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
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.