washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Rural Voter

The new book White Rural Rage employs a deeply misleading sensationalism to gain media attention. You should read The Rural Voter by Nicholas Jacobs and Daniel Shea instead.

Read the memo.

There is a sector of working class voters who can be persuaded to vote for Democrats in 2024 – but only if candidates understand how to win their support.

Read the memo.

The recently published book, Rust Belt Union Blues, by Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol represents a profoundly important contribution to the debate over Democratic strategy.

Read the Memo.

Democrats should stop calling themselves a “coalition.”

They don’t think like a coalition, they don’t act like a coalition and they sure as hell don’t try to assemble a majority like a coalition.

Read the memo.

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy The Fundamental but Generally Unacknowledged Cause of the Current Threat to America’s Democratic Institutions.

Read the Memo.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Read the memo.

 

The Daily Strategist

July 18, 2024

Teixeira: The Way of the Fetterman

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

If Democrats lose Pennsylvania, they will have a lot harder time winning the 2024 election. Sure, there are non-Pennsylvania paths but it becomes a way heavier lift, closing off, for example, holding the “Blue Wall” as a sufficient path to victory.

Right now, Biden leads Trump in the RCP running average by three-tenths of a percentage point. Too close for comfort! (Plus the running average has Biden behind in every other swing state.)

So: how to do it—make sure Pennsylvania stays blue in 2024? Well, in 2022 there was exactly one Democrat who managed to flip a Senate seat: John Fetterman, who captured Pennsylvania’s Class 3 seat by a solid 5 points. Famously, Fetterman has a distinctive persona which makes him seem like not-a-typical-Democrat at all. This undoubtedly helped him with working-class (noncollege) voters among whom he did significantly better than Biden.

But there’s more to Fetterman’s persona than his massive stature, hoodie, and shorts. He’s also a straight-talker in a lot of areas where standard-issue Democrats fear to go. When he ran for Senate, while he wobbled a bit, he wound up declaring decisively:

Any of the issues that I ever had with fracking is really around environmental regulations and once those were passed and they were addressed…you know, I support fracking…I absolutely support energy independence and making sure that we can never be held by a country like Russia and making sure that we produce as much American energy as possible, and I fully support fracking.

Not too many Democrats are willing to go on record these days with full-throated support of producing fossil fuels! And since his election, he’s continued to carve out an independent path. Like this:

…I’m not a progressive, I’m not that kind of a label or anything like that…I said that before the primary in ’22, and that’s how I’ve always believed. And I think these have all been very easy calls. I follow the moral clarity, not the polls or any silly labels.

Or this:

We do have a crisis on the border—and we have to look at the numbers that are the size of Pittsburgh showing up on the border. You can’t just say, ‘Oh yeah, OK. It’ll all work itself out’…I think if you really want to address immigration in the way that it deserves, we first must also have a secure border.

Or this joint statement with Pennsylvania’s other Senator, Bob Casey, on the Biden administration’s decision to freeze approvals for liquified natural gas (LNG) export permits:

Pennsylvania is an energy state. As the second largest natural gas-producing state, this industry has created good-paying energy jobs in towns and communities across the Commonwealth and has played a critical role in promoting U.S. energy independence…

While the immediate impacts on Pennsylvania remain to be seen, we have concerns about the long-term impacts that this pause will have on the thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. If this decision puts Pennsylvania energy jobs at risk, we will push the Biden Administration to reverse this decision.

And just in case anyone out there doesn’t “get” where he’s coming from relative to many in his party:

What I have found out over the last couple years is that the right, and now the left, are hoping that I die…There are ones that are rooting for another blood clot. They have both now been wishing that I die…

It’s just a place [the “progressive” label] where I’m not…I don’t feel like I’ve left the label; it’s just more that it’s left me.

Clearly, Fetterman has declared his independence from the progressive left. He’s modeling a combination of strategic flexibility, honesty, and courage, I will dub The Way of the Fetterman, in a nod to the ancient Japanese way of the samurai.

Looking at the situation in Pennsylvania today, you can see how The Way of the Fetterman is very much in order for Democrats in the Keystone State. In 2024, around two-thirds of Pennsylvania eligible voters will be working class, which projects out to around three-fifths of actual voters. Because we now live in the Upside Down, Democrats reliably win the college-educated but lose the working class. That means that, given the disproportion between the two groups, Democrats need to win the college-educated by way more than they lose the working class to win the state.

In 2020 Biden managed to do this, though by barely enough to win the state. In 2022, Fetterman did much better, almost breaking even among working-class voters and romping to victory. So far (where data are available), this pattern is not evident in Pennsylvania polling this cycle. In the high quality New York Times/Siena poll from the fall, Biden carries college voters by 18 points in Pennsylvania but loses working-class voters by an identical 18 points. That’s a sure recipe for defeat.

In a more recent (January) Bloomberg/Morning Consult Pennsylvania poll, Biden actually carries college-educated voters by less than he loses the working class. Not good. In the same poll, working-class Pennsylvania voters prefer Trump over Biden by 19 points on the economy, 15 points on crime, 25 points on immigration, 17 points on the cost of everyday goods, and 17 points on gas prices.

This calls for The Way of the Fetterman! Convince these voters that you, like Fetterman, are a different kind of Democrat. Instead, as Matt Yglesias puts it:

[W]e continue to see incredible levels of over-emphasis on turnout and mobilization…To win the election, the important thing is to reassure people who are to Democrats’ right on key issues.

The Way of the Fetterman means not being afraid to offer such reassurance, in the recognition that this is strategically wise and that voters’ concerns on these issues are real and not just made-up by conservative media (the Fox News Fallacy). Oddly, as Yglesias also points out, Biden’s instincts are probably in this direction, so it is a shame he doesn’t follow them.

