In This Episode
The runaway favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination will soon be under felony indictment in three, or maybe four jurisdictions, but most leading Democrats are withholding comment on Donald Trump’s mounting legal problems. Joe Biden has reportedly ordered his campaign and the Democratic National Committee to keep quiet about it, even as Republicans work overtime to try to muddy Biden’s far more ethical record of conduct. Why aren’t Democrats doing more to emphasize character contrast between Biden and Trump? Are voters too mired in their personal circumstances to care which politicians are corrupt or cruel? Do appeals to their material well being, rather than appeals to morality, decency, or ethics reach more people? Faiz Shakir, the chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 campaign and founder of More Perfect Union, and Leah Greenberg, an executive director of Indivisible, join host Brian Beutler to hash it out. Should Democrats (other than Joe Biden himself) be more engaged in salacious infowars with the right? Or should they leave that kind of red meat politics to Republicans while building a singular economic policy appeal?
Brian Beutler: Hello and welcome to Positively Dreadful with me, your host, Brian Beutler. Here’s an understatement for you. It’s an interesting time in American politics. Some of what’s interesting about it is thankfully not existential end of democracy stuff. Right now, the economy is booming through a rapid decline in inflation. This appears to be the, quote unquote, “soft landing” economists have been casting doubt on for the past many months. Earlier this year, wage growth overtook inflation, which means economic quality of life is improving for most Americans. Unemployment is at or near historic lows. Inequality has plummeted in the Biden error recovery. Even the top economists at the biggest Wall Street firms have begun to acknowledge that the recession they’ve been warning about for most of Joe Biden’s time in office no longer seems likely. Morgan Stanley even essentially credited so-called Bidenomics for the resilient growth we’ve seen. And Biden is on a kind of victory tour to reclaim the term. Bidenomics because Republicans had been using that as a kind of slur. So that’s interesting on its own. What’s really interesting about it to me is that people don’t seem to have noticed, or at least not yet. Or maybe to be more precise, there’s no social consensus that we’re living through boom times. That phenomenon is driven largely by Republican voters who have seemingly been well trained to always say the economy sucks when the president is a Democrat. But the mechanical connection many political professionals assume exists between the health of the economy and the president’s approval rating. Also maybe seems not to exist. Or if it does exist, it hasn’t kicked into effect yet. And so Biden remains pretty unpopular. Okay. So here’s another even more interesting thing. The runaway favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination has been indicted for multiple felonies in more than one jurisdiction. Donald Trump will be tried as an accused felon during the summer campaign. By the time you listen to this, he may be under yet another indictment stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. So that’s very new. And in a not very flattering about America way, it’s also pretty interesting. What makes it even more interesting still, though, is that is that most leading Democrats seem inclined to withhold comment on Trump’s mounting legal problems. One of those Democrats is Joe Biden. And in his particular case, I think most liberals, most progressives would agree that discretion is actually the better part of valor. He heads the executive branch, and he shouldn’t spoil these prosecutions by exploiting them for political gain in a way that makes it seem like it’s all politics and makes it harder then to convict Donald Trump. But it isn’t just him. He’s reportedly ordered his campaign and the Democratic National Committee to keep quiet about Trump’s legal problems. On the day we learned that special counsel Jack Smith was poised to indict Trump for crew related crimes, Biden’s campaign issued a statement about Trump’s poor economic record as president in Wisconsin. So I’m all for a good contrast. And part of what makes the contrast between Biden and Trump so stark, at least for the moment, is rooted in policy. Biden managed to enact the economic national agenda that Trump only ever talked about. Every presidential wannabe since 2004 has talked a big game about ending wars abroad and rebuilding here at home. But Biden is the only one who has come anywhere close to actually doing it. But the fact that Trump is a huge crook, where Biden has a pretty good record of ethical conduct is an important contrast, too, which is why Republicans are working overtime to try to muddy it. But through all that, Democrats are doing almost nothing to preserve and exploit that contrast. And if you’ve been following along here or elsewhere, you know, I think this is a pretty big mistake. It’s a mistake because I think people do care a lot about corruption, but maybe have short memories about it. I also think it’s a mistake because nobody can read the future. So we don’t know if Biden will ride this economic boom to popularity. And we don’t know if the boom will bust before the election. By contrast, the character differences between Biden and Trump are predictable and durable and will last until next November. But it’s a fairly widely held belief in progressive politics that I’m wrong about this, that decisive voters are too mired in their own personal circumstances to know or care which politicians are corrupt or cruel, and that they are best reached with appeals to their material well-being rather than with appeals to morality or decency or ethics. So that’s what we’re going to fight it out about here today. Should Democrats, other than Joe Biden himself, be more engaged in the scandal driven democracy Trump criminality, info wars. Or should they leave that kind of red meat politics to Republicans while building a more narrow cast appeal based on economic policy? As always, I’ll be the impartial moderator, and I’ve invited Faiz Shakir and Leah Greenberg onto the show this week to hash out the question. Faiz chaired Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and founded More Perfect Union. And Leah is an executive director of Indivisible. So thanks to both of you for doing this.
Faiz Shakir: Of course. Hi Brian.
Leah Greenberg: Thanks for having us.
Faiz Shakir: Hey Leah.
Leah Greenberg: Hey.
Brian Beutler: [laughs] Glad everyone’s all acquainted now. So let’s begin fighting. Faiz a few weeks back. You were a guest on Meet the Press. You counseled that Democrats should, quote, “honor the legal case,” which is to take it out of the political realm and let the criminal justice system drive our, kind of factual understanding of Trump’s criminality and his criminal exposure. Do you still feel that way? And just as a practical matter, what do you think that means for people doing actual surrogate work for Joe Biden?
Faiz Shakir: Oh, yeah, I still do feel that way. In fact, you referenced the third indictment coming this way. And if I asked you, Brian, right now if you could give me the facts of that case and what is going to be alleged around Trump’s conduct. You couldn’t do it. And there’s a reason why you can’t make it up right now. You have to figure out what the Justice Department has found and what it is going to tell us about Trump’s behavior. But your core point of do do we learn anything new about Trump being an immoral asshat? And I don’t think we do. I don’t think you learn too much more. So the political case of what we’re trying to argue for is that when you think about a persuasion universe of people whose votes could be or should be changed in this election cycle, and you ask like, what are the core things that they need to or want to know about Donald Trump? I don’t think you’re going to move a lot of them on the idea that he is immoral and he uses government for his own gains and personal efforts and his own aggrandizement. And so I think there is a question that you got to build your own intensity of your own base, which fair, like, yes, a lot of our own base wants to hear about these kinds of arguments, but I don’t think they’re going to get a shortage of them from surrogates, from the press. You’re going to learn anything and everything you want to know about Trump’s immorality and illegal behaviors. So I would try to focus on a persuasion universe with our messaging. Yeah.
