Biden, Bipartisanship, and the Rise of Josh Mandel
During Game 1 of the 2020 World Series, an ad titled “Go From There” ran during commercial breaks. Voiced by actor Sam Elliot over a stripped-down piano version of the American national anthem, the ad spoke of unifying the country and working together toward common goals. “There is so much we can do if we choose to take on problems and not each other, and choose a president who brings out our best,” said Elliott, “Joe Biden doesn’t need everyone in this country to always agree, just to agree we all love this country and go from there.”
Joe Biden centered his presidential campaign around a promise to return to normalcy with an emphasis on unity, and it worked. Many moderates and even conservatives lent their support to him, looking to turn away from the vitriolic tribalism they were accustomed to seeing come out of DC during the Trump presidency. Joe Biden won the presidency with a margin of over 7 million votes nationally, despite Republicans doing better than expected down-ballot. Then Trump refused to accept the results, filing dozens of unserious lawsuits in an attempt to uncover voter fraud that wasn’t there. On the day Congress certified the results, he held a rally in DC which ended with his desperate supporters storming the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification results. Acts of tremendous heroism ensured that the death toll wasn’t higher than five and that the results were certified that night. Trump was impeached with bipartisan support a week before Inauguration Day for his role in the attempted insurrection.
The Biden administration and the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity to turn down the temperature in Washington. Biden had campaigned as a uniter who sought to find common ground with his ideological opponents. On Jan. 20, it seemed as if he was going to try to make good on that promise. “Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war,” said the president in his inaugural address. “And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this.” In those moments, I really believed he meant it.
It’s been three months since the inauguration, and I still believe he meant it when he said it. I just don’t believe he’ll ever try to accomplish it beyond photo ops. Once the epitome of an establishment Democrat, Joe Biden finds himself out of step with his party. Washington Democrats no longer respect institutional norms, now believing that the ends justify the means. On Jan. 21, it was reported that the Senate organizing resolution had hit a bit of a snag. With the Senate deadlocked at 50, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell needed to agree to a power-sharing deal for control of committees and day-to-day floor procedures to officially transfer. The plan was to model the agreement after Trent Lott and Tom Daschle’s pact 20 years prior, but McConnell wanted a commitment from Schumer that Democrats wouldn’t invoke the “nuclear option” to bypass the legislative filibuster while in the majority. Schumer refused to agree, even though he knew he didn’t have the votes to actually bypass it. In 2017, 31 Senate Democrats signed on to a letter in support of the filibuster, urging McConnell to “join us in opposing any effort to curtail the existing rights and prerogatives of Senators to engage in full, robust, and extended debate as we consider legislation before this body in the future.” McConnell obliged, despite pressure from some Republicans and prodding from President Trump on several occasions. Just under four years later, just two Senate Democrats (Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) were bold enough to give McConnell their word that they would vote against invoking the nuclear option.
In times of unified government with extreme partisanship, the filibuster is the only thing preventing legislation from being passed and enacted without input from the minority party. With a slim 218-212 majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate, Dems don’t have a broad mandate, but they’ve been acting like it’s 2010. Photo op meeting with the GOP Gang of Ten? Check! Refusing to listen to their counteroffer and compromise, and instead choosing to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package with zero GOP votes, bypassing the filibuster by stuffing as much of it under the 50 vote budget reconciliation rule as the Senate parliamentarian would allow? Check! Decrying performance politics and divisive rhetoric? Check! Drafting and passing legislation pertaining to elections in the House that they know won’t pass the Senate to create a narrative? Check! Calling opposition to the bill racist? Check! Calling the filibuster a relic of Jim Crow and accusing its supporters of perpetuating white supremacy? Check! Creating a commission to study the Supreme Court and possible modifications to make it “fair” because you’re afraid they may not rule in your favor? Check!
I have been very clear about my opposition to Trump and the toxic divisiveness he brought out in everyone. He sowed distrust in our already-crumbling institutions, but more ominously, he caused us to sow it in one another. The actions of the Biden administration and congressional Democrats are toxic as well. As I said in a previous article, Trump didn’t come out of a vacuum. White working-class Americans felt ignored by DC politicians and religious conservatives thought no one was fighting cultural battles for them. Many young conservative voters have no memory of the “Morning in America” ads that led to landslide victories during the Reagan years. They don’t know about the grace George H.W. Bush showed to Bill Clinton in defeat. They’ve never heard about George W. Bush and John Boehner convincing Ted Kennedy to help fight the “soft bigotry of low expectations” by passing the No Child Left Behind Act. To illustrate what goes wrong when one side refuses to work with the other, let’s skip ahead to 2022 and simulate the Ohio Senate race.
When a young conservative male in Marietta, Ohio hears the word “unity” or “bipartisan,” he thinks of John Kasich. When the kid hears that Rob Portman is retiring because legislating while in the minority has become impossible, he celebrates, because just like John Kasich, Portman isn’t a “fighter.” He doesn’t care that, unlike Kasich, Portman is actually conservative. He wants someone who believes the ends justify the means when it comes to standing up for his way of life. The way conservatives show they’re fighters is by “owning the libs.” So the kid then votes for Josh Mandel in the primary, a low turnout affair in which Mandel gains the upper hand by promising to rename the city of Columbus to the city of Trump, increasing his similarities with our 22nd and 24th president. When fact-checkers point out that Cleveland wasn’t named for Grover Cleveland, conservative media outlets accuse them of interfering by waiting until Mandel had won the primary before pointing this out. Mandel beats Tim Ryan in the general after Nina Turner loses the Democratic primary and runs as the Green Party nominee, splitting the Democratic vote. A maniac who was kicked out of an RNC meeting is now the Senator from Ohio.
Am I fearmongering? Maybe a little. However, If I told you in 2010 that Donald Trump would be elected president due to conservatives feeling left behind by the political establishment, you’d have a similar reaction to my apocalyptic vision of Ohio 2022. Mainstream Republicans and Democrats aren’t enemies. Democrats should work with Republicans who want to work with them, even if it means not getting 100% of the agenda passed. Congress is set up for compromise; the contradictory interests present within our country make it unfit to be ruled by a slim majority. If Biden and the Democrats continue governing like they live in a parliamentary system, when the political pendulum swings back to Republicans, they’ll find people like Josh Mandel suddenly in charge.
Photo Caption: President Biden’s inauguration
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons