Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican strategist

The Most Ineffective Campaign Ever

First, they ran against George W. Bush. Then against the Chamber of Commerce. Then against the “loony” Tea Party. None of the Dems’ antics have worked:

Democratic attacks on Republicans and the Tea Party for being too extreme are failing to sway voters, according to The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll.

Only 15 percent of likely Democratic voters said they were voting to “ensure extreme right-wing candidates are not elected to Congress.

Independents, who are the largest bloc of undecided voters and are vital to Democrats if the party is to retain its House majority, are also unconvinced by warnings about extremism. Only 14 percent of them said they would vote for a Democrat to avoid electing an extreme right-wing candidate; 11 percent said they would vote Republican to avoid electing an extreme left-wing candidate. . .

The resulting data underscore a broad worry among Democratic strategists that the party’s message is too muddled to rally voters, and that it’s already too late to turn around a looming electoral debacle.

Two things are at work here. First, with an exception here or there, the Tea Party–backed candidates don’t seem all that extreme. What’s extreme is spending trillions, running up the debt, and telling the public that nationalized health care will save money. Compared to that, the vow to stop it is downright sane to most voters’ way of thinking. And second, the messengers — especially Obama — have very little credibility. Nancy Pelosi calling anyone extreme simply isn’t going to influence anybody who isn’t already a committed liberal.

I agree with this take:

“I think the Democrats have really done themselves a disservice by demeaning the Tea Party movement, because you have many independents and conservative Democrats sympathetic to those Tea Party concerns,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden said. …

“There’s a very consistent thread running through all of the Republican messaging to voters right now,” said Madden. “Washington, D.C., represents the status quo, and that means out-of-control spending and deficits.”

Voters figure that, hey, if a Sharron Angle or a Ken Buck is a little unpolished and a bit ambitious in the aim to curb government, so what? If the alternative is a more liberal policy, they’ll gladly sign up with the “extremists.”

First, they ran against George W. Bush. Then against the Chamber of Commerce. Then against the “loony” Tea Party. None of the Dems’ antics have worked:

Democratic attacks on Republicans and the Tea Party for being too extreme are failing to sway voters, according to The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll.

Only 15 percent of likely Democratic voters said they were voting to “ensure extreme right-wing candidates are not elected to Congress.

Independents, who are the largest bloc of undecided voters and are vital to Democrats if the party is to retain its House majority, are also unconvinced by warnings about extremism. Only 14 percent of them said they would vote for a Democrat to avoid electing an extreme right-wing candidate; 11 percent said they would vote Republican to avoid electing an extreme left-wing candidate. . .

The resulting data underscore a broad worry among Democratic strategists that the party’s message is too muddled to rally voters, and that it’s already too late to turn around a looming electoral debacle.

Two things are at work here. First, with an exception here or there, the Tea Party–backed candidates don’t seem all that extreme. What’s extreme is spending trillions, running up the debt, and telling the public that nationalized health care will save money. Compared to that, the vow to stop it is downright sane to most voters’ way of thinking. And second, the messengers — especially Obama — have very little credibility. Nancy Pelosi calling anyone extreme simply isn’t going to influence anybody who isn’t already a committed liberal.

I agree with this take:

“I think the Democrats have really done themselves a disservice by demeaning the Tea Party movement, because you have many independents and conservative Democrats sympathetic to those Tea Party concerns,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden said. …

“There’s a very consistent thread running through all of the Republican messaging to voters right now,” said Madden. “Washington, D.C., represents the status quo, and that means out-of-control spending and deficits.”

Voters figure that, hey, if a Sharron Angle or a Ken Buck is a little unpolished and a bit ambitious in the aim to curb government, so what? If the alternative is a more liberal policy, they’ll gladly sign up with the “extremists.”

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Is There a Solution to Romney’s Dilemma?

ObamaCare is making life miserable for many Democrats on the 2010 ballot. But that is nothing compared to the fits it will cause Mitt Romney, should he, as is widely expected, run for president in 2012. This report explains:

“I guarantee that, at the top of everyone’s list on how to differentiate your guy from Mitt Romney, the top of the list is health care — until and unless he takes the opportunity to say, ‘We tried, and it didn’t work. The individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare and Romneycare was wrong,’” said Bill Pascoe, a Republican strategist who wrote a post on his blog earlier this year titled “Say Goodbye to Mitt.”