Brian Beutler: Leah, is that wrong? And if so, why?
Leah Greenberg: I think there are a couple of things that I would I would start off by defining in terms of what is within Democrats control and what is not within Democrats control over the coming year. First of all, I think you could have a debate about whether Democrats would be in a better or worse position in a world where Donald Trump wasn’t facing four different criminal cases and, you know, a number of different civil suits, and that would dominate the news over the coming year. We’re not in that world, right? We have one trial scheduled for March on hush money. We have one trial scheduled for May on the misuse of classified documents. We are waiting now to hear more about how some of the additional indictments are going to drop around the Department of Justice on January 6th and around the Georgia elections tampering case. Democrats do not have it within their power. Whether they would like to or not, to not have these things dominate the news for the next year. Over the course of each trial, there will be new revelations. There will be dramatic moments, there will be dramatic video. There will be high conflict moments that will lead the news. That will be the top story and top headline. Democrats don’t have a choice about whether this is a central storyline of the 2024 election. We have a choice about whether we are using that opportunity to tell a cohesive story, to tell a narrative that brings together some of the things that concern people most about how Republican rule is showing up in their own lives with what they are seeing in how Donald Trump has violated any number of different laws left and right. Whether we’re telling a story about kind of an overall out-of-control MAGA Republican movement, that that lies, that foments corruption, that has a rampant disrespect for the rule of law, that has a rampant disrespect for democracy. And whether that’s showing up not just in terms of any individual that Donald Trump is breaking, but in the way that the Supreme Court is showing up in the rulings that they are issuing that are governing all of our lives, and how Republican state legislatures and local Republicans are attempting to exercise control irrespective of the rule of law in our own lives. So I think we have a story to tell that links Donald Trump and what he is currently doing and what he is accused of doing to the ways that the things that most concerned people about Republicans and MAGA who are out of control around the country. And it’s a real missed opportunity if we’re not linking those things because this will be a central story of 2024 either way.
Faiz Shakir: Yeah, I agree. Linking them. Absolutely. And. And then we get into the finite how we want to let them. I do think that when we think about this persuasion universe that I’m really honed in on, I think they need to know about MAGA’s corruption and craziness. But I do. I think we should operate with at least pausing my assumptions. And so my assumption walking into this election is that kind of a strong Joe Biden mental, mental and physical acumen is going to do a well against Donald Trump. It did well last time. He should do well again, all things considered, and a lot of the reasons why people are upset and don’t like Donald Trump will continue to remain. People probably have made up a lot of their minds around the issues of Donald Trump, particularly the ones that were litigated in the past. Know about them, factor them in. So then I operate off the assumption of what’s the scenario in which we lose? So that’s what galvanizes me, how to how can we lose to Donald Trump? And I don’t think well, I guess I’ll posit the way in which I feel like we tend to lose. And I hope we don’t, is that if there are swing voters, if there’s people in the middle who decide that, yes, I know everything about Donald Trump’s corruption, but that guy, he had a better economy then than we did. He managed an economy better, stronger, whatever, whatever. Joe Biden don’t trust him as much. Not as strong a leader. Let’s bring that guy back. He’s he’s immoral, illegal, but he swings and he takes he throws punches and he takes on people and he changes this government to work for me. Now, I don’t think any of that is right or accurate, but I could imagine and understand how a working class person might gravitate to that argument if you really wanted to. And so that’s where I live in that world of trying to tell them on a daily basis that, no, this Democratic government under Joe Biden and Democrats swings for you. It has you at the center of our minds takes on corporate power for you, backs your workers similarly situated like you, and has improved the lot of life for people like you and will continue to do so, but that our work is not yet done. I mean, I you framed and set up this conversation, Brian, by talking about the economy. The the challenge, I would say to everything that you offered is that it suggests mission accomplished. We did it. The economy booming. Great. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. [laughs] Like economy. Improve it. Things are not yet awesome for you. You’ve been stuck in decades, mired in very difficult economic struggles. Our work is the best is yet to come. You got to keep us here. We got to keep taking these bastards on for you or you go backwards with Donald Trump. So I do think, you know, you get where I’m going, which is like if you think of a persuasion audience, a working class audience, they need to hear that this democratic government swings for them.
Brian Beutler: To me, it’s not I don’t think it’s either or. And like, the thing that I’m actually more—
Faiz Shakir: Yeah.
Brian Beutler: —worried about than that, like boom times are here and it’s mission accomplished. It’s like boom times last until March or something. And then it’s like to fight it out in 2024. You’ve you’ve, you’ve staged the election around how how Democrats are fighting for you in the economy. But then it turns out the economy hits the doldrums like we don’t know that could happen. Like it wouldn’t necessarily even be Joe Biden’s fault, but he should have a backup. He should have a backup argument. Right—
Faiz Shakir: Can I just give you a quick thought.
Brian Beutler: Sure.
Faiz Shakir: On that real quick? I don’t want to suggest that the macro economic indicators that are going to drive politics here, I mean, there’s some of that that matters. The core thing is how people feel about this economy, how they feel about Joe Biden. And on those scores, Brian, that’s a politics game.
Brian Beutler: Uh huh.
Faiz Shakir: It’s showing them through values and orientation. Even if macroeconomic indicators start to move in whatever ways that you’re discussing, what they need to feel is this guy wakes up every morning thinking about me and fighting with me. And I think those are things you can control.
