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2020 election

We Need To Talk More About Joe Biden

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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

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.

I believe I can fllllyyyyyy!

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.

Annnyyyway.

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.

He purportedly thinks he can accomplish all of this by inviting Stacey Abrams to be his Vice President.

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:

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.

Primary Colors 2020

by Kevin Kelton

Democrats, forget left vs. moderate for a moment and talk raw primary politics. Because ultimately primary races are a battle of personalities, not political purity. Once Joe Biden and Beto O’Roarke jump into the 2020 race, the field will be set.* Now the game is primary chess. So let’s look at the board.

Bernie Sanders is likely to win or do very well in his neighboring New Hampshire, the second big prize, a place where an old school candidate like Biden is not likely to run well. (Granite staters tend toward newer flavors.) And South Carolina will be tough for both Joe and Bernie, two guys not known for playing to the grits crowd.

That means Joe must win Iowa. Otherwise he’ll be 0 for 3 in the first three contests⁺ and no one comes back from that except the ’04 Red Sox.

If Beto or Kamala Harris can knock off Sanders in New Hampshire, that could douse The Bern for good. Harris seems positioned to do well in minority-heavy South Carolina. But neither of them is likely to break free if they don’t win Iowa. At best, one might emerge as the fresh-face candidate who will still have to fend off the old guard to prove their mettle.

So once again Iowa is key, even more so this time than normally. (How do a few hundred thousand caucus voters kidnap the nation every four years?) Should Biden somehow win there, it’s probably a Biden-Bernie or Biden-Beto or Biden-Harris race.⁺⁺

That would set up yet another epic battle for the ideological soul of the party, with pragmatists behind Biden and ideologues splintering between Bernie and Beto or Harris. There’s only one lane out of that bowling alley, while Biden would be free to play to the pragmatist, anti-Trump crowd.

But for Joe to get there, it’s Iowa Iowa Iowa. Can he out-caucus Sanders in the heartland? Or will a smooth-talking Music Man (or Woman) from out west come in and steal their swooning Iowan hearts?

If Biden stalls in Iowa, NH and SC become the game. The party will lurch left. Everyone will be touting Medicare For All and play some version of a Green New Deal hand. “I’ll see your carbon tax and raise you a solar jobs bill.” Each will have their own version of a Robin Hood wealth tax, turning the debates into a giant Mathletes club. “Is 70% of an eight figure salary greater than 2% of a nine figure estate? Please show your work.”

And Trump will run against socialism, no matter who tops the ticket. Meaning the world may finally learn what would’ve happened if a Democratic Socialist had secured the 2016 nomination and ran against Trumpism.

There. I just spared you the next year of your life. Now, who do you like for 2024?

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast. He also runs the Facebook political group, Open Fire Politics.

* No one is waiting to see what Jeff Merkley or Michael Bennett will be doing. And Sherrod Brown doesn’t have the fire to catch fire.

⁺ The Nevada caucus actually comes before SC this time, but I don’t see that traditionally blue state being much of a factor. Considering it’s so far west compared to the others and what that entails in travel time, it may not get much candidate play at all.

⁺⁺ At this point I don’t give Amy Klobuchar much of a shot, but we can’t rule her out, since “Midwestern nice” plays well in Iowa. And though I personally like Elizabeth Warren, I doubt she can compete in this field. She has no lane that I can see, and I get no sense of traction for her in Open Fire, my Facebook focus group. 

What the Georgia Runoff Told Us

by D.J. McGuire

Tuesday night was Election Runoff Night in Georgia. The results give some hope – and some concern – to both parties.

For the Republicans, victory was sweet for Brad Raffensperger, who held off a strong challenge from Democrat John Barrow to win the Secretary of State position. For Democrats upset at how Raffensperger’s predecessor (Governor-Elect Brian Kemp) handled the job, the defeat was bitter.

That said, it wasn’t all good news for the GOP. Republicans usually do better in runoffs than on Election Day in Georgia, and this was no exception. However, Barrow’s margin of defeat was more than a percentage point lessthan Clinton’s in 2016.

If the Democratic nominee in 2020 merely repeats that one-percent-plus improvement across the nation, then Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and the presidency goes to them – while Florida would be close enough for another of those hand recounts. If Republicans were hoping this election showed a post-midterm return to normal for them, they’re in for a disappointment.

