By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Category: Politics Page 2 of 74

Josh Marshall to Ezra Klein: Biden isn’t going anywhere

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has written a long response to Ezra Klein’s fantasy idea of persuading President Biden to drop out of the campaign and throw the nomination open to the Democratic National Convention this August. The whole thing is worth your time, but here’s Marshall’s bottom line:

In life we constantly need to make choices on the basis of available options. Often they are imperfect or even bad options. The real options are the ones that have some shot at success. That’s life. Klein’s argument really amounts to a highly pessimistic but not unreasonable analysis of the present situation which he resolves with what amounts to a deus ex machina plot twist. That’s not a plan. It’s a recipe for paralysis.

Klein is smart and thoughtful, and his proposal is not a lazy one-off but, rather, well argued and evidence-based. But it’s not going to happen, and it almost certainly shouldn’t happen. Marshall has found the flaws.

Earlier:

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Is Ezra Klein’s call for Biden to stand aside realistic or desirable? Probably not.

Then-candidate Joe Biden. Photo (cc) 2019 by Matt Johnson.

You may have heard that Ezra Klein has called for President Biden to pull out of the campaign and let a younger generation of Democrats compete for the nomination. Klein, who hosts a podcast and writes commentaries for The New York Times, is someone I look to for guidance. This isn’t just the Times being the Times; Klein was a prominent thinker and commentator before coming to the Times, and he will continue to be long after he leaves.

You can listen or read what Klein has to say here. There’s not a lot of analysis I want to add except to say that he’s thought through most of the objections. He believes Biden has been an effective president and could continue to be in a second term, but that his age has become a real obstacle to his re-election — and that the stakes are way too high to take the chance that Donald Trump could return to the White House. Yes, Trump is nearly as old, far more addled, and, unlike Biden, faces 91 criminal charges and has all but pledged to rule as an authoritarian. Klein believes that anything that keeps Trump out of power is worth doing, even if it means somehow persuading Biden to call it a career.

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Probably my main objection to Klein’s idea is that it’s so late. If Biden had pulled out a year ago, we could have had a proper primary campaign. So what is Klein’s alternative? Throwing it to the Democratic National Convention in August, a truly risky move. “There is a ton of talent in the Democratic Party right now,” Klein writes, and he offers a long list that, intriguingly, omits California Gov. Gavin Newsom and includes Georgia Sen. Ralph Warnock. I’m skeptical of Newsom, and I have to say that I like the idea of Warnock.*

Another problem that Klein has given some thought to is what to do about Vice President Kamala Harris. His answer is that she is a better and more appealing politician than she’s generally given credit for, and that she could compete at the convention like everyone else. If she wins, she wins; if she loses, that’s not a reason to believe that the party would be torn apart. I’m not so sure about that, but Klein puts it this way:

Could it go badly? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it will go badly. It could make the Democrats into the most exciting political show on earth. And over there on the other side will be Trump getting nominated and a who’s who of MAGA types slavering over his leadership. The best of the Democratic Party against the worst of the Republican Party. A party that actually listened to the voters against a party that denies the outcome of the elections. A party that did something different over a party that has again nominated a threat to democracy who has never — not once — won the popular vote in a general election.

I’d say my biggest objection is that Klein would reward special counsel Robert Hur, who recently cleared Biden of criminal wrongdoing in his retention of classified documents but then gratuitously smeared him by suggesting that the president is senile. It was a gross example of prosecutorial misconduct. But that doesn’t mean concerns about Biden’s age aren’t real. As Klein notes, he may be sharp and focused in private (just ask Kevin McCarthy), but he’s slowed down in public, and his own campaign seems to be trying to hide him from scrutiny.

The issues involved are difficult to sort out. In addition to Hur’s actions, which ought to be investigated, there is also the media’s wildly disproportionate coverage of Biden’s age. It’s a legitimate story, of course, but it’s gotten far too much attention when compared with more important stories, many of them having to do with Trump’s dangerous and outrageous pronouncements. In addition, the notion that Biden will stand down is almost certainly wishful thinking — that is, if you’re even wishing for it. “The sky is blue and Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee,” as Josh Marshall puts it.