Brian Beutler: The other half of the equation, though, and like this is where I actually want a stress test your, your thinking about how this all this all kind of works is that in 2022, Democrats were able to hold their own in a kind of shitty economy because of it. I mean, not entirely, but. I think in most places by through mass rejection of the big lie and and candidates who had embraced the big lie. And here we’re in a situation where Trump is going to face charges that are so in every sense about the big lie and the attempt to steal the election, that every Republican is going to have to decide whether to defend Trump and the big lie or to be honest about what happened in 2020. And and given that just very recent experience, it it strikes me as like almost almost like irresponsible for Democrats not to politic on it and just to kind of like leave it leave it in the hands of the courts, defer to the justice system, let the discovery process and the trial process spit out information and hope that people understand that this is what’s at stake in the election. Instead of telling people, look, this guy is on trial for the big lie and every Republican supports him, it’s time to vote all of them out.
Leah Greenberg: And if I could add to that, I think that it would be one thing if this was a discrete series of crimes. But there is a direct link between the Republican Party’s platform and the politics of the last couple of years and some of the actions that they’ve taken and the big lie and the crimes that Donald Trump is accused of committed. Right. There is a current case on election, Trump’s attempts to tamper with elections in Georgia. Republicans also went to Georgia to promote the ACE Act, their new basic, their new giveaway to dark money, their new voter suppression act in Congress. There is a really clear line between the claims that Donald Trump has been making and the ways that the Republican Party is orienting around power and around democracy going forward. And if we’re not actually drawing that point out, then we are really leaving a huge gap for the American people to make sense of.
Faiz Shakir: I’m not going to really disagree with a lot of what you’re saying. I think we’re doing we’re debating around degrees here. But I don’t live in a place of fear that a vast majority of this American populace is going to wake up after the November 2024 election and not know enough about. Donald Trump’s immorality illegalities. I don’t live with that fear. I think that it will be litigated out. There will be a lot of people telling the story lines, just as Brian you mentioned before, 2022, I think the big lie, women’s reproductive rights choices, they were well understood in a good way. That’s why I make the assumption coming into the 2024 election that Joe Biden is in a strong state and Democrats in general are in a strong enough state because of those core factors that people know enough about the MAGA movement. And I live in a place of wanting to convince more people not to settle there and to say, okay, well, if you aren’t already with us, given everything you know about Donald Trump and what you saw [laughter] experience and majority of his four years of a disastrous presidency, if you’re still thinking that that is a road you want to travel down again. Oh, hold, timeout. You know, we got some things we’re going to discuss and I’m not sure with that audience of people. And obviously we’re going to have in our own minds who who do we think we’re talking to? But I think with that core audience, I’m saying, you know, I don’t know that telling them more about how Donald Trump use and abused government for his own gain is is what’s moving, mobilizing them to change their minds. What’s going to need to change their minds is that I think, in addition to many factors, compelling them around a direction policy direction that we have been fighting for is working for you and you need to stick with it. And if you look at polling numbers, right, that’s the one we’re losing out. We shouldn’t be losing on it. But if people voted on economic direction of the country, confidence in it, we would lose, right?
Brian Beutler: Leah.
Leah Greenberg: I will go back to a point around kind of taking taking for granted that some of these cases are going to be made, because I do think it’s easy to forget exactly how controversial it was in 2022 to really orient around abortion and democracy as core issues. And in the midterms, you know, we were part of a group of people who were advocating for leaning in heavily on abortion in a lot of the in a lot of the messaging. We saw the Democratic Party move to do that. Towards the end, President Biden was kind of roasted for making his closing argument, one that was really about democracy and about the threat of election deniers running for office. There was a reaction, and I think it was there were reasonable points within and around, you know, we’re heading into an economy or an election where a lot of people have real concerns about the economy. And you’re talking to them about something that’s relatively abstract. How is that going to help you? And I think he was largely vindicated. Right. We saw that in the swing states where there were election deniers who were running for office. The vast majority of those folks did lost. Basically, we swept the entire swing state at general elections. And, you know, I think that the lesson there really is we should not take for granted this stuff. And we also should not take for granted that that will necessarily happen if we don’t actually tell that story. Now, I’m not saying that Joe Biden should be giving press conferences, talking about every indictment, but I am—
Brian Beutler: I am.
Leah Greenberg: —that over. [laughter] But I am saying that overarching story about the MAGA quest for control and our corresponding embrace of freedom and embrace of people’s freedom to have a decent life in this country. Like we can tell that story.
Faiz Shakir: On Leah’s point real quick, I think in addition to all the things you mentioned about 2022. And I do think that galvanizing issues around democracy and abortion rights absolutely were there. And the craziness of the MAGA Republicans, of course, with candidates. But I also think we fought to a draw on the economy. And I think it’s really critical to understanding how you get through a Georgia and Arizona, I think potentially could have pulled down to Wisconsin with even stronger economic message. But I think that it’s really courts did not leave it on the plate. If you look at the ads, in the end, what it was all of the above right, it wasn’t to say it was just democracy or abortion rights. It was to say those and I’m fighting inflation by addressing your cost of living, and I’m going to fight to bring down those costs. Right. Those were factored in. And again, we’re debating differences of degrees. But I think as we head in, again to a general election audience, making sure that they understand we don’t just forsake the economic playing field and say, well, we got a ten point loss here, so let’s just move on to our stronger ground over there. I said, no, no, no [laughs] we’ve got to fight this battle. To get to a place, I guess 50/50 is the best we could do, but at least fight that ground, because that’s the one in which, to my mind, if we lose this election, it will. Everyone can easily point to the issue that caused us to lose it.
Brian Beutler: So I think I’m not exactly trying to split the difference here between the two of you, because I do agree. We’re like we’re debating degrees. My concern is really that like it’s going to be a multi-front election. And Democrats have a lot of ideas about how to compete on the like, the economic policy front, the like. I care about your concerns, your ability to pay rent front like they’ve they’ve spent the last 40 years kind of mastering that target. Right. I think that like Faiz, you’re right that here in 2023, more people have made up their minds or understand who Donald Trump is and also understand that he could win than was the case in 2016. But like I think in 2016, Democrats slept on the ethics issue, which I think they’re kind of doing again now. And it fed this kind of awful campaign dynamic where were like media was primed to like normalize Trump and ab normalize Hillary Clinton and Trump and the House Republicans and and even Senate Republicans, like, leaned into it. And by the time people went to vote, a critical mass of voters had been left with the false impression that either the candidates were like, equally corrupt or that, if anything, Clinton was the dirtier of the two. Right. And so I don’t think that that exact same thing could happen again, but I think something like it could happen again. And Republicans are clearly trying to engineer it. Right. Like they’re doing a very sloppy job at the moment, you know, like trying to find witnesses who will lie about Hunter Biden, basically. And they all turn out to be crooks. And that’s very funny. But like, they just need one thing that that like hooks mainstream news to the idea that maybe there actually is a little bit more dirt on Biden than we thought and the cycle can get going again at least that’s what I’m concerned about. And I’d be curious to hear if that concerns you. And if it does, then like isn’t the answer to just compete with Republicans in that realm too, so that like if the media is going to fixate on salaciousness and scandal, they have to decide which is the actually more important thing is that Hunter Biden’s laptop or is it like the Saudi golf thing or is it Jared Kushner getting $2 billion from the Saudis or is it Trump like lying about the election still while on trial for it? Like, I think Democrats have a lot to work with. They should probably do it if only as an insurance policy.