No doubt part of the reason for this faint-heartedness lies in his fear of displeasing the very vocal progressive left, which is well-represented both within and outside of his administration. He believes displeasing them would weaken him and his re-election bid. But the opposite is true. As Janan Ganesh astutely observes in the Financial Times, comparing Biden’s conduct to Keir Starmer’s:

For swing voters, a leader who disappoints their own party is bold. Holding the line against internal dissent is proof of vision and virility. When Starmer drops a commitment to spend an annual £28bn on the green transition and declines to reopen the question of Brexit, politicos suspect a faint heart. The public sees someone answering one of the central questions about an aspiring national leader: is he or she the master of their party, or the creature of it?…

Biden has hardly addressed the master-creature question. Democrats entertain all sorts of explanations for his low ratings—an inadequate White House spin operation is a favourite—except that he has given them too much….Outside of foreign affairs, where his support for Israel upsets a generation of progressives, there are few cases of President Biden displeasing liberal Democrats. (Unlike Senator Biden, who did it all the time.)

Very recent results also suggest the potential efficacy of The Way of the Fetterman. Democrat Tom Suozzi easily dispatched Republican Mazi Pilip in the special House election in New York’s 3rd congressional district. He was mercilessly attacked by Pilip on immigration and crime. And how did he respond? Like this, as reported in The New York Times:

If I run my campaign and just say, ‘I’m Tom Suozzi, I’m a Democrat and my opponent is a Republican,’ I’ll lose this race,” Mr. Suozzi told union carpenters on Saturday at a rally on Long Island. “People are upset Democrats haven’t been tough enough on things like the border.”

“Exactly!” “That’s right!” “Yes, sir,” some in the crowd hollered in approval.

“I’m tougher than you’ll ever be,” Mr. Suozzi razzed back….

At events across the district, he has bucked liberal orthodoxy to call on President Biden to lock down the border. He said a group of migrant men charged with assaulting police officers in Times Square should be deported: “That’s outrageous. Kick ’em out!

It’s The Way of the Fetterman! Time for Democrats to declare independence from the progressive left and follow in Fetterman’s footsteps.


Political Strategy Notes

Adriana Gomes Licon and Jonathan J. Cooper of Associated press report that “Biden’s rightward shift on immigration angers advocates. But it’s resonating with many Democrats,” and explain: “In his 2020 campaign, Joe Biden vowed to undo former President Donald Trump ’s immigration policies, specifically expressing frustration with a policy setting limits on the number of asylum seekers accepted each day at the southern border….This year, Biden backed a Senate proposal that would have set daily limits on border crossings — and Democrats are planning to campaign to reelect him by emphasizing that Republicans caused the deal to collapse….Democrats are reframing the immigration debate, going from embracing more welcoming policies in response to the Trump administration’s programs at the border — including its separation of hundreds of immigrant children from their parents — to declaring that they can get tough on border security and adopt policies long sought by Republicans. Biden’s rhetorical shift risks straining his support from immigrants and their advocates who campaigned for him in 2020, but it appears to be working for Democrats after they won a special election in New York….“We need to lean into this and not just on border security, but, yes, tough border security coupled with increased legal pathways,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist….Democrat Tom Suozzi, who won Tuesday’s special election in New York for the House seat once held by ousted Republican Rep. George Santos, ran ads calling for more border security and featuring an interview he did on Fox News in which he supported U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement….His district includes parts of Queens, a diverse New York borough that has received thousands of migrants bused from the border.” However, note the authors, “More than 130 organizations from around the country sent a letter to Biden opposing the deal and the tougher standards for asylum. Some immigration activists expressed frustration with Biden and a lack of enthusiasm to go knock on doors for him at a recent gathering of more than a dozen advocacy groups in Arizona.”

Licon and Cooper continue, “Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and secretary of housing and urban development who ran against Biden for the presidential nomination in 2020, suggested Biden and his allies were adopting the terms of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell….“Democrats, you’re never going to be cruel enough, ‘tough’ enough, anti-immigrant enough or able to deport your way to the negotiating table with McConnell and MAGA,” Castro said. “Stop playing their game.”….The border proposal would have included for the first time a right to counsel for vulnerable asylum seekers such as children 13 and younger and would have raised the cap on immigrant visas available by 250,000 over the next five years. The National Border Patrol Council and the Chamber of Commerce supported it….“The President stands with the overwhelming majority of Americans who demand action from Washington to address our long-broken immigration system,” Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign, said in a statement. “MAGA Republicans, led by Donald Trump, have opted to abdicate their responsibilities so they can demonize immigrants to score political points.”….Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat and the only Hispanic woman in the upper chamber, said her constituents want to see an “orderly process at the border.” She said they still demand broad immigration reforms that legalize the status of “Dreamers” and others who only have temporary protections from deportation. “We can work on a broken immigration system but also secure our border,” Cortez Masto said in an interview. “Many of the Nevadans that I talked to, including in the Latino community, get that because they want safe communities. They understand that. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to work on fixing this broken immigration system.” Cortez Masto said she hopes that after the collapse of the border deal, the public sees that Republicans were not looking for solutions….Gabriel Aldebot, a 66-year-old union electrician in Las Vegas, said he felt lawmakers must secure the border, and a compromise that includes more resources for enforcement is the best way to do it….“The more bipartisan, the more it’ll seem like it’s fair to people,” Aldebot said after voting for Biden in Nevada’s Democratic primary.”

Rehan Mirza explores “How AI deepfakes threaten the 2024 elections” at Jounalist’s Resource: “Deepfakes already have affected other elections around the globe. In recent elections in Slovakia, for example, AI-generated audio recordings circulated on Facebook, impersonating a liberal candidate discussing plans to raise alcohol prices and rig the election. During the February 2023 Nigerian elections,an AI-manipulated audio clip falsely implicated a presidential candidate in plans to manipulate ballots. With elections this year in over 50 countries involving half the globe’s population, there are fears deepfakes could seriously undermine their integrity…. Media outlets including the BBC and the New York Times sounded the alarm on deepfakes as far back as 2018. However, in past elections, including the 2022 U.S. midterms, the technology did not produce believable fakes and was not accessible enough, in terms of both affordability and ease of use, to be “weaponized for political disinformation.” Instead, those looking to manipulate media narratives relied on simpler and cheaper ways to spread disinformation, including mislabeling or misrepresenting authentic videos, text-based disinformation campaigns, or just plain old lying on air.…As deepfakes continually improve in sophistication and accessibility, they will increasingly contribute to the deluge of informational detritus. They’re already convincing. Last month, The New York Times published an online test inviting readers to look at 10 images and try to identify which were real and which were generated by AI, demonstrating first-hand the difficulty of differentiating between real and AI-generated images. This was supported by multiple academic studies, which found that “faces of white people created by AI systems were perceived as more realistic than genuine photographs,” New York Times reporter Stuart A. Thompson explained….Listening to the audio clip of the fake robocall that targeted New Hampshire voters, it is difficult to distinguish from Biden’s real voice.”

