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
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.