Faiz Shakir: I’m agreeing with Leah that those issues are going to be they’re going to be front and center. People are going to comment on them. And I think it’d be behoove all of us not to just talk about the shitty ethics of of the right, but that we’re also got some solutions to deal with them. I think that the proposal around Supreme Court ethics wonderful model right up saying, okay, there’s some really fundamental core issues that are broken in the system that allows corruption to take place. Congressional stock trading ban for me has always been a good marker of that kind of a thing to say, hey, there’s you’re just allowing corruption into a system. We a party who hates corruption is going to do something about it with these systemic reforms and go campaign on. And not just to tell you there’s some bad things that the bad people do over there. So I think, yeah, we’re going to be dragged into those conversations. No, no escaping them. But also when people wake up every day and they wonder, what are you focused on, I just don’t want it to be lost that, you know, we are the livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans are the core of what we’re actually trying to do not get sucked into. We are better our, our Hunter Biden problem is so much not as big a deal as your Donald Trump problem. And here we go. Let’s litigate it out. And actually, these are not apples and oranges. We got to fight this out in every venue. And convinced you that the ethics of these are not A and B, you know [laughs] that they’re they’re very different. And you can lose sight very quickly of the things that I think a lot of people are want you to say that you’re focused on and care about, not that you have to convince somebody. You have to tell them prioritization of I wake up every day fighting for you and this guy doesn’t. And it that’ll be, I think, become clear.
Leah Greenberg: We can all agree absolutely. There needs to be a strong economic message that President Biden needs to be heavily focused on making sure people understand that he cares about their concerns. And also, I think this is where a differentiation of responsibilities can come in, right. If President Biden is not the right person to be making the case around some of this stuff, there are pieces of the democratic ecosystem who really are. And so continuing to create that messaging echo chamber on our side where we have that two part story, right? One is Democrats have been Democrats have been delivering. Democrats have more that they want to deliver for you. We are in the process of delivering on a whole series of things that do matter to your life. Here they are. And also the other side, they are crazy. They are extreme. They do not care about the rule of law. And here are the ways that they cannot be trusted with power and the ways that they will be a direct threat to you if they get back into power. That’s those two sides are the argument.
Faiz Shakir: Let me let me just also jump off real quick on that point, because let’s make this argument, I would love to get your thought on it too Brian, is that one of the things if you think about, again, assuming assumption that Donald Trump were to win reelection, which is scaring the shit out of all of us, of course. How and why did he do that? And so we’ve kind of litigated this economic issue. That’s why I said, I think one element related of but different from it is this idea that he’s going to come in and change government. This guy doesn’t care. He’s so rich. This isn’t for him. He wants to come in and just swing and fire. The postmaster general fired this Defense Department secretary, cut this federal contract from that person. He operates with grievance bearing and grudge, but he also does it on our behalf and he changes government. And I think on that end, it’s really important that we are talking about how we want to reform and change government, especially when you think about the fact that implementation, which is a core thing that the Biden administration like to discuss on a daily basis, is not about really necessarily changing government. It’s just the executing government like I’m going to get federal grants out the door, they’re going to work for you. That’s great. It’s not as animating around. I’m going to take on some people who in both in this government outside of it. And if I were to ask each of you like right now, what am I pointing to as the core frictions that this administration wants people to know about, who are they taking on? That’s a hard question to answer. It’s clear that it’s MAGA Republican because it’s clear it’s people like MTG. I got that right. In some sense that’s baked into the cake. They would assume Donald Trump would take on Joe Biden. You are taking on your partisan opponents who you deem to hate, right? And who do you take on for us? So I think that, to my mind, is a core part of changing government, fighting government to make it work for you. [music plays]
Brian Beutler: Faiz, when you say Joe Biden wants to talk about successful implementation, successful administration getting grants out the door and that it’s not really sexy stuff, but what is sexy is Donald Trump saying, like, we’re like, we’re going to change things. Donald Trump is not making a governing argument. He’s making a corruption argument. He is saying that like, I’m the I’m the good guy and the bad people are all the swamp and I’m going to get them out the door now, like we, the three of us, know that it’s just a ruse, right? Like he doesn’t like the swamp is not the bad guy. Donald Trump is the bad guy. Right. And it’s a very effective. I agree. But it’s it’s effective on that level where it’s like it’s like we want to throw those bums in Washington out is people feeling like. Not that the people in Washington aren’t good at governing or good at being bureaucrats, but that they are on the take in some way and Donald Trump is not.
Faiz Shakir: I would, am gonna disagree with you a little bit there.
Brian Beutler: Okay.
Faiz Shakir: I don’t think the core is what he thinks he has. He’s going to tell you that Joe Biden’s [?] what he really wants you to know is Joe Biden’s weak. I am strong—
Brian Beutler: That too.
Faiz Shakir: That guy is weak. That’s the principal. That’s the top. I’m alpha. That guy’s weak. And part of the reason he’s weak is because he gives in to all this corruption. Right. And I think if you think about it from that lens, Brian, you’re thinking about how to project the strength of Joe Biden on a daily basis.
Brian Beutler: Okay, okay.
Faiz Shakir: That’s where I worry about implementation.
