The Last Check on Trump: The Stakes of 2020, and the Case for the Candidate Who Can Win
I. The Post Impeachment Landscape
Impeachment was designed so that a President who abused his power to rig an election could be removed….because, definitionally, you could not rely on the election being a fair contest. The impeachment inquiry revealed in staggering detail that Trump did exactly that, using frozen military aid to extort an ally at war to investigate the domestic political opponent he fears most: Joe Biden. And one witness who offered to testify if subpoenaed, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, was willing to confirm that Trump personally directed the entire scheme. The Republican Senate did not want to hear from Bolton or any other witnesses, making this the first impeachment trial without any documentation or witnesses — despite the fact that over 75% of the public wanted both. I don’t like hot take / simplistic analysis, but this one was easy to describe in a single phrase: a cover up. To prevent more damning facts from getting out and preserve power rather hold Trump accountable.
The scary part is that Trump will inevitably be emboldened to further weaponize the state and solicit foreign interference to further his re-election. Since he can’t be indicted for crimes, nor impeached for brazenly abusing his office, the message conveyed is that he is effectively king for the next 10 months — with “carte blanche to corrupt democracy.” And the reality is he has plenty of tools at his disposal, including the IRS, the Department of Justice, intelligence agencies, and all other kinds of government departments he can abuse to target his opponents and aid his re-election. And this is why the “let’s resolve this in the election” answers from Republican Senators are in such bad faith. As Matthew Dowd put it, “a guy is caught cheating on an exam, he isn’t sorry for cheating, says he will cheat on next exam, no boundaries are put in place for him to stop cheating, so let’s just let him take the next exam and see how he does.”
II. The Stakes for 2020
It is infuriating. And I think Congressman Kennedy put it best today: “You should be angry. You should be angry that Senate Republicans are pleading ignorance. You should be angry that they’re willing to set a dangerous precedent to hold onto power. And then you should channel that anger into taking their power away.”
There is no white knight coming to save the American republic. We need to save ourselves. It will be about what we do in the next 10 months. Do we succumb to what Trumpists want, which is cynicism, depression, and disengagement? Or do we recognize our own power, and organize and fight back in a wave of civic engagement like this country has never seen. I believe for all the danger and destruction of the Trump presidency, a forest fire creates healthier soil — and there is a new super-majority growing that is ready to take on the structural challenges our country faces and achieve the America we believe is possible. You see it in the record number of people running for office, young people organizing March for Our Lives in the aftermath of tragedy, and people who never gave two shits about politics getting off the sidelines. I see it my personal hero — my grandma — who even while losing her sight at almost eighty years of age leads her local Indivisible group (and don’t you dare interrupt her when “Rachel” — yes they are on a first name basis — is on MSNBC).
2020 will fundamentally be a test of citizenship and agency. What that will look like will be different for different people — for some being the best citizen they can be may just mean learning more about an issue, for others it could be registering people to vote, and for some it could be running a damn campaign. But if every American does their civic best, we will win. And the reality is any of the Democratic candidates would be a gigantic step up from what we have now, and they would all clear the minimum baseline of basic rationality, decency, and fidelity to Democracy. I have positive things to say about all of them (and more than you would expect for Bernie), even if I have significant concerns about some of their electability. And whoever is the nominee, I will not just vote for them but I will do everything in my power to unify the party and see them succeed. Canvassing, door-knocking, everything. The stakes are way too high for toxic, petty bickering and factionalism.
With that said, the choice of candidate matters, because it makes the path to victory in 2020 either wider or narrower. And with the stakes as high as they are, with this election providing the only remaining institutional check on President Trump, it is a decision that should be taken seriously and made strategically. A second Trump term will be a matter of literal life and death for many communities in this country, would permanently reshape the American judiciary, and fundamentally change the character of this country. And the reality is if someone has their foot on your neck (or democracy’s neck), and you can only choose one person to help get them off you…you want to select the strongest person you know — and not necessarily your favorite person. When you only get one shot, you simply need the person who can actually get the job done. And my conclusion is that candidate is Vice President Joe Biden. Biden is the candidate who has shown the resilience, coalition, and data to win and bring this country back from the brink. Here is the realist case for his nomination.
III. The 5 Point Case for Joe Biden
These are the five reasons I think Joe Biden is best positioned as it stands to command the broadest electoral coalition to beat Trump and successfully enact progressive policy.
- The Data: Biden performs the best in the polls
- Biden has the broadest coalition of support, especially among the Black voters that are the backbone of the party
- Biden matches the profile of candidates who won in 2018 and speaks the language of the swing states we need to win
- Trump is scared of him, and he is the only candidate who has hit Trump back effectively
- Trump’s Antithesis: Empathy, Character, and Competence
Bonus*: Twitter and Social Media are Not Reality
1. The Data: Biden performs the best in the polls
At this point the race is narrowing to Biden and Sanders. This is how they perform in polling against Trump in the states that will determine the 2020 election:
In almost every single state, Biden beats Trump (and he’s even close in Texas). And in the General Election, RCP consistently tells the same story: Biden most definitively beats Trump (and in many cases he is the only one who does).
