Joe Biden could be the worst presidential candidate in the republic’s history. More of a lump than sentient – a fleshy husk with nothing to offer and less to say beyond, “I’m not Donald Trump.” And I’m not talking about his apparent cognitive decline, necessarily.
Maybe he’s just running the world’s worst presidential campaign – I don’t want to be unfair.
The Democratic Party, in general, has morphed similarly into a soulless, solution-less, blob of pout and panic, built to absorb (and incite) the fear and outrage of geriatrics and suburban wine moms to convert into cash for special interest groups and oligarchs.
Call it “Maddowian Alchemy.”
Somehow, Donald Trump is still very much in this presidential race. He’s even favored at some political betting sites!
The Biden campaign has been gifted a pandemic, over 30 million newly unemployed Americans, a shaky – if not collapsing – economy, widespread civil unrest, and an opponent that generates five ridiculous soundbites per week.
Yet, at every turn, they play right into the President’s hands. It’s an almost miraculous level of ineptitude (unless, of course, they’re trying to lose – in which case, the Biden candidacy is genius).
Well, now they’ve been handed a cheat sheet for the test, thanks to a US Senate primary race in Massachusetts.
The Ed Markey Playbook
Recently, Sen. Ed Markey did something remarkable – and in doing so, delivered a winning election strategy to Joe Biden on a silver platter.
Instead of repeating the same tired old Democratic tropes, lying about his legislative past, and twisting every topic into another indictment of Donald Trump, Markey went to where the party’s energy resides.
He didn’t go on the defensive and repeat the same old hollow corporate Dem platitudes, ask “how will we pay” for Medicare for All (and other progressive policies), or make accusations regarding “purity tests.” The Senator did the opposite of other (recently unseated) longtime incumbents.
The Biden campaign spends every waking hour (which, admittedly, doesn’t amount to much time for Joe these days) promising not to do anything progressive and trying to prove themselves more Republican than Trump. Ed Markey turned to the young, climate-conscious, left-wing of the Democratic Party for help.
And, my God, did they deliver – with all the enthusiasm and creativity one might expect from legions of 18 – 24-year-old’s locked inside watching the world burn for the better part of a year.
The Incumbent Underdog
It’s tempting to write off Ed Markey’s win as nothing more than a long-entrenched incumbent defending their congressional seat, which happens roughly 90% of the time. However, that would be incredibly reductive and dishonest.
When Joe Kennedy III announced he’d be vacating his position in the House of Representatives to challenge for Markey’s Senate seat, many thought the incumbent’s political career was all-but-over. No Kennedy had ever lost an election in Massachusetts.
A year ago, the young challenger amassed a 16-point lead in the polls, performing particularly well with rural, Black, and low-income voters. In his late-30s, support for Kennedy was thought of as an investment in the state’s future. The scion of one of the country’s most beloved political families would represent Massachusetts residents in DC for the next several decades.
Polling data was so dire for Sen. Markey; some political insiders suggested that the 74-year-old retire rather than be subject to a humiliating defeat. The conditions were perfect for a young, charismatic member of a political dynasty to take over.
Markey’s Embrace of the Left
Joe Kennedy never imagined Ed Markey reinventing himself in the vein of Bernie Sanders and running to his left. Rather than running as a traditional tenured Democrat like Eliot Engel, William Lacy Clay, and Joseph Crowley mistakenly tried, the Senator embraced the progressive left.
The Senator used his work on the “Green New Deal” and subsequent endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (given in appreciation of that work) to raise his national profile.
The young voters and climate activists responded with passion and enthusiasm; it was obvious they haven’t had anywhere to channel their energy and creativity since Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren suspended their presidential campaigns. A Bernie-esque small-dollar grassroots fundraising operation was ignited.
Young peoples’ influence can most be understood by watching the Markey campaign’s “The Green New Dealmaker” video. It is perhaps the most impactful campaign ad of the election cycle:
“The Dealmaker” was born.
The alliance with the Sunrise Movement and Alexandria Occasion-Cortez changed everything for Senator Markey. It was enough to make him the first person to ever defeat a Kennedy in Massachusetts.
The Senator finished with 55.6 percent of the vote, to Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III’s 44.4 percent.
Champion of the Youth Voters
Sen. Markey and his new allies cultivated an image and message that tapped into a similar revolutionary energy as Bernie Sanders’s campaign. The presence of passionate, policy-driven voters transformed the candidate from another old, tired Democratic incumbent into a cool, lovable progressive grandpa taking the fight to the establishment.