For the Democrats, the loss was painful, but instructive. Barrow, a former Congressman from east Georgia, actually outdid his former running mate Stacey Abrams in rural vote share, but he underperformedin the Atlanta suburbs. Gwinnett County, which went to Abrams by more than 12 points, went for Barrow by barely more than one. Cobb County actually flipped back to the GOP (Abrams won it by nearly 10 points).

Then there was turnout, which wasn’t even 40% of what was seen on Election Day.

Now that we have Barrow’s defeat to add to the story, some things stand out.

First, Stacey Abrams was a better candidate than initially recognized.Conventional wisdom says Barrow, a white male with rural ties, should have done far better than Abrams. He didn’t – even on Election Day it was the performance of the Libertarian in his race that forced the runoff; his share of the vote was lower than Abrams’ share up-ballot. The fact that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce stayed neutral in the race should have been a clue. As it is, now we have some data behind it.

Secondly, the suburbs matter everywhere. Even GOP-leaning states saw their suburban areas pull away from them. They just had enough rural voters to make up the difference. In Georgia, though, they managed to stem some of their losses here, which was enough to counter a weaker rural presence against Barrow. Democrats clearly saw that appealing to rural voters at the expense of the suburbs has consequences – and not good ones.

Finally, African-American candidates help Democrats. One could call Georgia 2018 a microcosm of the Obama 2012 to Clinton 2016 turnout effect. African-American turnout fell from 2012 levels, enough not just to lower Clinton’s popular vote margin but also to turn the Electoral College against her. Now, we saw an African-American “progressive” (I use the quotes because what most conservatives think a “progressive” is and a candidate who doesn’t earn the opprobrium of the local Chamber of Commerce are two very different things) still do better in Georgia than a moderate white ex-Congressman.

I don’t think it’s just about turnout, though. Democrats are caught in an argument about how to rebuild their coalition. Do they attempt to win back “white working class” voters in rural areas? Or do they look to growing their already large margins about racial minorities and younger voters?

For yours truly, neither is as important as winning over center-right independents and moderate Republicans who stuck to Trump in the hope of getting a standard Republican administration and are struck with horror at the rampant trade warrior instead. Those voters are far less likely to cross over to a Democratic Party trying to outdo Trump on protectionism or isolationism – the kinds of things that obsess Democrats worried about “white working class” voters.

It might just be that African-American, Hispanic, or other non-white Democrats – who are spared the advice about “white working class” voters because (1) too many people shallowly assume they can’t win those voters over or (2) many assume that said voters also have serious racial animus behind their support for Trump – can spend more time appealing to supporters for freer trade and genuine internationalism. Whether those candidates themselves appreciate that in 2020, of course, remains to be seen.

In short, Republicans have reasons to be happy and worried, while Democrats have reasons to be frustrated just hopeful, about the elections to come over the next two years.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Stronger Together: Lessons Learned from 2016

by Kevin Kelton

Scholarly books will be written about the 2016 election. And like everything in history, from the Civil War to the cause of world wars, there will never be *one* singular reason for the way things worked out. But I am more convinced than ever that the major reason Hillary Clinton lost was her choice for a running mate.

Hillary should have chosen Bernie Sanders. I believe that together, they would be in the White House today. And we’d be watching a very different State of the Union tonight.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect Sen. Tim Kaine and acknowledge he did help deliver the critical 13 electoral votes from his home state of Virginia – not a small feat for a vice presidential candidate. In most other years, that would be considered delivering the goods for a running mate.

But 2016 was not most years. So I am writing this now because I don’t want to see another Democratic nominee make the same error ever again.

The fatal mistake Clinton made, and lots of political novices make, is thinking that the vp choice is about governing. It’s been said that Clinton felt she could have a good working relationship and governing partner in Kaine. Maybe she would have.

But running for president is not about governing. It’s about winning. You don’t get to govern after you’ve made a concession speech. I believe not tapping Sanders cost Clinton millions of votes, and tens of thousands in the critical swing states where she fell short by a whisker.

Choosing a presidential running mate is about building coalitions. It always has been, since George Washington chose John Adams, and through Lincoln-Johnson to Kennedy-Johnson to Reagan-Bush. Even Clinton’s husband Bill knew in 1992 he needed to pair his small state Washington “outsider” image with a member of the more entrenched D.C. establishment class that barely knew him (hence picking Sen. Al Gore).

