE Clarence Thomas, following a ninety-day extension, filed a yachtload of corrections in his financial reporting forms for 2022 and previous years.
The accompanying six-page statement from his lawyer, Elliot S. Berke, deserves scrutiny because of the strategy it adopts: that the best defense to an embarrassing story is a good offense.
Berke goes full Trump. He attempts to convert Thomas, who made the errors, into a victim of his critics’ “hatred for his [conservative] judicial philosophy.”