By Rick Wilson
In my Republican days, I was as harsh a critic of Joe Biden as the next operative.
It was part of the gig in the GOP world. Dismiss the good sides of any Democrat, mock and ridicule, amp up the bad. Repeat the Finkelstein Mantra over and over.1 It wasn’t personal; it was the political style my generation (and those since) grew up in, always on, always fighting, and constantly feeding the base monster.
Can you dig up old tweets of me from 2009 or 2012 raking Biden over the coals? Of course, you can.
From seeing him a bit on a couple of CODELS and knowing what many Republican colleagues in the Senate thought of him, it was never quite as easy to box him out as Universally Bad as it might have been with some other candidates and elected officials. One Republican Senator told me Biden was the most genuinely lovely guy in the upper chamber.
And if you read What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer, you’d know Biden was a more complex character than the caricature.
Goofy? To be sure. An occasional bullshitter to the point he got over his skis? Absolutely. Politics, candidates, and consultants, as you may have heard, live in a world rife with bullshitters. (Donald Trump, in his every conscious moment, QED.)
Sometimes, it means you can tell a great story; other times…you pretend you weren’t the one who picked Sarah Palin.
Is Biden the source of the occasional whopper and malapropism? To be sure.
More liberal than me? Yep.
For all that, he is the only man ever to beat Donald Trump. Ever.
And for that, he’s the only candidate in 2024 worth considering.
Man, moment, and message made Biden the candidate of 2020.
Now, as Joe Biden struggles with a restive Democratic Party base (when are they not?), it’s time to get serious. The polls are, admittedly, rough…but it’s nothing some discipline, unity, and focus can’t fix. Donald Trump was way ahead in 2020, and his negatives are stratospheric. We know how to do this.
When we formed the Lincoln Project in December 2019, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were the hot flavors in the Democratic field. It was going to be a hard assignment. Our model showed Bernie would carry about seven states in total…and that was the best-case scenario. When Biden won, we knew we had a path to victory: narrow, steep, and winding, but a path nonetheless.
I endorsed and voted for Joe Biden in 2020, not because I believed in every single policy he’d promote; in fact, I expected we’d disagree on policy more than we have. An awful lot of that was still working through the fact that my conservative ideals were utterly abandoned at every level of my former party.
Joe Biden is old. Own it. I’ll take old and accomplished over old and evil every time. I don’t pity Joe Biden because he’s old. I honor him for still doing the work that has broken younger and stronger men. I admire him for staying in the arena even as grinning vultures whisper, “I’m ready if God takes him” to their mirrors each morning.
For me, he is still the candidate.
He is still the man we need as President, taking on the fight to preserve America at home and abroad and taking on the world with faint-hearted support from his own party and an avalanche of vitriol from the GOP that makes our darkest campaign in the past look like a meeting of the Fairfax Country Ladies Garden Club, circa 1954.
I promised in 2016 that nothing on Earth could make me vote for Donald Trump. I wrote in Evan McMullin on my Florida ballot. In 2020, I remained a registered Republican until the GOP primary so I could vote against the son-of-a-bitch twice. I changed to No Party Affiliation the next day.
Make a list of your Biden complaints. Make a list of your imaginary dream date candidates to replace him. Trust me, I’ve heard them all.
Now, tear them up, grow up, and get in the real fight.
Biden is not stepping down. There is no Plan B.
Gavin Newsom? The pick-me girl of 2024 keeps nosing into the spotlight, hoping for something awful to happen.
Gretchen Whitmer? She’s way too bright to even hint at it, but I know some folks want her in. She’s said no, and no means no.
Dean Phillips? Donald Trump would devour him and crap him out, bones and all.
There is no deux ex machina, bank shot, or last-minute Golden Child stepping up to replace Joe Biden. Even if there were such a candidate, the unbelievable chaos, political damage, lack of name ID, and other campaign-wrecking externalities are almost too insane to contemplate.
Shake off the fantasy; we’ve got a war to fight.
Joe Biden has been the best foreign policy President since George Herbert Walker Bush, my old boss.2 While the GOP bleated on about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, there was no other solution in sight. Trump made the deal with the Taliban; Biden closed it. It was cutting off the gangrenous limb before it killed the patient. The Graveyard of Empires would claim no more American lives.
His stalwart defense of Ukraine and his role in reviving NATO will be remembered as historically significant moments when American leadership returned to the world stage. Trump’s anti-NATO, pro-Putin stance has become even more remarkable, witnessed by his ass-kissing of the
Soviet Russian dictator strongman President since the invasion of Ukraine.
Trump takes this position for a simple reason: he’s hoping Putin will slap his icy paw on the scales again and fire up the bots, trolls, and information warfare machine for 2024 as he did in 2016.
Biden has nudged and pushed and cajoled a global, mainly European, alliance to provide the Ukranians with the tools, technology, and intelligence they need to prevail. It is a complex and brutal war against Russian imperialism.
He is morally clear about the evil of Hamas and its attacks on Israeli civilians while counseling the Netanhayu government to show restraint in its response.
He’s rebuilt the NATO alliance, reaffirming Article 5. For Trump, NATO was a protection racket, and his philosophy was “Eff you, pay me.” For Biden, NATO is a proven cornerstone of international security. For all that Republicans screech about the Chinese threat, it’s been Joe Biden who’s reaffirmed our commitment to Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand and reconfigured American forces for a Pacific conflict.