Brian Beutler: I, so so I think Joe Biden should and does a good job at it’s like one of the few things that he does in campaigning where he’s animated. And you can tell he really kind of enjoys it is when he’s like Donald Trump had infrastructure week every week. But I passed the infrastructure bill like he is. He is he’s going to like try to take Donald Trump on an alpha terms where Donald Trump was just an abysmal failure. He couldn’t get anything done. But like, he also has this other line he trots out all the time, like, don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me the alternative. But like, the alternative is not just like a like a buffoon who doesn’t know how to manipulate the levers of power. Well, like. You know, it’s it’s unknown things about Donald Trump that Biden’s allies in the Senate could be investigating. Like where is the investigation of the $2 billion that Jared Kushner got from the Saudis or where? Like, why isn’t Ron Wyden, love Ron Widen, whatever. But like, why isn’t he using his authority to try to get Clarence Thomas’ tax returns or Harlan Crow’s tax returns so that we not just so that we could feed a news cycle? I think that would be very useful. But like. So that people can see that these guys are just doing pay to play corruption up and down. Like their whole power structure. And if you know that, then that’s a good reason to vote for me instead of the alternative, right?
Faiz Shakir: Yes. [laughs] And I want those investigations. I want to know about all of the people who worked in the Trump administration, have now become part of the swamp for short, and feel it. When I think about, again a persuasion universe of people, I am I. What I really want them to know is, among other things, in addition to our stance on abortion rights and, you know, our stance on democracy and wanting to rid the MAGA movement, I want them to also know, you know, the farmers filing lawsuit against us in court? You aware of that? We passed this bill for the first time in decades to take on Big Pharma, cut insulin prices, start to negotiate Medicare prices. And you know what those bastards did? They took us into court. They said we were unconstitutional and illegal for doing that. And not only one of them, no pharma, Johnson Johnson, three different manufacturers of pharma companies have taken me to court. Proud of it. I welcome their hatred. Screw you. We’ll see you in court. I think that’s going to be a pretty damn persuasive argument. And it gets like, if you think about how I framed it, why I’m saying that because I’m now in friction I’m here. I’m Joe Biden. I’m a strong leader. I did something. And yes, I’ve gotten some opponents and I am taking them on not just in the partisan way that you would expect me to do. And you’re not not MTG and not Donald Trump. Of course, you you would assume that of me. But what you didn’t assume is I’m upset at Big Pharma because I was fighting to reduce your prescription drug prices and I’m going to continue that battle and you should know about it.
Brian Beutler: Leah, I want to give you a chance to jump in. But like I also like you could do that and then come late June of next year, like pharma could win that fight in the Supreme Court. I don’t know what the timing is on it. So I shouldn’t I shouldn’t speak so confidently. But like, you can be like, I welcome their hatred and they could be like, yeah, we hate you so much. And also, our allies control the Supreme Court and we just beat you. And then do you look like a winner or do you look like you’re like they have more power than you and you have no answer to it. Like but, you know, obviously, Joe Biden can’t fix the court with a snap of his fingers. But like. I think he could be creating a political climate where it is taken more for granted than it currently is, that this is all kind of a shell game. And and it’s not just pharma. It’s the people that Donald Trump put on the Supreme Court. It’s Donald Trump himself who wants to take away cheap prescription drugs. And then you get some insurance from the possibility that like, yeah, you go with a lot of bravado into this fight over prescription drug prices that you might actually lose because who knows with these justices. Leah. Take my side, please.
Leah Greenberg: [laughs] As far as I’m concerned, that is the answer, right? You’re connecting the dots between this unholy alliance of greedy corporations and billionaires who have bought the Supreme Court, who are working together with a MAGA extremist faction that is focused on its own power, its own control, its own ability to exert its values on everyone else. These two things are working in tandem. This is the alliance that we are opposed opposing right now. And absolutely, should President Biden be positing himself in opposition to the pharmaceutical companies 100%? Should he be talking about the greedy corporations who are actively working together to buttress this extremist faction? Yes, absolutely. These two things can be part of the same argument. I do think that we have to that does involve widening the lens a little bit and actually taking on the Supreme Court in a way that he has been reluctant to do. But I think these things absolutely fit together. And then now you also bring in the conversation about why we’re not able to move on student loans. Right. Like these are all tangible things that are coming to the Supreme Court and getting batted down there. And that is that’s an opening for us to link all of the economic and the cultural pieces of this together.
Brian Beutler: Faiz, like Bernie, one of the things I love about him, actually, is that he talks a lot about corruption, but. You know, my sense is that it’s typically in this sort of systemic form where, like he’s talking about how the political economy is rigged by wealthy and powerful interests. And like Trump is in a way, part of that system. And I think that you could take the Bernie corruption frame and fit Trump into it pretty easily. But but I think, like, what really sticks out about Donald Trump is less that he is one billionaire or pseudo billionaire among the billionaire class who’s trying to rig things in his favor and that he’s really he’s more like a thief, you know, like he’s like he’s like his corruption is much more personal and petty than part of, like, the super PAC dark money corruption world. He, like, solicits bribes. [laughs] Why is that? Do you. I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t assume. I know that you think this. Do you think that’s not a potent fact about him and that more people could be informed or reminded of it? Because, like, in my experience of the world, people hate thieves and don’t like to be bribed or extorted. And like, if that’s what Donald Trump’s M.O. is. Seems like pretty useful political fodder to me.
Faiz Shakir: I think it’s one of the reasons he heads into a potential reelection behind Joe Biden and likely will stay there and hopefully remains there. So I do think it is weighing against him. That said, there are obviously tens of millions of people who see all of that and say he’s my guy. And. Maybe we never convince those people. I think that that’s probably the case now baked into the cake. We could argue about what percentage of people that is, but probably somewhere in the 40% range is like gone down river. And so now we say, okay, you know, we’re duking it out over, you know, some smaller portions of the pie here, but that it when you start thinking about, again, we we could be we should all be making our different assumptions about who is swayable and moveable. But when I’m thinking about a core working class swing audience, there are people making under 100 K a year. There are people without a college degree and they span many races, gender and live in a lot of different geographies. And so I think of those people as saying, okay, yeah, but this government is kind of corrupt all across the board. It doesn’t work for me. It’s never really worked for me. So this, you know, billionaire is going to come along and do something for his own benefit. The question is, what are any of you doing anything for me? And we should be able to score a touchdown on him and many touchdowns on him on that score of just like yes, even even if you don’t care or you factor way corruption and you think everybody is corrupt and you think Joe Biden is corrupt, you think Hunter Biden’s corrupt, you think the whole damn thing is corrupt, that’s where you’re operating from. I do think a lot of working class people are that way and say that everybody is in the system, that I should still be able to take you on and defeat you by saying that I give a damn about you in your life way more than that guy just does. He doesn’t really care about you.