“The media narrative is grim for president Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats,” Susan Milligan writes in “Democrats Are Trailing Everywhere But at the Ballot Box: Democrats aren’t getting a lot of encouraging news from 2024 opinion polls these days. But elections are painting a much different picture” at U.S. News: “Biden’s too old and his mental acuity is questionable, sayeth the pundits and the polls. Democratic base voters, particularly Black voters, are disenchanted with the president, leading a generally cranky Democratic rank-and-file to stay home this November….Actual elections, however, paint a much different picture. Democrats scored a big win in New York on Tuesday, and the numbers were extremely encouraging for the party. Not only did Democrats add a seat to their caucus in Washington, but it wasn’t even close: Tom Suozzi, a former House member who reclaimed his old job, beat Republican Mazi Pilip by 8 percentage points – a 16-point swing from 15 months ago, when former GOP Rep. George Santos took the district by 8 percentage points….Across the country, Democrats are winning special elections and overperforming in elections they have predictably lost. And it’s fueling optimism among Democrats looking at a challenging election year for both the White House and Congress….”Polls don’t vote. People vote. And that’s what’s been happening,” says Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, a veteran lawmaker from Massachusetts who has served in both the minority and the majority. Despite what the polls say, “people have been voting, and they’ve been voting Democratic. I feel really good about November – and not just about the president. I feel really good about us taking back the House.”….Experts caution that a special election win in New York – particularly a district Biden won in 2020, albeit when the district was drawn to be more Democratic-friendly – does not a national movement make. The president still has abysmally low approval ratings, and national and battleground state polls show him in a tight race with his likely fall opponent, former President Donald Trump.”


That Other Joe (Manchin) Not Running in 2024

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.

 


Brownstein: Long Term Senate Control May Be on Ballot in November

In “Why November could decide Senate control for years,” Ronald Brownstein writes at CNN Politics:

In this fall’s Senate elections, Democrats will be defending more seats in precarious political terrain than in any other election during the 2020s. That list of challenging elections this year includes the final three Senate seats Democrats hold in states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, and five more in states that President Joe Biden won by 3 percentage points or less. Meanwhile, Republicans this year are not defending any Senate seats in states that voted against Trump in 2020, or preferred him by 3 points or less.

That math underlines the stakes for Democrats in Biden improving his position in the key swing states by November. One of the most powerful trends of modern Senate elections is that it has become exceedingly difficult for candidates in either party to win seats in states that usually vote the other way for president.

The Senate Democrats running in difficult electoral terrain might break that trend this fall. Yet if they can’t, Biden’s fate in November could determine control of the Senate not only in 2025, but for years thereafter.

A strong recovery by Biden in which he wins most of the key swing states could position Democrats to remain competitive in the battle for Senate control through the remainder of this decade, even if they narrowly lose the majority in November. But if Biden loses most of the swing states, Democrats could fall into a Senate deficit too large to realistically overcome for years — especially because the party has so few plausible opportunities to flip seats now held by the GOP.

Brownstein adds that “That prospect has enormous implications not only for the passage of legislation but also for the composition of the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court. Four of the Supreme Court justices will be older than 70 by 2028. Even if Biden holds the White House in 2024, and a vacancy arises, a durable Republican Senate majority might refuse to fill any of those seats — just as then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did while Barack Obama was president in 2016.”

Further, Brownstein notes,”Heading into the 2024 election, Republicans hold 47 of the 50 Senate seats in the 25 states that voted for Trump in 2020. Democrats, in turn, hold 48 of the 50 Senate seats in the 25 states that voted for Biden last time….In 2020, Biden won three states by less than a single percentage point: Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. He won three others by less than 3 percentage points: Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan. Democrats now hold 11 of the 12 Senate seats from those six highly competitive states.

“By contrast,” Brownstein reports, “among the 25 states that backed Trump, North Carolina — where Republicans hold both Senate seats — was the only one Trump carried by less than 3 percentage points. Even extending the net to states Trump won by less than 5 percentage points brings in only Florida, where Republicans also hold both Senate seats….This contrast creates a huge disparity between the parties. Democrats now hold 14 inherently vulnerable Senate seats: their three from the states Trump won in 2020, and their 11 in the states Biden won only narrowly. For Republicans the total is at most six: two in states that Biden won in 2020, and four in states that Trump won narrowly, even with Florida included.” Also,

This year’s Senate races in the narrow Biden states include Democratic incumbents Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and Jacky Rosen in Nevada; also on the ballot is an open Democratic-held seat in Michigan (where the party is very likely to nominate Rep. Elissa Slotkin) and the Arizona seat held by Kyrsten Sinema, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Sinema hasn’t indicated whether she will seek reelection, but Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego is already running for the seat. (Democrats also face an unexpected challenge in Maryland — a state that leans much more reliably toward them in presidential elections — after GOP former Gov. Larry Hogan last week said he would run for the open seat there.)

In addition, Democrats this year must defend all three of their remaining Senate seats in the states that voted for Trump in 2020. That includes incumbents Jon Tester in Montana, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, and the open seat being vacated by the retiring Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Neither of the two remaining Senate Republicans in states that Biden won last time (Susan Collins in Maine and Johnson in Wisconsin) are up this year; nor are either of the GOP senators from North Carolina, the state Trump won by his smallest margin.

Both parties agree the open West Virginia seat is virtually guaranteed to flip to the GOP. Tester and Brown both have strong personal brands, but Biden is almost certain to lose their states, and possibly by substantial margins. If he does, Brown and Tester could survive only by breaking a nearly inviolate recent pattern in presidential election years.

