It’s hard for a pundit to make an argument so silly it stands out, but Josh Kraushaar’s attempt to blame Al Franken for Donald Trump being the Republican frontrunner did it:
Looking for a culprit to blame for all the polarization, gridlock, and bad feelings in Washington? Point to Sen. Al Franken. No, that’s not a joke.
Imagine, for a moment, the state of the 2010 midterms without Obamacare in the equation. Republicans would have run against the stagnant state of the economy with some success. But without the galvanizing opposition to Obama’s health care law—Republicans netted a whopping 63 House seats that year—Democrats would likely have narrowly kept control of Congress, and continued to press forward with Obama’s agenda. There would be tea-party-aligned Republicans elected, but absent the wave, not enough to form the concerted opposition that emerged. Veteran Blue Dog Democrats like Reps. Ike Skelton, Gene Taylor, and Chet Edwards (among others) would likely have been reelected, and become bridge-builders between parties
The notion that Obama was fated to face an intransigent Republican opposition has always been off-base. [Hails of derisive laughter. –ed.]
That’s where Al Franken comes in. If it weren’t for 312 voters in Minnesota, Obama’s ambitions would at least have been curtailed by legislative realities, and the trajectory of his presidency would have looked much different. Franken, the first insult comic to get elected to the Senate, circuitously paved the way for the rise of a much different type of entertainer—Donald J. Trump.
Even if the assumptions here were true, the argument has an obvious problem, in that it amounts to a claim that the Democrats could maintain control of Congress as long as they never really did anything. But, of course, neither the causal nor the political logic here makes any sense:
Long story short, by shepherding a major social reform that has cut the uninsured rate in half while coming in well below its projected costs and bringing health-care inflation down to its lowest rate in recorded history, Obama angered Republicans, forcing them to nominate an ignorant, bigoted clown.
And it’s even worse than that. We’ve dealt with this particular pundit’s fallacy from the right before, but the idea that a Democratic Party that promised comprehensive health care reform and settled for Rahm Emmanuel’s piddlyshit half-a-crouton would have been in such a stronger position that it could have retained control of the House in 2010 is about as clearly wrong as a counterfactual can be. And, in addition, there’s no reason to believe that in this scenario that the Republican conference would be an iota less radical. (The Tea Party, after all, emerged from the astroturf over TARP and the ARRA, not the ACA.) So, the idea that Al Franken is responsible for Donald Trump is dumb on every possible level.
The election that eventually produced Franken is important for a lot of reasons. As someone noted in the most recent thread about voting, if 313 people had been persuaded by some variation of [Econ 101 told me my vote doesn’t matter/Obama will carry Minnesota anyway/why can’t I custom order my candidate on the internet what with today’s technology/Both Sides Do It/elections are a Meaningless Distraction from my Foolproof Plan to eliminate all internal combustion engines from American soil by the end of summer] nonsense, there would be 20 million people without access to health care and those lucky enough to retain it would be paying more for it. There would also be no Dodd-Frank (and hence, among other things, no CFPB). And had Franken won by enough of a margin to be seated immediately, it might have been at least a marginally better ARRA. Your vote doesn’t matter until it does, and what constitutes a vote of historic consequence isn’t always obvious ex ante.
…more from Ezra.