Leah Greenberg: I don’t think anybody here disagrees. And also, you know, the world that we’re in is one where President Biden is devoting a lot of energy to his economic messaging. The entire cabinet is devoting a lot of energy to the economic messaging. There’s a full tour around Bidenomics. And the question is, you know, where and how are Democrats actually going to successfully weigh in on what is happening on the legal side? Right. Again, a thing that is going to be a dominant issue next year. Do we have our ducks in a row? Do we have the ability to coordinate and push out a message that is actually going to connect to what people care about? This. This is a this is the open debate in my mind is, you know, this is not a I don’t think that we have a lot of people who are unclear on whether we should have an economic message. I think there’s certainly a debate about what it is.
Faiz Shakir: Do you want him winning? Was that it sounds like you’re leaning in that direction, but would you would you want press conferences from him?
Leah Greenberg: I am not in favor. I think Brian might actually be the furthest leaning [laughter] on this amongst the three of us. So I’ll let him make the argument for a daily Biden press conference on the charges. But but I do think that the overarching values and the overarching narrative that what brought us through 2022 is a powerful one and that we should not be we should not be letting the lessons of 2022 go so easily. So I do think that we should absolutely be continuing to emphasize the ways that all of these indictments actually play into that broader story about MAGA extremism. That’s out of control. That’s out of control for the benefit of the wealthy few and and how that is actually what we are facing as we head into 2024.
Faiz Shakir: So my my only quibble with you on that, Brian. I’d love to see if you want to defend the daily press conferences idea. Maybe you do. I, I think my only quibble with that, Leah is that I hear you. On saying, you know, we got to fight on a lot of different fronts. I think we’re thankfully, we’re in a better political posture on the poll numbers on a lot of those fronts. And I think one, it galvanizes me is that that we are not as strong. I mean, this is a reason why you see the Bidenomics push. There is a polling problem there that they’re trying to address. And until and unless we can get that into a better and healthier state, I would argue that it continues to need to be a very, very top priority because it’s so critical to how voters might vote.
Brian Beutler: So a few thoughts. One to circle back to Trump as part of the corrupt billionaire class versus Trump being like a uniquely kind of gross grifter. One of the things that he said in his 2016 campaign, which like struck me as one of the most like, brilliant rhetorical feints I’ve ever heard a politician use is he was just he owned it. He was just like my whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy, greedy, greedy, agree, like, give me all the money. I’m going to take as much as I can get. But now I’m old and I’m running for president. And I’m going to be greedy for you. And it’s like I’m incorruptible because I’m so rich. It was just like. It’s like, deliciously devious. And I almost hate to give him credit for anything cause he’s such a noxious person, but I don’t know that how much damage Democrats have done to his ability to go out and say that because they don’t talk about how. Actually, no, he just wanted the presidency to get rich. Adam Schiff will say it, but like the the people who figure out what Democrats are going to do with their legislative agenda, how they’re going to use their committee power, who they send out to the Sunday shows are not first and foremost concerned with making sure people know, no, that was all a ruse. And he was lying to you and he spent his whole presidency stealing your money like Chris Christie is doing a better job of that now than basically anyone in the Democratic Party. And I think that’s bad. That was thing one, thing two, is on the question of like, should there be a daily press conference? No, I mean, like I, in the intro, I do think it like Joe Biden, because of his weird role as president, should probably not talk about at least the federal indictments. But I think there’s like an omni corruption. There’s like—
Faiz Shakir: Well actually, you know, what would be interesting. Make this debate a little bit more lively here. So we all agree on the legal thing. What I think is the difference is whether he should mention Trump at all, because it’s certainly core for Joe Biden to really not talk about, quote unquote, “the other guy.” [laughs]
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Faiz Shakir: And so even if you wanted to get into a place of just saying to your point, Brian, up like, well, that guy’s morality and how he uses government is terrible and is one of the reasons that I’m trying to clean up this mess. And we can’t let that thing back in here. But he doesn’t he doesn’t do it, right? So if you can set this bar pretty low, like should he mention Donald Trump by name over the next six months?
Brian Beutler: Absolutely. Yes. I absolutely think he should. And so like Joe Biden gave a speech about democracy before the midterms and everybody was like, wow, like that was a flop. Or that was and and then he kind of went quiet. And then he gave another one right before the election. And by that point, I think most of the commentariat have convinced themselves, oh, Democrats kind of like got sidetracked on this democracy thing and nobody cares. And everyone’s going to vote on crime and inflation and all that stuff. And then like the election returns come back in and it turns out like Americans were actually very primed for a message that was about corruption and democracy and lying and all that. And like, we don’t know what would have happened if Democrats hadn’t had kind of one foot in, one foot out and on that approach. But my sense is that, like, what that does is it gives you the opportunity to expand the number of Republicans who are kind of muddied by the taint of Donald Trump and all of his crimes. Right. And all of his malfeasance. And like giving a speech is not one speech is not enough to shape how the media talks about what the election means, like, what are the stakes of this election? If you give one speech, you can’t change it. But if you if you marshal your whole party and much of your communications apparatus to being outraged and saying this is a big deal. Right. Like that is when you can get this sort of drum beat style coverage like I you know, when I was just punditing in 2019 and 2020, I was just kind of beside myself. The Democrats weren’t making more of Trump using his hotels to take money from foreign interests and all this stuff. I would say it and like, you know, the media, the mainstream media would basically ignore people like me. But when Adam Schiff got a hold of the whistleblower complaint and finally the dam broke and he was like, this is like too far and this is impeachable. And it became like a one day, then the next day. And like, there was just going be this cascade of revelations like that is when the way the media talked about Donald Trump started to change and I think a healthy way. And then you saw the same kind of thing happen with the January six committee where a routine presentation of new information can can create an indelible effect, like have an indelible impact on what people think they’re voting on. And it turned out that in 2022, they thought that they were voting on saving U.S. Democracy from these election liars. And while that’s an option, I think it’s one that, like Joe Biden should do everything in his power to exploit. Up to the point of just saying, yeah, Donald Trump is guilty of these crimes. And I ordered Merrick Garland. [laughter] To have him arrested or whatever. Like, obviously not that, but everything else up to that line, I think is important and puts Democrats on a on a footing that is definitely more secure than talking about the economy in a world where we don’t know what’s going to happen. Like, are the Saudis going to make gasoline prices $4 a gallon next October? Because if they are, then all this shit we’re talking about, like how much Democrats care about people is probably going to go out the window and the media is going to point their cameras at big gas station numbers.
