The President has chosen to mount a self-interested defense of democracy as his closing message for the midterm elections rather than defend his own record. It’s one of the most cynical strategies in modern memory for furthering dividing Americans in the obvious pursuit of power. It’s also dumb and hopeless because voters know the deal.
President Biden began the final stretch of the midterm elections on Wednesday not by highlighting his achievements or presenting plans to deal with out of control inflation, the rapid increase in violent crime, or the record-breaking surge at the border. Instead, he chose to focus on saving democracy for his closing message, delivering what is surely one of the most cynical speeches in modern American politics. “We can’t take democracy for granted any longer,” the president declared from Union Station in Washington, DC. “As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America – for governor, for Congress, for attorney general, for secretary of state who won’t commit to accepting the results of the elections they’re in,” President Biden continued. “That is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it is un-American.” The framing could not be more clear: A vote for Republicans, only some of which are good people according to the President, is a vote to overthrow democracy itself. It could also not be more wrong: Less than four years ago, then candidate Biden didn’t commit to accepting the results of the election himself, and he was encouraged by leading Democrats to do precisely that. “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances, because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch, and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is,” former Secretary of State and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton said in August 2020. This should not be surprising: No candidate for any election from dogcatcher to President in the entire history of the country has ever committed to accepting unknown results in advance for obvious reasons: Election fraud is real and no one should be under any obligation to accept fraudulent results before the facts are in.
Contrary to President Biden’s claims, his own party has refused to concede the results of a presidential election three times this century alone, most famously in 2000 when Al Gore waited until almost two months after the election because of disputed votes in Florida. It was his legal right and obligation to exhaust every possible avenue, which he certainly did as the results ended up in the Supreme Court. To this day, Democrats are fond of saying President George W. Bush was “selected not elected,” declaring him an illegitimate president for all time in their eyes. The President’s position is even more at odds with reality when you consider that the aforementioned Hillary Clinton went a step further recently when she proactively said Democrats should refuse to concede the results of the 2024 presidential election. “Right-wing extremists already have a plan to literally steal the next presidential election, and they’re not making a secret of it,” she explained in an October video for the progressive group, Indivisible. “The right-wing-controlled Supreme Court may be poised to rule on giving state legislatures the power to overturn presidential elections,” she added, while failing to mention that the legislatures already have this power, again for obvious reasons. Election results aren’t magically taken at face value, known to be automatically accurate. They are certified through a process where people have the right to object and explain why. If a majority of the people’s representatives in the state legislature believe fraud has occurred, they are empowered to overturn the results. The Constitution could not be more clear, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.” This isn’t controversial. It’s common sense. Elections are managed at the precinct level by people appointed by political parties. Throughout history, there have been near countless examples of fraud in the process on both sides of the political aisle. Why would anyone in their right mind believe a system should be designed to simply accept fraudulent results with no process to review or overturn them?
Nor is the President’s historical ignorance confined to the processes to review and certify election results, or the efforts of his own party to overturn results: The simple, undeniable fact is that there hasn’t been a single closely contested election in the history of the United States that hasn’t been accompanied by accusations of fraud, some well founded, others completely made up. The idea that the American tradition has simply been to accept any close election with no skepticism is belied by progressive hero and current Georgia gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams who refused to concede an election in Georgia as recently as 2018. “I’m here tonight to tell you votes remain to be counted. There’s voices that are waiting to be heard,” she said the day after the election. In her view, she was a victim of voter suppression, and that conceding would acknowledge “an action is right, true or proper,” which she could not do “as a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.” Three years later, she was still claiming that “the game was rigged against the voters of Georgia.” “I, on November 16, 2018, acknowledged at the top of my speech that Brian Kemp is the governor of Georgia and I even wished him well at the end of the speech,” she said. “And in the middle, I talked about the fact we had a system that he managed, that he manipulated, hurt Georgia voters and the responsibility of leaders is to challenge systems that are not serving the people.” No one has been able to explain how this is any different than former President Donald Trump’s position on the matter: He alleges that he lost because the election was rigged and subject to fraud, but ultimately he left the White House on the agreed date and time of the transition. Contrary to popular belief, the transition started in December 2020, long before the supposed insurrection. That is precisely the same concession Ms. Abrams provided.