Anyway, Ezra Klein’s piece is worth a read or a listen at least as a thought exercise. It seems pretty obvious that if we’re going to stop Trump, it’s going to have to be with Biden. But Klein’s counter-factual is pretty interesting.

*Correction: I swear I can’t read. Newsom is on Klein’s list. I’m still skeptical of him, though.

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It’s James Comey redux as special counsel Hur clears (and slimes) President Biden

Special counsel Robert Hur. Photo (cc) 2021 by Maryland GovPics.

It’s just incredible that we’re dealing with James Comey redux. I’m sure you remember his efforts to tank Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. He cleared her of criminal wrongdoing over “her emails” and then proceeded to trash her anyway, going far beyond his mandate. Then he reopened the investigation just days before the election only to shut it down again and say, Never mind.

Well, special counsel Robert Hur just did the same thing to President Biden — announcing that Biden committed no crime in his handling of classified information but then gratuitously adding that the president is “a well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” Prosecutors either charge or they don’t charge. Other than that, their job is to shut up. It was grotesquely unethical for Hur, a Trump-appointed former U.S. attorney, to excoriate Biden right after he’d exonerated him.

We’ll be dealing with the aftermath of Hur’s unethical actions for the rest of the campaign. Meanwhile, I urge you to read this Josh Marshall commentary, which provides some much-needed perspective. Marshall writes:

There’s no crying in baseball. Entirely justified outrage from Biden supporters won’t counter whatever damage these comments will have. The White House will need to get Biden in front of interviewers, where he actually does quite well, and in widely seen venues, to counter it. It’s really as simple as that.

Biden started that process Thursday evening with a contentious news conference in which he vigorously defended himself — and, uh, confused Egypt with Mexico. Look, this guy has been a fumble-mouth for his entire career, and not just because he has a stuttering problem. But in terms of media perceptions, there’s a big difference between blurting out such stuff when you’re 40 and when you’re 80.

And never mind that his opponent is nearly as old, appears to be suffering from dementia, and is an insurrectionist authoritarian besides.

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An old tale of local corruption — with a modern twist

When we lived in Medford in the early 1980s, the city and neighboring Somerville were both down at the heels. When we returned in 2014, Somerville was vibrant and growing, with Medford not too far behind. So I was fascinated to read Gin Dumcius’ story in CommonWealth Beacon about a politically connected Somerville lawyer’s attempt to bribe Medford’s police chief to help him establish a marijuana business. As Dumcius writes, it was a last hurrah for the old Medford and Somerville.

Unfortunately for the lawyer, Sean O’Donovan, Medford Police Chief Jack Buckley is an honest cop. Buckley’s brother Mike, whom O’Donovan tried to use as the go-between with Chief Buckley, agreed to wear an FBI wire, and O’Donovan was busted after he delivered $2,000 in cash, intended as a down payment on a $25,000 bribe. Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn, Dumcius adds, handled the license for the weed shop in a properly arm’s-length manner.

Times had changed, even if O’Donovan didn’t realize it. He faces sentencing on Feb. 7.

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Biden’s big write-in win shows why Dems should drop their bid to erase the NH primary

Photo (cc) 2014 by Billy Hathorn

I think the biggest story coming out of the New Hampshire primary is that President Biden absolutely kicked butt while running as a write-in. That’s not easy to do, and if Dean “Who?” Phillips had turned in a showing that was even mildly respectable, it’s all the media would be talking about. Since New Hampshire is obviously not going to give up its first-in-the-nation primary, the Democrats might want to rethink their attempts to make it go away.

Beyond that, what can anyone say? It looks like Donald Trump beat Nikki Haley by about 11 points in what just about every political observer believes will be her best state. It’s only going to get worse from here. No one would be surprised if she endorses Trump at Mar-a-Lago by Friday, assuming that can be scheduled around his multiple court appearances.

