Given all the attention currently being paid to the conservative revolt against George W. Bush, I strongly recommend you read Jonathan Chait’s new piece for The New Republic questioning the “apostate” label the Right is plastering on W, and its (and the news media’s) assumption that Bush’s lagging approval ratings are attributable to same. To summarize Chait’s argument:1) All of Bush’s supposed “moderate” heresies are either imaginary, or were present back when the conservative commentariat was idolizing W. as a Churchillian figure standing astride the world like a colossus.2) Had Bush taken the Right’s advice, he’d be in even more trouble than he is today.3) Contra the conservative chatter, Bush’s support levels from rank-and-file conservatives, while down a bit, are still crazily out of synch with the rest of the public.4) We’ve been here before: conservative movement types always seem to support Republican politicians when they’re successful, and accuse them of wimping out when they’re not.Chait doesn’t generalize his argument into a broader meditation on the nature of ideological thinking, but there is a bit of an analog on the Left, where elite opinion about Bill Clinton’s fidelity to Democratic principle has long diverged from rank-and-file progressive appreciation for the Man from Hope, and has also merged with a strange revisionist argument that Clinton’s alleged heresies from The True Path were responsible for every Democratic electoral setback since 1994.While Democrats can and should rightly enjoy and exploit the implosion within the GOP, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. A lot of progressives these days seem to think the rise of the conservative movement should serve as a template for Our Side, and if so, we should look at the self-deception going on in conservative circles with an occasional glance in the mirror.
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.