The MAGA Republicans and the "so what?" problem
Now that we have more data (from the 2022 midterms), I think it might be useful to make the steelman argument for why Dem-leaning elites and pols should talk about the democracy issue:
1– Election-denier or Thiel-ish fascist freak candidates performed horribly in the midterms
2– The democracy issue resonates with the Dem mass donor base, and candidates who rake in the Resist Lib bucks can spend a lot on paid media where they have complete power to define the issue space and can focus on issues where they’re strong with the median voter, like abortion, Social Security, and Medicare. (This may be a major causal mechanism behind point 1– and it is worth noting that in 2022, Dems struggled most in expensive media markets like NYC, Miami, and LA)
3– Although Peter Thiel is comfortable bankrolling anti-democracy candidates, most other large business leaders and billionaires seem to be more squeamish about it; keeping more of their money on the sidelines is helpful
Can we someday get that follow up about Thiel's misreading of history? There's been some very strange things going on with the Libertarians, where it's the Claremont Institute, the Mises Caucus, Paul Ryan's "classical liberals", etc.
Maybe get a guest post from Jane Coaston? In a world where these marginal voters really matter, and libertarians tend to be high propensity voters, that split 2:1 GOP:Dems, there's something to be done to win their votes.
Besides that, maybe the exact hoorah-rah-rah about "Democracy" still isn't an effective platform for Democrats to run on, but there's a framing about "minority rule" or "majority rule" that even most conservatives will embrace. How minority rule eventually becomes a narrower and narrower minority. How they don't want to suffer a king, etc. This "minority rule" argument can be applied to economic monopolies, union-busting, voter suppression, demographic diversity, congressional stale mate tactics, congressional expansion, the supreme court, whatever you want.
Hell, even why we shouldn't be embracing autocrats and dictators and royal families abroad.
The boring unpopular thing to say (that's not going to get me a lot of little hearts) is that it's actually OK to discuss the 'right' amount of democracy in a country. Holding national referenda every month on everything would be even more 'democratic' than having Congress pass bills- putting, I dunno, the national budget or science funding or interest rates up for a national referendum would be even more democratic. It would also be a terrible way to run a country! It's totally fine to have the 'right' amount of democracy, and accept that running a $22 trillion economy involves a lot of boring unelected technocrats. That's not even mentioning the whole Bill of Rights (totally not up for a vote no matter how unpopular some of the provisions may be with the public- imagine holding a referenda on Muslim civil rights in say early 2002).
Frankly, I think the issue with industrial planning like the IRA is that too many elected politicians were involved in crafting it. I'd prefer Congress funds a certain amount and just hands the details off to bureaucrats who never have to face voters. The US is in some ways more 'democratic' than countries like Britain or Germany or Japan, frequently to its detriment, and I think it's OK to talk about that
My guess is that for some non-zero number of voters, they like democracy and are proud of the American experiment generally, etc., but constantly being pitched about democracy being in peril and 'our institutions' and all that feels like the parts of high school they hated, i.e. being lectured in history class. Call them the "I just wanna grill" folks or whatever, but they basically want the crazies to go away so that they can stop thinking so much about elections and the republic. I'm sure some number of them look at fashie weirdos like Blake Masters and think, "Well, anyone but that fuckin' guy. Creeps me out. Big 'I'm running for class president' vibes."
Sometimes when I think about this topic, my mind wanders to BJJ, because I am a late-30s white guy and that is the law now. Sometimes when you are rolling with someone and fighting for advantages, there's a thing that happens when you try something and it doesn't work, and then the other person tries something else and it doesn't work, and the result is that you both kind of flail for a second and fall apart, and there is a scramble where both people rush desperately to try to gain control, but oftentimes it's 50/50 who grabs it first.
What I worry about most in the US are the people are are rooting for the scramble, because they think if everything goes to shit, they are in best position to grab control.
Since I'm pretty sure Matt is hinting at the libertarian disdain for democracy, I'll make the libertarian case FOR democracy.
The libertarian case against is pretty simple. A lot of tyranny is supported by majorities. Jim Crow was popular. Japanese internment was popular. "X is popular" is not a defense of a policy that deprives people of their rights. That's why we have a Bill of Rights. As Kevin Williamson puts it, the Bill of Rights is "the list of stuff you idiots don't get to vote on." So, some libertarians are sympathetic to scrapping democracy entirely. The problem is "and then replace it with what?" Any government can become tyrannical, whether supported by popular majorities or not. Voting is ALSO a check on tyranny. Enfranchised minorities are harder to oppress.
This is not an especially profound point, but it's one that Peter Theil clearly doesn't care about. On top of his objection to democracy, the candidates he boosted were hair-raisingly unlibertarian. The new movement on the right is to become protectionist, and boss around businesses who don't take team red's side in the culture war. That may be an accurate representation of how the average R voter feels, but those are the sorts of policies that would make an actual libertarian (I know this sounds like No True Sctosman) say "see, this is why democracy is kind of stupid. Look how popular these dumb policies are."
Final thought; Donald Trump's attack on democracy isn't "look at this scary thing the public supports. I'm going to subvert democracy to avoid it." He just insists he won an election that he really didn't. His opposition to democracy isn't ideological, just situational. He doesn't give a fuck about "true" libertarianism OR the New Right populism espoused by Theil backed candidates, he cares about himself, and I can't get over what suckers these people are to follow him off a cliff.
