There are takes, there are hot takes, and then there are takes so hot that partisans on both sides run screaming from them for fear of being vaporized from the exposure.
Congrats to Times columnist Tom Friedman for dropping this “Tsar Bomba” of a column on the chatterati last night.
Everyone who writes about politics is guilty at times of letting their instinct to think outside the box lead them into endorsing a preposterous idea. Frankly, in the age of digital media, there’s a financial incentive to do so. Hate clicks are still clicks, after all. What distinguishes Friedman is his almost childlike enthusiasm for his own bad ideas. One never gets the sense from him that his bad takes are phoned in, just because he couldn’t think of anything better to write about that week.
He’s sincere. He gave the idea of a Biden/Cheney ticket due deliberation, I suspect, and still came to the conclusion that it was worth running up the flagpole to see how it flew.
So Biden-Cheney is not such a crazy idea? I asked.
“Not at all,” said [political scientist Steven] Levitsky. “We should be ready to talk about Liz Cheney as part of a blow-your-mind Israeli-style fusion coalition with Democrats. It is a coalition that says: ‘There is only one overriding goal right now — that is saving our democratic system.'”
That brings us to the second point. Saving a democratic system requires huge political sacrifice, added Levitsky. “It means A.O.C. campaigning for Liz Cheney” and it means Liz Cheney “putting on the shelf” many policy goals she and other Republicans cherish. “But that is what it takes, and if you don’t do it, just look back and see why democracy collapsed in countries like Germany, Spain and Chile. The democratic forces there should have done it, but they didn’t.”…
Such a vehicle in America, said Levitsky, should “be able to shave a small but decisive fraction of Republican votes away from Trump.” In a tight race, it would take only 5 or 10 percent of Republicans leaving Trump to assure victory. And that is what matters.
Friedman is thinking of the unlikely coalition that formed in Israel between left and right in the name of ousting Netanyahu from power. If those movements could come together for a greater good, why can’t Democrats and Never Trump Republicans?
One answer, I think, is that the various Israeli politicians in the new government each have meaningful constituencies. Conservative Never Trumpers like Cheney don’t.
Maybe 10 percent of the GOP would be interested in a Biden/Cheney ticket and most of them would end up voting for Trump in 2024 anyway. Meanwhile, Democrats would recoil at the prospect of an 82-year-old Democrat running with not just any rock-ribbed right-winger but Dick Cheney’s daughter. Biden would lose more progressive votes than he’d gain conservative ones.
Friedman’s idea would make more sense as a proposal for Congress, encouraging Never Trump Republicans like Mitt Romney to caucus with Democrats as a pro-democracy coalition. But (a) those Never Trump Republicans would soon go extinct in the Senate if they did, punished by their own voters in primaries for joining forces with the Democrats. And (b) although Dems and Never Trumpers are broadly aligned on democratic process, there remain some core disputes. Look no further than Romney’s stemwinder on the Senate floor last night attacking Biden and his party for trying to eliminate the filibuster.
If Friedman wants a coalition of anti-Trump lefties and righties, he should content himself with individual votes. Democrats got seven Republicans to vote to convict Trump at his impeachment trial last February. They may well get 10 or more Republicans to support reforming the Electoral Count Act, which would seek to “Trump-proof” presidential elections. But GOP politicians need to maintain their partisan tribal affiliation to preserve their electoral viability. Forging formal, durable alliances with Dems such as a unity caucus or a Biden/Cheney ticket is a nonstarter.
Friedman’s idea raises a question, though. Is there any sort of Republican who might semi-plausibly form a fusion ticket with Biden? Cheney is far too conservative and her surname is an insuperable obstacle. But what about a squishy liberal GOPer, one whom Democrats respect and whose politics they’re generally comfortable with? Damon Linker has an idea:
But what if [Larry] Hogan switched parties to become a conservative Democrat? He wouldn’t have a whole lot of ideological company among Democratic officeholders, but he’d arguably be less of an outlier than he currently is in a party that treats absolute loyalty to Trump — including a willingness to parrot his delusional lies about the outcome of the 2020 election and excuse his incitement of an insurrection against the national legislature — as a non-negotiable requirement for advancement.
So let’s assume Hogan flips to the Dems. And Biden continues to flounder. And Harris’ approval numbers continue to flag. And polls reveal Biden’s surest path to broader popularity involves tracking away from the progressive left and boldly embracing the ideological center. If all of those conditionals line up just right, isn’t Biden bound to dump Harris and tap Hogan instead?
I’m skeptical that Hogan is actually leading Dem incumbent Chris Van Hollen by 12 in a hypothetical Senate race, as one internal poll has it. But Hogan would be competitive in that race, an astounding achievement for a Republican during the Trump era in a state as indigo blue as Maryland. Another recent poll had him at 80 percent approval among black voters there. Linker imagines him becoming a Democrat in order to run with Biden but I think maintaining his GOP affiliation would be more useful to the ticket in attracting crossover voters from the right. A Biden/Hogan ticket would appeal to hardcore Cheney-style Never Trumpers, who’ll be looking for any reason not to vote for Trump, but would also appeal to some centrist Republicans who like Hogan and/or would like the idea of a bipartisan unity ticket.
And although progressives would hate it, most might swallow hard and stick with it given the esteem in which Hogan is held by Dems in Maryland. Anything to beat Trump, right?
Well … no. Linker identifies the problem with his own thesis: There ain’t no earthly way Joe Biden is ditching the first black woman VP for a white guy, let alone a white guy from the other party. I’d go further and say that there ain’t no way Joe Biden is running with another white Democrat in 2024, let alone a white Republican, even if Kamala Harris suddenly retired from politics. Democrats depend so heavily on African-Americans for electoral support now, and are so nervous about losing Hispanic support to the GOP, that the days of all-white (and likely all-male) Democratic tickets are over for a good many years to come, if not forever. And of course, even if Hogan were acceptable to minority voters, Biden would need to explain why his search for a suitable running mate among the many hundreds of talented politicians in his own party somehow led him to a Republican. Biden/Hogan just won’t happen. But it’s light-years less daffy than Biden/Cheney.