“If Democrats lose Senate seats in the narrow Biden states,” Brownstein points out, “they simply have very few places on the map to replace them, given the parties’ patterns of support. It’s that prospect that has led the Democratic data analyst David Shor to warn for years that if the party doesn’t perform well in the 2024 presidential election, the GOP could seize control of the Senate for a sustained period.”

There are some more optimistic scenarios for Democrats, as Brownstein explains: “David Bergstein, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, notes that in the 2022 midterm election, Democrats won Senate races in most of these same battleground states, although exit polls showed substantial discontent with the economy and Biden’s performance then, too. “Senate campaigns are candidate versus candidate battles,” Bergstein said. “We have the superior candidates, and Republicans are putting forward candidates who have big flaws, who lost races before, or are facing the prospect of damaging primaries. Certainly a presidential cycle is different than a midterm, but the laws of Senate campaigns, where candidate quality matters, are still in effect.”

Brownstein concludes, “Unless and until such a new political configuration emerges, both parties can realistically target many fewer Senate seats than they could even two decades ago. But the ceiling is clearly lower for Democrats than for Republicans. It leaves Democrats, even in good years, with achingly little margin for error to build a Senate majority. And unless Biden recovers more strength, 2024 may be very far from anything Democrats would call a good year.”


Political Strategy Notes

Taylor Giorno reports that “Corporate greed increasingly seen as ‘major cause’ of inflation: Poll” at The Hill, and writes: “A new poll found 3 in 5 Americans now say corporate greed is a “major cause” of inflation. That’s a 15 percent jump to 59 percent from 44 percent in January 2022, according to a new poll from Navigator Research. The left-leaning polling and opinion research group surveyed 1,000 registered voters from Jan. 25-29…..“After more than two years of corporations posting record profits while Americans struggle to balance their checkbooks, it’s no surprise that people increasingly see corporate greed as a problem,” said Maryann Cousens, associate of polling and analytics for Navigator Research….Inflation hit 7.5 percent year over year in January 2022 and peaked at 9.1 percent 6 months later, as measured by the Labor Department’s consumer price index (CPI). Prices have fallen precipitously, with annual inflation clocking in at 3.1 percent in January, but it remains above the Federal Reserve’s goal of 2 percent….The share of respondents who said they believe corporate greed causes inflation is now on par with the share who blame inflation on government spending. While the latter position tends to be favored by Republicans, the rise in Americans blaming corporate greed for higher prices spans party lines….The share of Democrats and independents who said corporate greed was a “major cause” of inflation increased by 17 percentage points, while the share of Republicans who agree increased by 13 percentage points….A whopping 84 percent of all respondents said they believe “corporations being greedy and raising prices to make record profits” is a driver of inflation, according to the poll….Overall, Democrats are still more likely to say that corporate greed is a “major cause” of inflation: 72 percent, according to the new poll, compared to 62 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans.”

“According to Pew Research, the share of voters who said that the United States provides “too much” support to Ukraine more than quadrupled between March 2022 and December 2023, going to 31 percent from 7 percent,” Thomas B. Edsall writes at The New York Times. “Among Republicans, the share grew to 48 percent from 9 percent….A Gallup poll found even more opposition to American aid for Ukraine among Republican and independent voters. The share of Republicans agreeing that the “United States is doing too much to help Ukraine” rose between August 2022 and October 2023 to 62 percent from 43 percent and among independents to 44 percent from 28 percent….Both polls reflect the rapid increase of isolationism in the American electorate.” Edsall interviews foreign policy experts, including Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., and a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraf, who observes: “a public tired of external interventions has turned inward. There is little expectation that the United States can turn global situations around. There is no longer a political price to be paid for failing to support long-term commitments or interventions.” Edsall adds that “The failure last year of Ukraine’s highly publicized counteroffensive, leaving the contest at a standstill, with Ukrainians suffering continued losses and destroyed infrastructure, also diminished public support here for the continuation of the war.” Edsall quotes Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, who motes “Ordinary Americans are increasingly doubtful that the burdens of global leadership are worth bearing. Events since 9/11 have undercut public confidence in establishment thinking regarding America’s role in the world. That Trump’s views attract as much support as they do from ordinary citizens is an indication of the extent to which the establishment has forfeited public support.”

Edsall notes further “Polling conducted annually by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows a recent sharp decline in support for the engagement of the United States in international affairs. From 1974 to 2020, the share of Americans surveyed agreeing that “it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs” barely changed, going to 68 percent from 67 percent….That abruptly shifted over the next three years as the percentage supporting the United States taking an active role in world affairs steadily declined by 11 points, to 57 percent. The drop cut across partisan groups: Democrats by eight points, independents by 10 and most precipitously among Republicans, a 17-point drop to 47 percent from 64 percent….Timothy Frye, a political scientist at Columbia, wrote by email: “The place of the United States in the world in the coming years will largely be decided by domestic politics in the United States rather than by international events.”….Christopher Nichols, a professor of history at Ohio State with a focus on national security, wrote by email that….there is far more anti-Americanism across the world than there was in the late 1940s and 1950s, largely the result of the ways the United States wielded power in the past 75 years, which means U.S. motives for action and support, or lack thereof, are subject to tremendous scrutiny and castigation.”…..Trump’s declaration on Feb. 9 that he would not only decline to come to the assistance of a NATO country attacked by Russia if that country was behind on its “dues” but also would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” has inflicted profound damage on America’s stature, according to Nichols….This low opinion of Trump has dragged down the international reputation of the United States. “Trump’s unpopularity has had a significant negative effect on America’s overall image,” according to Pew’s report. “Ratings for the United States plummeted after he took office in 2017. In fact, in several nations that are key U.S. allies and partners, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is at its lowest point in nearly two decades of polling.”