Leah Greenberg: The other piece of this that I do think we should just be really prepared for is Donald Trump is literally running for president right now in part to end these investigations.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Leah Greenberg: He is trying to string out the Department of Justice cases so that he can get into office and take control of the Department of Justice.
Brian Beutler: Biden could talk about that.
Leah Greenberg: That would that would be an. You know, why are you running for president? Is that is an interesting question right now. So I do think we should be real about the fact that, you know, whether or not we’re politicizing this, whether or not we’re talking about our narrative, Donald Trump’s you know, if you listen to what he is saying at any given rally, it is a litany of complaints around each of these indictments. It is a series of counterclaims around Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and Burisma and, you know, whatever else we can he can throw into the mix, there is going to be an ongoing assault on both the overall integrity of the justice system and on Democrats in general. Kind of a both sidesing that will be coming from Republicans. And so the question is, what is the story that we have that is actually preparing and putting all of those claims in the proper context, which is that there is absolutely no comparison. There’s absolutely no both sidesing here. One side is a literal threat to democracy. One side is literally enriching themselves. And nothing that the Biden administration has had, nothing has happened under the Biden officials remotely comparable.
Faiz Shakir: Coming into this argument. Real quick, I thought one of the things I was anticipating from you was a a different argument, which I think is compelling, which is to say, Faiz, that’s nice. You talk about this persuasion audience, but one of the reasons why Joe Biden got out there in 2022 and made his democracy argument is that we needed to make sure the Democrats showed up and voted. And it isn’t enough to just wait for Donald Trump metastasize anger in the Democratic ranks. Joe Biden’s got to be doing his part to generate intensity and if you want, wanted to come back to me and say one of the reasons in which we have to demonstrate Democratic intensity of fervor to vote for Joe Biden, not just merely against Donald Trump is by making a lot of the arguments you guys have made in this podcast, to which I would say point taken. [laughter]
Brian Beutler: Okay, so but let’s get this back into into like in a disagreement zone. Do you think that Joe Biden should refrain from mentioning Donald Trump?
Faiz Shakir: No. No.
Brian Beutler: Okay. [laughter]
Faiz Shakir: I think it’s just picking and choosing which areas that you want to look. I mean, I think sometimes the tell is on the right. They tell you where. They don’t want to talk about that, Joe. Like right now they’re having a major debate on the right about whether we should do an impeachment of Garland, whether we should retract the impeachment of Trump or all these other not so they’re like they’re squeamish. They don’t they can’t figure out what they want to say. Would it be I don’t mind a trolling operation to say, hey [laughter] this is what these guys want, they’re debating over there about impeaching my attorney general? They want to they want to think about taking back the impeachment of Donald Trump. That’s their agenda. That’s what they’re focused on. Right. Meanwhile, duh duh duh duh, I do think that there’s more opportunities to just bring that back in. In fact, as a kind of classic trolling operation, make them have to be in civil war with each other.
Leah Greenberg: In terms of ginning up the enthusiasm of the Democratic base. Speaking as somebody who spent a lot of 2022 traveling around the country, working with Indivisible groups, trying to get folks revved up for the 2022 election. Look, I think it’s the two part story. It is what we’ve accomplished, what we’re going to accomplish, centering what is possible in a Democratic trifecta in 2025. And that is going to be, you know, that stuff like structural democracy reform, that’s stuff like reproductive freedom, these are the things that are actually on the table. And it is also yes, it is absolutely going to be this case of here is what you have to fear from the MAGA threat. And at the same time, I think we can rely on a lot of these folks to be activated pretty heavily by the press and the stories that we are seeing. Like we the Democratic base has shown up with a lot of enthusiasm and sometimes I would say dragged the Democratic leadership along with it in reaction to Donald Trump. We have seen that happen before. We can see it happen again. I do think the proactive agenda, the reason that that’s so important is that the story we’re telling as part of the campaign here and, you know, through 2024 is also going to feed into the agenda that is possible in 2025. And so that is another reason why I do think that this is really crucial, because having the actual story of this attack on our democracy, the ways in which Republicans have attempted to subvert the right to vote, all of that stuff being centered in the 2024 election that hands you the mandate for 2025. In the best case scenario where we actually have the power to move the Democratic trifecta.
Brian Beutler: Can I try a quick experiment just to see how it shakes out? I just want both of you. And it doesn’t matter who goes first to answer, like in a couple of sentences, what you think happened in the 2018 midterms. Like, why did Democrats win that election in a landslide, Faiz you go first.
Faiz Shakir: The Trump excesses were pretty ridiculous and painful. We lived through, I think, an experiment in which he is sold himself as something. And you were referencing some of those lies that by 2018 it was pretty damn clear he ain’t any of those things, even if you were is somewhere in the hope of like Trump might bring about, you know, changes to this government that would be beneficial. You couldn’t have believed that by 2018. So you have both the core partisans who are upset and angry about the direction of the country at that point in time, certainly ginned up. But then in addition to that, so you have high intense voter intensity there. But then in addition to that, a lot of people who felt like that Donald Trump’s betrayed what I thought he was going to be.
Leah Greenberg: Well, I think first I would start by saying Donald Trump has really never demonstrated an ability to have coattails when he is not on the ballot. Right. Or to a demonstrated an ability to bring out his core voters when he is not on the ballot. So part of this is that he had a set of people who showed up in 2016, who dropped off in 2018. And, you know, to the extent that, we’re talking about how 2022 relates to 2018. Similar dynamic there. But fundamentally, I think it was a combination of a reaction to Donald Trump overreaching, a reaction to, you know, the gross excess of the first two years, and also a combination of Republicans overplaying their hand on a host of things. Right. The dominant story around health care for the first year, the ongoing drama of will Republicans successfully reveal, repeal the Affordable Care Act allowed for a lot of opportunities to tar individual members of Congress, individual Republicans, with a story that was not just about whether they were enabling Trump, but also about whether they were putting creating a tangible threat to something that people increasingly valued as as its repeal got increasingly real. So I would say that it’s a combination of the the genuine excesses of Trump and then the opportunities that we were provided to go after the down ballot folks and really charge them with the combination of enabling Trump and also tangibly threatening regular people.
