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Let's Go, Brandon.

Osita Nwanevu
6 min read
Joe Biden standing at a podium in a Minnesota factory with signs reading Investing in American on either side.
President Joe Biden in Fridley, Minnesota. (White House)

Hey all. Let’s hop to it.


I don’t have anything new or informative to say about Tucker. Sorry. But it already seems like the fracas at Fox will wind up overshadowing the week’s other big story: it’s been reported that Biden may officially launch his reelection campaign as early as tomorrow. It’s not obvious that there’s much of a political need to jump in now ⁠— no harm in letting Trump and DeSantis continue slugging it out ⁠— but the earlier candidates declare, the earlier they can get their fundraising operations officially up and running, and the business of running for president, sadly, isn’t getting any cheaper.

On the other hand, Biden’s strategists probably could have used a few extra months to sketch out a stronger case for another term. As I’ve written, Biden is already the best president of my lifetime, though that’s hardly saying much and his respectable policy accomplishments sit alongside some truly ghastly decisions. The Times reported another last week ⁠— the administration was evidently well aware that migrant kids were being pulled into factory work, but prioritized moving them out of government custody as swiftly as possible anyway.

I don’t expect that, or the slight against DC home rule, or really very much else progressives have been upset about lately to be real liabilities, though. It matters more that he’s old. It’s not at all implausible that an illness or injury could throw a bit of chaos into the race next year; as it stands, many Americans, including many older Americans, just aren’t sure he has the stamina to stay in the job. As was the case in 2020, the main thing Biden has going for him is that he’s not Donald Trump. The big ticket items of the term ⁠— the Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill, CHIPs ⁠— just haven’t made a deep impression with the voting public. His 53 percent disapproval rating is about where it was a year ago; while Biden compares favorably to Obama on policy grounds in my book, he’s still less popular than Obama was at this point in his fraught presidency. And all this is before the wave of bad news likely looming on the horizon ⁠— a recession, a debt ceiling standoff, and other unwelcome and unexpected twists and turns sure to come.

Add the built-in advantage Trump or DeSantis will retain in the Electoral College ⁠— it’s been estimated, as I’ve written before, that Biden had to win the popular vote by at least 3.8 points to win the Electoral College outright in 2020 ⁠— and things actually look fairly bleak for Democrats next year, though Trump and DeSantis are helpfully doing all they can to hobble their own chances at the moment. I wouldn’t say that they need a good reelection platform to win ⁠— the last two cycles should have fully disabused us of the notion that good policy really wins elections ⁠— but it wouldn’t hurt. Here’s one from Michael Tomasky at TNR:

Here’s a starter list, off the top of my head, of things they should pledge to pass:
1. A $15 minimum wage, indexed to inflation
2. A doubling (at least) of the overtime pay eligibility threshold to around $80,000
3. Antitrust legislation to limit monopolies and help small businesses
4. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act
5. A rural broadband act and, maybe more generally, a rural economic development act (I’d love to see the Republicans oppose this one!)
6. A tax on pharmaceutical companies to finance free opioid clinics across the country (the opioid crisis, though out of the headlines, still exists)
7. Dental coverage added to Medicare
8. Total reorganization of the student loan system, along the lines Biden proposed last year but bolder
There’s a start. I realize a couple things are missing from my list—climate change, notably—but Democrats will still have a free hand to build on the progress made by the Inflation Reduction Act. Otherwise, this list has something for just about everyone—young people, old people, rural America, the working poor, the striving middle class, small-business people. But what Democrats have to do is get swing voters to understand a very simple truth: Joe Biden can’t make these things happen alone. He has to have a Democratic House and Senate (and in the latter, he needs a couple extra seats to spare to get filibuster reform done).
That means that every Democrat running for federal office, from Biden on down, needs to run on the same agenda. This is a parliamentary-style campaign. It hasn’t been done much in the United States. But it’s high time. Give us power—here’s what we’ll do.

I’ve tried to take myself out of the business of telling Democrats what they should do, but this all seems basically fine; I’d add another crack at democratic reforms with a focus on reworking the Supreme Court in the wake of the Crow scandal. Are any of these proposals substantively adequate to the problems they hope to address? No. But who are we kidding at this point, really? I think the shift left among federal Democrats is functionally over for now; we’re going to have to turn elsewhere to continue pushing things forward. This is one of the reasons why I’m ultimately glad that no serious progressive challenge has been mounted against Biden. I don’t think the left has built out its constituency among Democratic primary voters very much at all since 2020, so we would have lost again; now, instead, we can put the resources that would have been frittered away there to better use ⁠— ideally, in state and local level politics. There’s a good piece in HuffPo about how the positive news from the last few cycles of state races has obscured how much work Democrats still have to do downballot:

[...] Victories in Wisconsin, and Michigan’s moves to repeal an abortion ban and right-to-work legislation, have been offset by the Wisconsin GOP’s pick up of a state Senate supermajority and the defection by a Democratic state legislator in North Carolina, both of which illustrated how stop-start the party’s progress is, and how fragile its gains can be. And the expulsion of two Democrats from the Tennessee House of Representatives shows how helpless the party remains in some states more than a decade after the 2010 wipeout
Republicans now have supermajorities in 20 states, having picked up veto-proof majorities in three states with Democratic governors since the 2022 midterms: Wisconsin, where the GOP won a special election the same day as Protasiewicz’s victory, and in North Carolina and Louisiana, where Democratic legislators switched parties.
Many states where the party is at its weakest are in the South, with some of the largest Black populations in the country, giving the party little power to defend its most loyal voting bloc. Of the 10 states with the largest Black population share, seven have GOP governors, seven have GOP legislative supermajorities and six have both.

Focusing on Trump and Republican extremism has clearly paid dividends for Democrats and I actually think they haven’t taken full advantage of their opportunities there ⁠— for starters, Republicans are extremely fortunate no one in the party has the stones to throw their allegations of child abuse back at them. But all that can only carry Democrats so far, and there might be more promise in pointing to what Dem governments have been able to accomplish in power in places like Michigan, where Comrade Whitmer’s new trifecta has been going on an absolute tear with an end to right-to-work, an expansion of the EITC, LGBTQ rights measures, and more within the span of just a couple months.

Meanwhile, on the right, state legislators in Florida at least are beginning to resent being gears in the presidential politics machine. From Politico:

Republican lawmakers are stalling a handful of [DeSantis'] key remaining legislative priorities with just weeks left in the annual session. And what started out as whispers in private about unhappiness over the governor are starting to become louder even though Republican lawmakers remain unwilling to speak out publicly against DeSantis because of his power and clout. One House Republican recently told a former legislator he was ready to resign out of frustration over how the session was going.
Part of the angst has been sparked by a grinding session where legislators have pushed through bill after bill — and chewed up hours of contentious debate — that’s considered integral to DeSantis’ expected presidential campaign. DeSantis’ announcement this week that he wanted legislators to take aim again at Disney has irritated conservative Republicans loath to target private businesses.
[...] “People are deeply frustrated,” said former state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who has been talking to his former GOP colleagues frequently this session. “They are not spending any time on the right problems ... Most legislators believe that the balance of power has shifted too far and the Legislature needs to re-establish itself as a coequal branch of government.”

Again, DeSantis’ policy drives have done more to hurt whoever winds up on the top of the Republican ticket next year and GOP candidates downballot than they’ve helped him shore up support against Trump. But the right’s radicalism alone probably won’t doom them next year, and Democrats would do well to remember that.

A Song

“Heart Cooks Brain” ⁠— Modest Mouse (1997)