To hear some tell it, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump should be very afraid of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in 2024. The guy who narrowly beat a weak opponent in 2018, with Trump’s unequivocal help, supposedly proved himself by beating a horribly underfunded ex-Republican in a low turnout race in Florida. Pardon my skepticism, but Ron DeSantis is just the latest empty suit GOP Governor we’ll be talking about in a trivia game in ten years. He’s a joke.
There is a portion of the Republican primary electorate that wants to nominate a MAGA Republican without Trump’s baggage. They’re fine with the xenophobia and ignorance, they just think it should be someone not named Trump. For them, Ron DeSantis is the shiny object. He’s a Florida Governor, so they assume he’ll keep Florida safely red while being stronger in other Sun Belt swing states. He bans books, rails against any talk of diversity, preaches isolation politics, and generally satisfies their fetish for “owning the libs.” He’s Trump without Trump, or as we would say at a South Philly cheesesteak establishment, “wiz witout.”
DeSantis also meets the catnip requirement for the DC GOP consultant class too. He’s a Governor. Like Jeb, Kasich, Romney, Pawlenty, Perry, Huckabee, Jindal, Huntsman, or currently Haley is. Everyone of them were underwhelming, even borderline terrible candidates. They all lost. In the last 50 years only two GOP Governors (Reagan and Dubya) won the White House, but yet the DC GOP class thinks an extensive, conservative executive policy record is attractive to the public. Reality suggests the Scott Walkers of the world have little to no appeal.
Little Ronnie DeSantis is a 5-foot-nothing Napoleon Wannabe. He’s Trump with none of the sizzle, or as I call him, Trump Zero. He got elected because the Democrats weren’t smart enough to nominate Gwen Graham, and basically re-elected by default. He’s an election denier, a book banner, rails against “woke” policy, and would be fine surrendering Eastern Europe to Putin, but he lacks Trump’s celebrity and off-the-cuff name calling ability that his crowds love. The guy is an egomaniac being fulfilled by finally being “important” for the first time in his life. I’m not a Trump guy, but DeSantis is the 1979 Pinto/Welfare version of Trump, his political skills laughable next to Dubya or Reagan. This guy can’t turn out the GOP base like Trump. Biden will beat him like a drum, if the GOP is crazy enough to nominate him.
Activists and engaged primary voters often are looking for someone that fills the voids their last losing nominee lacked. Republicans engaging in the polls right now think DeSantis can be their “America First” savior, without the baggage. Kind of like Elizabeth Warren was a smart woman like Hillary Clinton, but was easier for progressive voters to accept, so she was going to be 2020’s “silver bullet” to Trump. She ended up finishing 4th with Black voters in Massachusetts in her home state primary. Warren had little appeal to the broader primary electorate, let alone general election voters. Ron DeSantis is the 2024 GOP Primary’s version of Warren 2020. I don’t see what early state he wins to even get started, he just sounds like a good idea in the abstract to activists who don’t want to take an introspective look at why they lost last time. Mike Pence with Iowa or Chris Christie with New Hampshire have a better shot than this guy.
Ron DeSantis isn’t scary to Democrats or even Trump in 2024. The only people who should be afraid of him are people living in Florida under this maniac.
We’ve more than crossed the tipping point. The more you know of a person’s race, gender, vaccination status, town of residence, religious activism, if they wear a mask, or education level, you can say what political party they are. They hunt? Republican. They have a doctoral degree? Probably a Democrat. You’ll be wrong some times. Maybe a Latino from Texas or Florida is more likely to be Republican than a Latino in California, but even there the geography informs you. If we get two or three data points we can be 75% sure of your party.
It shouldn’t be a shock that if we can use your identity to predict how you vote this well, politics is a divisive thing in America. We live in an era where people are more invested in their personal “brands” than ever, and they like to advertise their identity. A Trump flag on your house, a mask on your face, or even just what neighborhood you’re living in is a way to advertise your brand. In a “smaller,” more interconnected world created through the internet, we tend to find the people most like us, and part of how we do that is virtue signaling our beliefs and values. In doing so, we’re also telling some people we’re not interested in having them be a part of our lives. We’re a part of the “community” we told you we’re a part of with the Ukrainian flag, or #BackTheBlue, or hammer and sickle in our profile- so stay away if you don’t agree.
