Maybe I’ll get around to essaying a full rebuttal of Markos Moulitsas’ gratuitous bashing of Tom Vilsack over the DLC’s alleged “warmongering” during the Iowa Governor’s chairmanship of the organization. But maybe not. I’ve learned over time that netroots folk tend to either share Kos’ belief that the DLC exists to divide the Democratic Party, despite all its endless and interminable and redundant attacks on Bush and the Republican Party, or they don’t, as a matter of political theology rather than empirical evidence.But if you’ve bothered to read Kos’ jeremiad, you ought to read the comment thread it produced, wherein a few brave souls compare the DLC’s occasional statements on how and when to get out of Iraq with those of other non-Satanic Democrats, most notably Wes Clark, who continues to oppose a fixed deadline, much less an immediate fixed deadline, for withdrawal from Iraq. And this doesn’t even get into the inconvenient fact that some of the “out now” proposals (most notably Edwards’ and Obama’s) would probably leave as many troops in Iraq as anything the DLC has suggested.I do want to address one small issue that seems to be big for Kos: that the DLC was being “divisive” last year by disagreeing with John Murtha’s proposal for a short deadline for withdrawal. Those of you who remember this particular debate probably remember that lots of Democrats, far beyond the ambit of the DLC, thought Murtha was being “divisive” in insisting on his position as opposed to one that would embrace nearly all Democrats this side of Lieberman, and even some Republicans. And indeed, the Senate version of the Murtha position, offered by Feingold and Kerry, got a total of seven votes. Retroactively calling this “the Democratic position” and singling out the DLC for dissenting from it is disingenuous.It is obviously true that since last year, the opinions of Democrats and the public as a whole have shifted in the direction of fixed and faster withdrawal timetables (though again, with loopholes for residual troop levels that nobody but me seems to want to talk about). There’s a simple reason for this: Bush has responded to a national and even bipartisan consensus for a fundamental change of course in Iraq by proposing to escalate U.S. military engagement, leading lots of us to conclude that this administration is literally hopeless on this issue. It’s moved everyone, the DLC included, towards a more “antiwar” position, not just because they are following polls or achieving satori on the past errors of their ways, but because the administration and the GOP seem determined to eradicate any middle ground. And it’s obviously pushed Tom Vilsack all the way over to Kos’ position, for which he gets nothing but abuse.Look, I don’t personally mind antiwar Democrats pointing out again and again they were right and others, including the DLC, were wrong on the original decision to go into Iraq. But ever since the war started, Democrats have been in an agonized state over what to do next, mainly because we don’t control the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the State Department, or any of the other levers of executive power. If we are going to go back and examine everyone’s position at every stage of the nightmare in Iraq, it’s not unfair to point out that Howard Dean, during his presidential campaign, said repeatedly that America had a responsibility to stay in Iraq, perhaps for a long time, given our unfortunate decision to go to war.All this endless recrimination over who said what when after the war started, and who moved as fast or faster than Murtha or Kos in the maximum antiwar direction, is IMHO a big waste of time, and far more divisive than anything emanating from the DLC, much less Tom Vilsack.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.