I do not mention this to pick on Ms. Abrams specifically. She is one of a long line of politicians who felt similarly about close elections. As I’ve previously written, the first wild, raucous, and contested election in American history occurred in 1796. Perhaps nothing compares to 1876, however. Eleven years after the Civil War, the election featured both widespread voter intimidation and fraud, especially in the former slave holding states when Republican Rutherford B. Hayes faced off against Democrat Samuel Tilden. The early returns indicated a Tilden victory, but three Southern states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, had Republican dominated election boards that invalidated enough votes to swing the election to Hayes, giving him a 185-184 majority in the Electoral College. This should have been enough to secure victory, except competing sets of election returns and Electoral College votes were sent to Congress. To resolve the issue, Congress formed a bipartisan commission of 15 members and Supreme Court Justices. The commission originally included seven Democrats and seven Republicans, plus one independent. The independent, however, Justice David Davis of Illinois, resigned after being chosen to serve in the Senate. Much to the chagrin of the Democrats, he was replaced by a Republican, and the committee handed the victory to Hayes. Eight years later, the election between Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican Secretary of State James G. Blaine was decided by 1,149 votes in New York, and fewer than 1,300 in Connecticut. In the immediate aftermath, both men claimed victory and accused the other side of fraud. Mr. Blaine said of his potential loss, “I do not believe the American people will accept a fraudulent result.” Future President Cleveland told a supporter, “I believe I have been elected President, and nothing but grossest fraud can keep me out of it, and that we will not permit.” The very next cycle, the election of 1888 featured a bribery scandal. The Republican Candidate, Benjamin Harrison went on to defeat Grover Cleveland in the Electoral College, even though he lost the popular vote. The allegations of fraud were so widespread and persistent they resulted in the secret ballot, though President Cleveland quipped that his loss was “mainly because the other party had the most votes.” Similar accusations dogged more recent elections such as 1960, 2000, 2004 (fraudulent voting machines in Ohio), 2016 (Russian collusion), and 2020, meaning this is the norm for obvious reasons, not an aberration. Putting this another way, does anyone reasonably believe that Democrats will not contest close results in key states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia? Despite their protestations, you can be certain that if any state comes down to a handful of votes, they will fight tooth and nail to prevail, as they should.
Ultimately, this lays bare the extreme cynicism of President Biden’s strategy. Everyone knows why close elections are fought fiercely over every vote, and everyone understands why the losing side frequently, if not always, makes accusations of fraud. The historical record is too clear, human nature too imperfect, the power at stake too vast to be any different. Everyone also understands that the President hasn’t done a single, solitary thing, either consequential or inconsequential, to protect democracy, as in the assurance of free, fair, and trustworthy elections whoever may win. He and his progressive allies have instead embraced and advanced only those ideas and policies that would protect and expand their own power, something I’ve characterized as democracy being whatever they say it is. They will and have argued the other side of the issue on everything from the filibuster to the Supreme Court when it suits their purposes. Therefore, framing the election in terms of saving democracy serves only one purpose: Firing up the progressive base in the hopes to increase turn out at the obvious expense of further inflaming tensions in an already polarized electorate, one where the real card carrying experts like Jon Meacham claim we can learn lessons from a devastating Civil War, subtly suggesting Republicans are an enemy to be killed until they submit. The President is proactively delegitimizing candidates, if not an entire party, in a desperate attempt to cling to power, nothing more and nothing less. To do so, President Biden is more than willing to further tear the nation apart for his own purposes.
There is no equivalent in the modern era, and every fair minded person should be decrying the strategy at every turn. Instead, the media have embraced it. For example, CNN declared in a supposed news article that “President Joe Biden on Wednesday delivered a stark warning to Americans that the future of the nation’s democracy could rest on next week’s midterm elections, an urgent appeal coming six days before final ballots are cast in a contest the president framed in nearly existential terms.” Their resident propagandist, Stephen Collinson, concurred, writing “Joe Biden’s eloquent defense of democracy was a message Americans needed to hear. But it was not the one voters most want now from their president – that relief is at hand from the soaring cost of living.” Here, Mr. Collinson alludes to what I would describe as the stupidity of the strategy: Out of touch barely begins to describe it. The average voter is not nearly as ignorant of the contours of politics and the human condition as the President thinks. They are well aware that the Biden Presidency has been a disaster for their personal finances and future prospects, and they will vote accordingly. To suggest otherwise with a closing message that has nothing to do with the personal struggles they face thanks to rampant inflation, crime, and other challenges, is just plain dumb. It’s also a terrible strategy, one very easy for Republicans to parry simply by saying the President can babble about democracy all he wants, but that won’t lower the price of gas or groceries by a single cent. Then again, there is an obvious hopelessness to it given the President has been powerless to improve the lives of the average American. That is the ground the election will be decided upon, and why it will be a bloodbath for the President’s party.