It’s pretty obvious this brand, identity driven politics is divisive. People voting for the opposite side are quite literally rejecting our identity as a person. It’s not just that the other side has bad ideas, their existence is offensive now. People wonder why moderates are going extinct in public office, but the truth is kind of obvious- many active Democrats really hate Joe Manchin and think he is of nefarious ideals, and Republicans in many places feel the same about Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney. In fact, one could argue the party base hates moderation from their own even more than they hate the other side. This manifests itself in Democrats who are certain Donald Trump would be in jail by now if Merrick Garland wanted to make him be, or Republicans who think “Q” is going to come remove Joe Biden for stealing the election.
There is an increasing identity wrapped up in how voters view the political parties, but if us going further and further into every day life. Very, very few places are politically competitive, because Americans are “self sorting” into communities that think and live like themselves. America’s cities have a strong leftward tilt because left identifying people moved in and right-leaning people don’t want to live there. Rural areas trend even more red, because progressive minded people find less and less of interest there. Suddenly rural Colorado and Georgia are electing Boebert and MTG and Queens and Detroit are electing AOC and Rashida Tlaib. Most of America doesn’t even live in a politically competitive place, and know less and less people who disagree with them.
When MTG talked last week about a “national divorce,” she was simply doubling down on her divisive political brand, but it’s pretty much happening around us. We’re sorting ourselves away from each other. Our tolerance for people on the other side is disappearing from our political consciousness. Ron DeSantis is building a Presidential campaign on banning books, but Tennessee is one upping him by banning drag shows. Increasingly it’s hard to live in a place where you are a political minority, because things you want to do in your life are not being allowed by the majority. Identity is our politics now, and it is way more complex than simply race, gender, sexuality, or other demographic traits- it’s literally how we live.
With the exception of 2020, I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t go to at least 25 professional baseball games in a year. We’ve had our 17 game season ticket plan with the Phillies since 1991 and our 18 game plan with their AAA affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, since their 2008 inception. I love baseball more than most fans, and certainly for me the league is hardly dying. My 3-0 Eagles are a one day a week thing until the Phillies season has ended.
Baseball has issues though. The league is definitely making money, sure, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. In the American League, you have five teams heading for a solid 90 losses or more, while eight of the fifteen teams are on their ways to losing seasons. In the National League, seven of the fifteen teams are going to smash the 90 plus loss barrier, eight are on their way to losing seasons, and a solid three should lose 100 plus this season. Essentially baseball has 14 winning teams and 12 playoff spots, so only one decent team per league doesn’t get a participation trophy. Meanwhile half the teams in the league are absolute garbage, totally abysmal to watch, and give you no reason to care about them if they’re your team. This in a league where games are longer and longer to watch, hitters strikeout a lot, and fundamentals have been replaced with the analytical theory of three true outcomes. I get it, the sport is not the healthiest it ever has been, even if TV revenues are setting records, and guaranteeing franchises (even small ones) about $100 million before anyone steps through the gate.
The game is not broken though. Revenues are great. The players and owners both do pretty well, though the owners do better. Minor leaguers don’t get paid great, but I sat at games all of last weekend with 8,000 or so fans a night in Allentown. There is interest in the game, even if it doesn’t match the NFL anymore. Who cares? Money is being made, even the Royals sold for a billion dollars recently. I have a few tweaks to the game I would do to make it better, but I wouldn’t run a full scale overhaul. Here’s my in depth ideas…
Salary Floors, Roster Sizes, Trade Deadlines, and September Call-Ups
Lots of people like to complain that ballplayers make a lot of money. Why? Baseball players are the reason the league is making money. The problem with the game is not that the Dodgers are paying good players and putting a good product on the field, it’s that Oakland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Detroit never intended to put anything even subpar on the field. Between the local market television deals all 30 clubs sign and the national deal the league signs, every single ball club in the league makes $100 million before selling tickets, merchandise, parking, and concessions. Requiring clubs to put 80%, or even all of their TV money back into the baseball payroll seems like a reasonable way to insure teams don’t run out totally no-name line-ups. A salary floor with the existing luxury tax rules would create some level of parity.
