Can't a pundit fantasize about an alternative to the two major parties?
The latest Ross Douthat column, “Should Joe Manchin Run for President?” notes shockingly high support for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a recent poll and used that as a jumping-off point for a fantasy No Labels run.
[I]f we assume that Kennedy’s 24 percent is mostly about people seeking a third option rather than explicitly supporting his worldview, the immediate question is whether someone else should try to fill that space.
Someone like, say, Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator who spiced up his announcement bowing out of a re-election bid with some talk about “traveling the country” for a movement to “mobilize the middle.”
There is already a potential vehicle for a Manchin candidacy in the No Labels movement, along with an effort to draft Manchin and Mitt Romney to run together, with Romney at the top of the ticket.
But the ideal ticket would probably lead with Manchin. For an independent run, his branding as a moderate with strong ideological differences with the left seems stronger than Romney’s branding as a conservative with strong moral differences with Trump.
In a polarized landscape, that kind of mutual G.O.P. and Democratic collapse seems unlikely. But if you were drawing up a scenario for it to happen, it might resemble the one we’re facing — in which one candidate seems manifestly too old for the job and the other might be tried and convicted before the general election. Such a landscape seems as if it should summon forth a responsible alternative. Confronting the American people with a Trump-Biden-Kennedy choice would be a remarkable dereliction by our political elites.
There’s more but that’s the nut. I frankly wouldn’t bother blogging about it because it’s just part of the usual masturbatory punditry that we get at this point in election cycles. But the hard-working folks at LGM managed to get two posts out of it.
In American presidential politics right now, the only thing that matters is whether you are doing what you can to advance Joe Biden’s candidacy or Donald Trump’s. There are no other choices. Anything that undercuts Biden’s chances of getting re-elected is objectively pro-Trump. Thumb suckers about (76-year-old!) Joe Manchin as a middle way alternative are, at the margin, bad for Biden and good for Trump. Ross Douthat is therefore doing what he can to try to get Trump re-elected.
This same calculus needs to be applied to everything that every person who is affecting the 2024 presidential race, no matter how marginally, does between now and next November. Are you aiding or resisting the fascists? There is no other relevant question now.
- Barring force majeure, the winner of the 2024 presidential election will be Biden or Trump. Their ages are similar, and Biden is plainly more able to handle the basic duties of president. In this context, claiming that that Biden’s age is a decisive issue is just someone who wants Trump to win but wants to retain some plausible deniability.
- Because age is immaterial to this particular race, the only reason to prefer Trump is because you prefer reactionary authoritarianism to liberalism. That’s it.
- Supporting the No Labels pro-Trump ratfucking campaign featuring one or two very old retiring senators and claiming that you have no choice because Biden is just too old is a particularly pathetic way to acquiesce to an authoritarian presidency. Just own it at least!
The hostility here amuses me.
First, while I adamantly agree that Biden is clearly more competent than Trump, the fact of the matter is that poll after poll after poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly think Biden is too old. There’s a liberal fantasy that this is somehow a function of the media constantly calling attention to Biden’s age. But the fact of the matter is that Biden looks and acts old in a way that Trump doesn’t.* And, while I’ve seen less of them than I have Biden or Trump, both Manchin and Romney appear quite fit and lucid. That they’re all around the same age is an objective fact; it doesn’t mean that people perceive them that way.
Second, it’s surely possible to pine for Manchin as an alternative to the current choices without being a secret supporter of Trump. While I agree with Campos and Lemieux that, realistically, we have a choice between re-electing Biden or a much worse Trump sequel, Douthat is hardly the first pundit to fantasize about an alternative.
While Douthat and I are both #NeverTrumpers and erstwhile Republicans, it’s been far easier for me than for him to go the extra mile and vote for the Democratic nominee. While we’re both temperamentally and philosophically conservative, his brand is anchored in a deep religiosity that I don’t share. That makes it much harder for him to back a party that’s friendly to abortion, same-sex marriage, and the like.
Third, it’s rather weird to expect everyone to be single-mindedly obsessed with avoiding Trump’s return, especially this far out. Douthat isn’t a Democrat, so it’s hardly shocking that he’s not thrilled with the prospect of four more years of Biden and fantasizes about a more palatable option. Like many of us, he’s not really represented by either of the major parties. And there’s the fact that he’s got three columns a week to write and has to fill them with something.
*It has seemed obvious to me for years that something is wrong with Trump mentally. But he doesn’t give off the old man vibe that Biden does. And, as bizarre as the hairdo and orange spray tan are, there’s a consistency there that makes him seem younger than the gaunt, mummy-like Biden.