As we wait for the votes to start trickling in, and get ready to focus on a vast landscape of close races, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on some unclose races where the bad guys have already lost. First up, there’s Ricky Santorum of PA, who is sort of a poster boy for all those big-time Washington pols who get a little ahead of themselves. Not that long ago, after establishing himself as a hero to the Cultural Right, and serving as the Senate point man for the lobbyist-shake-down K Street Strategy, Ricky was lookin’ damn good in the mirror each morning. Indeed, as recently as late last year, he was maneuvering to succeed Bill Frist as Republican Leader in the Senate, and envisioning himself occupying the Oval Office in 2009. He reportedly regarded the Democrat who is likely to trounce him tonight, Bob Casey, somewhat like a pit bull regards a raw steak. Now Ricky’s about to become an ex-senator. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.Then down in FL, there is Senate Republican Nominee Katherine Harris, who perfectly represents the blowback from the savage Bush-Cheney endgame in 2000. Having done more than anyone outside the Supreme Court to secure the presidency for W., she became the Conservative Republican Base Champion par excellence, and thus could not be denied a Senate nomination when she asked for it. Her bizarre, if-you-love-Jesus-you-gotta-love-me campaign, which was marked by repeated resignations of her staff and consultants, will end tonight with an ignominous defeat by Bill Nelson. And for dessert, Democrats could pick up her old House seat. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to call OH Secretary of State Ken Blackwell the Katherine Harris of ’04, but there’s no question in my mind that he aspired to the title. Along with Harris, he’s a living advertisement of the case against partisan election administration. He’s also so violent a cultural conservative that none other than George W. Bush (according to the recent Bob Woodward book) called him a “nut.” And in his doomed gubernatorial race this year, he showed his class by letting his campaign drop broad hints that his opponent was gay, soft on sexual predators, or both. On top of everything else, his political meltdown tonight should convince GOP strategists that African-Americans are not going to vote for just anybody who is African-American.When these three folks go down hard tonight, I will pause to enjoy the moment. And let’s not forget the earlier fine moment when another bad guy, Ralph Reed, lost the opportunity to lose tonight (the Republican who beat him in the Georgia Lieutenant Governor primary, Casey Cagle, is in a tight race with distinguished Democrat Jim Martin tonight).
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.