And after the South Carolina primary, we don’t just have to go off hypothetical polls. Turnout is going to be absolutely critical in the 2020 election, and in South Carolina turnout increased by about 40 percent over 2016. Turnout was even higher than 2008 for Barack Obama. And Biden won emphatically and decisively in a diverse state representative of the country.
As Politico highlighted: “Biden won 48%-20% over Sanders. He won white voters comfortably (33%-23%) and crushed Sanders among black voters (61%-17%). He won voters of every education level. He even beat Sanders among self-identified Independents, a core group for the Vermont senator. And even though half of South Carolina voters identified as moderate (41%) or conservative (9%) and half as somewhat liberal (30%) or very liberal (19%), Biden won every group.”
Turnout was so high that Biden now has the highest number of votes of any candidate in the Democratic primary .
Biden 29.4% (325,318)
Sanders 23.5% (260,697)
Buttigieg 15.3% (169,632)
Warren 10.0% (110,737)
Klobuchar 9.8% (107,996)
We will need someone who can win decisively and unequivocally in 2020. Joe has demonstrated he is the best positioned to do so.
2. Biden has the broadest coalition of support, especially among the Black voters that are the backbone of the party
Biden has the support of 52% of African Americans, 33% of Hispanics, 20% of White Voters, 40% of Voters 50–64 years old, and 47% of those over 65 (the two groups most likely to actually vote). Biden’s coalition looks like America, and is the most broad and diverse of the field.
Biden has a 28 point lead nationally among black voters, the highest number of endorsements from the Congressional Black Caucus, and wins decisively or does well among every age group of black voters. In South Carolina he won nearly 2/3 of the black vote. A viral moment that caught the authenticity of this support was when a black woman security guard told Biden she loved him in an elevator and they took a selfie. It also seemed like a “microcosm” of the campaign, in which Biden is continually written off but commands deep loyalty and affection among the voters that are the backbone of our party (and if you want to understand how important black turnout is, look at the election of Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, where 98% of Black women choosing him was THE reason for his narrow victory). If they are telling us who they want, it seems like a good idea to listen.
3. Biden matches the profile of candidates who won in 2018 and speaks the language of the swing states we need to win
The 30 something Congressman who flipped Trump districts in 2018 had a similar profile. Connor Lamb, for example, was a former marine and U.S. Attorney who flipped a district Trump won by 20 points. Lamb could have asked many politicians to be his surrogate when he was running, but he chose Joe Biden, who he believed was the Democrat who could best help him win in Pennsylvania. He did win, and has now endorsed Biden, along with other swing state Congressmen.
This connects to a larger point, which is that Biden appears best positioned to connect with the voters we need to win in swing states. This is bigger than Biden just leading in the swing states. It is about tone, affect, and connection. Biden speaks the language of unions, firefighters, and the working/middle class. He isn’t condescending or judgmental, he makes authentic connections, and he is honest/realistic on the legislative changes he can deliver. That will be critical not just for winning these states, but cross over appeal. And he is the only candidate whom multiple friends and family who supported Trump in 2016 say they would vote for in 2020. This is especially important given that statisticians have found “about 89 percent of the party’s improved vote margin in 2018 was attributable to swing voting.” Simply put, “a big piece of Democratic victory was due to 2016 Trump voters turning around and voting for Democrats in 2018.” None of this is too diminish turnout, which will be absolutely crucial for winning. But the reality is both sides are energized, and cross-over appeal matters if you want to win. Ezra Klein has written more about this dynamic of the balancing act the Democratic party has to find given its diverse coalition. And academics have warned that Sanders appears to alienate these swing voters while only gaining with those least likely to vote. As a result, they have called his performance in polling a “mirage.”
4. Trump is scared of him, and Biden is the only candidate who has hit Trump back effectively
It says something that Trump has risked his entire presidency trying to smear Biden by extorting Ukraine. He and his team are afraid of a Biden nomination, and his potential to peel away suburban women and swing voters generally.
Biden’s team have also run the most effective ads against Trump, including this one highlighting that foriegn leaders are literally laughing at him. Biden recognizes that effective politics neutralizes a perceived strength of your opponent (Trump as “strong”), and he has shown the best ability to target Trump’s insecurities. Trump hates being laughed at and it’s clear Biden senses these weaknesses and knows how to exploit them and land a punch. Other candidates attempts to do so have often backfired, and we need a nominee who has killer instinct.
5. Trump’s Antithesis: Empathy, Character, and Competence
Trump has left this country exhausted and angry. More often than not, his rhetoric and policies are designed to inflame and stoke division. As has often been pointed out, “the cruelty is the point.” And Trump’s example is corrosive. After Trump’s Muslim ban, hate crimes in this country spiked.
