When California formally enacted legislation last week moving its 2008 presidential primary to February 5, it took a big step towards making that day not only by far the earliest and most massive Super Tuesday in history, but perhaps a de facto national primary that would almost certainly end the nominating process for both parties.Today’s New York Times has a handy-dandy chart listing the 8 states already scheduled for a February 5 (AL, AR, AZ, CA, DE, MO, OK and UT), the 8 additional states considered likely to go there next (FL, IL, KS, NJ, NM, NY, NC, and TX), and 6 more that are thinking seriously about it (CO, GA, MI, MT, RI and TN). On the Democratic side, if all 22 states went on February 5, they would award 59% of all 2008 delegates, nearly double the prize for the end-it-all 2004 Super Tuesday, and also nearly a month earlier.This, folks, is simply crazy. February 5 is nine months before the general election, and roughly six months before the nominating conventions. The heavily front-loaded 2004 schedule was rationalized by some Democrats as necessary to give the nominee time to take on an incumbent; there’s no such excuse for the far more front-loaded 2008 calendar. It virtually guarantees that three factors—money, name ID, and success in the earliest states, especially Iowa—will determine the outcome. And it may well snuff any serious chance for the lower-tier candidates in both parties, who must now somehow simultaneously combine relentless campaigning in Iowa with the massive fundraising necessary to compete in the incredibly expensive February 5 landscape.Most importantly, the emerging calendar will provide zero opportunity for second thoughts after the early rush has anointed nominees. It could be a very long spring, summer and autumn if a nominee commits some major blunder, or some disabling skeleton jumps out of a closet.For Democrats, the only silver lining is that their top-tier candidates are probably closer to being bullet-proof than those on the other side. Giuliani and McCain are very weak front-runners at this point, but with no one else appearing in position to catch fire rapidly, GOPers may get stuck with one of them in much the same way that they shrugged and unenthusiastically nominated Bob Dole in 1996.But there’s no doubt that this crazy early national primary represents a failure of national Democratic leadership. A revolt against the Iowa/New Hampshire duopoly that emerged right after the 2004 elections led to a weak and ultimately counter-productive “solution”: allowing one state (NV) to move between IA and NH, and another (SC) to move up to right after NH. This had the effect of honking off NH, which could produce an even greater calamity by moving its primary ahead of IA (probably spurring an insane competition that could move the whole process into this year), while luring half the country into moving up to the “window” right after SC. Meanwhile, IA’s more important than ever.You can’t really blame the individual states for this happening; it’s a classic apes-on-a-treadmill situation. What could have happened, and what should happen before the next go-around, is a truly national approach. Whether it’s a lottery, or a carefully matched series of states around the country, or regional primaries, or just the kind of spread-out process that prevailed until recently, it could be imposed by the DNC through a combination of (a) strict rules against seating of delegates chosen outside the calendar guidelines, and (b) an aggressive effort to recruit all candidates in advance to support the decision, with ejection from DNC-sponsored debates, or if necessary, a ban on speaking opportunities at the Convention, being the stick.But if we don’t get seriously angry about this abomination right now, we’re going to find ourselves in the same situation four and eight years from now.
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.