The Main Event and the Sideshow

Biden versus reality, Trump versus McConnell, Haley versus the future....

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Some say “politics” when they mean “government.”

“Politics” is about winning elections, coalition building, and the personality clashes that come during campaigns and while legislating.

“Government” is about the hard work of actually doing things to improve the real lives of real people.

“Government” is more important, by a lot, than “politics.”

The storms will pass, and Rush Limbaugh has passed, and while both will impact many people for a long time, those two will soon be the past.

The politics of 2022 and 2024 are part of our shared future, but/and they currently have nothing to do with the real lives of real people.

The Biden administration, its congressional allies, and the nation’s governors are right now moving the levers that will determine much about how things go for America in the fast-moving, fast-closing window that runs from February, 2021 to November, 2022.

Many stakeholders (including the media) will try to make all of this about politics, when in fact it is about government.

The decisions for Joe Biden are gargantuan and they go back to the seemingly irreconcilable choices I wrote about yesterday: 

How does a moderate Democratic president looking to pass bipartisan legislation on major issues on which the left wing of the party hungers for fundamental progressive transformation possibly satisfy both imperatives?

It can’t be done.

Let’s start with the day’s most essential read, a Washington Post story that assumes, correctly, that the pandemic relief measure will pass with Democratic votes via reconciliation, and that the real question is what follows on the Biden agenda.

Per the Post, what Team Biden would like to have happen next is something like this:

Senior Democratic officials have discussed proposing as much as $3 trillion in new spending as part of what they envision as a wide-ranging jobs and infrastructure package that would be the foundation of Biden’s “Build Back Better” program…

Biden is expected to take a big swing at the issue and package together funding for expanded broadband networks, bridge and road repairs as well as technology that reduces greenhouse gasses in a sprawling bill that threatens to enlarge to encompass multiple other issues as well…

Unlike with the pandemic relief efforts, Democrats are expected to try to pay for parts of the infrastructure package — possibly as much as half of it — through new tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations. Those tax hikes could prove controversial, particularly if the U.S. economy remains in a rut, fueling intense opposition from Republican lawmakers and the business lobby, and potentially some moderate Democrats as well. Yet more liberal members of the caucus say the time has come….

Advocates for immigration changes are lobbying furiously to include a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants — although that could be a long shot — while environmental advocates are pushing congressional Democrats to go further and use the opportunity to meet one of Biden’s most far-reaching goals: eliminating greenhouse gas pollution from power plants by 2035.

THREE TRILLION (plus maybe immigration reform!)

(The article actually says that labor leaders want it to be FOUR TRILLION.)

I’m no Charlie Cook or Amy Walter, but I don’t think a three trillion dollar bill (with or without a path to citizenship for those who came to the U.S. illegally) is going to win much bipartisan support in Congress, especially after Joe Biden does his first major initiative through reconciliation.

Unlike on the pandemic relief bill, there are going to be major intra-Democratic Party disputes on how to pass this next big piece of legislation, which means Team Biden is going to have to spend a lot of bandwidth and political capital keeping its own side unified enough to pass something, leaving less headspace and time to even consider finding a way to include Republican ideas (let alone votes) in the mix.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Biden high command is taking a page from its predecessors and planning an outside group funded by fat cats (to be disclosed perhaps…) to try to shape public opinion on its agenda.  This will be seen by the Gang of 500 as a necessary but not (by itself) sufficient piece of the machinery required to get something like the Post describes passed into law.

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema notwithstanding, it now seems there are three options: Biden’s legislative agenda comes to a crashing halt after this first COVID bill; reconciliation is stretched to the limit; or the filibuster is eliminated.

If you want/need a shorter term preview of what this is all about, read this New York Times story on the Democratic views on immigration legislation strategy, in which some on the left are now expressing openness (along with the Biden administration) to dealing with the issue via a series of smaller bills, rather than one grand bargain. 

The apparent comity leaves out two important factors: doing immigration reform of any size on a strictly partisan basis is, historically, a political and governmental loser – and Democrats are going to find that pulling the trigger on either a comprehensive approach or a salami-slice effort is tougher than this article makes it appear.

What ends up happening on immigration and the Next Big Biden Bill can’t be determined in this edition of WWoN, but we can tell you that the shorter term focus is on a question that is 89% politics, 10% government, and 1% other.