I don’t have any big issues with the 26 man roster or the 40 man roster sizes. For that matter, I think the IL rules have actually improved over time. About the only thing I would change is not counting starting pitchers who aren’t starting that day against the 26 active player limit, unless the team is designating them as a position player option (so basically Ohtani or any pitcher you’d consider to pinch hit). If a starting pitcher isn’t pitching that day, now that we have a universal DH, they’re effectively a dead roster spot. Since most teams carry five starting pitchers, you’d open up four roster spots more every day on the 26 man roster. In order to prevent managers like Gabe Kapler from adding four more relief arms, I’d mandate it be two position players and two pitchers, basically meaning a team could carry one starting pitcher, ten relief pitchers, the starting nine position players in the lineup, and a six man bench. This would take some work with the union on how pitchers are paid different for on and off days to still meet their guaranteed contracts, but the union would jump at the chance to get four more players service time and big league paychecks each day.
I don’t love the new trade deadline rules. The end of July deadline, formerly known as the non-waiver deadline is definitely exciting, but the season has almost a third left beyond that. I would bring back the August waiver trades. In order to prevent losing teams from just dumping players to save salary, I would require teams to take back Major League salary in any August trades. Trades could only be made with baseball purposes in mind then.
I’m actually fine with MLB’s 28 player limit for September call-ups. Would I be fine with 30? Yes I would, but there’s really no need to give managers a full AAA squad as extras. Since I’d already be discounting the four inactive starting pitchers from the numbers anyway, 28 is fine to me. And again, one pitcher and one position player each. With AAA baseball now playing until nearly the end of the MLB season this year (three days apart), there’s no need to call everyone up. There’s a place for young guys and depth players to keep getting their reps at.
Expansion, Realignment, Schedules, and Playoffs
Baseball needs to do two things that are sort of at odds- make sure all the fans can see their stars play, regardless of divisions, but also cater to what really still sells the game- regional rivalries. In other words, you should see Mike Trout play in Philadelphia and Washington at least every other year, but I also get that Phillies-Mets games are what gets me psyched up for baseball. So, here’s my expansion and realignment plans for MLB…
National League East- Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Expos (expansion), Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets
American League East- Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
American League South- Kansas City Royals, Nashville Rays (Relocated from Tampa and preferably renamed), Texas (Dallas) Rangers, Houston Astros
National League South- Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds
National League North- Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals
American League North- Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins
American League West- Seattle Mariners, Las Vegas A’s, LA Angels of Anaheim, San Jose (Expansion team)
National League West- Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants
On-Deck Expansion (In Order): Portland (NL West), Charlotte (AL South), San Antonio (NL South), Salt Lake City (AL West), Indianapolis (either North), Tampa/Orlando (either South)
Obviously this represents a major change to the current alignment by adding two teams and going to four divisions instead of three. Moving the A’s and Rays out of failing stadium/market situations into the booming Vegas and Nashville markets helps both. I’m not convinced the Bay can’t handle an AL team with the Giants though, as it’s a mega market with good baseball fans, so I immediately give San Jose (the tenth largest city in America) a brand new AL team. On the NL side I side with bringing back the NL East Canadian rivals from Montreal as the new expansion team and sliding their old replacements in Washington south to be the big market down there, rather than keeping the Nats with the northeast markets and adding a Southern team. Atlanta and Miami need someone to hate.
I hate the unbalanced schedule, yet I do think you should play your division rivals more. I would have teams play 14 times against each of their three division rivals, 7 home and away. I would have every team play six games, three home and three away, against the other 12 teams in their league. Finally I’d have each team play one three game series against each team in the opposite league, each year. That adds up to 42 division games, 72 league games, and 48 inter league games, for a total of 162 games.
Playoffs? You talking about playoffs? There are four divisions in each league, and each winner would make it. In my ideal world, that’s it. I know the owners would never allow that though. Two Wild Cards in each league, matching the current six team playoffs, would be great. If they insist on going to eight teams, fine I guess, just make it best four remaining records, not each second place team. Best of three in the first round, best of five in the second, and best of seven in the LCS’s and World Series.