Brian Beutler: So I think it’s funny, like, I don’t really disagree with either you, but I come closer to Faiz on on this. I like to me, I think of the midterms as this kind of inkblot test where you saw this immense surge in engagement and turnout basically everywhere in the country. Right. Like and this is even in places where Democrats dominated, like there’s no risk that the Democratic member of Congress was going to lose. Nevertheless, turnout for them went way up. Right. And it happened in parts of the country where, like even if Republicans had re won a trifecta and taken another run at Obamacare, like approximately, nobody was going to lose health insurance. Right. Affluent enclaves of California, huge turnout. And so you ask why did the Democrats do well? And I think the Democratic Party leadership would say health care. And they and they over applied that lesson where, like Republicans tried to take it away are like swing district candidates talked about it a lot and that’s why we won. And so let’s just repeat that formula. But what I saw from like including like people in my own lives who were like, you know, they voted, but they weren’t particularly politically engaged until Donald Trump became president, was that they were just upset about the whole thing, you know, like if they were if they were scared about health care it wasn’t because they were scared about their health care, they were scared about the moral dimensions of just taking health care away from 40 million Americans or however many it was going to be. Right. And but also the Muslim ban, but also the corruption. But like this 360 degree emergency. And like if if that’s right, I think it is, then that’s the thing that should be harnessed. The whole like antibody reaction that 60% of the public has to Donald Trump. And if you if you if you like, don’t try to recreate that antibody reaction like Donald Trump knows that even with a fucking pandemic, he can get 80 million people to turn out for him. But but can like, can Democrats turn out with 85 million or whatever on the basis of of a campaign where you’re downplaying many of the things that make people horrified about Trump or if not downplaying them, at least, you know, trying to like, seem like you’re like normal, don’t want to talk about Trump too much. That’s their salacious weirdness. We’re here to help Americans with their everyday concerns. Like, I mean, I feel like maybe the thing to do is to say, yeah, you’re right to be that upset about him and like, he’s waiting in the wings again. So fire it up again. I don’t know. That’s just my sense of 2018 and I feel like 2022 kind of. I hope it helps settled the debate that it was in a health care election in 2018. It was a man this Trump guy is bad news and the country needs to mobilize every election that he threatens to to poison American politics.
Leah Greenberg: I like how you agreed with Faiz in order to come back to to my side of the ultimate argument. Nicely done.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. [laughter] No, I was surprised that your answers came out kind of pointed differently than I than I would have thought I. Okay, so, like, for all for all of my formative years, I guess this is how I would sum up, like, the rambling thing I just said. The big cliché about politics was that Democrats had, like, they basically had a monopoly on popular issues, like their policies pulled better when implemented. People liked them. But also at the same time, swing voters aren’t super fluent in issues at all. So Republicans appeal to them with with, you know, on values, Right. Freedom, patriotism, all that. And like that was every election from the time I first started following elections till 2018, maybe. But now it seems to me like Democrats have the better of the GOP still in the realm of issues, but also thanks mostly to Trump in the realm of like these less pointy headed things, right? Truth, patriotism, anti-corruption, democracy, right. Democrats win the win the policy argument, but they also have a really good hand to play in that emotional appeal to values realm. So I guess my last question is, if Democrats can outcompete Republicans on those values based issues, is it something they should try? Or is it that the people who advise Democrats don’t agree? That Democrats are now like have pole position on that in the values realm.
Faiz Shakir: I think it’d be great to make sure that we’re monitoring the Republican primary process for all of these issues that you’re raising, that they’re going to be duking it out and moving further and further to the right and moving off into crazy land. I think we have some good hope on that score that the administration is very much aligned with that same strategy. There’s a reason why Vice President Kamala Harris parachutes into Florida to discuss an agenda that is on school curriculum that is just, you would have think, hundreds of years in our backward rearview mirror. And yet, you know, I think she’s animating it this year and just doesn’t do a press conference. She goes to Florida to say, I’m taking on the Florida legislature, legislature and Governor DeSantis to talk about their desire and love for slavery. And so I, I don’t know. I think that we’re on the right track there. Brian.
Brian Beutler: Okay.
Faiz Shakir: I think we’ve got a handle on it, but we should keep monitoring the Republican primary for these opportunities, like all day long.
Brian Beutler: I would like to end on a hopeful note that like, you know, maybe they’re not sleeping on these issues [laughter] these opportunities as much as it sometimes seem when you like, ask yourself what the committee chairmen are doing or, you know, what what Joe Biden is ordering the DNC to say or not say about Donald Trump. Like, I would like to revisit this, you know, after the after the primary and and I will fully mea culpa if if Joe Biden has mined that primary for things and boxed Donald Trump above the ears for them, that’ll be great.
Leah Greenberg: I’ll just firmly agree that, you know, we have the opportunity to be the party of values here. And I would refer to some of the work that Anat Shenker-Osorio way to win a whole collective of grassroots groups did for 2022 around emphasizing freedom as a core value on the Democratic side and really contrasting that with, you know, with the MAGA attack on abortion, with the MAGA attack on schools, with the attack on democracy. All of this stuff has the potential to be that core metanarrative where we are standing for a set of values that really do really are embraced by a wide swath of Americans who can form that anti MAGA majority. But we have a playbook we should add to it, we should modify it. We should certainly continue to make sure that we have a strong economic emphasis, but we do really have a playbook for leaning in on a core set of values and contrasting that as Donald Trump’s indictments get more and more dramatic as as the trials go forward. Continually coming back to that and positing ourselves as, you know, everything, that they’re not very secure.
Brian Beutler: Faiz Shakir, Leah Greenberg, thank you for such a spirited debate. You’ve both been wonderful sports and I’m glad it didn’t get too ugly in here.
Faiz Shakir: [laughter] Thanks, Brian. It was fun.
Leah Greenberg: Thank you. [music plays]
Brian Beutler: Positively Dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez, our associate producer, is Emma Illick-Frank, and our guest associate producer is Rebecca Rottenberg. Our intern is Naomi Birenbaum. Evan Sutton mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.