As the election approaches Joe is getting advice from some rather unlikely sources. This comes from folks like Andrew Sullivan and Bret Stephens, whom I want to call liberalized (i.e., wimpy) conservatives. Each enjoys taking on the follies of the far right while advancing the cause of what might be called liberal centrism. Which forces them to take shots both from liberals and conservatives.
Stephens in particular caused a mighty flap when he was hired by the New York Times. The first occasion was his skepticism about climate change. Recently he’s been writing a weekly column with Gail Collins and calling himself a pro-Biden conservative. The guy writes well (he won a Pulitzer Prize) and has a disarming way of glossing over some of his more conservative views.
We can learn from people like this. In his most recent column, he and Gail discuss ways in which Biden should frame the campaign issues going forward. Stephens has a pretty good prescription (though he avoids mention of the pandemic, issue number one). Here is some of it. Biden, he says, should focus on “the Supreme Court, for starters.”
A second Trump term almost certainly means a third (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), fourth (Stephen Breyer) and possibly fifth (Clarence Thomas) Trump pick. Roe v. Wade doesn’t survive on that court. If I were Biden, I’d ask Kamala Harris to go on a swing through Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin to explain that if Trump wins, legal abortion will become a thing of the past for every woman living in a red state.
. . . A second [issue] is ethics. Has the swamp ever been swampier than under Trump? Who elected Ivanka to rule over us? How did Jared get to lord it over us? Who turned the White House into a stage prop? Since when does the president use his office to blackmail foreign leaders into doing him political favors? Why is it that nearly everyone who has ever worked for Trump, people like John Bolton and John Kelly, finds him despicable? And did he get somebody to take his S.A.T.s for him? Biden should run a five-minute online spot titled “A Cheater From the Beginning.” Highlights would include bone spurs, (alleged!) cheating on the S.A.T.s and Marla Maples.
. . . Third issue: Dictator suck-up. No president in history has ever had nicer things to say about America’s enemies than Trump, just as no president has ever had nastier things to say about America’s friends. I also can imagine the imagery for this: Trump at Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, Trump at Panmunjom with Kim Jong-un, Trump in Osaka with Xi Jinping, Trump in the White House with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The big recent issue of course is Trump’s flagrant promotion of violence in the cities. Which means Biden needs to hit hard on Trump’s history of division, racism and alt-right sympathies—“when the looting starts the shooting starts.” This could be Biden’s sharpest weapon, particularly if he links it to the pandemic, Trump’s violence against his own citizens.