It took a few days, but now there are signs that Gov. Bill Richardson’s hard-won status as a preferred or back-up presidential candidate for leading elements of the left blogosphere and/or netroots has been seriously endangered by his performance in last week’s SC debates.Before wading into this subject, let me emphasize that I like Richardson, and that I have been and intend to remain studiously neutral in the presidential nominating contest, not that it much matters to anybody, other than those who think every blogger has a secret candidate-driven agenda. But the Richardson phenomenon does raise interesting questions about the instability of candidate preferences in the New Media age.Check out this post by Trapper John at DailyKos–previously a largely pro-Richardson site–for the case against Big Bill, which includes several things Richardson said just yesterday at the California Democratic Convention (more about all that later).To back up a bit, the netroots’ special interest in Richardson is two-fold. First are those facets of his biography that attract people from all over the party: his golden resume which combines international and domestic credentials; his electoral record; his Latino ethnicity; his laid-back personality and communications style; and his lack of identification with any controversial faction in the party (though he was very much a Clintonian for much of his career, and has been quite friendly to the DLC).Second are things about Richardson that especially attract netroots support. These include his current status, unique in the field, as a governor and thus (despite his long prior federal service) non-Washingtonian; his Western background (attractive to many bloggers for a variety of personal, ideological and empirico-political reasons); his active engagement of the netroots; and recently, at least, his adoption of a fairly hard line on withdrawal from Iraq. One leading blogger–Markos of DailyKos–even likes Richardson’s NRA-friendly record on guns as conducive to a “libertarian Democrat” movement that might expand the party base, especially in the West.And like all political junkies, netroots observers have largely concluded that past rumors about Richardson’s behavior towards women must be mostly hot air, since the hordes of oppo researchers and journalists lusting for documentation of such rumors do not appear to have turned up anything of note.That was all before last Thursday. To begin with, Richardson drew two questions that underlined his affinity with the NRA, and his occasional strong words about the Democratic habit of supporting tax increases (the latter came directly after Edwards was challenged to defend his support of a tax increase, or more accurately a rollback of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, to pay for his health care plan).And then came Richardson’s immediate and startling citation of Byron “Whizzer” White as a model for the kind of person he’d like to name to the Supreme Court. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for posts to pop up noting that White was not only one of the dissenters in the original abortion rights case, Roe v. Wade (abortion being the context of the SCOTUS question), but also the author of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 decision upholding the constitutionality of state sodomy laws. In one fell swoop, and for no apparent reason, Richardson managed to offend at least some abortion rights and gay rights activists.Over the weekend, at the California event, Richardson happened to follow Edwards at the podium, and repeated his I’m-not-a-tax-raising-Democrat line. Trapper John took that as a direct shot at Edwards (who is the number one favorite candidate on sites like Daily Kos), and worse yet, as one of the progressive blogosphere’s biggest no-noes: reinforcing Republican attack lines on Democrats generally while attacking another Democrat.Moreoever, while in California Richardson got asked to clarify his Whizzer White endorsement. There’s a quote flying around the blogosphere (here and here, in addition to Trapper John’s post), for which I have yet to see a primary source, wherein Big Bill allegedly responded: “White was in the 60s. Wasn’t Roe v. Wade in the 80s?” Way wrong, of course, on both counts (White was on the Court until 1993, and Roe was decided in 1973.In other words, the growing progressive blogospheric grievance with Richardson is growing, not going away.The irony is that there are reasonably easy ways for him to put the dispute to sleep, if not to rest. Richardson ought to say now what he might have said last week before even addressing the SCOTUS question: “You know, unlike the other candidates, I’m not a lawyer.” He could add: “I’ll spot them at least one factual error on diplomatic issues to even things up,” and then close off the subject by swearing his fealty to a constitutional right to privacy and non-discrimination in all matters involving abortion and gay rights.The tax issue should be even easier to clear up, assuming that Richardson agrees with virtually all Democrats that Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (the usual cutoff being individual taxpayers with over $200,000 in income) should be repealed. Interestingly enough, there’s nothing specific on that topic at the Richardson campaign web page, though a recent New York Times roundup on tax policy listed Richardson as in accord with all the other candidates–including Edwards–as favoring preservation of tax cuts for those earning less than $200,000). Every single Democratic candidate in 2004 favored this sort of rollback, with the only argument being over total repeal of the Bush tax cuts, supported by Dean on general principles and by Gephardt to pay for his health plan. Assuming Richardson isn’t staking out a truly unusual position on the subject, his only argument with Edwards might be over what to do with the proceeds of a rollback. He ought to just say so, and then go on to tout his record in New Mexico for cutting taxes there.I don’t know where if anywhere this “story” is going next, but it is a good indicator of how the development of blogs and other new media have made gaffes much easier to make and more essential to correct than in the past.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.