From Ben Metzner’s “GOP Pollster Reads Party the Riot Act Over 2024 Losses: Republican pollster Frank Luntz is issuing a “wakeup call” to the rest of the GOP after the brutal New York special election” at The New Republic: “Frank Luntz foresees disaster for Republicans if they don’t course-correct following the brutal New York special election that cost them a House seat….“Tonight is the final wakeup call for the @HouseGOP. If they ignore or attempt to explain away why they lost, they will lose in November as well,” the Republican pollster tweeted. “The issue agenda is on their side. Their congressional behavior is not.”….Democrat Tom Suozzi on Tuesday handily defeated Republican Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip to reclaim his House seat after it was vacated by George Santos….While it’s fair to question Luntz’s analysis that Republicans have winning issues, it’s hard to disagree with his comment on their recent actions in Congress….On the campaign trail, Suozzi hit at Pilip for opposing the border deal brokered in the Senate, a position Pilip shared with House Speaker Mike Johnson and former President Trump. In doing so, some say, he outflanked Pilip on the issue of immigration, even as House Republicans have attempted to portray Democrats as overly soft on the border. The GOP Congressional Leadership Fund’s $1.5 million ad buy aimed to tar Suozzi as dismissive of the “migrant crisis,” but those attacks didn’t seem to stick….Now, though, with Luntz, the call is coming from inside the house, and it’ is not anti-trans hysteria, but recalcitrance to passing bipartisan legislation that threatens to hurt Republicans in 2024….The smart money is on House Republicans continuing to fearmonger about immigration, but will these attacks land now that their vote against a harsh border bill is on the record? Will House Republicans get their act together before November? Whatever the answer is, they won’t be able to say Luntz didn’t warn them.”


How Democrats Could Replace Biden, and Why They Won’t

Since the idea of President Biden being “replaced” as the 2024 Democratic nominee was all the rage for a moment, I took the opportunity to explore the little understood mechanics of the issue at New York:

A byproduct of the panic over Special Counsel Robert Hur’s suggestion that President Joe Biden is an “elderly man” with memory issues has been media efforts to understand and explain how Democrats could replace the 46th president as their 2024 nominee, either with or without his consent. From a political perspective, the idea that Biden might be dumped from the ticket is extremely far-fetched. But technically it is possible, though increasingly complicated, right up to Election Day.

When it comes to changing horses in the middle of a presidential race, Democrats differ from Republicans in one fundamental respect: While GOP rules bind delegates to the candidates who win primaries or caucuses, Democrats have a moral rather than a legal obligation to remain faithful to their candidate. Fourteen states have laws that seek to bind delegates to the winning candidate, but it’s reasonably clear that party rules supersede such laws when they are in conflict. And in most states, delegates are released from their obligations if a candidate withdraws from the race.

Another difference between the parties is that Democrats have an established set of “unpledged” delegates who hold convention seats by virtue of elected or party offices they hold. These “superdelegates” don’t get to vote unless there’s a second presidential ballot. At the 2024 Democratic convention in Chicago this August, there will be 744 superdelegates out of a total of 4,532 delegates.

The idea that superdelegates might vote for anyone they want is largely fictional. They are chosen by campaigns to be 100 percent loyal to their candidate. This loyalty is even fiercer when the candidate is the incumbent president of the United States. There’s a reason no sitting president has been denied renomination if he wanted it since Republican Chester Arthur in 1884. So the idea that Democratic delegates are going to look at the polls in August and decide they can do better than Biden is nonsense; it’s not going to happen. Even if faced with the emergency of avoiding a Trump presidency, the Democratic Party will remain a coalition of interests and principles, not just a vehicle for winning one election.

But if Biden, for whatever reason, chooses to “step aside” — as a self-defenestration is euphemistically described — it’s another matter altogether. The problem for Democratic delegates won’t be liberating themselves to look elsewhere (with the possible exception of those from a few states with stricter “binding” statutes than others); it will be agreeing upon a successor. And the closer to the convention that this decision has to be made, the likelier it is that these 4,000-plus Biden loyalists will back whoever he designated as his successor. Fantasies of a President Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom or J.B. Pritzker or Pete Buttigieg or Michelle Obama notwithstanding, that successor will almost certainly be Vice-President Kamala Harris. Any other choice would not only infuriate Harris and her supporters; it would also retroactively label Biden’s first decision as party leader in 2020 as a mistake. For better or worse, the party will unite around its new leader; the Trump factor will, if anything, give Democrats an abiding hope of victory no matter how things look a few months out.

It is possible, I suppose, that Biden and Harris could decide to “step aside” together as an act of patriotic self-sacrifice and help design a spanking new ticket that’s dressed for success. But that’s more likely the stuff of potboiling novels from the kind of writers who pretend there are such things as spontaneous candidate drafts and moderate Republicans.

The cleanest Plan B scenario would involve some cataclysmic event happening to Biden that leads him or the party to reconsider his candidacy after the Chicago convention. In that extremely remote contingency, the Democratic National Committee would have the power to name a replacement nominee, just as it did in 1972 when vice-presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton “stepped aside” after revelations of DUIs and shock therapy. The DNC isn’t going to dump a renominated incumbent president, no matter how poorly he’s doing in the polls; back in the days when presidential elections weren’t almost always desperately close or vulnerable to post-election challenges and insurrections, one party regularly went to battle after Labor Day knowing it was likely to lose. But if Joe Biden cannot take up the cudgels for the last stages of a rematch with Trump (assuming the 45th president isn’t himself dumped for his vast record of misconduct, if not for some physical ailment), the party can quickly move on with Kamala Harris.


Bitecofer: When They Go Low, We Get…Mean

Rachel Bitecofer visited MSNBC’s ‘Morning. Joe‘ recently to promote her new book, “Hit Em Where It Hurts:How to Save Democracy by Beating Republicans at Their Own Game.” It went like this:

There are times in politics when bipartisan outreach undergirded with respectful courtesy is the wisest approach. But this is not one of those times, according to Bitecofer. As Helmville puts it at Daily Kos, “This is war and I completely agree with Rachel Bitecofer and others like Steve Schmidt who among many more are warning us to stop playing nice! No more nice please! This victory belongs to us and unfortunately we need to take it by force!”

