The White House is Taking Lessons from the 'Schmidt Show'

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Some of the folks in the Biden White House may not be terribly bright but even they can tell which way the wind is blowing. Apparently the embarrassing defeat of progressive DA Mike Schmidt in Multnomah County (which includes progressive Portland) is having an impact.


The defeat of a liberal Portland prosecutor at the hands of a tough-on-crime challenger has hardened a view among top White House officials that Democrats need to further distance themselves from their left flank on law-and-order issues...

“Particularly right now, Americans don’t want to feel like things are out of control,” said one Biden official, who was granted anonymity to offer candid views about tensions within the party. “Well-meaning ideas have gone too far, and we need a sensible approach.”...

iden and his senior-most aides are united on the need to push for greater border security. And elsewhere in the party, the tack to the middle has been welcomed. And the ouster in Portland’s Multnomah County of district attorney Mike Schmidt, one of a wave of progressive reformers swept into office following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, is proof itself of where the political winds are pointed.

Schmidt's loss apparently came as a surprise, at least to Schmidt himself who appeared visibly downcast on election night.

Schmidt's election night event contained an embarrassing centerpiece:

His campaign set up an area where one could take selfies in front of a "Schmidt Show" light backdrop, adopting the slogan of a local anti-Schmidt campaign highlighting the public safety disaster and death under his tenure. There was a DJ who played music as people mingled around uncomfortably as it became clearer that there was no path to victory.


But it turns out no one wants to be part of the Schmidt Show, including the White House which is now using his political corpse as an object lesson.

All of that said, the Politico article reads (at least to me) like it could have been written by the White House itself. How did the authors (there are two) get this scoop about the inner-workings of the Biden administration? Well, my guess is someone at the White House handed it to them so long as they agreed to run all of the White House claims about how Joe Biden has been such a vocal centrist behind the scenes.

In recent months, Biden has warned advisers that scenes of chaos at the border or crime in cities pose an increasing political danger. They risk turning off the independent and suburban voters, he’s said, who may be repulsed by much of Donald Trump’s policies and personality but could be willing to vote for him anyway in the name of public safety.

Again, Joe Biden's team sees Schmidt go down in flames and more than ever wants to let voters know that their guy is not a progressive on crime and the border. And Bam! just like that Politico gets this White House sourced scoop about things Biden has been saying in private for months demonstrating he's a really sensible, moderate guy.

What a load.

First of all, even if Biden did say this stuff that doesn't change the fact that it's making news now because Schmidt lost and the White House wants to distance itself from his brand of leftist, soft-on-criminals nonsense. But you can bet that if Schmidt had won re-election by 10 points, we'd never have seen this story. On the contrary we might be reading a very different story about how Biden is a champion for criminal justice reform who has been pushing for more of it behind the scenes.


How do I know? Because the same Joe Biden being described as a tough-on-crime (and immigration) moderate in this story just gave a speech at Morehouse College a few days ago. Here's a sample:

It’s natural to wonder if democracy you hear about actually works for you. 

What is democracy if Black men are being killed in the street? 

What is democracy if a trail of broken promises still leave Black — Black communities behind? 

What is democracy if you have to be 10 times better than anyone else to get a fair shot? 

And most of all, what does it mean, as we’ve heard before, to be a Black man who loves his country even if it doesn’t love him back in equal measure?...

If Black men are being killed on the streets, we bear witness.  For me, that means to call out the poison of white supremacy, to root out systemic racism. 

Does that sound like the voice of a moderate concerned about crime? Or does it sound like something DA Mike Schmidt could have written about the need for criminal justice reform?  To me it sounds like the latter. 

Joe Biden is an old guy who, at this point in his life, is mostly doing whatever his advisors tell him to do to get reelected. If that's go to Morehouse College to shore up his standing with Black voters by talking about white supremacy and systemic racism, he'll do that. And if it means putting out a story about what a moderate he is on crime and immigration to shore up his standing with moderates in the suburbs, he'll do that too.


What does he really believe? It doesn't matter. What does matter is that he's a figure-head for a party that is far more progressive on a range of issues than it was a decade ago. And if Biden squeaks by in another election by tacking to the right just long enough to win votes, the party will go right back to pushing every issue to the hard left.

I guess I don't blame the White House for trying. After all, being cynical opportunists is what politicians do. But I do hope people will see through it. You can't say everything to everyone all the time and then call it a principled stand.

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