It was an energy that’s mostly disappeared since the demise of the Sanders campaign.
“Markey and his campaign were very eager to fight that fight with us. We got in early, making it an issues-focused, policy-centered campaign which was mostly centered around Markey’s leadership on the Green New Deal and climate crisis,” explained Evan Weber. “We also did a lot of work to rile up young people and the youths and progressives.”
Between the Sunrise Movement and AOC, the 74-year-old incumbent who’s been in Congress for decades became the champion of young Americans and a symbol of progressive change. The young challenger was made to represent the opposite.
Fight for the Heart of the DNC: Centrists vs. Progressives
Of course, stepping into the political vacuum created by the absence of the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren campaigns pit the incumbent against the powerful establishment wing of the DNC. Markey’s progressive rebranding generated significant momentum, earning the Senator additional endorsements from a bevy of left-wing organizations and leaders.
The centrist Democratic machine, sensing a threat, began to rally around Kennedy.
Before the party elite weighed in on the race, the challenger had some issues he wanted to address, regarding this new, left-wing Ed Markey. Sen. Markey’s congressional record is more reminiscent of Joe Biden’s than Bernie Sanders’s.
Rep. Kennedy pointed to the “Dealmaker’s” votes supporting the Iraq War and Biden’s 1994 Crime Bill during a debate.
Fair as they were, the attacks failed to make an impact. One Democratic strategist bitterly complimented the Senator’s campaign for doing “a masterful job convincing voters Ed is someone he is not,” after the Joe Kennedy’s concession.
One of the strongest arguments for Joe Biden learning from Ed Markey’s win and adapting its strategies is the fact that problematic aspects of the Senator’s resume weren’t held against him.
Claire Sandberg, Bernie Sanders’s national organizing director, said it best:
“Corporate Democrats want to make the left out to be purity-obsessed and unwilling to compromise, but the left rallied around a longtime politician with a mixed record because he actively courted their support and became a champion of one of their major legislative priorities.”
This win is entirely different from other shocking progressive victories. Democrats like Jamaal Bowmann, Cori Bush, and all four members of “the squad” had the benefit of being unknown commodities without damning records to attack.
In the current climate, where voters are losing faith in Congress and the nation’s institutions in general, inexperience can be an asset. Progressives don’t look at a long history of participation in this corrupt system as a positive.
Sen. Markey’s campaign captured the same energy as those previous progressive triumphs, despite not being all-that-progressive for much of his political career. Yet, he was held to no so-called “purity tests” preventing him from tapping into the left-wing.
“But what we’re trying to show is that we will not just attack you if you don’t endorse the Green New Deal. But if you convert, if you join us, we’re not going to hold a grudge. We say at Sunrise: “No permanent friends and no permanent enemies.” So if you join us, not only are we going to like, not primary you, but we’re also going to support you in a way that only young people can.”
“The reason why people are afraid of the Green New Deal more than anything because it’s all based on political economy; they’re afraid of attack ads about the Green New Deal. And so if you show them that we can produce better political ads than the other side can, like the Green New Deal-maker ad that we produced, we can reinvent your character and sell you to a whole new audience, then that’s going to make you a lot more willing to support the Green New Deal.”
See? It’s not too late for Joe Biden to boost his abysmal polls concerning enthusiasm levels!
Unfortunately, the career right-wing Democrat appears stuck in the conservative lane carved by Bill Clinton, courting moderate suburban Republicans at the expense of the very voters who drove Ed Markey’s comeback.
What Voters Want is Changing
In his current form, Biden represents the corporatist, neoliberal Democratic Party of the past few decades. Centrist Dems are primarily beholden to wealthy interests, pro-war, and only distinguish themselves from pre-Trump Republicans on a handful of polarizing social issues.
After the disappointment of the Obama administration, which ultimately inspired absolutely zero “change,” voters are starting to demand real, tangible, material improvements. They’ve stopped falling for charismatic personalities and flowery speeches; people want to see policies.
Substance Over Style
It’s why all the Democratic primary favorites flopped. Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris look and sound like stereotypical presidential candidates. At least one of them would have broken the 3% polling mark at any other time and place.
The Markey campaign demonstrated their understanding of this enormous shift in US politics with the brilliant tagline to his game-changing ad:
“With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.”
Not only did he flip the famous JFK quote as a shot at Kennedy, but he also made a point that a lot of voters want to hear right about now.