Can the Trump-McConnell marriage be saved, or, more accurately, is joint custody a possibility?

The New York Times says Mitch’s scheme has failed:

The strategy appeared twofold: Don’t stoke a full-on revolt by Trump supporters the party needs by voting to convict, but demonstrate to anti-Trump Republicans — particularly big donors — that he recognized Mr. Trump’s failings and is beginning to steer the party in another direction.

But it did not exactly produce the desired result. Instead, it has drawn Mr. McConnell into a vicious feud with the former president, who lashed out at him on Tuesday as a “dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack,” and given new cause for Republican division that could spill into the midterm elections. And it has left some Republicans bewildered over Mr. McConnell’s strategy and others taking a harder line, saying the leader whose focus was always the next election had hurt the party’s 2022 prospects.

The miscalculation has left Mr. McConnell in an unusual place — on the defensive, with Mr. Trump pressing for his ouster, and no easy way to extricate himself from the political bind.

Karl Rove says Trump’s scheme has failed:

Mr. Trump may not be fully aware of shifting currents among congressional Republicans. More members now admit privately that Mr. Trump had no coattails in last fall’s election. Especially in the suburbs, some Republicans and many GOP-leaning independents refused to take his lawn signs or support him. That’s why so many Republican congressional candidates ran ahead of the former president.

Mr. Trump crowed Tuesday that he “received the most votes of any sitting President in history.” Then again, Joe Biden received more votes than any candidate in history—and seven million more votes than Mr. Trump.

Despite possessing all the powers of incumbency and leading a united GOP, Mr. Trump lost the presidency. If he returned for another White House contest, leading a divided party at war with itself and out of power, he’d be wiped out.

Rich Lowry suggests this is all about politics not government and that McConnell is more right than Trump, even if the former president has the superior outside game:

The Trump-McConnell fight isn’t exactly over the soul of the Republican Party, but it is over whether there will be significant space in the party for figures other than Trump to have notable influence over its direction….

If Trump and McConnell ran in a primary against each other, Trump would win in a romp. If Trump and McConnell had competing rallies in Louisville, Trump would exponentially outdraw him. If Trump and McConnell had back-to-back appearances on “Hannity,” Trump would significantly outrate him…

There is no doubt that Trump is a potent political figure. Yet, his draw isn’t transferable to other Republicans when he’s not on the ballot, and he failed to get above 47 percent of the vote in two national elections against lackluster opponents.

The Washington Post says Trump has only just begun to fight:

Trump’s attacks on McConnell came as he plotted a broader return to the political arena. He spent Tuesday at his Florida resort with son Donald Trump Jr., former campaign aide Brad Parscale and others, and has spoken with advisers about setting up a fundraising infrastructure and database system outside the Republican Party’s, a person familiar with his comments said.

But the most important politics essential read of your day is Nikki Haley’s Wall Street Journal op ed, in which she tries to reposition herself as a winning hybrid of pro-Trump, anti-Trump, pro-future, pro-nuance — the ideal leader of the party:

Mr. Trump brought millions of new voters into the Republican Party, for which he deserves great credit, but the party also lost millions of voters.

These are facts. Admitting them, even when it hurts, is the only way to achieve progress. Denying them and dismissing those who disagree with you on even one thing is a surefire way to go backward. That’s true for Republicans who demand people praise everything Mr. Trump did. It’s just as true for liberals who demand everyone hate everything he did.

I will gladly defend the bulk of the Trump record and his determination to shake up the corrupt status quo in Washington. I will never defend the indefensible. I didn’t do that when I served alongside President Trump, and I’m not going to start now.

If that means I want to have it “both ways,” so be it. It’s really the only way forward—for the party and the country.

It is just one opinion piece but it is also the most significant statement any 2024 hopeful has made about how to move forward with the possibility of Republicans actually winning the national popular vote in three years.

The reality of our current politics is that the out-of-power party can’t govern until it gets better at politics.

The paradox for the out-of-power party is that it can’t win with Donald Trump and it can’t win without him.

Haley is trying to seriously grapple with how to square these two circles, in language that is clearer than what McConnell has used.

Someday, that might have something to do with government.

Today, it is just politics.

Oh, and Andrew Cuomo’s political life is changed forever, we just don’t know by how much yet.

The end.


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