The “on the field” Stuff
Umpires? Shifts? Pitch clocks? DH’s? “Ghost runners” on second in extra innings? These seem to be the debates that really animate debates between fans. For what it’s worth, I still like the product overall. Do I miss stolen bases, hit and runs, double switches, and bunts? Yes. Baseball’s greatness was always grounded in being a thinking man’s game. It’s sad to see that diminished because ironically the “spreadsheet nerds” in front offices think it’s all homers, strikeouts, and walks. But I digress…
Umpires and Challenges- Prior to replay review being introduced to baseball, I would have told you the human error of umpires is part of the game. Allowing replay review challenges changes this in two ways though. First, just about every play should be subject to review if some are. Second, it’s time for at least a robotic strike zone. If getting it right is important, get it right. There is no in-between. Also though, make the number of challenges make sense for me. Also, just have the league office handle all challenges and speed it up. Why do the on-field umpires need to re-watch the play?
Shifts- I hate the shift. What I think I hate more than anything about it is when one of the infielders is way out in the outfield taking away clean singles by playing halfway out. Infielders should be in the infield. I think I’m okay with the rules changes that say two guys have to be on each side of second base. That’s as far as I’d go though. Hitters need to stop trying to pull every pitch with maximum launch angle. There are more than three true outcomes, just ask Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose. Learn to hit the ball the other way.
Pitch clocks and mound visits- I’m 100% with the new pitch clock rules and limiting mound visits. Good job by MLB.
The DH- I’m not desperate for more offense, but this is just a quality product issue. Do you want to see 9 professional hitters or 8? For me, the answer is obvious.
“Ghost runners”in extra innings- This rule has been super unpopular with many people, and I don’t know why. Do you really want 20 inning regular season games lasting seven hours? No thanks. I would play through the 12th normal and then go to ghost runners to get some scoring going. Long games wreck bullpens and cause injuries. I’ll take a hard pass, in the regular season. Play all night in October.
Sticky substances on pitchers, batting armor- Pitchers don’t need any extra help getting spin on the ball, so I think the ban is warranted. Pitchers need to be able to throw inside and back a hitter off the plate though, so all the “body armor” these guys wear is unnecessary to the game. Hard no thanks from me.
PEDs- I don’t hate PED use the way some folks do. With that said, rules are rules. I like the rules banning players from the postseason who are suspended any games that season for cheating. Half season bans are light compared to many international sports. 162 game bans would be serious.
The Hall of Fame is a museum, it is not a church. If we’re going to enshrine players in the Hall, they should be enshrined for their play, not their morality. This is not to overlook the terrible behavior of a Ty Cobb or Pete Rose, that should be a part of their plaques. It’s to say there should be plaques.
Pete Rose may be a jerk, but he’s a jerk who has the most hits in baseball history. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. Put on his plaque that he broke the rules and bet on baseball, or any other negative thing you want. It’s all true. And this is about the history of the game. You can put him in and still keep him banned from any role in the game.
You can probably guess my position on Barry Bonds, on A-Rod, on Clemens, on Sosa, on McGwire, or even Curt Schilling (who didn’t cheat, he’s just a jerk). You can’t write the history of baseball without any of them. Sure, Barry Bonds isn’t the man Hank Aaron was, and you can easily say that on the plaque. For the most part though, I put them all in.
Maybe the way to make this work is to do an exhibit on the PED era when you put them in. Satisfy the purists that way. I’m not really comfortable with the morality of baseball writers dictating what history gets remembered from the game, as morality tends to change with society, but history shouldn’t. I’d like to see the players have a bigger say, if not the say over who gets in down the line. I think it would be a lot more telling than leaving it to the press alone.
The minors… I would greatly reform the minor leagues. Florida and Arizona would be strictly Rookie League Ball clubs at the complexes, with every MLB getting four additional affiliates in the rest of the states. I would try to geographically align the affiliates in their home media markets as much as possible, while still trying to have a team in driving distance of all of America, if possible. Obviously I’d fix the pay too so no player earned less than $75k a year.
I wrote 90% of this piece in September’s final weekend in 2022. I need to reread it. But what do you think?
