Wednesday, July 10, 2019


In 2016, the Russian election interference campaign tried to dissuade progressives from voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election. There'll be similar efforts in 2020 -- and if Joe Biden is the Democrats' 2020 nominee, The New York Times has just provided a headline that will appear in many dissuasion ads and posts:

In the column, Frank Bruni isn't actually arguing that Biden is ideologically a Republican. His point is this:
Bernie Sanders, with his call for Democratic socialism; Kamala Harris, with her intensifying emphasis on racial disparities; Elizabeth Warren, with her encyclopedia of plans; Pete Buttigieg, with his husband and his mere 37 years on earth — the election of any one of them would be a bold statement, a milestone. Each is a figure exponentially more romantic than Biden, counting to some degree on the adage that while Republican voters fall in line, Democratic voters fall in love.

Biden, in contrast, is trying to get Democrats to do something that Republicans have more practice at: choose a nominee who’s due over one who’s new. He’s the liberal iteration of Bob Dole, the looser version of Mitt Romney, John McCain without Lindsey Graham glued to his side.
(In fact, Democrats "choose a nominee who's due" frequently: Walter Mondale, Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton. Such nominees generally lose, as did Dole, Romney, and McCain. But George H.W. Bush won for the Republicans in 1988, and Richard Nixon nearly won in 1960. And safe Hillary Clinton would have beaten "fall in love" candidate Donald Trump if multiple forces -- Russia, James Comey, an email-obsessed press -- hadn't been arrayed against her.)

Bruni's column is innocuous. But if Biden survives the primaries, this headline will be immortal. And it's not even accurate: In addition to suggesting that Biden is not ideologically a Democrat (he is, if a moderate one), it implies that Biden is doing something furtive, when in fact he's making no secret about arguing that he represents the old values of a pre-Trump status quo.

The Times has done this before, of course:

But in that case, Maureen Dowd was actually arguing that Trump might be less bellicose than Clinton. Bruni isn't calling Biden a Republican. But the headline of his column will have a life of its own.

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