In the classic “Fear and Loathing n the Campaign Trail ’72,” Hunter S. Thompson advised, “Sending Muskie against Nixon would have been like sending a three-toed sloth out to seize turf from a wolverine. Big Ed was an adequate senator . . . but it was stone madness from the start to ever think about exposing him to the kind of bloodthirsty thugs that Nixon and John Mitchell would sic on him. They would have him screeching on his knees by sundown on Labor Day.” The way the ’72 election worked out, however, it’s hard to see how Muskie could have done worse.

But Nixon was a day at the beach compared to what Democrats are facing now. Nonetheless, it can be argued that President Biden has a potent wild card in his ‘nice guy’ image, which stands in stark relief to his opponent’s rabid egotism and vicious treatment of everyone who doesn’t kiss up to him.

Biden didn’t ascend to the presidency by playing patty cake. But going full ‘Dark Brandon’ this year might not come off as authentic, and could backfire. Bitecofer is surely right that Democrats must strike a vivid contrast to Republicans up and down-ballot. Sure, President Biden should deploy well-crafted zingers at opportune moments. But there is a good argument for letting his surrogates bring the mean.


Teixeira: The Disappearing Democratic Coalition – Time for Democrats to break out of their bubble.

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

In the latest RCP running average of Biden-Trump matchups, Biden is behind by a little under 2 points. He is behind Trump by 5 points in Arizona, 7 points in Georgia, 7 points in Nevada, 10 points in North Carolina, and about half a point in Wisconsin. He is only ahead in one state, Pennsylvania, by three-tenths of percentage point.

In the latest NBC poll, Biden is very far behind Trump in a variety of key areas, including the economy, border security, crime, and mental/physical fitness to be president. Particularly noteworthy here is Trump’s 22-point advantage on handling the economy. This is the largest advantage on the economy of any candidate in the history of the NBC poll going back to 1992. Also interesting is Biden’s exceedingly modest advantage (two points) on protecting democracy, which he is making a centerpiece of his campaign.


In light of these data, there are two basic choices for Biden and the Democrats: concentrate on voter mobilization to make up these deficits; or concentrate on reducing these deficits through persuasion. Naturally, these approaches are not mutually exclusive, but it’s important which one gets the greater weight.

We can look at data on the Democrats’ sympathetic voter groups to assess the potential of the mobilization approach. What jumps out from looking at these data is that Democrats’ core support in these groups has been going steadily down. That undercuts the potential of a voter mobilization strategy since there are fewer loyal supporters within these groups to get to the polls. Consider these recent data from Pew, Gallup, and Split Ticket, which provide the necessary demographic breakdowns.

Hispanics

Pew Biden approval rating

  • All Hispanics: 32 percent approval, 65 percent disapproval (-33 net).
  • Working-class (noncollege) Hispanics: 30 percent approval, 67 percent disapproval (-37 net).

Gallup party ID trend

  • All Hispanics: 12-point net Democratic advantage on leaned party ID. This is down 19 points from its recent high in 2021 and is the lowest net advantage for the Democrats among Hispanics since Gallup started interviewing in Spanish in 2011.

Split Ticket Biden-Trump crosstabular average

  • All Hispanics: ten-point average Biden advantage over Trump. This is 13 points down from Biden’s margin over Trump among Hispanics in the 2020 election (which in turn was 16 points down from the Democratic margin in 2016), according to Catalist data.

Blacks

Pew Biden approval rating

  • All blacks: 48 percent approval, 49 percent disapproval (minus-one net).
  • Working-class (noncollege) blacks: 45 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval (minus-seven net).
  • Black adults under 50: 35 percent approval (!), 64 percent disapproval (-29 net)

Gallup party ID trend

  • All blacks: 47-point net Democratic advantage on leaned party ID. This is down 19 points from its recent high in 2020. This is also the lowest net advantage for the Democrats recorded by Gallup in its polling going back to 1999.

Split Ticket Biden-Trump crosstabular average

  • All blacks: 57 point average Biden advantage over Trump. This may seem high but it is actually 24 points down from Biden’s margin over Trump among blacks in the 2020 election.

To underscore the data on the black and Hispanic working class, here is a recent chart from the Financial Times:


Image

Youth (18-29 years old)

Pew Biden approval rating

  • All youth: 27 percent approval, 71 percent disapproval (-44 net).

Gallup party ID trend

  • All youth: eight-point net Democratic advantage on leaned party ID. This is down 15 points from its recent high in 2019 and is the lowest net advantage for the Democrats among youth since 2005.

Split Ticket Biden-Trump crosstabular average

  • All youth: 13-point average Biden advantage over Trump. This is ten points down from Biden’s margin over Trump among youth in the 2020 election.

All this suggests Democrats need to put on their persuasion hat and vanquish the thought that they can rely on bringing their loyal foot soldiers to the polls. There just aren’t as many of them as there used to be.

And when it comes to persuasion, touting the Biden record on economics does not seem likely to do the job. Nor does florid rhetoric about impending fascism. These play best among the Democratic faithful who, as we’ve seen, have diminished in number.

Instead the hard work of convincing persuadable voters, including many in traditionally sympathetic groups, that Democrats are actually better on the economy and at least not so bad on border security, crime, and other difficult issues must be embraced. That will be difficult and means above all that Democrats must leave the comforting confines of the bubble so many of them inhabit. They will have to talk about issues they’d rather avoid like immigration and crime. And they will have to confront, not dismiss, the realities of voter concerns on the economy rather than contentedly singing the praises of their fine economic performance.

On the latter challenge, Liam Kerr on The Welcome Party’s Substack correctly diagnoses a big part of the problem:

While inflation has come down, Biden is currently not well positioned to capitalize on the change. The first problem is that voters think Biden is more focused on jobs (43 percent say it’s his top priority) than prices (23 percent say it’s his top priority), while they are more focused on prices (64 percent of voters say it’s their top priority) than jobs (7 percent).

The second is that many of the policies that the administration most frequently touts are not viewed by voters as deflationary and aren’t viewed as benefiting them. Only 27 percent of voters believe tax rebates for EVs will benefit them, and only 21 percent believe tax rebates will reduce inflation, while 45 percent believe they will increase inflation.

