One of the oddest and most interesting recent aspects of politics in Australia and New Zeland I learned about in my trip Down Under was an incident in the last New Zealand election of 2005, wherein a small and secretive religious sect called the Exclusive Brethren was implicated in push-polling, negative leafletting and phone calls, and other controversial activities on behalf of the conservative National Party.The Exclusive Brethren are not connected with the better-known German pietist family of denominations using the name “Brethren;” their antecedents were the British Plymouth Brethren, who left the Church of England in the early nineteenth century in reaction to the Anglican abandonment of scriptural literalism. There are about 40,000 of them world-wide, but they are especially active in Australia (where their current leader resides) and New Zealand. And in the latter country, where it doesn’t take much money or manpower to have a big political impact, they got caught in an implicit, and allegedly even explicit, arrangement with National Party Leader Don Brash to go crazy negative on the governing Labour Party along with the Greens. The political motivations of the EBs are much like those of American Christian Right movements, with opposition to gay marriage being an especially big issue. But whereas the sect spent about as much money here trying to help George W. Bush in 2004 as it spent in New Zealand, it was pretty much a drop in the bucket in the U.S. (They have also been exposed as playing a hand in support of John Howard’s conservative coalition in Australia as well). Conversely, their exposure in New Zealand created a sensation, contributing heavily to a narrow Labour win, and to the subsequent disgrace and resignation of National Leader Brash, whereas Christian Right negative campaigning here has been going on for eons. You don’t have to spend much time Down Under to recognize a general fear that divisive conservative cultural tactics are gradually migrating from the U.S. southward and westward. Thus, one of the main tokens of cheer I was able to offer my hosts during this trip was the growing evidence that the Christian Right in my own country seems to be going through a general crisis of confidence and faith.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
You might have missed a potentially significant political story involving a non-candidate for president, so I wrote about it at New York:
One variable in the fraught and complex 2024 presidential election has now been put to rest: Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has announced he will not pursue an independent or “unity ticket” candidacy for president this year, as USA Today reports:
“Manchin made the announcement during a speaking engagement at West Virginia University for his recently created nonprofit group Americans Together, which is aimed at connecting and empowering moderate voices.
“’I will not be seeking a third-party run, I will not be involved in a presidential run,’ Manchin, 76, told the crowd. ‘I will be involved in making sure that we secure a president who has the knowledge, has the function and has the ability to bring this country together.’”
He argued that “the system right now is not set up” for candidates not affiliated with either major political party to win the presidency but said that in the “long game” there could be room to make a third party viable.
Manchin’s vow not to be “involved in a presidential run” seems also to preclude a vice-presidential candidacy, which had seemed a possibility if No Labels, the nonpartisan organization with which Manchin has been closely associated, winds up sponsoring a ticket headed by a Republican. His subsequent comment about the kind of president he wanted to help the country secure could indicate that for all his third-party flirtations and ideological heresies, Manchin might endorse a second term for Joe Biden. He could not possibly have been talking about Donald Trump by referring to a president who had “the ability to bring this country together.”
In any event, Manchin’s decision was good news for his party’s 2024 prospects. There’s likely a ceiling on Trump’s support well short of a popular majority, so it’s a strategic imperative for Biden to corral anti-Trump voters without too much competition from minor candidates, and particularly from a well-known Democrat.
The announcement obviously takes away one option for No Labels, which is reportedly in the process of interviewing potential candidates, even though the group has not formally decided whether to undertake a campaign (it has, however, secured ballot access in 13 states so far).
It also likely means Manchin has run his last campaign. He chose not to run for a third full term in the Senate this year, likely because West Virginia had turned so bright red that even a relatively conservative Democrat would have no real chance of winning, particularly in a presidential-election year. With no electoral base, the 76-year-old former governor will wind up his Senate service and presumably retire to his houseboat. His family already dodged one calamity this year when Manchin’s wife, Gayle, survived a serious car accident. A futile presidential run would not have improved their quality of life.