“The presidency is not an office that automatically gives its occupant the power to order everyone around; much of what a president gets done depends on his or her ability to convince others to go along. That’s a lot easier if everyone understands that the president is going to be in office for a while.” —Jonathan Bernstein
In his 2018 best-seller Fear, Bob Woodward tells a very short story about how Senator Mitch McConnell called then-head of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus and advised him not to back Trump for president, but to instead use that money to fund Republican congressional races. In the book, that story takes up a very tiny paragraph. The implications, on the other hand, could fill a tome.
If I’m reading between the lines correctly, I think McConnell’s idea was to intentionally throw the presidency itself to Hillary Clinton while using the money they otherwise would have spent in pursuit of the White House to build a Republican supermajority in Congress. That would’ve given them the ability to thwart every move Clinton even thought about making, embarrass her and the entire Democratic Party by making them look ineffective and dishonest after she was forced to break every single campaign promise she ever made, demoralize their voters, and tee up a perfect shot for retaking the presidency with a competent right-wing politician in 2020. I hate to say it, but it was one hell of an idea that likely would have worked (according to Woodward, Priebus acknowledged Trump was a nightmare, but couldn’t bring himself to do it).
And while it’s quite true that 2016 is over and no one wants to read another post mortem, I think we should care about this little nugget in particular, because McConnell’s mindset and strategic inclinations are likely still simmering behind the scenes for this upcoming election. If we nominate either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, that McConnell playbook could very well get dusted off. It’s relevant, and here’s why.
Due to their age, Biden and Bernie could only seek one term. They’ve already all but admitted they wouldn’t seek reelection. Setting aside entirely any ideological differences or agreement one may have with either candidate, electing a certain or almost-certain one-term president is a gargantuan mistake. It’s short-sighted and allows Republicans the long-term upper hand.
If either B-Boy* wins the nomination, obviously they will have to choose a running mate. After weeks of breathless punditry consisting of mostly guesswork, an announcement will be made, and it’s reasonable to assume either man would see the benefits of selecting a younger, popular dynamo, all with the unspoken message that she or he will be running for the top slot in 2024. People will nod and clap and ignore the fact that this never fucking works. Running someone from the lame duck administration hasn’t worked one single time since 1988! I’d argue that even then, Bush just got lucky and the election could’ve easily swung the other way had some stars aligned differently. And by stars I mean the merest of competence from the DNC.
If we put Biden or Sanders in the White House, Republicans can set the Democratic cause back by at least a decade, if not much longer. All they’ll need to do is thwart and frustrate their agenda while patiently awaiting 2024, which will, under this scenario, be an open election naturally favoring their party. Incumbent elections always favor the party currently in power, while open elections always favor the party not in power. Given McConnell’s craven nature, Republican talent for controlling the narrative, and the fact that neither Bernie nor Joe has any plan for dealing with Mitch, this will be a cakewalk.
Please, America, let’s think this through. If we deliberately choose to make 2024 an open election – even though we don’t have to! – that means that Republicans will automatically have the upper hand. By the time that election rolls around, they will have spent three years blocking President B’s agenda, forcing him to break campaign promises, making him look like an ineffective doofus, and demoralizing the base, all while reorganizing their party and cleanly lining up their shot. They’ll pretend they never supported Trump, and the Chris Cilliza’s and Chuck Todd’s of the world will credulously parrot whatever Republican talking points magically appear on their teleprompters. The world, aided and abetted by CNN, will forget the horrors of Trump’s administration and only focus on how badly the current Democratic Old Guy is flailing and failing. Election time will come around again and Biden or Bernie will… run their own VP in the midst of this shitshow? Their own VP, who will automatically be tarnished with that administration’s failures because they are part of it? Their own VP, who, because they are a part of the current administration, cannot distance themselves from the bad press and perceived ineptitude and promise a new path forward? And we’re going to run this so-called strategy in an open election that would favor Republicans even in the best of circumstances? Do you see what a gift we’re handing the GOP if we do this?
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I understand that McConnell will do his damndest to block any agenda from any Democratic president, including Warren or someone else who can run for reelection in ‘24. But with someone who actively plans to run again as an automatically advantaged incumbent, the damage is much less severe, and allows them at least the chance to entrench some needed reforms in their first term. See: Barack Obama. Someone who can serve two terms has a much larger and more specific agenda that will be harder to block. Biden has affirmed that he wants to serve one term to “hit the reset button”; Sanders has stated he wants to serve one term to kick off his “political revolution.” That’s a ton of work (that neither has any concrete plans for accomplishing) in a short amount of time. It will be incredibly, shockingly easy for Republicans to thwart any progress on either front and then grab the narrative control to dissuade future Democratic voters. With Biden, all the GOP need do is point out all the Trump policies that will still be in place in 2024 for the public to conclude Biden has failed. With Bernie, all they’ll have to do is point out how many of his plans he couldn’t get through Congress and then get the media gravely nodding about how “there’s no political revolution.” In either case, no one will be eager to elect their veep.
Either Biden or Sanders being a one-term president will be a disaster. New generations will be paying for this mistake long after these men are rotting in the ground. If we want to save our democracy and fix America’s urgent crises, we can’t run such a huge risk of preemptively giving up the presidency in 2024. We have to put our best foot forward for both the short and long run, which means nominating someone now, in 2020, who can at least run for reelection in 2024.
*I call Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Butteigeig the B-Boys.
Spaghetti with Pepperoni Marinara
- 1 lb dried spaghetti
- Kosher salt
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 8 oz. thinly sliced pepperoni, the kind you’d put on pizza, finely chopped
- 1 tsp crushed red chile flakes
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning (dried oregano would work nicely here too)
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup finely chopped pickled hot cherry peppers
- Grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil, for serving
- Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Season generously with kosher salt, add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions.
- While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the pepperoni and cook, stirring, until the pepperoni renders its fat and crisps up but does not burn. Add the onion and continue to cook, stirring, until the onion softens and cooks through, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the chile flakes, garlic, and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine and cook about 30 seconds, just until the garlic is fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cherry peppers. Stir to combine, turn the heat to low, and let the flavors marry while the spaghetti finishes cooking. If it’s too thick, add a little water (I do this by filling the tomato can with the amount of water you need, that way you get more tomato flavor); if it’s too liquidy, add a squirt of tomato paste.
- Once the spaghetti has cooked to al dente, drain and add it to the sauce. Toss continually with tongs until the pasta is well sauced. Taste for seasoning and add kosher salt if necessary. Serve with cheese and basil, if desired.