In 2016, the big fissure in the Democratic party was not about geography or generational balance or insider-outsider status. It was about the divide between the wings of the party. The progressive left wing had demonstrated its strength and the power of its movement by bringing dark horse populist Bernie Sanders within striking distance of the nomination. They had earned a seat at the table, just as Sanders himself had. A unity ticket would’ve said more about Hillary and the party than any geographic or class-based balance that Kaine had to offer.

And of course, Sanders’ rockstar power would have ignited the party base. Imagine Hillary and Sanders barnstorming the nation to packed arenas of 20,000 screaming fans. It would have neutralized Trump’s free media advantage and the impact of seeing his giant rallies every day on cable news. A Clinton-Sanders ticket would’ve been worth half a billion dollars in free media. And it would’ve robbed Trump of many of his best talking points.

For those who will counter, but Hillary and Bernie could not have governed effectively together if elected, I say nonsense. A president gets to choose her Cabinet, her Chief of Staff, her National Security Advisor, and pretty much every major executive branch position. She doesn’t need a pal as vp. John Kennedy worked just fine with his political nemesis and polar opposite, Lyndon Johnson. (Yes, they actually did work well together.) Eastern elitist George Bush blended in just fine with the western common man Ronald Reagan and team. And Dwight Eisenhower certainly wasn’t hampered by not having a golfing buddy in Richard Nixon.

To those who say Bernie is more effective as a senator than he could have been as Hillary’s vice president, I say, look around. How “effective” do you think he is today?

I passionately supported HRC. I’m still proud of the campaign she ran and the vote I cast. But I will always believe she made a critical mistake in not choosing Sanders (or liberal darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren) to help close the deep fissures burning in her party. Like the Great Depression for Herbert Hoover and Vietnam for Johnson, history judges people based on their biggest mistake. Not picking Bernie Sanders was Hillary’s Vietnam, worse than the email scandal or not going to Wisconsin. A Hillary-Bernie ticket would’ve garnered enough extra votes to deliver Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (and probably Iowa too). And the nightmare of the Trump presidency would’ve been just that: a bad dream.

Democrats in 2020 would be wise to remember that our party is always stronger together. So hold your fire in the circular firing squad of the primary season. Keep your mind and your options open. Let’s not devour our own and lose sight of our much more dangerous common enemy. Unseating Donald Trump and Mike Pence from power will take more than their historically low approval numbers. We need a ticket that joins and balances both wings of our party to maximize our voter turnout.

We are liberals. We are compassionate. Our cause is just. And we are only strong when we all stand together.

Sanders’ Voters Are Not the Key to a Democratic Majority in the 2020s

by D.J. McGuire

Kevin Kelton is not just my collaborator on the More Perfect Union Podcast, he is also a friend. So it should not surprise anyone that I highly recommend the cyber-gauntlet he throws at Bernie Sanders supporters for 2018. I do think, however, that Kevin will be disappointed (although not surprised) to find that Sanders voters won’t tip the balance for the Democrats in 2018. On the plus side, once the lesson is learned, the Democrats can start reaching out to the center-right voters that are actually able and willing to help them build a majority coalition in the 2020s.

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My Further Thoughts on Freer Markets and the Democratic Party

by D.J. McGuire

A couple of days after my post on where the modern center is for Democrats, many within the party seemed to confuse my preference for freer markets with support for “the Wall Street elite.” My previous post discussed neither Wall Street nor the economic “elite,” which clearly led a lot of folks on Facebook to assume I was an unadulterated fan of either. This post, I hope, will debunk those concerns.

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More Perfect, After Dark: Dad Talk

In this “After-Dark” MPU episode , D.J. talks about Cliff’s politics behind his back, Greg and Helena’s talk about their dads behind their backs, Cory Booker behind his back, D.J. opines on the bank panic of 2008, Molly and D.J. rip on Dodd-Frank, Kevin makes D.J. choose between a Republican and a Democrat in 2020, and we end with tales of Greg’s brother taking on Kevin. It’s all in good fun and with lots of detailed analysis, clashing opinions, and good-natured ribbing.

Like what you heard? Subscribe on iTunes and don’t miss a podcast! 

And if you like talking politics, join us in our Facebook political debate group, OPEN FIRE, where you can discuss news and politics with Kevin, D.J., Greg, Rebekah, Cliff, Molly, Helena, and lots of other smart, fun people.