Naturally, Joe Kennedy III took the bait and went on the attack.
The challenger leaned into his dynastic roots to defend his family. He misread the climate, becoming a symbol of the toxic political system that brought us to this point. Wealthy families using their privilege to exert tremendous amounts of unearned influence are not popular at the moment.
Kiss of Death Pelosi Endorsement
An endorsement from Nancy Pelosi compounded Kennedy’s image problem. A longtime friend of the political dynasty, the Speaker of the House, took issue Markey’s tagline.
This further cemented perception of Kennedy being a member of the centrist Democratic establishment. He was no longer a young, exciting upstart; now Joe was a spoiled rich kid, primarying a progressive because he felt entitled to a senate seat and because the Pelosi’s of the party want less resistance to their corporatist agenda in Congress.
Immediately after Speaker Pelosi’s endorsement, the Markey campaign raised $400,000. Meanwhile, it generated only $100,000 for the endorsement’s recipient.
“We saw more and more progressives endorsing Markey as a result of that, sort of upset at Pelosi’s hypocrisy around the primary rules. And we even saw some establishment folks like Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, you know, chairs of committees, people in democratic leadership, that work with and have to work with Pelosi regularly, throw their weight behind Markey, bucking Pelosi, “ said Evan Weber.
Kennedy is only the latest victim of the Pelosi “kiss of death.” She has endorsed several centrist Democrats this year, all of whom have either lost their primaries or were pushed to the brink by challengers that shouldn’t have had a chance.
Political Betting Tip:
If Nancy Pelosi endorses a candidate, put some money on their opponent!
By the way, Nancy isn’t the only establishment Democrat who got behind Joe Kennedy. The effort to take down Ed Markey also received support from the late John Lewis, Joaquin Castro, Beto O’Rourke, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, along with over two dozen House Democrats.
Betting Analysis After Ed Markey’s Win
Sen. Markey’s remarkable come-from-behind victory highlighted a shift that’s occurring in US politics. Voters are gravitating towards policy-driven campaigns and political outsiders. Economic conditions have finally deteriorated enough to motivate Americans to reject standard, old-school politicians.
At the same time, they’ve demonstrated a willingness to accept veteran elected officials that show a willingness to adapt to the times.
For political handicappers, the direction a candidate moves during their campaign could be a vital indicator of how they’ll perform. Populist messaging appears to be conducive to winning.
Since 2018, tenured incumbents are dropping like flies to challengers with no political experience; they all offer Medicare for All, minimum wage increases, a Green New Deal, and a government that focuses more on people’s needs than corporations.
A smart bettor would comb through the Senate and House of Representatives election betting lines and search for candidates willing to eschew corporate donors and party leaders to excite young voters. If opponents with zero experience can defeat Eliot Engel and Joe Crowley, anything can happen!
As for the 2020 presidential race…
In 2016, progressives who were energized by Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign didn’t transfer their same enthusiasm to Hillary Clinton. It didn’t matter that Bernie endorsed the former First Lady or implored them to give her their support.
I’m seeing the Democrats taking the same exact approach this time around. Biden prioritizes the moderate voters in the suburbs and hopes the left-wing will settle out of a sense of duty to remove Donald Trump.
What’s worse, they routinely “take the bait,” when Trump lures them into GOP talking points. Every election, Republicans call their Democratic opponents crazy socialists. Their actual policies don’t matter.
Yet, the Biden campaign has reacted to those toothless attacks by scheduling eight Republicans to speak at their convention; he’s come out harder on “law and order” than Trump and promised to increase military spending and be tougher on foreign policy.
I believe this is a massive strategic mistake.
Bernie is campaigning for his old pal with all his heart, but it won’t make a difference. DNC officials mistakenly see Sen. Sanders as a progressive movement leader – like it’s a personality cult. But leftist voters have shown that they care about policies, not personality. A candidate either supports key issues, giving them a reason to cast a ballot, or they don’t.
People don’t vote out of hatred – not in the numbers required to win the electoral college. They’ll tell a pollster online or over the phone they support Biden, but if it’s not going to change their life in any discernable way, why waste time on Election Day?
Joe Biden’s enthusiasm numbers are abysmal.
If he wants to repair them, Ed Markey showed him where to turn. That said, it’s probably too late. The Biden campaign has already promised not to ban fracking, failed to support the Green New Deal, and has vowed to veto Medicare for All if it ever passed through Congress.
I guess some old dogs are better at learning new tricks than others.