The Morning Jolt

Elections

Joe Biden Is in Real Trouble

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden in Manhattan in New York City, January 7, 2020 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

On the menu today: Impeachment ends, just as the Democratic presidential primary starts to get really bizarre and unpredictable.

Wait, the Democrats Have to Nominate Somebody, Right?

As discussed a bit on the latest edition of The Editors podcast, the Democratic presidential primary is surprisingly, weirdly, unpredictably wide open.

Joe Biden is not quite toast, but he’s in real trouble. Since the Iowa results started dribbling out, many folks have been saying that Biden looked like a paper tiger from the beginning. But that doesn’t quite ring true, because he managed to remain the national frontrunner throughout 2019. A lot of the other Democratic presidential candidates jumped into the race and calculated that at some point, Biden’s support would collapse, and non-Sanders, non-Warren voters would be looking for a new option. Biden managed to endure shaky debate performances, “meh” fundraising, all kinds of slings and arrows, and remain the polling frontrunner . . . right up until the moment Democrats started actually voting.

If this is the long-predicted and long-awaited genuine Biden collapse, the former vice president managed to hold it off until the worst possible time for the party. If you’re a Democrat who was happy with the Obama years and just want to get back to something like that, you might have been interested in someone such as Cory Booker. Or perhaps Kamala Harris had that one-foot-in-the-establishment, one-foot-in-the-progressive-grassroots balance. Julian Castro seemed to be one step to the left of the Obama agenda, but he served in Obama’s administration and clearly wanted to be seen as the Latino successor to the Obama model. Steve Bullock, Jay Inslee — there were a bunch of Democratic candidates who never quite got there because a lot of the voters most inclined to be interested in supporting them were already locked in on the Biden bandwagon.

And the wheels are falling off the bandwagon now. If Barack Obama was ever tempted to end his neutrality and endorse his old running mate, it may be now or never.

The “winner” out of Iowa is Pete Buttigieg, at least by measured by “SDEs,” or “state delegate equivalents, leading 26.2 percent to 26.1 percent over Bernie Sanders, but if you look at the vote totals for the second round — yikes, this really has turned into the playoff tiebreaker explanation from Baseketball — Sanders leads with 44,753 votes, while Buttigieg has 42,235 votes. Democrats, I don’t want to hear another word about how unfair the Electoral College is. The Electoral College is in the Constitution; you guys picked these convoluted multi-round caucus rules for yourselves.

(It’s Thursday morning. As of this writing, roughly 58 hours have passed since the voting finished in the Iowa caucuses. What the heck is holding up those remaining 3 percent of precincts?)

Do you see the Democratic Party unifying behind Pete Buttigieg? The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend? (Oh, and how the heck do you go into the Iowa caucuses, intending to support Buttigieg, and then suddenly change your mind because you just learn that evening that Buttigieg is gay? Stop telling me that Iowans take their duties seriously and intensely study the candidates. I love all kinds of people form all kinds of places, but when Iowans start claiming that their residents are better evaluators of candidates than the rest of us, I turn into Albert Rosenfeld, seething with contempt for the residents of small towns in the Pacific Northwest.) Can you envision the Democrats putting aside all their differences and concluding: “Okay, Trump’s going to be tough to beat and if he wins another term, we lose everything we have and either the country or this party will get torn to shreds. Let’s bet all our chips on this guy”?

Bernie Sanders is probably the de facto frontrunner now, but a lot of Democrats grasp that the Vermont senator is probably the highest-risk candidate. Sure, he might be able to win back some of the frustrated, downscale, blue-collar voters who went for Trump in 2016. But nominating him puts more or less the entire business community behind Trump, and a lot of white-collar suburbanites who aren’t looking for a socialist revolution suddenly aren’t in the Democratic column anymore. Seriously, the Democrats are strongly considering nominating a 78-year-old who had a heart attack, running on a platform of sweeping economic changes, when unemployment has been 4 percent or below since February 2018. A Jeremy Corbyn–style blowout is a serious possibility in November.

After that . . . Elizabeth Warren? She may re-learn the lessons of the Marco Rubio campaign from 2016. Sure, you can finish with a surprisingly strong third, and “beat expectations,” and “show signs of momentum,” and have all kinds of ways of having a “not bad” result. But while you’re getting those better-than-expected third place finishes, somebody else out there is winning. Warren got to that respectable third-place finish in Iowa while winning exactly one out of 99 counties. (And no, she didn’t win Pocahontas or Cherokee counties.)

Or does the party look at this quartet and say, “nope,” and go for Mike Bloomberg on Super Tuesday? If that scenario comes to pass, the Democrats really risk some sort of revolt at the convention. The eighth-richest man in America, who served in office as a Republican, endorsed George W. Bush’s reelection and only changed his voter registration to Democrat in 2018, would waltz in late, spend more than $300 million, skip the first contests that emphasize retail politicking, and more or less buy the nomination. He’s got a #MeToo issue in at least his past comments to women who worked for him, if not physical harassment. Mr. Stop-and-Frisk, Mr. “Xi Jinping is not a dictator,” Mr. Cozy-With-Wall Street is a spectacularly incongruous choice for the Democratic Party’s mood at this moment.

