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The fundamental weirdness of the liberal-left anti-Biden movement

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Non-insane conservative columnist Jonathan Last has a cogent essay on who would be the best candidate for the Democrats to run against Donald Trump in November.

It makes three points, all of which seem unanswerable to me.

The first is that the Biden presidency has been an unambiguous success, as measured by liberal and non-delusional left metrics:

Biden’s strengths as a candidate are considerable. He has presided over an extraordinarily productive first term in which he’s passed multiple pieces of popular legislation with bipartisan majorities.

Unemployment is at its lowest low, GDP growth is robust, real wage gains have been led by the bottom quartile, and the American economy has achieved a post-COVID soft landing that makes us the envy of the world. He has no major scandals. His handling of American foreign policy has been stronger and defter than any recent president’s.

The second is that the assumption that there’s some other potential candidate out there who would have a better chance of beating Trump than Biden is something for which there really is no evidence whatsoever. Last marches through a list of the obvious potential replacements, and points out that none of them are actually Johnny or Janie Unbeatable. This is especially true of people like Josh Shapiro and Gretchen Whitmer, who are tempting receptacles for liberal fantasies precisely because they are still basically complete unknowns on the national political stage:

Sure, Whitmer and Shapiro seem like strong candidates at the midsize-state level. But you never know whether a candidate will pop until they hit the national stage. Scott Walker, Ron DeSantis, John Kerry, Mitt Romney, Kamala Harris—all of these politicians looked formidable too. Then the presidential-election MRI for the soul exposed their liabilities. Always remember that Barack Obama’s ascent from promising senator to generational political talent was the exception, not the rule.

I think of this as the Patrick Mahomes/Josh Rosen conundrum. Attempts to draft franchise quarterbacks have an extremely high failure rate, because franchise quarterbacks are extremely rare. But optimism bias leads us to remember the successes far more readily than the failures, which leads to systematic over-investment in projected potential over actual performance. Replacing Biden would be the equivalent of replacing a very good NFL starting QB with a completely untested rookie, because the rookie “could be great.” That’s an absurdly bad gamble in football, and far worse one in presidential politics.

Finally, even if we somehow overlook that Biden has been a good to great president so far, AND that there’s really no basis at all for assuming that there would be a better candidate out there in terms of beating Trump, there’s the assume a can opener that can be acquired with no transaction costs in a perfect vacuum problem:

If Biden withdrew from the race, the Democratic Party would confront a messy, time-consuming process to replace him. Perhaps a rigorous but amicable write-in campaign would produce a strong nominee and a unified party. But perhaps the party would experience a demolition derby that results in a suboptimal nominee and hard feelings.

Or maybe party elites at a brokered convention would choose a good nominee. . . But very few living people have participated in a brokered convention. It could easily devolve into chaos and fracture the moderate, liberal, and progressive wings of the party.

In short, the argument for replacing Biden is not only that it’s really stupid in the most obvious way, which is that it’s not going to happen so why are we wasting any time on this. It’s also stupid in a much more substantive way, which is that it’s a bad argument even if you assume Biden would step aside. Any even halfway plausible replacement would be, at best, no more likely than Biden to be a good president, and no more likely than Biden to defeat Trump in the first place. And that’s at best. The more likely scenario, as Last so clearly lays out, is that the replacement wouldn’t be as good a president, and would be more likely to lose to Trump.

So the whole idea is basically nuts. Which raises an obvious question: Why are so many people who at least putatively committed to the self-evident truth that Trump becoming president again would be a world historical disaster of almost unimaginable dimensions flogging this terrible idea?

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