It’s easy to point the finger and cry “hypocrite!” when avowed #MeToo followers decide to believe Joe Biden over his accuser, when those same people wanted to crush Brett Kavanaugh with gossamer tales and outright fabrications eagerly blasted out by a rabid press.
It’s much harder to point the finger back at yourself, when in 2016, the “Flight 93 Election” binary choice argument drew many Republicans and evangelical leaders to support a boastful serial-philanderer whose best excuse for remarks like “grab them by the p***y” was that it’s “locker room talk.” Donald Trump doesn’t just have binders full of accusers, he has file drawers filled with non-disclosure agreements and hush money payoffs.
But that was then–and in large part, us–and this is now, and, of course, it’s them. The lie on both sides is that the choice is never really binary. There were no less than 17 Republican candidates vying for a wide-open election in 2015. Some of them were of a quality and fabric that I believe they could have beaten Hillary Clinton. I’d have gladly voted for Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. I’d have easily considered Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, or Scott Walker. The rest would have been problematic for me, but the only candidate I probably would have not voted for (besides the nominee) was John Kasich.
The people, voting in primaries, picked Donald Trump. All the while, as Trump gained momentum, the “binary choice” argument kept coming up, because Hillary had to be kept from office as an existential imperative. Did those who latched onto that argument ever think that the other side wouldn’t do the exact same thing?
The Democrats this year had
two dozen 30 candidates to choose from. Of these, several were of a quality and fabric that many Democrats would easily vote for, and, in polls, could beat Donald Trump (more on that later). But Democrats were more interested in keeping Bernie Sanders from getting the nomination. So they torched everyone else except Joe Biden, and now Biden has a problem with a credible sexual abuse accusation. Whether the accusation is true or not isn’t the issue–as a matter of law it’s dead. But it is politically damaging, and in that context, the binary argument must emerge.
For Democrats, it has become an existential imperative to get Trump out of office. A small thing like a morally flawed, elderly, possibly at times incoherent, long-time political hack who makes truly impossible and inevitably breakable campaign promises to restore Obamaland to America, can’t stand in the way of destiny.
It’s refreshing that Linda Hirshman, a serious advocate of women’s rights against abuse, clearly stated that she’ll hold her nose, close her eyes, and chant “binary” three times. Her Op-Ed in The New York Times is what Jonah Goldberg recognized as the “feminist version” (read: Democrat) of the “Flight 93 Election.”
So what’s a girl to do now? Discounting Ms. Reade’s accusation and, one after another, denigrating her corroborating witnesses, calling for endless new evidence, avowing that you “hear” her, is nonsense. We are now up to four corroborating witnesses — including one contemporary corroborating witness, unearthed by Rich McHugh, who was Ronan Farrow’s producer at NBC News during the Harvey Weinstein #MeToo reporting — and one “Larry King Live” tape.
So stop playing gotcha with the female supporters of Mr. Biden or the #MeToo movement, making them lie to the camera — or perhaps to themselves — about doubting her to justify their votes.
I’ll take one for the team. I believe Ms. Reade, and I’ll vote for Mr. Biden this fall.I Believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting for Joe Biden Anyway, Linda Hirshman, The New York Times, May 6, 2020
There’s more here than just a “ha-ha I see what you did” moment for those of us who rejected the binary argument four years ago. The differences are substantial and relevant, actually.
First, 2016 was an open election slate. There was no incumbent, and Barack Obama didn’t anoint a successor. Joe Biden could have run in 2016, like George H.W. Bush did in 1988. Biden didn’t think he had Obama’s coattails to run on (and to be honest, he probably didn’t). Hillary, still stinging eight years later from being steamrolled by a first-term senator from Illinois with a paper-thin political resume, pulled every lever and turned every knob to ensure the nomination. But she was not an incumbent.
Of the Republicans, Trump was thought to be a dark star, with a lot of radiation and not much heat, ending in a supernova. Few believed he’d become the GOP’s Black Hole, pulling in even gravity.
Trump is correct when he claims the party is his. Perry Bacon noted in FiveThirtyEight (in a piece about how NeverTrump has morphed into a wing of the Democratic Party), that Trump has consolidated support among Republicans as effectively as any past GOP president.
Trump won around 90 percent of self-identified Republican voters in 2016, similar to past GOP presidential nominees. About 90 percent of Republicans have approved of Trump throughout his first term, similar to George W. Bush’s standing in his first four years in office. And with Trump as the face of the party, Republican congressional candidates won around 90 percent of the GOP vote in the 2018 midterms, just as in recent midterm elections. There is really only one anti-Trump figure among the 249 Republicans on Capitol Hill: Sen. Mitt Romney.
As I have written many times, it’s Trump’s election to lose. It matters less than you think who runs on the other side. Whether it is Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, or Mike Bloomberg, the biggest determining factor of the election is Trump’s performance and his perception among undecided and borderline voters. The election is about Trump and those voters.
Trump haters are going to vote for anyone but Trump. Trump’s core supporters would vote for Trump if Jesus was running as a Democrat. (They’d suddenly abandon their faith and start a new church. I really believe they would.) The choice here is in effect, binary, but the choice is “Trump, or not Trump.”
That leads me to a different conclusion of why a feminist like Hirshman would “take one for the team.” She sees it in binary terms, and in utilitarian fashion, believes that changing horses will only help Trump. But in that, I say she’s wrong. I even think, if she thought more deeply about it, she’d know she’s wrong.
It doesn’t matter if the Democrats offer up a dead cat to run against Trump. They can make a dead cat win the election if Trump loses it. Three months ago, with impeachment behind him, a roaring economy, and the something approaching stability, it was a real question whether any Democrat could steal enough undecided voters to keep Trump from winning.
Now, it’s a very serious question whether Trump can climb out of the pit of despair America has become to stay in office. Trump has the excuse of all excuses if he loses. Blame coronavirus; blame Chi-nah! The Democrats, if they lose, have no excuse.
Calling an election that is primarily about Trump, who the Democrats have made into the object of existential imperative to remove, a binary choice, where “the transaction costs of replacing [Biden] would be suicidal” as Hirshman wrote, would be a very convenient excuse should they lose in November.
The Democrats have spent the last four years coming up with excuses for why Hillary lost: Russia, China, dumb bitter racist clingers to guns and religion. But the fact is, Hillary was a bad candidate, and they ran with her. In 2020, Democrats want to pre-package an excuse for losing to Trump. If he wins, it’s because Biden has baggage, but it was suicidal to go with any other choice.
It’s convenient to have an excuse ready, because if Trump wins, there’s going to be four years of brimstone, topped with a cold scoop of vengeance. Democrats will find themselves where Republicans who rejected a binary choice in 2016 find themselves now: in the wilderness. They’ll have to start over, and heaping all the blame on Joe Biden is a very utilitarian way to start.
Maybe Hirshman thinks she’s “taking one for the team,” but should Trump win, it will be Biden taking that political bullet for her. It shows little courage to place one’s core beliefs on the altar of utilitarianism and convenience. I’d rather she acknowledge no choice is binary. That would be the courageous and sacrificial act.
Should Biden win, this “binary” fever will not serve America, nor will it help us return to a more sane political path. All of us–Republicans, please listen–need to stop making pre-packaged excuses for the convenient choice and begin making better choices in the first place.