I’m not a Democrat and have no interest in seeing one elected in 2020. With that in mind, out of the remaining options, I think Amy Klobuchar is the best remaining consensus choice — nobody’s favorite, but a nominee almost everyone in the party could accept. But Democrats don’t seem interested in a unifying option. Not only did Klobuchar not hit the threshold for delegates, she actually lost votes from the first round to the second. Iowa was supposed to be one of her best states!

Impeachin’ Ain’t Easy

Regarding the now-concluded impeachment trial of President Trump, all of the following can be true:

  • Hunter Biden’s arrangement with Burisma Holdings stunk to high heaven and had no conceivable explanation beyond Burisma wanting a connection to a powerful voice in Washington.
  • Hunter Biden’s arrangement with Burisma Holdings was technically legal on its own because no law bars the president or vice president’s family from serving in a ludicrously well-compensated minimal-work position with a foreign company. A creative prosecutor might be able to make a bribery case stick if he could prove that the Obama administration altered any U.S. policy to benefit Burisma.
  • The president had every right to want all of that investigated further.
  • The proper channels to investigate the Bidens and Burisma, and any violation of U.S. law, is in the Department of Justice.
  • One of the least proper channels to investigate the Bidens and Burisma was the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
  • The claim that the president’s interest in the matter was a standard interest in anti-corruption and had nothing to do with harming Biden’s chances in the 2020 election is nonsense.
  • The president had many legal methods to attempt to delay or withhold the aid to Ukraine, such as the Impoundment Control Act. The president did not pursue those legal methods.
  • The aid, while significantly delayed in secret, was released before the end of the fiscal year.
  • Some Democrats have indeed been seeking to impeach the president since he took office.
  • The impeachment and removal of the president is the harshest “sentence” that can be handed to a commander in chief and has never been successfully used before in our history. It is not an action that should be taken lightly and should not become a “super-censure” or routine tool for Congress to express its antagonism to a president of the opposing party.
  • In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” The Founding Fathers recognized this aspect of the system and went ahead with it anyway; a president should only be removed from office when there is a broad consensus of support. While impeachment can go forward when the president’s party holds a majority in the Senate, the odds of convincing many members of a president’s party to remove him are exceptionally low and members of the House ought to keep that in mind before starting the whole endeavor.

Finally, there’s a contradiction in the fury about Mitt Romney’s decision to become the first senator in history to vote to impeach a president of his own party.

I see a lot of Trump fans calling Romney a coward. Really? Doesn’t their own reaction prove that by voting to remove, Romney picked up a lot of enemies immediately? The entire administration will clearly be looking for opportunities for retribution. The entire pro-Trump media world has decided he’s now Enemy No. 1. Republicans in Utah are furious. Romney knew this would be the consequence, and he did it anyway. Call it any number of things, but it wasn’t cowardly.

And spare me the argument that Romney did it because he wanted praise from the media. He’s a 72-year-old multimillionaire senator who’s not up for reelection until 2024, and few Americans know better just how vicious the mainstream media can be. Romney lived through it in 2012; he knows how easily they will smear, deride, and attempt to destroy a good man in service of a political goal. Gail Collins admitted she tried to refer to the “dog on the roof” story in every column about Romney, more than fifty times, and boasted that Obama would never put a dog in a kennel on the roof of car. No, because Barack Obama ate a dog.

I’m sure a significant portion of the anger among Republicans is the sense that by voting to remove, Romney is pleasing all of those people who unfairly demonized, demeaned, and vilified him back in 2012. We all know just how spectacularly disingenuous their praise for him this morning is; if a Supreme Court justice keels over today, and Trump tries to put Amy Coney Barrett on the court with Romney’s support, the Utah senator will presto-change-o turn back into a dangerous, sexist, theocratic extremist overnight.

The only plausible reason for Romney to vote for removal on one count is because he genuinely believed it was the right thing to do — and did so knowing the avalanche of rage that would come his way from his usual Republican allies.

Meanwhile, Democrats wake up this morning dissatisfied, frustrated, and disappointed. Hey, I’ve got an idea, guys. Last weekend, Politico’s Anna Palmer said on Meet the Press: “The House Democrats are going to want to hear from John Bolton, they are going to want to continue the investigation. I was talking to an operative just this week and they were saying this is not going to be the last time this President is impeached.” Go for it, guys. Run in 2020 as the first House majority to run multiple separate impeachment efforts.

ADDENDUM: Over on NRO’s homepage, I note that both major parties are weak, but they’re weak in different ways: “The modern Republican Party can’t prevent the wrong guy from winning the most votes; the modern Democratic Party can’t count the votes.”

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