“But Ma, he started it!”

            Back in the 2016 primaries, the self-proclaimed “democratic-socialist” Bernie Sanders ran doggedly against Hilary Clinton.[1]  He lost, but his left-populist message appealed to many voters.[2]  Other progressives took up some version of the Sanders message.[3]  Republicans figured out that they could tar the whole Democratic Party with “Socialism.  This became a major theme in Republican messaging, aided by Sanders’ decision to run again in 2020.  Basically, it seemed to work.[4]  In a recent poll, 69 percent of Republicans believed that American democracy “is in danger of collapse” as a result of “socialist Democrats.”    

            Thinking this over, old-hand John Podesta and rising-star Navin Nayak[5] decided to try the same thing with the Republicans.[6]  They would define the whole party by their portrayal of an extreme wing of it.  “MAGA Republicans” would be the face of all Republicans.[7]  Probably in support of this effort, in some primary races, Democrats poured in money to support the Trump-endorsed candidate against the mainstream Republican candidate.  Obviously, the hope is that many Independents and even a few Republicans would be driven to vote for the Democrat. 

Starting his kick to the end of the mid-term races, President Biden has called upon Americans to rally to defend democracy against the “semi-fascist” supporters of Donald Trump in the Republican party.[8]  There’s nothing new about this charge.  From as soon as Donald Trump was elected, individuals on the left began proclaiming him a fascist and the leader of other fascists.  They construed everything that he did thereafter as a threat to democracy.  The Russia-collusion investigation dumped gasoline on this fire.[9]  Finally, Trump gave his enemies real ammunition: denying that he had lost the election, pushing schemes to overturn the results, and conjuring the 6 January 2020 crowd, some of whose members attacked the Congress.[10]  The whole Trump term is why 69 percent of Democrats see democracy as “in danger of collapse.” 

The trouble with this appeal is that elections aren’t national referendums on one single issue.  Voters choose between what amount to baskets of positions on many issues.  A vote against a Republican candidate is also a vote for abortion, for gun-control, for federal influence in local school curricula, for aggressive rule-writing in place of legislation, for filling vacancies in the federal judiciary with Democrats, and for expanding the role of government in the economy. 

            So, is this just more politics as usual, or a bi-partisan suicide pact? 


[1] Peter Baker and Blake Hounsell, “Parties Agree On U.S. Crisis, But Not Cause,” NYT, 3 September 2022. 

[2] Just once in my life I wanted to vote for somebody who actually believed the things that he said. 

[3] Notably Elizabeth “I’ve Got a Five-Year Plan for That” Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

[4] Oddly, the chief beneficiary of the Republican campaign seems to have been Joe Biden, who presented himself as the “moderate” who could draw people together. 

[5] On Nayak, see: Navin Nayak – Executive Director – Center for American Progress Action Fund | LinkedIn;  

[6] Maybe there is a buddy-movie in this pairing.  Who gets the Mel Gibson role? 

[7] Necessarily, “all Republicans” would include those Republican officials who played the main role in defeating Donald Trump’s efforts to over-turn the decision of the voters in 2020. 

[8] Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Michael D. Shear, “Biden Portrays Democracy As Under Fire in the U.S.,” NYT, 2 September 2022.  Curiously, the story refers to Biden’s “fundamentally dark message.”  This echoes the frequent references to Trump’s “dark vision.” 

[9] Although its guttering out in what appears to be evidence of a hoax hasn’t produced much sign of a reconsideration by Democrats. 

[10] The House January 6 committee has done a great deal of good work revealing Trump’s machinations. 

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