If you’re about my age, you have 2008 and 2017, and if you’re a Philadelphia fan I don’t have to tell you what either one was. We also can vividly describe you SpyGate, Joe Carter, watching Allen Iverson play whole playoff series by himself, Ryan Howard’s achilles, and Eric Lindros’ concussions. Folks just before my time had the Broad Street Bullies, 1980 Phillies, and the 1983 Sixers. Philadelphia fans who are adults today have had to endure three straight NFC title game losses, but let me tell you, we’ve had it good. My grandfather’s generation had it rough. He saw his first and only Phillies title at 50, two Eagles titles in his life, two Sixers titles, two Flyers titles, and the A’s and Warriors pack up and leave town. Fans before that may not have seen any success that wasn’t from the old Philadelphia A’s. Even as bad as it was though, those old guys created the generational bond that stretches from William Penn’s statue across South Jersey, down through Delaware and Northeast Maryland, west to Amish country, and north to the Lehigh Valley. We’re surrounded across the northeast by more “elite” cities like New York, Washington, and according to the press, Boston. Cheesesteaks and beer, baby. We know our teams will break our hearts plenty, yet we keep the faith that a World Series or Super Bowl run is coming.
Some athletes just get Philadelphia, and right now we’re gifted with them. I mentioned Kelce above, and at this point he’s part of our folklore here. Bryce Harper’s time in Philadelphia has already shown him to be one of us. In fact, the current Eagles and Phillies teams are as good of a representation of us as could exist. Joel Embiid has shown himself to understand Philadelphia in a way many athletes cannot (ahem, Ben Simmons). The Flyers have had a rough decade or so, but I’m keeping faith that we’ll have an Orange and black parade or two in the next one. It is simply a great time to be a Philadelphia fan.
Tonight, for the fourth time in the Super Bowl era, the collective populace of the fourth largest media market in America will sit on edge as our Birds go for the title. Grandparents, small children, and raging adult fans like myself all alike will wake up tomorrow elated or depressed by the result of a game. We’ll be readying to go to the parade with our buddies we grew up with, or settling in for snow season and waiting for the next chance to do it again. Either way, I think we’re all proud to be represented by a team that is as gritty and tough as we are.
Amazingly, I think today might be a lower key Super Bowl for me. I’m going to grab a Wawa Italian hoagie, visit some people, and try to watch every damn second of this one. Hell, I may not drink so I can go into town to get a cheesesteak tonight 😏. I don’t hate the Chiefs fan base like some, I was in Omaha (big Chiefs country) when they won a few years ago and I gained some real respect for their fan experience, but the Eagles have to defeat Andy Reid in this one.
The Washington Post is out with a report today from NYU saying that Russian disinformation on Twitter probably had very little impact on the 2016 Election. The basic finding is that the tweets probably didn’t reach nearly a big or broad enough audience to really make a difference. The report notes that Facebook posts reached a much wider audience, and “hack and dump” operations against the DNC likely did reach the broader public, based on other studies. In the end it’s nearly impossible to see exactly how much Russian operations were because of missing variables.
Setting aside the issue that Twitter has more of a “political influencer” crowd on it, there’s not a lot to argue against from the report. As the years have passed since 2016, I have not for one second doubted that Russia was messing around in our elections, or that Trump was okay with it. I’ve had two basic problems with the whole narrative though. First, “collusion” is not the crime, conspiracy would be, and that would require a direct agreement of some kind, which hasn’t been totally laid out to us. Second, I spent most of 2016 in Northeast Pennsylvania and Eastern North Carolina- do I really think all the Trump voters I saw needed Russia to convince them? Sure, bad people tried to do bad things, but is that really why Trump won?
It’s an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of liberal-leaning Americans, because I don’t think we like the implications, but Donald Trump did win the 2016 Election. Sure, he lost the popular vote, but that isn’t our system. So much of the conversation about Russian interference in our elections has been an attempt to discredit the result, rather than secure the future, and that is probably energy poorly spent. In 2012, the swing states broke mostly as a group towards Barack Obama, while the rest of the country voted along red and blue lines. In 2020, the swing states broke narrowly towards Joe Biden, while the rest of the country voted along their partisan lines. In 2016 they broke the opposite way. Typically the winner of the election is the candidate who does best where the paid communications are happening, which is to say the swing states. In 2016 that happened to be the Republican nominee.
