Mangling the 1941 song, most famously recorded by Sinatra, I’ve no trust in political commentators in February, how about you? A lot has happened since Matthew Continetti wrote his “The Back to the Future Democrats” column for The Washington Free Beacon last Friday—Trump’s idiotic jibe at the “patriotism” of Democrats who didn’t stand during the SOTU, unease (probably exaggerated) about the financial markets, a proposed military parade, and the back-and-forth on the Nunes memo, to cite just several examples— but I’d guess Continetti would stand firm in his blinkered conclusions. (By the way, I generally like Continetti’s writing, and read him regularly, the complete articles, not just the headline.)
It’s his contention that Democrats are currently so wedded to identity politics—the rights of trans people, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and Dreamers—that the Party’s bound to suffer another presidential loss in 2020. Jabbing at Rep. Joe Kennedy III for his mixed-reception response to Trump’s SOTU, he writes: “Kennedy mentioned neither the word ‘job’ nor the word ‘terrorism.’ He said the word ‘trade’ just once.”
(Disclosure: like 99 percent of those who write about politics today, I’m pretty crummy too: I’ve written previously that young (now 37) Kennedy would make sense as the Democratic candidate in two years; I’ve since discovered that he’s anti-marijuana legalization—which is a black eye for younger voters most obviously, in addition to older voters who just like to get stoned or need it for medical reasons—and is the 22nd wealthiest member of Congress. I’d assumed that Papa Joe’s fortune, since it’s split so many ways among his heirs, that there was no way Joe III had amassed more than $25 million, depending upon what figure you believe. I wonder if his twin Matthew has an identical net worth.)
Aping the conservative Continetti, not once did the Free Beacon editor mention… Virginia. That was beyond a black eye for the GOP, since it was a statewide route by the Democrats, up- and down-ticket. New Jersey, far less surprisingly, followed suit, and you can chalk Doug Jones’ win in the Alabama senate race against the unspeakable Roy Moore as a twist that expands the definition of “outlier.” Also not included in Continetti’s toast of Trump’s political skill in his SOTU, where he hijacked the Democrats’ “economic message of a few years ago… terrorism, trade, immigration and infrastructure,” is the President’s low poll approval numbers. During the 2016 primaries Continetti, like most elite conservative journalists, was not a Trump supporter, which makes his column even stranger. In June of 2016, he said Trump was not a “good” or “stable” man, who’d surely lose that fall.
(Continetti has adapted: he hasn’t gone off the deep-end in Trump hatred like father-in-law Bill Kristol, the onetime respected conservative who’s now somewhat of a joke, at least on Twitter, where he rivals Trump for nonsensical posts.) Every week you read of GOP members of Congress retiring—likely for the less stressful and more lucrative life as a lobbyist—and the inability of Republicans to attract candidates for vacant House and Senate seats, as well as competitors for Democratic incumbents standing for reelection this November. And depending on whom you believe, the Democrats are swamping the GOP across the country in fundraising.
Though it’s just February, and unlike the midterms of 2006, 2010, and 2014, when the GOP and then the Democrats got thumped, or “shellacked” as Trump’s predecessor admitted, news cycles are now about two hours long rather than five, it’s hard to envision Paul Ryan remaining as Speaker of the House and it’s possible Mitch McConnell (that’s the good news) will cross over to Senate Minority Leader. I share Continetti’s contempt for Nancy Pelosi, a disastrous House leader who should’ve been eased out years ago, but unlike the author I doubt that the extraordinarily wealthy Californian, by way of Baltimore, was “unhappy” upon hearing Trump’s boilerplate—which counts as an A for him—address last week.
Continetti begins his odd column: “The Democrats are like characters in a Bill Murray movie. They keep reliving the same day, trapped in the rhythms and routines of campaign 2016.” (I’d no idea that every Murray movie was a re-hash of Groundhog Day.) He spends a good part of the column about Hillary Clinton, insisting, contrary to a lot of Democrats, that she’s not irrelevant, despite her historic loss to perhaps the worst presidential candidate since the start of the 20th century. Clinton, (and to a lesser degree her husband, who’s kept a remarkably low profile of late), is the Democrats’ black eye. I happen to believe that Bernie Sanders would’ve defeated Trump, despite his punitive economic platform: he would’ve carried all of Hillary’s states, and significantly, probably taken Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
My younger son Booker insists the 2020 election will be waged between hard-left and hard-right candidates: watered-down socialism and fascism. Don’t know about that, but I can’t imagine Trump running again, which would mean Mike Pence squaring off against Ted Cruz (if he’s reelected in Texas this year), an awful choice. And God knows what other kook will jump in. If that looks to be in the cards, the Democrats could tap a benign moderate (someone like Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam) who’d pay lip-service to the “identity” issues, just as Reagan and the first President Bush did for the pro-life movement during their nominating conventions and then put it on the bottom of the pile when campaigning in the fall.
Now, about that black eye that’s pictured above, which happens to be mine. Last Friday, while walking on N. Charles St. in Baltimore, not paying attention, I took a nasty spill on a sidewalk and while bracing the fall with my hands, my noggin took a beating, as did my legs, which bled through my corduroys. The lenses in my glasses popped out—I thought back to the 1970s when someone would lose a contact lens and everybody scoured the floor for it—and I was at a loss. Fortunately, a young construction worker helped me out, found the lenses and popped them back in. When I arrived at my destination, a coffee shop, some sharpie said, “Hey, old man, you’re bleeding!” I was about to respond, “No shit, genius,” but remained silent since I already felt like a scar-covered hobo.
I’ve recovered, but, contra Continetti, I believe the GOP’s black eye will be on display through the 2020 presidential election.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955