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Herb Rothschild Jr.: ABT is a gift to Republicans

The last question for Democratic presidential hopefuls on the second night of their initial debates (June 26-27, 2019) was, “If elected, what would you do on your first day in office?” Since Joe Biden was positioned near the center of the crowded stage, there were several responses before his, all appropriate. When his turn came, he answered, “Beat Donald Trump!”

Biden may not have realized that his answer was nonsensical. Or perhaps his handlers had instructed him to reinforce the notion that he was the Democrats’ best chance to beat Trump, so he discounted the risk of appearing stupid. We’ll never know. But we do know that his answer told us that he has no vision that can counter Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” It told us that he doesn’t even have a policy agenda. He’s simply the presumptive Anybody in ABT.

It may be true that Biden has a better chance than Sanders to beat Trump, although I could easily make the opposing case. But I’m a poor predictor of presidential races, so I’ll leave the handicapping to others. Instead, I’ll focus on the price the Democratic Party will pay if it refuses to think beyond beating Trump in November. For this task there is a statistical pattern from which to extrapolate.

When Bill Clinton entered the White House, the Congress seated with him had 267 Democrats (Ds) and 167 Republicans (Rs) in the House, 58 Ds and 42 Rs in the Senate. Six years later, in the last Congress seated during the Clinton years, the House had 207 Ds and 226 Rs; the Senate had 45 Ds and 55 Rs. During Obama’s presidency that pattern repeated itself. At its start, the House makeup was 256 Ds and 178 Rs; the Senate was 59 Ds, 41 Rs. Six years later, the House was 188 Ds and 247 Rs; the Senate was 44 Ds plus two independents who caucused with the Ds, and 54 Rs.

During those periods, the party turnarounds in statehouses were even more pronounced. In 1992, the governorships were 30 Ds, 18 Rs and two independents.

In 2000, there were 19 Ds, 29 Rs and two independents. In 1992, Ds controlled

25 state legislatures, Rs controlled eight, and 16 were split (one chamber was D, one was R). In 2000, Ds controlled 16 state legislatures, Rs controlled 18, and 15 were split. So, too, for the Obama years. In 2008, there were 29 D and 21 R governors; there were

27 D, 15 R, and eight split state legislatures. In 2016, there were 18 D, 31 R and 1 independent governors; there were 11 D, 31 R and eight split state legislatures.

In sum, Clinton and Obama seriously damaged the party they headlined. Both men were highly intelligent, charming and managerially competent, but they had no vision for our country, and their pragmatism, an approach to policy-making much lauded by the anti-Sanders camp, produced marginal results even when they had large Congressional majorities.

Biden promises to be even less energizing than his two mediocre predecessors. On public occasions Clinton and Obama could speak in uplifting ways. Biden is dull — both devoid of mental acuity and boring. Just when the Democrats need someone who can generate and sustain rank-and-file enthusiasm not just for one election but for years

of political engagement, most appear willing to settle for Sleepy Joe. The data I cited above indicate the likely consequences of such a choice. ABT will be a gift to the Republicans.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.