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The choice


Because I hate myself, I read Ross Douthat’s column this morning, which makes a twee argument that Joe Manchin should mount a third party presidential run. Now you too are going to suffer:

The West Virginian could run, authentically, as an unwoke supporter of universal health care, fiscal restraint and a middle ground on guns and abortion. That’s a better basis for a run than Bloombergism or Kennedy’s courtship of the fringes, with a chance of claiming votes from Never Trumpers and the center left.

But is it worth the effort? Stipulate that Kennedy will remain in the race and hold on to some share of the vote that might otherwise be available to a third-party moderate. Then the question becomes whether both Trump and Biden could fall below their 35 and 33 percent levels in the Times/Siena poll, giving Manchin a plurality of the popular vote and a chance at an Electoral College win (because merely deadlocking the Electoral College would just send the race to the House, where — pending the results in 2024 — Trump would probably prevail).

In a polarized landscape, that kind of mutual G.O.P. and Democratic collapse seems unlikely. But if you were drawing up a scenario for it to happen, it might resemble the one we’re facing — in which one candidate seems manifestly too old for the job and the other might be tried and convicted before the general election. Such a landscape seems as if it should summon forth a responsible alternative. Confronting the American people with a Trump-Biden-Kennedy choice would be a remarkable dereliction by our political elites.

The last sentence is inspired by the fact that, in a three-way race, Kennedy got 24% of the vote in the NYT-Siena poll last week, while Trump and Biden got 35% and 33% respectively. This is more compelling evidence for both my Ariana Grande theory of politics, which is mine, and that that asteroid is way behind schedule at this point.

Anyway . . .

(1) Biden and Trump are going to be the choice people face next November not because of a dereliction of our political elites, but because that’s what a democratic primary process in the two major parties is going to produce, by overwhelming consensus in both cases. The political elites would very much prefer otherwise.

(2) The “manifestly too old” thing about Biden is at this point just completely weird. Biden is barely older than Trump, and Trump seems vastly less coherent, even by his incredibly degraded standards. Douthat knows all this of course, but he is doing his level best to get Trump re-elected, in some cryptic Opus Dei Never Trump But Really Always Trump Because God is Heightening the Contradictions (or something) way.

(3) Third party speculation is always self-indulgent nonsense, but especially so right now, when the choice is between fascism and liberal democracy.

In American presidential politics right now, the only thing that matters is whether you are doing what you can to advance Joe Biden’s candidacy or Donald Trump’s. There are no other choices. Anything that undercuts Biden’s chances of getting re-elected is objectively pro-Trump. Thumb suckers about (76-year-old!) Joe Manchin as a middle way alternative are, at the margin, bad for Biden and good for Trump. Ross Douthat is therefore doing what he can to try to get Trump re-elected.

This same calculus needs to be applied to everything that every person who is affecting the 2024 presidential race, no matter how marginally, does between now and next November. Are you aiding or resisting the fascists? There is no other relevant question now.

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