Similarly, only 29 percent of voters believe canceling student debt will benefit them, but 45 percent believe it will increase inflation (20 percent believe it will reduce inflation)…[T]he policies the administration has centered the most are the ones that people are least likely to believe will benefit them and most inflationary.

The administration has a number of successful policy wins that it could tout, rather than EVs tax breaks and student debt cancelation. For instance, their investments in supply chain resilience are very popular, as is the provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices…Declining gas prices represent another opportunity for President Biden to show how his administration is bringing down prices, but the administration is slow to claim credit for issuing permits for drilling, leaving voters with the mistaken impression that he has not increased drilling, and in fact has decreased it.

This seems, to put it delicately, sub-optimal. But correcting this does not seem like rocket science. Talk more about what concerns voters the most and what is popular. Talk less about other stuff that lacks salience and popularity. And above all, break out of the comfort zone of Democratic partisans and activists. The cavalry aren’t coming to save you this time. There’s not even enough cavalry to do so anymore.


Political Strategy Notes

Here’s an indication that, if Democrats don’t start focusing on linking reproductive freedom to the presidential race, the powerful issue may matter more down-ballot, according to Julianne McShane’s “Trump Killed Abortion Rights. But Voters Still Don’t Blame Him: He appointed three of the five Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe—but most voters don’t hold him responsible, a new poll found” at Mother Jones: “Despite Trump appointing three of the Supreme Court justices that were part of the majority that overturned the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade, most voters don’t hold him responsible for rising abortion restrictions nationwide, according to the results of a new poll releasedMonday….The poll, conducted in December by the progressive think tank and polling firm Data for Progress, found that less than a quarter of voters overall (only 36 percent of Democrats—and, oddly, only 11 percent of Republicans) see Trump as “responsible for new bans or restrictions on abortions in states across the U.S.” So who do voters hold more responsible? Republicans in state office (33 percent), Republicans in Congress (34 percent), and the Supreme Court (50 percent). That’s not necessarily surprising, given that it was the high court that ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe; that Republicans in Congress have already introduced several bills over the last few years aimed at essentially eliminating abortion rights; and that Republicans in statehouses across the country continue to say unhinged things as they seek to curtail abortion access….But, still, Data for Progress says the poll results—as well as another data point from that poll, showing that 52 percent of voters overall, and 67 percent of Democrats, believe the outcome of the next election will be significant for addressing abortion—show that “Biden’s focus on directing the blame to Trump” for the end of Roe “could help voters make more of a connection to the role Trump has played in curtailing abortion rights.”….Biden has also continued to attract criticism from some reproductive rights and justice activists who say he’s too tepid in his support for abortion rights, given that polling shows a majority of Americans not only disapprove of Dobbs, but also believe that abortion should be legal in all or most instances.”

“Twelve years ago,’ E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated Washington Post column, “political scientists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein shook up Washington with their argument that the U.S. government wasn’t working because of what had happened to the Republican Party….They made their case in a book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” and in a powerful Post op-ed titled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”….“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics,” they wrote. “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”….Power in the GOP has moved away from elected officials and toward those right-wing “commentators” on television, radio, podcasts and online. The creation of ideological media bubbles enhances their power. Republicans in large numbers rely on partisan outlets that lied freely about what Lankford’s compromise did and didn’t do, rather than on straight news reports….But the way things are going, Republicans in each chamber are just as likely to ignore the other’s better instincts. “Worsest” is not a word, but Mann and Ornstein might need it if they publish a new edition.”

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik reports: “Following last week’s release of 2023’s fourth quarter campaign fundraising reports, we thought this was a good time to go through our House ratings and make a few revisions….The changes don’t alter the overall House rating math all that much: currently, we have 212 districts rated as Safe, Likely, or Leans Republican, 203 as Safe/Likely/Leans Democratic, and 20 Toss-ups. Splitting the Toss-ups down the middle would lead to… a 222-213 Republican House, or exactly zero net change from what happened in 2022. So Republicans are a little bit ahead in the ratings, but we’d classify the overall battle for the House as a Toss-up….The relatively scant House generic ballot polling generally shows a small Republican lead—the FiveThirtyEight average pegs it as half a point and the RealClearPolitics average has it as 2 points. This makes the overall environment seem like we’re still stuck in 2022, an observation we ran by several sources on both sides of the aisle without much pushback….In yesterday’s part one of our House analysis, we discussed the correlation between House and presidential results and what we saw in 2016 and 2020. Two of the relatively few “crossover” district members are Reps. Jared Golden (D, ME-2) and Don Bacon (R, NE-2). The pair are linked not only by being crossover members, but also because of the Electoral College quirk that is unique to their two states: Both Maine and Nebraska award electoral votes by congressional district. This allowed Donald Trump, by carrying Golden’s sprawling ME-2 in 2016 and 2020, to pad his electoral vote tally by one, and Joe Biden was able to do the same in 2020 by carrying Bacon’s Omaha-based NE-2….That both districts are likelier than not to award their electoral votes to the party opposite of their current House incumbent is the main reason we’re moving both districts from Leans to Toss-up, although they both are poised to have potentially strong opposition.”

In “Can America’s “sleeping giant” shake up the election? Let’s hope so.” Bob Hennelley writes at Salon: “It’s ironic that in 2024  the very fate of our republic rests entirely in the hands of the nation’s 85 million low wage potential voters, roughly a third of the American electorate that society and the corporate news media regularly ignore.  It’s the common Beltway wisdom that these folks at the base of the pyramid are marginal to the political conversation as compared to the vaunted middle class upon which both major parties have for so long fixated on….Columbia University researcher Robert Paul Hartley found that only 46 percent of voters with household income less than twice the federal poverty rate cast a ballot in 2016, as compared to a 68 percent turnout rate for voters who had a household income more than twice the poverty line. “They’re saying that they’re not voting because people are not speaking to their issues and that they’re just not interested in those candidates,” Hartley, told the New York Times  “But it’s not that they couldn’t be.”….In 2016, Trump carried Michigan by just 10,000 votes. 980,000 low-wage voters did not turn out. If. 1.1 percent of those voters had bothered the results would have been different. Michigan was no exception. In North Carolina, Trump’s margin of victory was 170,000 votes while 920,000 poor and low-wealth voters sat it out. If just 18.9 percent of those disengaged voters had been motivated to go to the polls history would have bent another way….n 2020, in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin the Biden-Trump faceoff was really tight, close to just 3 percent. In Texas, a Republican bastion for decades, the margin was just over 5 percent….In 2016, in a ‘proof of concept’, the Poor People’s Campaign targeted specific low wealth and low wage voters in several states including in Georgia where they identified and mobilized 36,000 previously unengaged voters that helped produce the margin of victory in the pivotal U.S. Senate races won by Rev. Raphael Warner (D-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA).”