For many years I had a gig as a weekly columnist for The Guardian and, later, for GBH News. My practice on mornings like this was to round-up morning-after commentary and try to make sense out of it. I am so glad I don’t have to do that this time beyond a few brief observations here. I’ll confess that I didn’t even pay attention to the Iowa caucuses, and only watched a bit of cable news Tuesday night. I should add that I asked my graduate students to come in this afternoon with an example of a story from New Hampshire that they think is illuminating in some way, which I guess makes me a sadist.

One pre-New Hampshire story I want to call your attention to is this article in The New York Times by Michael C. Bender and Nicholas Nehamas. It’s labeled “Political Memo,” which is supposed to signal the reader that the piece combines reporting, analysis and opinion. The headline itself is remarkable (“The Emasculation of Ron DeSantis by the Bully Donald Trump”), but the lead is even more noteworthy:

Donald J. Trump plumbed new depths of degradation in his savage takedown of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a yearlong campaign of emasculation and humiliation that helped force one of the party’s rising stars out of the presidential race after just one contest and left him to pick up the pieces of his political future.

Wow. I often have problems with the way the Times both-sides its day-to-day political coverage, but this is some vivid writing in the service of truth-telling. Here’s a free link, so please read the whole thing. As Josh Marshall wrote at Talking Points Memo, “it suggested to me at least some shift in dropping the pretense of conventional news coverage for conventional politics and approaching the quite unconventional story of what is really on its own visceral and physical terms.”

It also represented a break from the “two flawed candidates” narrative that we’re going to hear over and over (and over) for the next 10 months — as if the contest between Biden and Trump didn’t offer the starkest choice since 1860.

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Congressman who banned the press from his events reverses himself

Rep. Mike Lawler

Several weeks ago I wrote about U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, a New York Republican who’s been barring the press from his town halls with constituents. David McKay Wilson, a reporter with The Journal News of the Lower Hudson Valley, managed to get into one of Lawler’s events with a ticket given to him by a friend and reported on it for his paper.

Now Lawler appears to be backing down, saying that his previous policy “was to prevent these town halls from being hijacked by out-of-district political grandstanders desperately searching for a viral video clip” but that “upon reflection, while well-intentioned, these rules could have been explained and implemented in a better way.”

He said he will now allow credentialed reporters and news photographers into his town halls whether they live in his district or not, and that he will “hold a press gaggle and take questions” after each event once he’s finished taking questions from voters.

This is a significant change, and Lawler deserves credit for listening and learning rather than digging his heels in.

The full text of Lawler’s statement can be found here.

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Biden calls out Trump’s Nazi rhetoric — but the media can’t get past ‘both sides’

Photo (cc) 2021 by Alex Kent/Tennessee Lookout

President Biden delivered an excellent speech Friday on the threat to democracy posed by Donald Trump and his supporters. He even used the N-word (Nazi) to describe Trump’s rhetoric in referring to his opponents as “vermin” and to refer to immigrants as “destroying the blood of our country.” If you missed Biden’s address, Heather Cox Richardson has a detailed overview.

But will it matter? Of course not. One of Trump’s go-to tactics when confronted with harsh truths is to childishly assert, “I know you are, but what am I?” So of course Trump’s response to Biden’s Valley Forge event was to hold a rally and accuse Biden of “fearmongering.” It worked because the first rule of media is to cover both sides. The tease on The New York Times’ homepage right now says:

Clashing Over Jan. 6, Trump and Biden Show Reality Is at Stake in 2024

Former President Trump and President Biden are framing the election as a battle for democracy — with Mr. Trump casting Mr. Biden as the true menace.

The actual headline is a little better, adding “brazenly” to Trump’s claim. And the story is better still, calling Trump “the only president to try to overthrow an American election” and adding: “Mr. Trump’s strategy aims to upend a world in which he has publicly called for suspending the Constitution, vowed to turn political opponents into legal targets and suggested that the nation’s top military general should be executed.” Good and true stuff. But wow, that tease.

