The Democratic Freakout About Biden's Poll Numbers
A couple of thoughts about the 2024 election and middle school romances.
Ben Dreyfuss, circa 6th grade, with a haircut inspired by the film Seven Years In Tibet
In 6th grade, I had a crush on a girl but I was pretty sure she didn’t like me and was afraid to ask her out. A friend of mine told me to stop being a little baby and pressured me to man up. So I walked over to her and did. Unfortunately, what I said was something like, “I’m sure you don’t want to date me so if you say no, which I expect you will, don’t feel bad about it.” She then did say no and, defeated, I walked back over to my friend and he said, “Yeah, you know I probably wouldn’t have worded it the way you did.”
This is an important lesson that you have to learn in life. People like confidence. It wasn’t my friend’s fault. It was my fault.
I thought of this recently when reading an Atlantic profile of Congressman Dean Philips, which accompanied his announcement that he was launching a long-shot primary challenge to Joe Biden.
He does not exude confidence. He continually—almost pathologically—comes off like someone who wouldn’t even vote for himself.
When Biden announced his intention to run for reelection, Philips—who thinks Biden is too unpopular to win—had a mission, Tim Alberta writes, “[n]ot to seek the White House himself, but to recruit a Democrat who stood a better chance than Biden of defeating Donald Trump.”
Phillips began asking House Democratic colleagues for the personal phone numbers of governors in their states. Some obliged him; others ignored the request or refused it. Phillips tried repeatedly to get in touch with these governors. Only two got back to him—Whitmer in Michigan, and J. B. Pritzker in Illinois—but neither one would speak to the congressman directly. “They had their staff take the call,” Phillips told me. “They wouldn’t take the call.”
With a wry grin, he added: “Gretchen Whitmer’s aide was very thoughtful … J. B. Pritzker’s delegate was somewhat unfriendly.”
All of these other potential candidates rebuff him. Eventually, some Democratic donors and insiders who apparently share his doubts about Biden suggested he himself run.
In fact, Phillips had already considered—and rejected—the idea of running. After speaking to a packed D.C.-area ballroom of Gold Star families earlier this year, and receiving an ovation for his appeals to brotherhood and bipartisanship, he talked with his wife and his mother about the prospect of doing what no other Democrat was willing to do. But he concluded, quickly, that it was a nonstarter. He didn’t have the experience to run a national campaign, let alone a strategy of any sort.
Phillips told his suitors he wasn’t their guy.
This goes on and on and on, and you should read the actual profile for the details but the point is he knows he can’t win but he keeps saying someone should run. His efforts to recruit another candidate estrange him from his Democratic colleagues and he becomes convinced that he has basically hurt his chances of having a long and prosperous career in Congress. Then, eventually, something happens. He is invited on Steve Schmidt’s podcast. Schmidt, a former GOP campaign guy who famously recommended John McCain put Sarah Palin on his ticket, has made a sort of second career as the kind of former Republican who now makes money telling Democrats what they want to hear.
Two days later, Schmidt called Phillips to tell him that he’d shared the audio of their conversation with some trusted political friends, and the response was unanimous: This guy needs to run for president.
Schmidt wants him to run, but even then, Philips isn’t convinced. Schmidt promises to be his campaign manager. Still, Phillips says no.
Eventually, he finally relents and decides to launch this doomed bid.
Schmidt outlines their strategy to Alberta:
The strategy, Schmidt explained as we watched his candidate ad-lib for the roving cameras—shooting all manner of unscripted, stream-of-consciousness, turn-up-the-authenticity footage that would dovetail with the campaign’s policy of no polling or focus grouping—was to win New Hampshire outright. The president had made a massive tactical error, Schmidt said, by siding with the Democratic National Committee over New Hampshire in a procedural squabble that will leave the first-in-the-nation primary winner with zero delegates. Biden had declined to file his candidacy there, instead counting on loyal Democratic voters to write him onto the primary ballot. But now Phillips was preparing to spend the next three months blanketing the state, drawing an unflattering juxtaposition with the absentee president and maybe, just maybe, earning enough votes to defeat him. If that happens, Schmidt said, the media narrative will be what matters—not the delegate math. Americans would wake up to the news of two winners in the nation’s first primary elections: Trump on the Republican side, and Dean Phillips—wait, who?—yes, Dean Phillips on the Democratic side. The slingshot of coverage would be forceful enough to make Phillips competitive in South Carolina, then Michigan. By the time the campaign reached Super Tuesday, Schmidt said, Phillips would have worn the incumbent down—and won over the millions of Democrats who’ve been begging for an alternative.
So…the strategy is to…win a meaningless primary where Biden’s name isn’t even on the ballot, and then hope that the media is so utterly inept that it fails to provide that context in its coverage, thereby giving Democrats the false impression that Philips pulled off an upset.
“Fanciful?” Alberta asks rhetorically. “Yes.” And this is an understatement. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Obviously, Dean Philips is not only not going to win the nomination, no one is ever going to hear from him again.
One of his few New Hampshire supporters who is willing to go on the record basically admits this:
“I think the people here deserve to hear what Dean has to say,” Billy Shaheen told me. If nothing else, with Schmidt at the helm, Phillips’s campaign will be energetic and highly entertaining.”
Here we get the unvarnished reality. This is a cynical excuse for Schmidt to make money and get press by making content.
This is like if, in 6th grade, I had said to my friend, “how is she single? She’s amazing,” and my friend said, “Ben, would you like to date her?” and I said, “Yeah but she doesn’t like me,” and he said, “I know both of you and I think if she really got to know you she would like you, so how about this: you pay me money and in exchange, I will be your Cyrano,” and I said, “OK, sounds like a deal,” and he said, “go over there and say to her, ‘“I’m sure you don’t want to date me so if you say no which I expect you will don’t feel bad about it.’”
In that situation, it would be my friend’s fault. (It would also be mine for being delusional and stupid, but it would be his as well.)
Biden’s Bad Poll Numbers
A few weeks ago, the New York Times published some polls which showed Biden losing to Trump in five of six key swing states. There was nothing terribly surprising about these since Biden has been polling poorly for eons, but because it was the NYT it set off a lot of Democratic hysteria. This then provoked pushback from other Democrats. Some of that pushback was probably fine—polls a year out are not terribly predictive—but much of it was silly. A lot of unskewing went on.
Esquire published a post with the very on-the-nose headline “I Don’t Believe This Weekend’s Scary Poll Numbers.”.
I do believe them. It seems pretty intuitive that this is where the race stands right now.