Part of the reason the Russian interference narrative is a comforting way to explain 2016 is that it avoids saying that nearly half the country actually agrees with what Trump is saying. The truth is, they do though. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a fluke. Joe Biden needed north of 81 million votes to narrowly beat him four years later. To treat Trump’s win as though it didn’t really happen is to comfort one’s self in a reality that never really existed.
It was funny, maybe the first five times. Then it became pathetic. Then it made me mad. Finally it ended, when I was asleep no less, and Kevin McCarthy finally was Speaker. The House was sworn in, and honestly that was it. They lacked the votes to get any rules passed. So the House went home, patting themselves on the back. After almost a week of work, they managed to put someone in charge and swear themselves in. They will spend the next two years being this unproductive. This was the easy part.
There are 435 House members and 100 Senators in a country of 330 million people, and they used that power for this performative bullshit. To be clear, the Senate is not nearly as bad as the new House, but both will largely spend their time in session trying to “message” to the country on the issues they want to talk about for the next two years. Neither will pass much actual law. We’ll be very lucky if the House can even raise the debt ceiling or fund the government at all, let alone pass any helpful laws.
It sort of amazes me that people want to be elected to Congress to go there and hold oversight hearings, stage sit-ins, and make TikToks, instead of writing bills, appropriating money, and passing legislation. You have members (in both parties) who served multiple terms in the Majority and the biggest legislative achievements they have are Post Office names. Getting clicks for performance art brings in small dollar donations, gets coverage, and raises name ID much more than real legislative work though. The incentive structure is all messed up, and Congress is full of people for whom the point is getting on camera- it’s literally why they are there.
The use of oversight committee hearings to get on television goes back to at least McCarthyism in the 1950’s, and just has been progressively worse since. We probably should have understood this during the baseball steroid hearings or the Benghazi hearings, but an increasing point of this stuff isn’t producing legislation or even legislative reports, they’re there to get on TV. Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert just spent a week using the election of a House Speaker to get on TV, with no substantive goal or demand, just basically to impress some activists somewhere that they showed their leader who is the boss. Nothing was achieved for the country. Just fame for them.
There are people who will argue it’s good that we just watched Congress debate their leader in the public sphere. Sure, maybe for two, three, or even five rounds. These folks spent at least twelve rounds voting the exact same, over and over. To foreign powers, it’s dysfunctional. To the domestic audience, it was clownery. To those in the know? These people aren’t capable of the job of serving in Congress. They literally won a seat in the most powerful legislature in the world just to impress strangers on the internet.
Don't be the next contestant on that Summer Jam screen Because you know who (who) did you know what (what) With you know who (yeah) but just keep that between me and you for now.
Those prophetic words from the great Jay-Z could easily have been written about the three men pictured above who the Republican Party tapped as the faces of their opposition to a young President Barack Obama. The funny thing about it is, in 2009 and 2010 it looked like they were doing pretty well. Now it’s 2022, and Obama’s Vice-President is now the President, and at any time now the last of them could be laid waste to by his party. They have been summarily humiliated, defeated, and vanquished from the GOP.
It would be very easy to sit here and talk about the political failings of each of them individually, or laugh at how foolish it was to think these guys could take on the coolest American politician of his generation. One could spend time making this a demographic case study, and try to make the argument that the “arch of time” is against the House GOP, but that would ignore that the GOP has won or gained seats in every House election since that book cover, save for one. My hypothesis in the end though is quite different than that- none of the “young guns” individual flaws ended up mattering nearly as much as the entire miscalculation of creating the “young guns” at all.
The retired lady in North Dakota, the angry Kari Lake voter in Arizona, the young guy in Johnstown, PA, or the random retiree in The Villages of Florida all may have been seeking an alternative to Barack Obama in 2009, but the last 14 years have shown us that what they were not looking for was policy alternatives packaged in Washington, DC. Paul Ryan’s budget was not the response to Obama’s America they were asking for. The truth is that the whole “young guns” idea was something out of Bush’s Washington, and that Republican Party and America were simply dead when Obama came to town. It was a total misread of the Tea Party moment, and an even worse misread of where American conservatism was by the time 2015 arrived and John Boehner was being forced to vacate the Speaker’s Office to go sell marijuana. After Eric Cantor’s loss the GOP should have never thought Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy were going to be able to pacify what the GOP base had become. The last seven years that culminated in Kevin McCarthy’s utter humiliation on the House floor yesterday should have been predictable.