Today, as we all know, is the third anniversary of the failed insurrection that Trump fomented. I may have written this before, but I remember returning to our car after a long hike in the Middlesex Fells and turning on public radio. The station was carrying the feed from the “PBS NewsHour,” and the first thing I heard was Judy Woodruff freaking out. What had happened? Were the Republicans pulling some sort of ridiculous stunt?

I soon learned the truth. As Biden reminded us Friday, a Trumpist mob, carrying Trump and Confederate flags, had invaded the Capitol. Gallows had been constructed to hang Mike Pence. (Mere symbolism? I don’t think so. What do you suppose would have happened if they’d actually got hold of him?) Angry Trumpers roamed the corridors, looking for Nancy Pelosi. Again, what do you suppose would have happened if they’d found her? Police officers were injured, and some died in the aftermath.

Now we’re waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Colorado, Maine and possibly other states can keep Trump off the ballot under the 14th Amendment, which bars officials who “engaged in insurrection” from serving. As I wrote earlier this week, this is where the question belongs. But I don’t trust the court, dominated as it is by two justices who occupy what are essentially stolen seats (Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett) and a third (Clarence Thomas) who is so corrupt that he ought to be off the bench and consulting with his lawyers.

But it’s all we’ve got. “Democracy is still a sacred cause,” Biden told his audience in Valley Forge. I wish I shared his optimism that we are capable of preserving it.

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SCOTUS is the right body to decide whether Trump ‘engaged in insurrection’

The case for disqualifying Donald Trump from running for president is almost certainly headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, and that’s exactly where it belongs. The court needs to make a determination as to whether Trump “engaged in insurrection” on Jan. 6, 2021. He did. We watched him do it. But without an official ruling of some sort, it would be illegitimate to throw him off the ballot.

A 4-3 ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court doesn’t get the job done. Neither does an opinion issued by Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. Nevertheless, they both did the country a service, because they’ve started the wheels turning to resolve this issue once and for all — or at least for the 2024 election. Let’s look at what Section 3 of the 14th Amendment says:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Now, the Supremes may cop out by claiming that candidates for president aren’t specifically covered by Section 3, or that it was intended solely to prevent Confederate officials from seeking political positions. That would be a travesty. Because what we really need to know is whether SCOTUS believes that Trump “engaged in insurrection” by whipping up a mob of supporters in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory. Again, we know he did it. But that’s not the same as a congressional determination, which we don’t have, or a Supreme Court ruling, which we almost certainly will. What does it mean, legally and constitutionally, to attempt an insurrection against the government?

I’m not saying that I trust the court; quite the contrary. But we only have one Supreme Court, and thus it’s important that the justices weigh in. Much of the debate over the 14th Amendment has been profoundly unserious. Voters should have the right to decide? Not if a candidate is ineligible. That’s why someone younger than 35 or who’s born in another country can’t run. Throwing Trump off the ballot would risk violence and rebellion? Then why have a Constitution in the first place? We are a country of laws, or at least that’s the idea.

The decision needs to be made by an institution that we would all recognize as having the last word, whether we agree or not. The Supreme Court is that institution. I wish we had a better court, but that’s an issue for another day.

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In 2007, Rudy Giuliani coulda been a contender — or at least that’s what he thought

Rudy Giuliani. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

Rudy Giuliani was always a racist and a thug, but he wasn’t always a pathetic clown. As you have no doubt heard, Giuliani has been ordered to pay $148 million to two Georgia election workers for lying about them and putting their lives in danger. In 2007, though, he was, briefly, a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. I was a columnist for The Guardian at that time, and my friend Seth Gitell and I caught up with him in New Hampshire. Here’s what I wrote. Looking back, I’m chagrined at the extent to which I focused on the horse race rather than anything of substance. In my defense (or “defence,” as the Brits who edited my copy would have it), I was just writing a quick dispatch from the campaign trail.

