I rise today to a point of personal privilege: the opportunity to defend my friend and colleague, and fellow blogospheric furry mammal, The Bull Moose (a.k.a., Marshall Wittmann) from a double-barreled attempt over at DailyKos to barbecue his tough old hide.What did the Moose do to earn this extensive abuse? He provided a short quote to the Washington Post commenting on the likely Republican treatment of Nancy Pelosi’s Iraq statement the other day, the point being that the timing of the statement reinforced the White House’s effort to frame the Iraq debate as offering a Manichean choice between victory or immediate withdrawal. The Post reporter, sensing an opportunity to make some trouble, tracked down David Sirota and read him the quote, and Sirota dutifully called Marshall an “insulated elitist” who was stabbing the Democratic Party in the back. (Side-note to David: you might want to discard the stab-in-the-back metaphor, given its unsavory origins in post-World-War-I German politics. Sorry for the “elitist” pedantry, but it’s good advice).In response to this exchange, Markos went on for a number of graphs accusing The Moose of calling Pelosi a coward, of calling Jack Murtha a coward, of supporting Bush on the war, of being a neocon chickenhawk, etc., etc. Armando went further, accusing Wittmann of McCarthyism, and of being a “Rovian pawn,” and concluding with a demand that the DLC fire his ass.Lordy, lordy. So many words of abuse in response to so few words of provocation. Where to begin?When I read the quote, I thought it was pretty clear Marshall was describing the Rovian spin on Pelosi’s statement, not agreeing with it, and I know for a fact that’s what he meant, in a longer conversation with the reporter from which the quote was lifted. But okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that he left the impression he did agree with it. Where did he call Pelosi a “coward?” Where did he call Murtha–whom he has previously defended from Republican attacks–a “coward?”To avoid any misunderstanding on this point, let me be clear: Marshall’s beef with Pelosi isn’t about her position on Iraq, or Murtha’s, or anybody else’s. It’s a free country and a big-tent party. But she’s the party leader in the House, making a statement transparently designed in its timing to become the Democratic response to Bush’s speech. Sure, she claimed she wasn’t speaking for the Caucus, but in the next breath, said a majority of the Caucus agreed with her but wouldn’t come out and say so (which certainly ran a higher risk of being interpreted as an accusation of “cowardice” against Democrats than anything Wittmann’s said, BTW).Now, over at Kos, and all over the blogosphere, people say positive and negative things about the leadership qualities and tactical and strategic decisions of Democrat leaders all the time, and sometimes that causes heartburn, but they’re rarely if ever accused of “McCarthyism.” Marshall’s criticism of Pelosi is something I’ve heard echoed in conversations with many Democrats, some of whom agree with the actual Pelosi-Murtha position. I hardly think it’s the Sin Against the Holy Ghost to tell a reporter what he already knew about this line of internal debate.The next cookie on the plate is the assertion that Wittmann is a stay-the-course shill for Bush’s war policies. Gee, let’s see: just yesterday, The Moose said nobody should believe Bush is really changing his strategy on Iraq until he gets rid of Donald Rumsfeld. I somehow don’t think that was in the daily Pentagon talking points on Iraq. And in fact, Wittmann has been regularly critical, often angrily so, about Bush’s handling of Iraq and national security generally. Yes, he’s more hawkish than many Democrats (after all, he’s an independent), and he’s more hawkish than I am, but he’s no shill for Bush on any subject.And that brings me to the real howler in the attempted Moosicide, the “Rovian pawn” bit.I don’t expect Armando to know that much about Marshall Wittmann’s history, but I certainly do. He was a conservative intellectual and activist in the 90s who got to see people like Rove, DeLay, Reed, Abramoff, Norquist, Gingrich, Bush I and Bush II, up real close, and got very sick of what his party was becoming, and started saying so publicly. He was a key figure in John McCain’s 2000 effort to take the GOP away from the K Street/theocon crowd, and became if not Public Enemy Number One, then certainly on everybody’s enemies list. He was shown the door at two conservative think tanks for his heresies, and finally, when his hero McCain decided to make at least partial peace with the Power Crowd, he walked.I don’t see anybody holding David Brock’s past associations against him, but The Moose, probably because he hasn’t totally jumped over to Our Team, doesn’t seem to benefit from any Prodigal Son generosity, at least outside the DLC. And anybody who reads his blog regularly knows that nobody, not Markos, not Armando, not me, not you, does a more savage and effective job of exposing the rottenness of the whole GOP machine in lurid and extremely well-informed detail.And that’s why the DLC employs him; why we don’t demand that he tow anybody’s party line; and why he’s a valuable ally to Democrats, even if you disagree with him, which I do pretty often. We need to listen and even sponsor independent voices; maybe we’ll learn something from them, if only how to appeal to the millions of voters who have left Their Team but haven’t joined ours.On a more personal note, it pains me to see Wittmann demonized by anybody, especially as some sort of hatchet man, because he’s actually one of the nicest and certainly funniest people I’ve ever met. He and I have a water-fountain routine where we lapse into Marxist factional jargon in describing the day’s political events (“Lieberman has clearly exposed himself as a Social Fascist Right Opportunist;” “Our red state strategy must separate the small peasants from the kulaks.”) And far from Sirota’s description of him as a Washington Elitist, Wittmann’s greatest thrill in politics was his recent opportunity to hang out with Kinky Friedman (and his sidekick, “Jewford,” one of the original Texas Jewboys) in Dallas. I hope when he’s grazing in retirement, he can publish the full account of this encounter in its screamingly hilarious detail.So please, Moose-o-phobics, lighten up and recognize a rare talent whose regular refusal to serve up turgid partisan fare, and occasional outrages, are more than offset by his knowledgeable skewering of the right-wing machine, and his independent willingness to tell us things we don’t like but probably ought to consider.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.