AOC to Biden: Don't call yourself a progressive if you support the Hyde Amendment

Good news for her, I guess: As of about 16 hours ago, he no longer supports it. But check back in an hour, because he might have another position by then.

This episode reminds me at first blush of when Trump said during the 2016 primaries that he’d support some form of legal punishment for women who attempt to abort if and when the practice is banned, only to retreat immediately after pro-life groups informed him that that’s not their position. But that’s not really the right analogy to Biden’s reversal on Hyde. Trump’s episode appeared to be a case of him failing what Charles Cooke called an “ideological Turing Test”: He’s not really a social conservative and doesn’t understand why social conservatives believe what they believe so he tried to imitate one by articulating a position he assumed they held. Once he found out that they didn’t, he regrouped hastily.

Having been a senator for nearly 40 years and a VP for eight, Biden knows perfectly well what progressives believe on abortion. And unlike Trump, he didn’t err by going further on his base’s pet issue than the base itself was willing to go. He committed the more familiar centrist error of being unwilling to go as far as they wanted to, siding with pro-lifers on the Hyde Amendment before reversing himself under pressure from the left. All of which is a long way of saying that Trump’s flip-flop was somewhat understandable, borne of ignorance, whereas Biden’s is completely farking mystifying. He knows this issue. He knows that it’s litmus-test material for progressives. He also has a very specific strategy for winning the primaries, which is to let the rest of the field split the left while he runs to the center. Whether to stick with the Hyde Amendment was a tough call for him in that he had to decide whether to fail a lefty litmus test and stay true to his centrist strategy by sticking to his traditional position or to try to pass the litmus test by reversing on it and inevitably be accused by rivals of changing his beliefs for political expedience. There’d be some pain involved in either approach, but that’s politics.

What seems inexplicable to me is trying out both approaches in the span of 24 hours, guaranteeing that he won’t reap any benefits from either. Remaining momentarily pro-Hyde confirms progressives’ suspicions that he’s a squishy apostate at heart, never mind his subsequent reversal. Flipping to anti-Hyde confirms to centrists that he can be bullied into leftist positions by the left if he’s elected, which defeats the whole point of nominating him if you’re a Democrat who’s worried about socialism taking over the party. And of course, the reversal feeds public perceptions that Biden’s a bad campaigner and a guy who takes way too long to make up his mind, as we saw most recently in his endless “should I or shouldn’t I?” deliberations about whether to announce. All he had to do here was pick one position or another, adopt it early, and stick to it. Instead, this. What on earth was he thinking?

Now it’s open season:

A few days ago David Byler of WaPo called Biden “the Democratic Mitt Romney,” comparing his position in the 2020 field to Mitt’s position in the 2012 field. It may be, argued Byler, that Democratic voters end up “trying on” various other candidates by lifting them to frontrunner status in the polls before eventually returning to Biden as the safe choice, which is what happened to Romney seven years ago. The analogy goes beyond that, though: Romney also had a rap for flip-flopping that made the base suspicious of him in 2012, so much so that he felt obliged to stand behind his RomneyCare plan in Massachusetts rather than commit the mother of all flip-flops and denounce it in the name of proving that he opposed ObamaCare. Biden could have done something like that in the case of the Hyde Amendment, saying, “I’m pro-choice but I respect Americans’ sensitivities about this and would rather the practice be funded without federal dollars, as I’ve always believed.” He chose to cave instead. What now?

Here’s AOC followed by the chief strategist for Obama/Biden 2008 warning Uncle Joe that he’s made a mistake here.