There are two dynamics going on this midterm cycle. One is that the GOP is about to scoop up both houses of Congress if Democrats don’t rise up on election day. The trends all point to momentum for the GOP, and momentum moves undecided voters from the edge to the winner’s side. Democrats are simultaneously looking for scapegoats and trying to energize their base on any issue that will get them to the polls.
Democrats agree that the worst salesman they have is President Joe Biden. He’s been relegated behind the back bench in campaigning for Democrats in tight races, and allowed only to visit safe places. Biden has one horse to ride this cycle, and it’s the defense of democracy.
Unfortunately for Democrats, it’s not going to work.
Don’t get me wrong. What Biden said, taken as individually-wrapped facts and rhetoric, is true and important, but the problem is that the dots don’t really connect in the way he presented them. It’s wrong to take the attack on Paul Pelosi lightly, or to make fun of it. It was wrong for former President Trump to whip up crowds who were already being herded by pre-positioned and prepared groups to invade the Capitol. It was wrong, and is still wrong, to believe that Trump’s loss was due to a giant conspiracy infecting our system of elections (“the Big Lie”). But those aren’t the only things that are wrong, and Republicans are not the only people doing wrong things.
Biden’s speech led with two paragraphs which presumed much.
All this happened after the assault, and it just — it’s hard to even say. It’s hard to even say. After the assailant entered the home asking: “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” Those are the very same words used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January the 6th, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials and erected gallows to hang the former vice president, Mike Pence.
It was an enraged mob that had been whipped up into a frenzy by a president repeating over and over again the Big Lie, that the election of 2020 had been stolen. It’s a lie that fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.
At this point, there’s nothing in evidence that Paul Pelosi’s attacker was directly motivated by election conspiracies, or attended the January 6th mob event. I can safely assume if he was there, it would be such a breaking story that every media outlet would carry it as the top headline. I can also assume that this isn’t a hidden fact and would be known by now. Even the cynical part of me is satisfied that less than a week before the election, no partisan editor would dare hold it even an hour, because if there’s a “right” time for that story, it’s now—or two weeks ago.
Biden’s speech assumed that nobody would ever have any reason to kidnap Nancy Pelosi other than doing Trump’s bidding. The fact that San Francisco is overrun by exactly the kind of mentally ill, belligerent, criminal, dangerous, mixed-up homeless people like the one who attacked Paul Pelosi wasn’t even remotely considered, but everyone knows it’s an issue, even if some partisan media avoids such inconvenient topics.
The speech spent much time spinning election denier tales, but ignoring Stacey Abrams’ accusations against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp that he rigged the election in 2018. He focused on the Trumpist threats against current Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, but ignored the fact that Abrams-controlled organizations sued and lost in federal court against Raffensperger, claiming that Georgia elections were essentially rigged against Democrats.
Biden’s closing argument for the midterms is that handing Congress, and certain governor’s mansions, over to Republicans represents a threat to democracy, because some Republicans impugn government institutions. It’s not really an argument that will pull voters to the polls, any more than abortion rights pulled them to the polls. Motivated Democrats are going to vote, or have already cast their ballots. The edge-cases are moving to Republicans because even Democrats have started to panic that GOP candidates are getting the final push momentum.
Therefore you have takes like Democrats “peaked too soon,” or that bad governors are “dragging down” Congressional and Senate candidates. Or that the economy has nothing to do with Biden’s policy yet Democrats are being blamed for it. Those arguments don’t really hold water any more than Republicans claiming that COVID killed Trump’s 2020 campaign. It may have—and Trump’s unchained cannon-mouth is to blame—but Democrat partisans did their damnedest to manipulate the stories and the actual approval dates of vaccines, so as not to hand Trump a “win.”
Also ignored is the $46-odd million dollars Democrats spent actually promoting Big Lie Republican candidates in order to make the “save democracy!” argument have bite. This is like going out and handing $500 to homeless people if they rob stores and commit violent crimes, so you can claim there’s a problem with homeless people committing crimes as your campaign narrative.
Democrat partisans in the media and politics want to pretend these away, so they can use the argument that anyone who votes Republican is just evil and deserves to have their free speech rights, free assembly rights, and Second Amendment rights summarily extinguished. It’s true that The People are breaking bad, as I wrote yesterday, because the Republican narrative is to win at all costs, even at the cost of civility and basic decency. But the Democrats bet that they could elevate incivility and indecency so they themselves could claim civility and decency as campaign planks.
Joe Biden is the one-horse politician they drag out to drum the civil and decent message, and therefore color millions of Americans as indecent bums. Everyone knows the message is not that simple, and people still remember Biden’s terrible handling of Afghanistan, his self-righteous tare against Saudi Arabia followed by a fist bump, and his meandering, nearly incoherent streaks that cause so many to pray for him that we would not inherit Kamala Harris as chief executive.
The Democrats are set to get a drubbing next Tuesday, and they know it. Biden’s closing argument is more a stick to beat the scapegoats than a hope he would motivate anyone. He even said it:
I believe the voices excusing or calling for violence and intimidation are a distinct minority in America. But they’re loud, and they are determined. We have to be more determined. All of us who reject political violence and voter intimidation, and I believe that’s the overwhelming majority of the American people, all of us must unite to make it absolutely clear that violence and intimidation have no place in America.
If the voices calling for violence are a distinct minority, then why will Republicans take the majority of seats in the coming midterms? He is trying to have it both ways, saying that the thugs are a minority, yet Republicans, who will hold a majority of Congress, state houses and governors’ mansions, are part of the voices calling for violence and intimidation.
Americans aren’t buying it, and it’s nothing but pabulum to be used after the election. It’s possible that Democrats could preserve their status quo, but they don’t have the momentum right now, and momentum in the last days is extremely important. Biden’s speech isn’t going to change any of that.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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