OK that ended up less relevant than I intended but I just really despise Peter Theil.
It was a mistake for Biden to not include John Kasich in his administration and to not find a spot for Liz Cheney when she was voted out. Both took big political risks that went unrewarded by the Democrats. Creating a safe space for non-MAGA Republicans to land would give Democrats a potential supermajority, allowing them to debate issues within their caucus rather than with a caucus that is nearly impossible to negotiate with. Instead, we force these reasonable Republicans meander around waiting for its party to regain its senses, most getting replaced by MAGA candidates. History may not look kindly on the progressives clinging to their causes and redlines on issues over taking the opportunity to create a big tent.
An election happened since today's article was written. Democrats talked about democracy a lot, and had one of the best mid-terms ever for a party in the WH. Anti-democracy Republicans under-performed, including in swing states. It's possible Democrats successfully linked democracy to issues voters care about, but a simpler explanation is that democracy is itself an issue voters care about.
More generally, since someone else has made a sharply critical comment about Matt's writing on this topic, I'd like to try to make a more nuanced critique which is that it's a hard topic to write about. There is one America, we can't run empirical studies on how politics shakes out in a "Beutler/Stancil America" where Democrats try to truly shatter the current political paradigm, or indeed a Joe Manchin America where Democrats pander to the existing paradigm more aggressively. I understand it's important so Matt can't ignore it just because it's hard, but I've just never found Matt's popularism argument compelling, or frankly all that clearly argued. Matt derided "identity politics for librarians" even though book bans are a topic where the Democratic position has very strong public support, to the point Joe Biden featured it it in his campaign launch video.
Highlighting Trump’s threat to Democracy might persuade the persuadable better than more partisan themes. Those in the thrall of right wing paranoia and/or low social trust are unlikely to vote for Biden. But there are a lot of affluent people who would rather pay slightly higher taxes than live under a demagogue who conned a mob into storming the Capitol.
There is no viable strategy that will get Democrats big enough majorities to pass much partisan legislation in the next Congress. If there is ever a time to defer big goals in favor of a centrist coalition, it’s 2024.
Is it consistent to be so rah-rah about democracy but also support Roe v Wade, Biden's student loan forgiveness, expanded CDC powers during covid, etc?
Democracy is good don't get me wrong, but small-l liberalism>>>small-d democracy any day
"In terms of Biden’s approval rating, I think gas is the primary factor."
I thought this too last year. It's now clear that both Matt and I were wrong about this. For the last 18 months, Biden's approval rating has varied by no more than two percentage points no matter what is happening in the country and the world (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/biden-approval-rating/?cid=rrpromo).
I'd say that what this means is that it doesn't matter what Biden runs on next year -- a booming economy (fingers crossed), Trump is a menace, Dobbs, what have you. 99% of the people are calcified in their opinions (and that probably includes the SB commentariat). And as for the remaining swing voters, who knows what would move them one way or the other.
It all comes down to how many people hate Trump or hate Biden and bother to vote.
The Liberal Patriot writers, especially Ruy Teixeira, never seem to tire of repeating the mantra: The Dems should moderate on cultural/social issues. Would this be a good way to attract more moderate/ 'independent voters? Seems to me it would. But perhaps that's just me.
(And I don't mean capitulate, I mean moderate.)
Defending democracy? Not after the lamestream media tried to deny Jared Mencken his deserved victory last night by claiming an unfortunate fire was some sort of nefarious conspiracy. Luckily the good people at ATN had his back and a true American hero will ascend to his rightful place.
Bidet’s margin in NH was better than his national average in 2020. In 2016 however, Clinton won the state while falling short of her national popular vote margin.
The main problem with Trump is not his policies, not his "ideology", not his personal scandals, not his narcissism, not his inattention, not his grifting- though they are all bad. The main problem with Trump is that he tried-and continues to try- to subvert the most fundamental rule of democracy, a peaceful transition of power. He cannot be "normalized."
He's not the first politician who wanted to be nice to the rich and cut their taxes. He is the first major politician of either party who mobilized political violence to overthrow the electoral process. He isn't just a particularly bad or inept Republican, who, if he had better policies, might be bearable. He is a destroyer.
Being anti-democracy in an established democratic system really only works if you have a lot of charisma. All the Trump picks in 2022 lost because they didn't have the same charm as Trump does, so they were very effectively painted as weirdos and crazies, in part because of the democracy stuff, but also in part for other stances. Part of the structural "problem" (for them, so good for the public) of anti-democratic politicians is that one of the preconditions for becoming anti-democratic is wanting some outcome that can't be achieved through democratic means, which is definitionally outside the mainstream. And if you can't cover up the fact that you're striving for something most people don't want with personality, you lose.
"But the fact is I wouldn’t like some hypothetical non-authoritarian version of him either, because the deepest commonality between Trump and DeSantis (and old-fashioned Republicans like George W. Bush) is their fundamental ideological commitment to helping rich people minimize their taxes."
Your standard: Refusing to acknowledge that the -DEEPEST- commonality is their commitment to a specific tribal side on our centuries old issue around race in this country.
I know you think that the solution is to -pretend- (or maybe over time now, with enough talk you have even convinced yourself) this isn't the biggest thing in US politics. But that makes every daily read here a "in what convoluted way today will MY vomit 16 paragraphs of minute analysis followed by recommendation for political action without ever acknowledging the primary issue isn't the primary issue" experience.