NYT: This Debt-Ceiling Fight Will Be Different

I participated in a roundtable discussion for the New York Times to discuss the Republican House majority and the coming clash over the federal debt limit. The TimesRoss Douthat led the conversation with me and my friend Haley Byrd Wilt of The Dispatch.

Here’s one of the key points I made:

Douthat: Let’s turn to the debt-ceiling issue. A lot of moderates and market watchers seem relatively sanguine, on the grounds that we’ve seen debt-ceiling fights before in the Obama era, and we know this will end (eventually) in compromise. But Liam, you’ve talked a lot about how there’s a big gulf between what conservatives consider the lessons of those Obama-era negotiations and how the Biden White House remembers them. Can you talk about those dueling visions?

Donovan: This is the fundamental problem at play — a mutual comfort level based on shared experiences from the not-so-distant past that the sides took very different lessons from.

For Republicans, the showdown in 2011 was the signal achievement of the Tea Party: staring down President Barack Obama and forcing the cuts associated with the Budget Control Act. It validated one of the animating forces of the right over the past decade-plus — that the party’s failures are a result of weak, feckless leadership, and if they fight, they win.

For Democrats, including Joe Biden, who as vice president had a front-row seat to the deal, it was evidence of why you should never negotiate under these circumstances, because it enables and encourages ever more reckless hostage-taking. That informs their current posture, as does the fact that they actually won the last such game of chicken in 2021.

Read the full piece here.

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Georgia On My Mind

With Biden taking the lead this morning in both Pennsylvania and Georgia (and retaining it in Arizona and Nevada), two things are now all but certain:

1. Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States*, winning somewhere between 270 and 306 votes, and

*-first call made by DDHQ pursuant to Biden PA win, more sure to come in short order. Full accounting here.

2. Control of the United States Senate will not be settled until January 5th when Georgia voters will render their verdict in both Senate races.

There will be lots of time for takes on what happened in the Presidential race and how it ended up so close, but the bottom line is that Donald Trump held his own in some interesting and unexpected ways, which was more than enough for his GOP ticket-mates, who ran ahead of him by an average of 2.6 points across the map. In some cases he was able to pull folks over the line; in others his share was enough to put them in range. But at the end of the day, the additional 3-4 points by which Trump was able to over-perform his polling blunted any talk of a Blue Wave and instead led to a conspicuously split decision.

But let’s talk a little about the Georgia Senate races. I spent the waning days of a very different election cycle, one that happened to put Joe Biden in the general vicinity of 1600 Pennsylvania, holed up in an extended stay hotel in Alpharetta, trying to stanch the bleeding for Senate Republicans and deny President-elect Obama a supermajority in the upper chamber. This was a very different Georgia, to put it mildly, but it both demonstrated the latent shift in a purpling state, and underscored the challenge Democrats often face in reprising Presidential turnout in such run-offs. The four week sprint was punctuated by dueling rallies featuring Sarah Palin on the one side and Ludacris, T.I., and Young Jeezy on the other. (You can’t make this stuff up.) In the end, without President Obama on the ballot, Republicans were able to retain their 41st seat, albeit temporarily, and the margin wasn’t particularly close at nearly 15 points.

While Republicans will begin as the favorites in these races, there is reason to think that this will not be 2008 redux, not least because 12 years later Joe Biden is poised to win the Peach State outright. This will be a real dogfight, with the attendant resources surging in from across the country. Here’s a peek at what we’re in for.

How Things Stack Up

By The Numbers

Current partisan breakdown: Perdue-Ossoff: 49.8-47.8; Special, Total R-D: 49-48.4

GOP: Perdue very nearly avoided the run-off altogether, winning a plurality of the vote and pacing his opponent by two points even as Trump is poised to fall narrowly to Biden. In just about any other state in the country, he would have been re-elected on Tuesday. And in the all-party special election, Republicans similarly got the lion’s share of the vote—in addition to the 46% for the leading candidates in Loeffler and Collins, minor GOPers picked up an addition three points. All of which is to say Republicans ran ahead of the President by a point or two, which they would have to repeat here in the run-off.

