You walked right into this, Joe.
Biden didn’t say anything about the 2020 election yesterday. If he were more rhetorically adept or had had the basic political awareness to anticipate that he’d be asked about the legitimacy of the midterms amid his voting rights push, he could have drawn a distinction between the last election and the next one. “Unlike my predecessor, I have total confidence that the ballots cast will be fairly counted,” he might have said. “What I’m worried about are laws designed to deter people from casting them in the first place.” Jonathan Bernstein adds another suggestion:
Biden should have responded by proclaiming that he will never raise questions of fraud or illegitimacy without hard evidence. He could have reminded everyone that he had attended the inauguration of quite a few Republican presidents, including two who won very close elections, and accepted the results every time. He could have said that he hoped that every election is free and fair, and that he’ll do everything possible to see that they are.
Ideally he would have added “I do think the midterms will be legitimate, but I’m sure both parties would agree that the easier we can make it for Americans to participate lawfully, the more legitimate they become.” Instead he was left mumbling through a Democratic version of “the Big Lie,” a pernicious miscue that inadvertently provides political cover for Trump’s Big Lie and will end up encouraging Democrats not to accept the results of the next election, which leads nowhere good. “When both parties believe election results are going to be illegitimate, we have a pretty fundamental democratic crisis,” said Andrew Sullivan after Biden’s presser. That’s correct, and the president made it worse.
The third-ranking Democrat in the House and one of the most influential African-American politicians in the U.S. is making it worse too:
Kasie: "You concerned that without these voting rights bills the election results won’t be legitimate?”
Clyburn: “I’m absolutely concerned about that." pic.twitter.com/f5Me2SfRZF
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) January 20, 2022
The Squad also made it worse last night when they attacked Manchin and Sinema in overt racial terms for standing behind the filibuster:
Just days after MLK Day, 52 Senators chose the Jim Crow filibuster over democracy and our sacred right to vote.
What a damning commentary on the state of our union.
The people won't forget and this fight is not over.
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) January 20, 2022
Even as it was expected, the vote last night was still painful. It showed us that some still believe that democracy is not for all of us.
Channel that anger and sorrow you're feeling today into the fight for tomorrow. Let it be known that you believe this is a democracy for all.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) January 20, 2022
The legacy of Jim Crow is alive and well in 2022.
That’s all I have to say right now about Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Senate Republicans.
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) January 20, 2022
Biden and his party have painted themselves into a rhetorical corner by endlessly comparing the modest voting reforms in Texas and Georgia to Jim Crow. If you’re going to go that route in hopes of demagoging Manchin and Sinema and getting your base juiced to vote in November, you’re necessarily committing yourself to arguing that an election held under the auspices of those laws is illegitimate. There’s no such thing as a “fair election” in a Jim Crow system, after all. This is another example of the White House’s embarrassing strategic shortsightedness, committing to a Trumpy position on election integrity in service to a legislative push that was all but guaranteed to fail. It would have been malignant but understandable if they had gone crazy with the Jim Crow analogies because they had reason to believe that doing so might flip the two Dem holdouts from no to yes on nuking the filibuster. But to go crazy with them knowing that the reforms they sought weren’t going to happen is political and civic malpractice. It’s inflammation for the sake of inflammation. They ended up with the worst of all worlds, having failed to achieve their goal while (further) souring Democratic voters on the integrity of American elections.
Which, one would think, would be a concern for liberals who’ve spent the past five years warning that the American right is drifting away from democracy and towards authoritarianism. If they believe that, the reaction to getting two weeks of early voting in Texas instead of three can’t be “democracy is over.” Ask this guy:
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) January 20, 2022
Having said all that, it remains the case that Biden’s disparagement of U.S. elections and Trump’s disparagement are qualitatively different. For instance, we haven’t reached the point yet where Biden’s own advisors are afraid to let him speak live during an election-related riot he incited for fear that he might continue to egg it on:
The J6 committee says Pence adviser Gen. Keith Kellogg recommended that Trump *not* give a press conference during the Capitol attack.
"Certain White House staff believed a live…appearance by the President in the midst of the…violence could have made the situation worse."
— Alan Feuer (@alanfeuer) January 20, 2022
We also haven’t reached the point where anyone’s had to convene a grand jury to see whether Biden might have committed an actual crime in his quest to undermine elections:
The Georgia prosecutor who’s investigating possible attempts to interfere in the 2020 general election by former President Donald Trump and others has asked for a special grand jury to aid the investigation.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Thursday sent a letter to Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher asking him to impanel a special grand jury. She wrote in the letter that her office “has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the State of Georgia’s administration of elections in 2020, including the State’s election of the President of the United States, was subject to possible criminal disruptions.”
“Biden isn’t as bad as Trump” is a low, low bar to set for the current guy but it has the virtue of being true. Even so, do better, Joe.
I’ll leave you with this, from today’s White House briefing. Jen Psaki’s clean-up of yesterday’s Biden press conference is now in its 22nd hour.
Peter: Even if there are no changes to voting laws, going forward, Biden is still confident elections this fall will be legitimate?
— Philip Melanchthon Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) January 20, 2022