In Defense of Our Old-Guy President

When the brouhaha over Robert Hur’s slurs about Joe Biden’s mental faculties broke out, I took it personally, and replied at New York:

Like Joe Biden, I got my dream job at a stage of life when most folks are planning or entering retirement. After writing many hundreds of thousands of words for politicians and organizations without getting much credit for it, I became a rather geriatric blogger and then a political writer for New York Magazine (and The Democratic Strategist) and blew right by the age at which I could have packed it all in. Best I can tell, I still produce more words — though perhaps not higher-quality words — than my whippersnapper New York colleagues. So I am naturally sympathetic to the president’s desire to stay in the saddle as long as he can, and naturally hostile to partisan efforts to depict Biden as senile or incompetent, particularly when the beneficiary of undermining confidence in his abilities is Donald Trump.

Let’s just get this right out on the table: Barring some unprecedented development, the 2024 presidential election choice will be between an 81-year-old Democrat and a 78-year-old Republican. In terms of grammar, syntax, logic, and recall of important events, the former is more cogent on his worst days than the latter appears to be on his best days. So anyone planning to support Trump is welcome to do so on policy or partisan-power grounds but should be ashamed to claim that they just cannot vote for Joe Biden because he’s too old. Is Trump more “vigorous” than Biden, in terms of self-confidence and aggressiveness? Yes, but in the way that Attila the Hun was more “vigorous” than St. Francis of Assisi. It’s also germane that while Biden is a pretty faithful representative of the mainstream views of his political party, Trump eccentrically defines the views of his political party, much as Attila defined the Hun Weltanschauung.

To put it another way, if a second-term President Biden becomes significantly afflicted by age or illness, his lapses are likely to be as mild-mannered as the man himself. I don’t think you can say the same about a second-term President Trump, who already seems to suffer from the malady once maliciously called “Irish Alzheimer’s” (or in some lore, “Appalachian Alzheimer’s”), wherein the victim remembers nothing but his grudges.

There is, of course, a more general and entirely legitimate debate over how old our presidents and presidential candidates should be. I personally thought both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were “too old” to run in 2020, though this judgment was mostly about their electability rather than their capacity to do the job. The advent of septuagenarian and even octogenarian presidents is in part a reflection of longer life spans (at least for people who aren’t too poor to receive decent nutrition and health care), as Alex Webb pointed out last year after Biden joked about being a contemporary of founder James Madison:

“When Madison became the nation’s fourth president in 1809, he was just 57. Bizarrely, however, Madison was by one measure considerably older than Biden when he took the hot seat: compared with the life expectancy of his contemporaries.

“Someone born in Colonial America in the 18th century had a life expectancy of just 28 — skewed heavily, of course, by the fact that so many people died in infancy. When Madison took office, he was already more than twice as old as most of those born the same year. He was, in relative terms, much older than Biden, who is just 15 years older than the average life expectancy of his year group.”

Biden (and for that matter, Trump) may also seem especially old because he happened to assume the presidency after a run (again, excepting Trump) of relatively young chief executives: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

But the thing so often forgotten when we obsess about the age of our leaders is that there are qualities associated with what the AARP used to euphemistically call “modern maturity” that offset whatever is actually lost when an old goat “loses a step”: most obviously work experience, but also lived historical perspective, a wide range of useful role models and “best practices,” knowledge of personal limitations, and even fires of ego-driven ambition tamped down by accomplishment. I know I’m a better political writer for having observed multiple eras of American politics, dating back to the day in 1960 when I watched John F. Kennedy barnstorm through my small Georgia hometown. It should be obvious that Joe Biden learned something in his famously lengthy career in public office, as environmental activist (and himself a founder of an advocacy group for seniors concerned with climate change) Bill McKibben pointed out in the wake of the latest age scare over the president:

“Obviously you lose a step physically as you age, but the presidency doesn’t require carrying sofas up the White House stairs. And science increasingly finds that aging brains make more connections, perhaps because they have more history to work with. …

“Biden was socialized in an era when government took on big causes, and you can see it reflected in his first-term commitment to rebuilding infrastructure on a grand scale, boosting a new sustainable energy economy with billions of dollars for solar panels and battery factories, dramatically increasing the number of people with healthcare, and standing up for gun control, voting rights and reproductive rights.”

There are reasons, in other words, that most societies embrace gerontocracy to one extent or another.

Sure, there are, of course, limits to the value of experience. When Casey Stengel was managing the New York Mets at the end of his career, as the story goes, one of his players was asked what it was like to play for such a living legend. “Casey has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know,” the player said. “But that’s the problem — he’s forgotten it.” His team’s showing proved the point.

At the moment, Biden’s Team America isn’t doing all that badly unless you choose to look at it through a partisan lens, or can’t cope with the traumas and disappointments of the recent past or the uncertainties we face in the immediate future. The president deals with many, many people in the course of an insanely busy day, and if he’s as around the bend as the nonexpert assessment by special counsel Robert Hur suggests, we’d almost certainly know it, unless you believe in a conspiracy of silence as vast as any in U.S. history. I know a lot of very smart, very young people who struggle with remembering dates and names; I’ve never been able to recognize faces other than those I encounter regularly. Sure, Joe Biden’s age and competence pose legitimate questions. But they should be answered with comprehensive, not anecdotal, evidence and by observers who are not followers of the wild man who will become president if Biden is put out on an ice floe by voters in November for being too old. Take it from this old guy: Sometimes the last gallon in the tank can get you to your destination.