Tactical retreat

By pulling out of New Hampshire, Rudy Giuliani may live to campaign another day

By Dan Kennedy | The Guardian | Dec. 18, 2007

Rudy Giuliani made news in Durham, New Hampshire on Monday. But unless you’re attuned to the inside game as played by the political class and the media, you might have missed it.The former New York mayor brought his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to Goss International, a printing-press manufacturer located in an office park on the outskirts of this small, snow-blanketed college town. Giuliani bounded on stage, about a half-hour late, spoke for a few minutes and took questions from employees.

In person, Giuliani can be compelling. If what he had to say was a familiar and predictable blend of free-market nostrums and 9/11, the way he said it was nevertheless worth paying attention to. He manages to come off as informal and conversational while still speaking in complete sentences; to bond with the crowd while retaining an air of authority.

But Giuliani, ahead in the national polls for months, is suddenly in trouble, especially in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary will be held on January 8. His blueprint all along has been to hang in until big states like Florida hold their primaries. It was always a dubious plan, since early success generates momentum that is hard to stop.

Add to that a passel of problems — from the federal indictment on corruption charges of his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, to a kerfuffle over taxpayer-funded security provided to his third wife, Judith Nathan, back when she was his mistress — and Giuliani is suddenly looking a whole lot less inevitable than he did during the summer and fall. The news this week was that Giuliani was pulling back on his advertising in New Hampshire, a move that could be described as tactically necessary but strategically desperate.

So it was actually the most innocuous-sounding sound bite Giuliani provided that had the most news value. “I’ll be spending some of my Christmas holiday here in New Hampshire,” he said toward the end of his talk. He made a joke about skiing, too. Was Giuliani still planning to make a serious play for New Hampshire?

“Rudy Giuliani is not pulling out of New Hampshire,” insisted his state campaign chairman, Wayne Semprini, as a gaggle of reporters surrounded him after Giuliani had left the room. Semprini added that “55-60% of the people are still undecided,” holding out the prospect of a late surge for Rudy.

Next the journalists started talking with each other. Brad Puffer of New England Cable News stuck a microphone in front of New York Sun columnist Seth Gitell, a Bostonian and an old friend with whom I had made the trek north that morning. Gitell described Giuliani’s Christmas-holiday remark as “a symbolic attempt to maintain some presence in New Hampshire”.

David Saltonstall, who’s covering Giuliani for the New York Daily News, told me it looked as though the former mayor was trying to keep his campaign in New Hampshire alive while simultaneously cutting back. “He’s walking kind of a tightrope with voters here, I think,” Saltonstall said.

It’s the perverse game of expectations, which often proves to be more important than the actual result. If Giuliani is perceived as having scaled down his campaign here but still manages to do well — say, coming in second to Mitt Romney, whose victory would be discounted because he’s the former governor of Massachusetts, a bordering state — then he could live to fight another day. (The flavour of the moment, Mike Huckabee, is not likely to be a factor in New Hampshire, where his fundamentalist religious views are nearly as unpopular with local Republicans as taxes and restrictions on gun ownership.)

Predictions are futile. Four years ago, I came to New Hampshire to watch John Kerry perform at an event that I described as an elegy for a campaign that had failed to anticipate the rise of Howard Dean. A few weeks later, Dean had collapsed and Kerry had all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination. Giuliani could win. Stranger things have happened.

But Giuliani’s problem is that he may have peaked too soon. No one expects Huckabee to win the nomination, but Romney, John McCain and even Fred Thompson all seem to be exploiting the turmoil created by Huckabee’s rise more adroitly than Giuliani has.

Giuliani told the lunch-time crowd that his platform comes down to two broad themes: “being on offence against Islamic terrorism and being on offence for a growth economy”. Trouble is, when it comes to politics, Giuliani these days is strictly on defence.

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Congressman to press: Keep out of my events

David McKay Wilson, an old Northeastern classmate of mine, has an eye-opening story up at the Rockland/ Westchester Journal News in New York about U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, a moderate Republican who is “a darling of the national press corps” but who “bars the press from his Congressional office’s public Town Hall meetings and declines to answer questions about why he does so.” Wilson, a constituent, was able to get into one of Lawler’s events with a ticket given to him by a friend.

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