It’s an unofficial weblog sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council, written by yours truly, Ed Kilgore, a veteran operative with one foot in the world of ideas and another in the world of practical politics — in other words, a two-legged New Democrat, or new donkey. The word “unofficial” should be noted here. Yes, the news and views expressed here reflect the DLC’s New Democratic philosophy and outlook, and yes, if felonies are committed, the DLC will have no choice but to accept legal responsibility prior to firing my ass. But on the other hand, if what I write here annoys or offends you, don’t blame Al From or Bruce Reed. Give these men the courtesy of letting them annoy or offend you in their own words. True New Dem aficionados may wonder whether this blog overlaps with the DLC’s commentary, idea and message post (and email), the New Dem Dispatch. So here’s the deal: New Dem Dispatch — think authoritative, institutional voice, magisterially surveying the political and policy landscape and delivering op-ed length gems of wisdom; NewDonkey — think pithier, and more irregular posts, often simply linking to material of interest, varied by the occasional smart-ass riposte or high-dudgeon tirade. While NewDonkey is a mainly a political and policy blog, I reserve the right, which I regularly abuse, to delve into matters like religion and college football from time to time. While the blog will endeavor never to be “magisterial,” I have an Old School attachment to complete sentences and coherent thoughts. I know this is a violation of the months-old canons of the blogosphere, but you’ll get used to it. There’s one other thing you should know about the boundaries of this blog, which the success of sites like Wonkette makes necessary. You won’t find much gossip, and nothing at all about my, or my colleagues’ sex lives, such as they are. This is newdonkey.com, not nudehonky.com. And that reminds me of one more internal rule: no more than one bad pun per post. The bottom line is that I’m doing this blog because it’s fun, and because it may provide some useful information and entertainment to many of you. If it stops being fun for me, or informative and entertaining to you (as measured by the scientific method of weighing hearsay and buzz), I’ll shut it down faster than a Meetup when the bar closes. So please give it a regular look.Ed KilgoreP.S. — It’s come to my attention that some people frequent this site not because of anything I write, but in order to gaze at the very cool logo at the top. Credit that to DLC Art Director Tyler Stone, who’s considering a NewDonkey fashion line.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.