After Obama’s election, anyone who wanted to organize the GOP around an organized policy platform has come to be viewed as a moderate. To be a true conservative of the post-2008 world, one had to be willing to make a cultural argument directly against the America of Barack Obama. To be clear, allow this to clear up the dissonance of how some people voted for Obama himself and became Trumpers- it really wasn’t about Obama or even Bill Clinton’s job performances, it was more about the changes in America that were allowed to go on during their tenures. It was more about the people perceived to be getting preference in that vision of America, and that those people were getting those advantages while the new Republican base was being left to rot. This is why Romney failed to capture this base’s hopes and dreams, but Trump became their hero, his rhetoric reached them. It’s why the Republican “young guns” of 2009, in their suits, armed with their white papers on tax policy failed. The post-2008 GOP base didn’t give a damn about your policy talk, they wanted to know you would fight like hell. The more so you showed them, the more they loved you.
Let’s face it, nobody thinks Kevin McCarthy is a fighter. Or Paul Ryan. Or Eric Cantor. In fact, one by one they’ve been exposed as more willing to deliver for the rich donors than the GOP base, and it eventually catches up to them. Not one of the 20 Republicans who bucked McCarthy yesterday will be angering their own primary voters, just the DC based GOP crowd that the real base doesn’t think delivers for them anyway. The pulse of their party is fine with this.
The truth is the official, DC, mainstream GOP response to “Obamaism” was an attempt to put forward a polished policy alternative, and that bet was all wrong. The folks who wanted an alternative to the world Obama was putting forward wanted a visceral, confrontational opposition. Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor didn’t provide that. Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush didn’t provide that. Eventually the base of the GOP figures that out and disposed of them. For McCarthy, whether that really happened yesterday or a year from now, his time is coming. He and his fellow”young guns” made their bet, and they failed. We have reached the point where that is becoming pretty clear.
A lot has been written about Nancy Pelosi’s 22 years in the House Democratic Leadership, her eight years as Speaker of the United States House, and 36 years to date in the House. I really don’t have much to add there. She’s simply the most effective, best Congressional leader of my 39 year life. One could argue she’s the best ever. I really don’t have much to add.
I have one thing to add though- watch today. Today the GOP will take control of the House with 222 seats, the same number Nancy Pelosi had in her last term as Speaker. In 2021, Nancy Pelosi secured her 218 votes to be Speaker with little drama or fanfare. Even at times when she was Minority Leader, and there was real talk about replacing her, Pelosi kept her post with little drama or fanfare. Nancy Pelosi always knew her vote count, whether it was on a leadership vote, or passing any of the massive pieces of legislation she passed as Speaker. Nancy Pelosi was consistent and steady. With her exit as Speaker today, that era is gone for America.
Today you’ll watch Kevin McCarthy humiliate himself to attempt to be Speaker. He might succeed, he might not. It matters very little. No one that replaces Speaker Pelosi has one-tenth of her abilities to lead. The next two years will turn her former office into a prison, where the leader will be forced to acquiesce to lunatics, grifters, and liars. Kevin McCarthy is walking into chaos.
You’re going to miss Nancy Pelosi. The woman is good at her job.
Back in 2019, my theory was that Joe Biden would win the Democratic nomination, and ultimately the Presidency, basically because he was unlike anything else running in the Democratic field, and that was going to be good with the general electorate. While all the other candidates came out for pet slogans and causes of the activist and leftist wings of the party (Green New Deal, Defund the Police, reparations, “bold” change), Biden simply did not. He didn’t do things like defend Castro’s Cuba. Joe Biden said he was “not the guy” for voters who wanted that, and bet that more voters would back him. It worked. He won the nomination. He then won the Presidential Election, despite his party’s mixed results at other levels (particularly the House, but also to a lesser extent the Senate). Basically, my bet at the time was that the public would embrace a somewhat “normy” liberal at the ballot box, and valued competency more than it valued ideological purity, or frankly even personal charisma (Biden’s approval has mostly been below that of recent Democratic Presidents, both running and in office). I figured he would get elected, go do the job lower key than his predecessors of recent time, and move the Democratic Party as a result.
