Well, I’ve been horribly remiss in posting, but being as how I’m supposedly on vacation, have been involved heavily in preparations for the DLC’s annual meeting, and am getting dragged into a discussion of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas on the TPMCafe site, I’m not exactly violating the Protestant Work Ethic or anything.At any rate, I wanted to say a word about a new book that’s recently gotten a couple of major reviews, in the New York Times and in The New Republic: Fred Siegel’s Prince of the City, which is ostensibly a biography of Rudy Guiuliani. I say “ostensibly,” because Fred Siegel’s take on Rudy is really a take on New York’s peculiar political culture in the distant and recent past. And it’s a take worth reading and absorbing in detail.By way of full disclosure, I should mention that Fred’s a friend and mentor of mine, and the most remarkable polymath I have ever known. For years I used to play “stump Fred” by asking him questions about any and every conceivable topic of social, political, literary, and even sports history, and never found a subject he didn’t know a lot about. His particular area of expertise is American urban history, and he brings the full weight of his knowledge to bear on that subject in Prince of the City.Both the reviews I linked to above treat Fred’s book as a lionization of Guiliani. But I disagree. While he has a lot of positive things to say about Rudy’s initial assault on New York’s entrenched problems and powers, and later, about Hizzoner’s famous apotheosis on and after 9/11, I think the book’s theme is essentially tragic: by the end of his two terms in office, Guiliani was beginning to succumb to the same temptations of fiscal profligacy and interest-group tending as his predecessors. And he was succeeded by a Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who exhibited the same vices without many of Rudy’s virtues. Fred’s a lifelong Democrat, if often a heretical Democrat, and I think the most important message of his book is about how a city with a 4-1 Democratic registration margin has voted three straight times for Republican mayors, and if current polls are any indication, may do so again later this year. It takes a lot of Democratic dysfunction to make that happen, even if the beneficiary is a man with so many progressive impulses as Rudy, and especially if it’s Mike Bloomberg. Prince of the City is, more than anything else, a matchless cautionary tale for Democrats everywhere.
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.