Every day we see the ugliness. The way this President demeans people. The way his administration harms the most vulnerable. The threat he poses to our democracy and our values.The character of the President matters. The example they set matters. Their ability to unite the country — and put its interests above their own — matters.
Joe Biden started his campaign by declaring we are in a “battle for the soul of this country.” That is the best description of the stakes of this election that I have heard from any candidate. It is a battle we have to win. And Vice President Biden has the empathy, character, and competence to lead the country in doing so.
Biden’s experiences with enormous personal loss and adversity have made empathy and compassion foundational to who he is (15:30 on). At many of his rallies, people tell him what they are going through because they know he will relate and feel their pain. He has been going out his way to help kids who struggle with stuttering the way he did growing up. At this point we know who Trump is, and the question at this point…is who are we? Voters are craving basic decency and having leaders we can be proud of and feel we can trust. And it may not be flashy/sexy but that is Biden to his bones. And there is a deep emotional power in that appeal at such an unsettling time. Andrew Sullivan has built on this theme in his analysis of why Biden knows how to the make the moral case against Trump, analyzing what I think is the best speech from any candidate thus far after the mass shooting in El-Paso.
Lastly, basic competence. I think the strongest sales pitch a candidate can make was “If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time. I’ll do my job watching out for North Korea and ending this trade war. So you can go raise your kids and live your lives.” There will be no time for on the job training in 2020, and Biden’s record as a senator and Vice-President — with actual high pressure executive experience — tops anyone else in the field. People want results from their government, and whether its passing the Violence Against Women Act, the Assault Weapons Ban, De-Nuclearization treaties, the stimulus that dug America out of recession, Obamacare, cancer research, getting the administration to come out in support of gay marriage…Biden has shown he can actually deliver. He passed 47 bills in his time as a Senator, nearly 6X as many as his chief rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders. He knows how to use relationships to negotiate, but also how to play hardball — such as when he defeated the nomination of the far-right extremist Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. People forget that the President who passed the most progressive legislation in modern history was Lyndon Johnson (Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Headstart, etc.). The sausage has always been made the same way: organization, coalitions, public pressure, negotiation, intimidation, you name it. Biden knows the game the way Johnson knew it in his day, and he would channel the an energized democratic base in delivering the parties top priorities: expanding health care, climate change / green energy, immigration reform, and the like. And perhaps most importantly, protecting and expanding our democracy so that popular majorities can actually translate into these legislative changes.
Addendum: Twitter and Social Media are Not Reality
The moment mentioned earlier between Biden and a fan in an elevator reflected a larger point, which is the fundamental disconnect between elite liberal circles and the majority of the country. Columnist Yair Rosenburg put it the following way:
The reality is that the support for hard left candidates is loud (on social media) but narrow electorally. Biden’s support is lower key on social media but broad electorally. This is creating a kind of dissonance where you can tell a lot of elite younger types are just kind of dumbfounded their candidate hasn’t caught on more, because liberal Twitter seems so unified behind them. Twitter is not reality folks and only a third of this country has college degrees. Most people don’t want you promising the world to them, they want you to actually get things done that will help their family and bottom line. They want results. And they want Trump gone. Biden’s the guy who has shown he can get it done.
Addendum #2: A “Team of Rivals” in a Biden Administration to unify the party
Mayor Pete, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke recently endorsed Joe Biden. In doing so, Beto graciously reflected on the unique strengths all the competitors have brought to the table, and how we will need to leverage all of them in November.
“Elizabeth Warren has demonstrated extraordinary integrity and intelligence in her career and on the campaign trail. Michael Bloomberg has often used his wealth to pursue the common good: reducing gun violence and averting climate catastrophe. And Bernie Sanders has consistently and successfully pushed this country to think big. From universal healthcare to higher education that is accessible to everyone, he and his supporters have already made this a better country by asking us to demand more of ourselves. I am encouraged by the energy of his volunteers, especially the young people at the vanguard of his movement. They are fighting for ideals that are consistent with our highest aspirations, and I am confident that their leadership will be essential to reaching them, whoever wins the next election.”
I have been saying this for years but the smartest move Biden could make if he wins the nomination would be to create a team of rivals and announce his entire cabinet before the election. Trump did an equivalent of this by releasing a list of Supreme Court justices and it may have delivered him the presidency. These politicians could then stump for him on the issue area they would be working in. Vice President Stacey Abrams, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Labor Secretary Bernie Sanders, Veterans Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Treasury Secretary Elizabeth Warren, Commerce Secretary Andrew Yang, Health and Human Services Seceretary Michelle Obama, Education Secretary Michael Bennett, Housing Secretary Cory Booker, Homeland Security Secretary Adam Schiff, Secretary of State Chris Murphy, Defense Secretary Seth Moulton, Transportation Secretary Amy Klobuchar. Give everyone a role so that everyone feels the candidate they supported will be part of the administration’s vision. It will take everyone working together to be victorious.