Dems: Biden will almost certainly win the state with a narrow plurality as the metro Atlanta counties finish reporting their results. Democrats can win in Georgia, which would have been an astonishing statement just a few years ago, and remains fairly stunning in light of recent disappointments. Now the question is whether they can reprise the anti-Trump coalition in service of a pro-Biden Senate majority.

Synergy

GOP: Having David Perdue on the ticket provides a major boost to appointed Senator Kelly Loeffler, who is coming off a long and messy (jungle) primary battle with Rep. Doug Collins. Winning was always going to require unity, and the rapid mending of intramural fences, and running what will essentially be a joint campaign with the popular senior Senator will surely help that. On a day where ticket-splitting is even less likely than usual, a strong running-mate will be critical.

Dems: Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock make for an odd buddy-comedy of a ticket, but the combination is formidable on paper—Ossoff is precisely the kind of candidate that The Resistance has embraced and that has resonated in the sort of inner ring metro suburbs that just turned Georgia blue. Warnock, who gained acclaim as a successor to Martin Luther King, Jr. as head pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, is a prominent leader in the African-American community of Atlanta that will provide the backbone of any Democratic hopes here.

Money

GOP: Republican donors and outside groups will sure to rally around Georgia, and the online platform WINRED is mounting a major effort to drive cash to these races. Senator Loeffler is a self-funder in her own right, and would be expected to dip into her own considerable coffers as much as needed.

Dems: While a flood of money is absolutely certain to flow into this contest, the “Green Wave” of 2020 mostly ended up with dashed hopes and confusion. Democrats raised unprecedented sums across the map and ended up with very little to show for it, except some costly futility: in Kentucky and South Carolina alone, Democratic donors spent $200 million on races that were decided by a combined 30 points. They sunk another $160 million into 5 other losing races, while affiliated outside groups dropped another $200 million on negative ads alone. Despite outraising GOP incumbents by orders of magnitude across the map, the only pickups were in Biden states they were heavily favored in. Once again, the money will be there, but its efficacy remains an open question.

Motivation

This is the variable that is almost certain to determine the outcome, and you can argue it either way.

GOP: House and Senate Republicans just had a great night because they were able to build on Donald Trump’s spread-covering performance to win their races across the country. But while they ran ahead of the President, they still benefited from voters that turned out *for him.* Will these dejected Trump voters stay home when he’s not on the ballot, or will the President’s charges of a “stolen” election be a motivating factor? Expect Republicans to lean into this sense of grievance among the MAGA crowd, while appealing to the Trump-skeptical suburbs by framing the contest as a referendum on control of all of the levers of power—reminding voters that they are not just voting for their Senator, but for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to run Washington while Joe Biden effectively serves as an auto-pen for progressive priorities (whether or not this is the practical reality.)

Dems: For Democrats the task is simple—convince Biden voters that it’s all for naught if they don’t come back out and deliver him a Democrat Senate. One question is whether the white-hot rage of anti-Trump voters in the Atlanta suburbs will be tempered by this victory, and/or whether an otherwise disappointing night for Democrats leaves The Resistance feeling deflated. Another is to what degree African-American voters, who were never as mobilized against Trump to begin with, and had a unique affinity for Joe Biden, feel compelled to turn out in Presidential numbers. As mentioned, the odd couple dynamic of Ossoff and Warnock could be well-suited to address both of these concerns, but given the incredibly slim margin, they can’t afford to lose votes on either end.

All in all, I would rather be Republicans, but this will be a battle royale, and nothing should be taken for granted. Control of the Senate majority is very much in play, even if a 50-50 chamber would be very tenuous for the Biden agenda.

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The Perks of a “Rigged System”

I wrote a new piece about the ouroboros of cynicism that initially propelled and to this day protects President Trump from offenses that would have long since felled mere mortal politicians. I’ll send it over to Maggie for the pull quote:

Read the full piece here.

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