It is, as any healthy or sensible person knows, too early to talk about who’s running in the 2020 election. But that doesn’t stop the unhealthy and unsensible people from sharing their compulsions with the rest of the world, in the guise of 2020 analysis, and there are lessons to learn from them.
Today, it’s Juleanna Glover—longtime operative, lobbyist, Washington hostess, and publicist for Republican candidates—filling space at Politico Magazine with a deeply annoying fantasy in which Joe Biden and Mitt Romney rescue America by joining forces in “a ‘trans-party’ third-party run for the White House.” Why does Glover think this is something that should happen?
A Biden-led bipartisan ticket would pledge to serve a Cincinnatus-like single term and address all of the U.S.’s ticking time bombs like Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, climate change, money in politics, immigration, gerrymandering and infrastructure investment in four years.
Obviously (obviously?) no presidential administration is going to get a handle on global warming in four years, let alone everything else on that list, let alone as a pre-announced lame duck. And “address…Medicare” here, coming from Glover’s world, presumably means “cut Medicare,” rather than “make Medicare available to everyone.” This list of purportedly centrist policies is a grab bag of vague reforms against entrenched interests, unfunded spending projects, and austerity hobbyhorses that no normal people have ever wanted. It can’t possibly be about substantive policy needs; instead, it’s about the psychological needs of Juleanna Glover.
What Glover is trying to conjure is not an alternative to “our malfunctioning two-party system,” but an alternative to reality—a reality in which people like Juleanna Glover are guilty of making the system malfunction.
Glover dismisses the candidacy of Hillary Clinton as part of a matched set with Donald Trump, in which Both Sides were to blame for “producing terribly flawed candidates in a race to the bottom.” Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, but before you expect Juleanna Glover to say it along with you, pause to note the line on Glover’s resume where she worked at Teneo, the investment-and-influence firm spun off from the most grasping arm of Bill Clinton’s machinery. Before that, she worked John Ashcroft’s “corporate integrity consulting company.”
All of which is to say that Juleanna Glover surely has deep knowledge about what ails our political system, but it’s not because she’s been trying to cure it. The things she pretends to complain about—the outsized role of New Hampshire and Iowa in the political process, the huge sums of money spent on campaigns, the power of special interests—are the things on which she built her own career and fortune. What she’s really afraid of is losing, to a Democratic Party that “seems to be drifting inexorably leftward.”
This leftward movement is, in Glover’s account, some irrational spasm of the electorate, a flaw in the two-party system rather than the natural political response to right-wing Republican misrule and the uselessness or complicity of the center. She is wholly unable to acknowledge that the unpopularity of Donald Trump and the Republican Congress has a political meaning. The appeal of Joe Biden is that he is a brand, capable of brand synergies:
Americans can manifest their support for such a third-party campaign in the same way they have contributed to a yet-to-be-nominated Senate challenger to Maine Senator Susan Collins: by pledging to donate only if he runs, and with a Republican running mate.
One important difference between Glover’s plan to get Americans to pledge to support an intentionally bipartisan presidential ticket and the existing crowdfunding drive for Susan Collins’ challenger is that the latter is explicitly and enthusiastically partisan. The entire purpose of it is to throw out a senator who presents herself as sensible, moderate, and bipartisan, because Collins is a loyal Republican who supports Donald Trump and votes to put right-wing justices on the Supreme Court. It is part of a program of opposition.
Glover’s proposal is a dream of non-opposition—of throwing out the current Republican president while still being able to cast a vote for the previous Republican presidential nominee. It’s about turning against plausibility to avoid turning against the political forces and interests responsible for Donald Trump. The only reason someone like Juleanna Glover wishes to break up the two-party system is because it looks, for once, as if it might change things.