There’s a big push all over the left-of-center blogosphere and elsewhere (from so many sources that I won’t bother to link to any of them) to capitalize on last week’s indictments and the underlying issues to focus like a laser beam on the administration’s manipulation of the evidence supporting their case for the invasion of Iraq.I understand and agree with the argument that the White House behavior exposed in connection with the Libby indictments helps show the extent to which the administration was willing to say anything and do anything to stampede the country and the Congress to war in 2003.But I don’t understand, and don’t agree with, a strategy that limits the indictment of the administration’s dishonest and manipulative habits to Iraq policy.The Fitzgerald indictments, and all the evidence that’s come out before and after the special prosecutor’s actions, reinforce a vast pattern of administration misbehavior on a vast array of issues, including, but not limited to, the effort to rally the country to launch the Iraq adventure.Democrats have two simple options here:We can insist on obsessively limiting our critique to Iraq.Or we can argue that the behavior of Libby, Rove, Cheney, and Bush himself in this case illustrates the mendacity, incompetence, arrogance, and intimidation strategies of this administration on Iraq, on the War on Terrorism, on the federal budget, on taxes, on Katrina recovery, on health care policy, on the economy, on government ethics, on corporate responsibility, on science policy, on No Child Left Behind, on voting rights, on civil rights–well, on so many issues I can barely list them.Unless you believe that the original decision to invade Iraq is the alpha and omega of American politics–recognizing, of course, that this was a decision on which Republicans were united and Democrats were divided–I really can’t imagine why Democrats would want to pursue the single-issue implications of one more example of the administration’s betrayal of public trust, instead of connecting the dots to every other betrayal.I’ve generally assumed that the one thing that unites all Democrats today is the overriding desire to drive the corrupt and incompetent and ideologically bent GOP from power. That’s why I implore Democrats to keep their eyes on the big prize, and not get dragged off into the self-defeating blind alley of making future elections nothing more than a retroactive referendum on why the country, and many Democrats, supported the decision to invade Iraq.We have a more compelling case to take to the country, which includes, but is hardly limited to, the administration’s failures in Iraq, and we need to make it.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a story on faulty focus group memories of Trump, and I wrote about the implications at New York.
As an unpopular president facing a sour electorate, Joe Biden really needs to make 2024 a comparative election rather than a straight referendum on his presidency. Luckily for him, his likely general-election opponent, Donald Trump, is equally unpopular for reasons that are quite vivid. He’s as well known as Biden, and he works very hard to reinforce the traits that might make an undecided voter (even one unhappy with Biden) reluctant to put him back in the White House. So half of Biden’s work in drawing contrasts is done for him, and part of the other half is made easy for him by Trump’s strongest supporters, the “deplorables” (to use the Hillary Clinton term that has become a MAGA badge of honor) who enjoy shocking the world by advertising their hero’s most questionable characteristics.
It is becoming apparent, however, that Trump’s potential coalition is being augmented by low-information voters with a hazy understanding of the Trumpier features of the 45th president’s record, character, and agenda. By that I do not mean the non-college-educated voters who make up so large a part of the Trump base. Many if not most of them are pretty educated about their candidate. But there’s evidence that disengaged and/or deeply alienated folks who may nonetheless vote in a presidential election (if not any others) don’t know as much about Trump as you might assume, as the New York Times’ Patrick Healey has observed:
“Our latest Times Opinion focus group discussion with 13 undecided independent voters included a striking result: 11 of the 13 said they would vote for Donald Trump if the election were held now, and only two said they would vote for President Biden. The reason: overwhelming concern about the economy.
“But I was less surprised by the big vote for Trump than by this: The group didn’t blame Trump for things he was responsible or accountable for.
“For instance, several people linked their economic troubles to COVID, but they didn’t put any blame on Trump for that. Some were upset with the end of abortion rights nationally, but they didn’t tie that to Trump’s Supreme Court appointments. Several wanted bipartisanship, but they didn’t blame Trump for his hand in sinking the recent bipartisan border deal. One person, a Latina, blamed Trump for worsening racism in the country and recounted a searing incident that happened to her — but she was among the 11 who would vote for him anyway.”
Healey concludes that “a lot of our focus-group participants — and many voters — see Trump as an acceptable option in November, yet they don’t know or remember a lot about him.” This makes them, of course, highly susceptible to Trump campaign messaging asserting that the economy during his presidency was the greatest ever; that he’s a natural peacemaker who inspired respect for the United States everywhere; and that he’s a decent, law-abiding businessman (and family man!) whose near-constant forced court appearances are uniformly the product of his persecution by the other party.
Democrats, of course, will have opportunities (and increasingly, an obligation) to set the record straight about Trump and his presidency. But the difficult thing is that low-information voters also tend to be low-trust voters, which means they don’t tend to believe traditional arbiters of objective reality like the mainstream news media, and may not grant more truthful politicians superior credibility. Further distorting understanding of the Trump administration (and thus its possible return) is the huge trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which gives everything that immediately preceded the disaster an undeserved glow, while immolating memories of less powerful traumas associated with the former president’s tenure.
In other words, low-information voters who dislike politics so much that they are not inclined to dig into facts and evidence touching on political topics are highly vulnerable to the kind of disinformation that benefits Donald Trump. And if they are in a bad mood in November, they could help turn the election into a negative referendum on Joe Biden even if they are inviting something — and someone — far worse. Democrats will have to work hard to break through with the truth.