When I was first thinking about writing this, I was going to say that Joe Biden hadn’t quite done what I expected. As I got to actually considering his performance, he absolutely has though, and the party has benefitted handsomely as a result. I’ll preface this by saying that Biden has been more progressive than probably every Democrat in office since LBJ, but that’s not a super high bar. With that said, Joe Biden also probably just finished the two best performing years of any Democratic President, again since Johnson. His most “progressive” acts include executive action to attempt to wipe away billions in student load debt, which while controversial to some, is really just trying to fix the harmful impacts of a straight up predatory system. He passed the largest infrastructure bill since Eisenhower, one that will create millions of jobs and improve life in this country for generations. His eventual “Build Back Better” legislation may not have been as large as the original, but it took the most substantial action against climate change in our history. He put a highly qualified judge on the Supreme Court, and she happens to have shattered a wall in front of Black women in law through our entire history. He passed a huge stimulus early in his term and got millions of vaccines into arms (and yes, this was a good thing). He did a ton of things in his first two years, and I’m not even getting into all of them here. He did some “traditional” stuff too, like strengthen NATO and confront an expansionist Russian dictator, but that’s for another time. Basically, Joe Biden did go to Washington and govern as the “competent,” boring guy I thought he’d be. He got stuff done. He got elected that way, he governed that way. As expected.
The Democratic Party benefitted from Biden’s pathway, even if it never really made sense that they did. Biden’s personal approval has not been overly high for an early Presidency. His approval wasn’t super high through most of the primaries, and considering who he was succeeding, he didn’t enter office very high. Let’s be honest, Joe Biden doesn’t appeal to the base instincts of the masses. He does not have the charm or charisma of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, or the bravado of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. Unlike Donald Trump, his appeal is not a double down on his base, Biden is not leading a cult like following. He’s probably most like George H.W. Bush of the modern times, who by the way, lost his re-election. His appeal was literally that he did the #2 job in the Administration pretty competently for eight years, and now he’s just asking to get the promotion. It is not traditionally how we pick Presidents in America. We normally want big personalities like JFK, Teddy Roosevelt, or Reagan. In Biden, we didn’t go that way. This isn’t to say he’s the “class nerd,” but “Uncle Joe” isn’t Clinton or Obama, and well, that worked out pretty well for 2022 Democrats. The GOP picked up just nine House seats, their worst performance against a first term Democratic President in a midterm since before cell phones, color TV’s, or America Online existed. Worse yet for the GOP, they lost a Senate seat. The net effect of course is that Biden will continue appointing judges at a record pace for the next two years, and the House GOP’s “suicide caucus” won’t be able to pass any of their priorities- probably not even through the House. They will send a neutered Kevin McCarthy up to try and capture the Speaker’s gavel tomorrow in the House, and people are openly wondering if he will be able to do anything even if he wins. Joe Biden may not be beloved with the public, but his lower key Presidency has helped the Democrats run circles around a GOP that is completely broken right now.
I guess the only part I am fretting over is whether Biden has changed the Democratic Party as it’s leader, and that question is less obvious to me. To be fair, first off he didn’t promise to. Second off, if you look at the staff world around him, many more of the lead figures in his White House are people who came to him from other major Democratic politicians of the last generation, at least if you’re comparing it to the Obama or Clinton White Houses. Finally, sometimes you can’t really stop a party from being what it is, especially if there’s only maybe 5-6% of the electorate out there to be moved. Biden was never going to cut into Trump’s base and “bring them home” or something, in fact it’s phenomenal that he brought the tiny sliver of “swing” vote his way, considering how they feel about his party as a whole. I think it’s totally fair to say that Biden didn’t attempt to stop some of the trends within the party, or that he didn’t try to change it’s Washington message or culture, but then it’s also totally fair to say he never felt the need to, or probably the ability. He signed up to run the government right, not change an entire movement.
And so here we are. Biden is the center of the Democratic Party, and frankly if Democrats want to win in 2024, they need to follow his lead. Deliver. Run a competent government. Do good things. It might not be absolutely everything we wanted back in 2019, but maybe it’ll end up being everything we need.