I’ve worried in the recent past that Democrats will fail to pick their fights carefully on Bush administration appointments, and just submerge their principled objections in a white noise of white-hot rage. But Bush sure seems inclined to pick our fights for us, as evidenced by the, shall we say, rather provocative choice of John Bolton for U.N. ambassador. Is there a single constructive impulse in administration foreign policy that Bolton hasn’t mocked or rejected in the past? Hard to think of one. U.N. reform? Bolton seems to think the organization is inherently an affront to U.S. power. Collective action to stop genocide? Bolton has opposed any U.N. role in “civil conflicts,” up to and including genocide, and as the country’s best-known critic of U.S. cooperation with the International Criminal Court, he’s certainly not in a good position to propose any immediate effort to bring the Darfur murderers to justice. Engagement with China to bring that country more fully into the community of rules-observing nations? As a former hired hand of the Taiwanese government, and an outspoken proponent of formal Taiwanese independence, Bolton isn’t likely to get onto drinking-buddy terms with Beijing’s representatives at the U.N. And then there’s the really big issue on which Bolton has had formal responsibility in his current gig at the State Department: trafficking in nuclear materials. It’s no big secret that the administration until recently treated this rather urgent threat to our lives and limbs as a second- or third-order problem, on the bizarre theory that terrorists are too frightened of George W. Bush to consider setting off a nuke in one of our cities. The current Proliferation Security Initiative that Bolton has directed is a lot better than nothing, but typically, Bolton has pushed it in the direction of ad hoc, U.S.-led action to interdict and inspect suspect cargo, rather than the full-fledged, top-priority international effort to prevent “leakage” of nuclear materials that we need. Aside from his foreign policy views, Bolton is also a stone partisan warrior. I did a couple of radio shows with him back during the madness of the 2000 election cycle, and found him to be genial and cerebral until the mikes went live; at that point, he was indistinguishable from Tom DeLay. I’ll never forget turning on the tube during one of those Florida court hearings on the presidential vote and seeing Bolton sitting there in the front row of the phalanx of GOP lawyers, hour after hour. Since I don’t think the Bush legal team was in need of foreign policy advice, it was clearly an act of hyper-partisan solidarity. (According to this morning’s Post, Bolton even got into the chad-counting act at one of the county-level election boards). Soon we will begin to hear suggestions that Bolton’s appointment may be one of those Nixon-to-China things: you know, let’s go out and find the most abrasive unilateralist in the administration to patch up our relations with the rest of the world. This only makes sense if the Bushies are afraid a more constructive attitude towards the U.N. and the world in general will make them vulnerable to criticism from the almightly Conservative Base. But if this is what’s really going on, then Bolton better make it pretty damn clear during his confirmation hearings. He’s sort of the Robert Bork of foreign policy nominees: a guy with enough material in his public record to script two or three days of tough Democratic questioning. If he expects any Democratic votes at all, he’d better start wolfing down a lot of crow. Otherwise, this is just another in-yer-face appointment that begs for a fight.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I read a Thomas Friedman column this week that really required a smackdown. So I supplied one at New York:
How much political capital should Democrats invest in a probably doomed effort to save the political career of Liz Cheney? Earlier this week, Never Trump Republican Linda Chavez penned a column urging Wyoming Democrats to take a dive this November in order to give the incumbent a chance to survive as an independent, assuming (as it safe) that Cheney will be purged in her own party’s primary. And now, in an apparent coincidence, in comes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggesting a far more radical step by Democrats to align themselves with the small slice of Republicans who follow Cheney’s example in repudiating Donald Trump. He wrote:
“Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination.”
Friedman phrases this as a question, but clearly he thinks it’s a good idea given the “existential moment” America would face if Trump is allowed to regain the presidency in 2024. It’s a bit of a loaded question, too, since it postulates that nothing short of a previously unimaginable “sacrifice” by Democrats and Never Trump Republicans alike can stop Trump — and that it would, in fact, succeed in stopping Trump.
I certainly agree that Democrats dumping Kamala Harris to give their vice-presidential nomination to a conservative Republican who opposes legalized abortion and is a militarist by conviction and heredity would be a “sacrifice,” to put it very mildly. It would also be very, very weird. Friedman cites the recent establishment of a mind-bending coalition government in Israel to thwart Bibi Netanyahu as a development comparable to what he is suggesting. But as he acknowledges, Israel has a parliamentary system in which multiparty coalitions are the rule rather than the exception. A presidential system in which parties invariably run separate tickets for the top job is another thing altogether.
The U.S. has had exactly one example of multiparty fusionism in a presidential election. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Republicans nominated Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee — then serving as U.S. military governor of Tennessee — to run with Lincoln on a “Union” ticket. The experiment did not turn out well, beginning with Johnson’s drunken inaugural address in 1865 and continuing with the racist solidarity he exhibited toward ex-Confederates after Lincoln’s assassination, culminating in his impeachment and near removal from office. There are important reasons politicians sort themselves out into major parties, which should be apparent in an era of polarization over issues other than the scofflaw behavior of Donald Trump.
Is the threat of Trump’s return to the White House the equivalent of the U.S. Civil War? Not in itself, I would contend, though that horrific development could lead eventually to grave conditions comparable if not equal to a civil war. The premise that a Biden-Cheney fusion ticket would uniquely doom Trump to failure is even more dubious. There has never been much evidence of a mass following for Never Trump Republicans, and such as it is, it is mostly composed of people who would (and did in 2020) gladly vote for Biden and Harris. The baleful effect that replacing Harris with Cheney on the ticket would have on Democratic turnout could easily offset or exceed the alleged benefits of bipartisan and trans-ideological fusion.
So Democrats should say thanks, but no thanks, to Friedman for the idea of submitting their party to some sort of unwieldy and unnatural coalition of national salvation, so long as there is the slightest possibility of beating Trump the old-fashioned way. Liz Cheney deserves great respect for the courage she has shown in defying Trump at the expense of her own career, and if Biden is reelected with her support, perhaps she deserves an ambassadorship, a minor Cabinet post, or a major sub-Cabinet position. But she has no business being at the top of the line of succession to a Democratic president.