As Joe Biden said recently, “We cannot let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Vladimir Putin win.” The language is spare, but the moral framework is perfect.
That’s a foreign policy President who understands the stakes, the importance of American leadership, and who will make America stronger and safer in a chaotic world.
He is an incrementalist. He believes in the system of the world that our Founders crafted, down to his bones.
In his way, he’s more respectful of the Constitutional frictions and firewalls the Founders applied than most Republican Presidents.
He works in the world of the possible, not the ideal, and puts wins on the board for America that leave Republicans seething but are undermined by his more progressive critics. Oh, you didn’t get every pie-in-the-sky climate change item you wanted in the Infrastructure Bill or the Inflation Reduction Act? You got more than you ever imagined, and you still complain?
He doesn’t hate expertise and legal advice. He knows Washington is a city of relationships, personal contact, and connection, not just policy and ideology. He isn’t moved by ego, venality, and spite but by compassion and fundamental humanity.
His family life has been more painful than I can imagine surviving. No one should suffer the losses he has suffered, but he didn’t let those losses turn him toward darkness. The long curse of addiction hangs over Hunter Biden, and Joe has been a father to a son in crisis. His family, like all families, has its highs and lows, its glories and tragedies.
These lessons shaped a humanity in Joe Biden that is deeply underappreciated, particularly by his liberal critics. Trump’s indifference to human suffering is an essential element of his crapulous brand; he revels in cruelty, violence, and misery.
What I see in Joe Biden’s dealings with family is a man driven by love, a contrast with Trump’s that hardly needs more emphasis.
By the time of the general election, about 30 GOP candidates will have tried their mettle against him and lost. Several billion dollars will have been incinerated, to no effect other than several consultants buying new beach houses and private jets.
Since 2016, my critics and friends alike have asked, “What if X is the GOP nominee? What then? What happens when Trump is gone?
What then? Are you going back to the Republicans?”
There is no “what then.”
There is no GOP to return to, no home port on a chart to guide me or anyone else from that old world back to the party we knew. It has sunk into the political waves, as vanished as Atlantis and nearly as mythological. There are no candidates in the field who haven’t injected the poison of Trumpism deep into their veins.
There is no hope for a better GOP; the incentives, philosophical underpinnings, and political imperatives follow the MAGA Gresham’s Law: bad candidates drive out good. Mike Johnsons rise, and Liz Cheneys fall.
He inherited a mess and has slowly turned around an economy ravaged by Trumpian excess and wild spending, the profound and deadly mismanagement of COVID, and a nation divided by an illegal attempt to overturn a free and fair election. The alternative is a nightmare beyond most Americans’ reckoning, though, in a coming piece, I will most certainly reckon with it.
His merits, accomplishments, and leadership reflect the best traditions of the American center, and his humanity and decency give him a moral compass as a President that reflects well on our nation and our future. Would I — and America — be happier if we could snap the inflation cycle? Of course.
We’re doing great and feeling awful, but Biden has the numbers moving in the right direction. Economic perceptions are increasingly divorced from economic realities, but perception is a political mistress no one escapes. If he pulls off a soft landing and avoids a recession, the Biden Boom will lift American incomes and prosperity across the board.
Will the road of his leadership always run straight and true? It’s unlikely; man proposes, and God disposes, as they say. He will, as all Presidents do, make mistakes, but with the right intentions.
He will preserve more than he will destroy. He will serve more than he will demand. He will abide by the law and the Constitution. He will have given a life of service.
Should he win re-election in 2024, he will be the oldest man ever to hold the most challenging job in the world. Yes, he’s old and will be older still. Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both passed at 93. George H.W. Bush made it to 94. Jimmy Carter is 99. When he leaves office in 2029, he will be 89.
On that day, he will finally set down what historian Stefan Lorat called “the glorious burden” of the Presidency.
If we’re fortunate, his political epitaph will read, “The man who stopped Donald Trump twice and saved America.”
I’m not backing Joe Biden because I’m a progressive. I’m not backing Joe Biden because I’m a liberal. I’m neither. I’m a defrocked priest of the dead religion of moderate conservatism.
I’m backing Joe Biden for a second term because I’m an American.
This nation’s fate is at stake. Donald Trump’s open statements about his second term are an anti-Constitutional nightmare. There will be no “adults in the room” or “moderating forces” or any of those other charming illusions from 2017-2020 Washington. He will be unleashed, uncontrolled, and driven by vengeance alone.
Donald Trump, Mike “Get Out” Johnson, and their vast claque of post-conservative radicals, arsonists, and criminals will end this big, messy, beautiful, providentially blessed experiment in democracy, liberty, and a delicately poised and balanced Republic as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow.
We will not survive him.
Arthur Finkelstein, a transformative GOP consultant, was the apotheosis of Republican hypocrisy. A gay man who worked for the worst homophobes in America. A moderate who sharpened and perfected one attack manta still used in almost every race today: “X is too liberal. Too extreme. He’s extremely liberal. He’s a dangerous liberal who even liberals think is too liberal.” You’ve seen it a million times. He divorced the word from its historical antecedents and turned it into a singular imprecation.
The wind-down of the Cold War and the nuclear risk reductions taken in his time are a deeply underappreciated accomplishment.