So far, anyway, Romney is showing no signs of backing down. His message is the same today as it was in March, when there was still hope that voters would warm up to the Obama legislation once it passed. Romney blasts the federal law as a takeover of health care, while defending the 2005 Massachusetts version. He argues the two are as different as night and day, despite their common and most reviled feature, the mandate on individuals to purchase insurance.

I don’t think that’s going to fly; nor do I think simply “apologizing” for what he considers his signature achievement (as many Republicans are urging him to) will carry the day. Since 2008, Romney seems to have settled into his own skin, showing expertise on economic issues and a solid grasp of foreign policy. He’s less defensive and more at ease with a focus on pro-growth policies. However, a reversal on health-care reform will simply revive the concerns about flip-flopping and sincerity that weighed him down in 2008. On this one, I agree with Brent Bozell’s take: “I don’t know of any other potential candidate who has as big of a potential single-issue problem as this one.”

Well, some say, John McCain overcame the concerns from the base regarding his stance on immigration and managed to win the nomination in 2008. Yes, but “Repeal immigration reform!” was not the party’s clarion call.

If ObamaCare is repealed or is effectively neutralized before the 2012 primary season heats up, might that help Romney’s predicament? Perhaps, but as that debate rages, Romney will be queried as to where he stands and why he presumably favors the repeal of ObamaCare but not of RomneyCare.

Perhaps there is a more compelling distinction Romney can make between the president’s plan and his own. But sometimes there is no “solution” to a politician’s dilemma. Indeed, the upcoming tsunami that will wipe out many Democrats will testify to the proposition that officials can’t run from their records. If they are fundamentally out of sync with voters on a key issue, there’s no amount of clever packaging that will help them.

ObamaCare is making life miserable for many Democrats on the 2010 ballot. But that is nothing compared to the fits it will cause Mitt Romney, should he, as is widely expected, run for president in 2012. This report explains:

“I guarantee that, at the top of everyone’s list on how to differentiate your guy from Mitt Romney, the top of the list is health care — until and unless he takes the opportunity to say, ‘We tried, and it didn’t work. The individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare and Romneycare was wrong,’” said Bill Pascoe, a Republican strategist who wrote a post on his blog earlier this year titled “Say Goodbye to Mitt.”

So far, anyway, Romney is showing no signs of backing down. His message is the same today as it was in March, when there was still hope that voters would warm up to the Obama legislation once it passed. Romney blasts the federal law as a takeover of health care, while defending the 2005 Massachusetts version. He argues the two are as different as night and day, despite their common and most reviled feature, the mandate on individuals to purchase insurance.

I don’t think that’s going to fly; nor do I think simply “apologizing” for what he considers his signature achievement (as many Republicans are urging him to) will carry the day. Since 2008, Romney seems to have settled into his own skin, showing expertise on economic issues and a solid grasp of foreign policy. He’s less defensive and more at ease with a focus on pro-growth policies. However, a reversal on health-care reform will simply revive the concerns about flip-flopping and sincerity that weighed him down in 2008. On this one, I agree with Brent Bozell’s take: “I don’t know of any other potential candidate who has as big of a potential single-issue problem as this one.”

Well, some say, John McCain overcame the concerns from the base regarding his stance on immigration and managed to win the nomination in 2008. Yes, but “Repeal immigration reform!” was not the party’s clarion call.

If ObamaCare is repealed or is effectively neutralized before the 2012 primary season heats up, might that help Romney’s predicament? Perhaps, but as that debate rages, Romney will be queried as to where he stands and why he presumably favors the repeal of ObamaCare but not of RomneyCare.

Perhaps there is a more compelling distinction Romney can make between the president’s plan and his own. But sometimes there is no “solution” to a politician’s dilemma. Indeed, the upcoming tsunami that will wipe out many Democrats will testify to the proposition that officials can’t run from their records. If they are fundamentally out of sync with voters on a key issue, there’s no amount of clever packaging that will help them.

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So Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation

Peter Slevin of the Washington Post reports from Mason City, Iowa, and finds this:

Republican Terry Branstad’s lines have a familiar ring as he campaigns to return to the governor’s office after 11 years away. He blasts the incumbent Democrat for “mismanagement,” promising an “economic comeback” and the end of “more government than we can afford.”

The pitch is working. Early polls show Branstad with a lead as large as 20 points over Gov. Chet Culver (D), who is battling a poor economy and frustration fueled by Capitol Hill vitriol that incumbent politicians are not delivering.

The state that launched Barack Obama toward the presidency just two years ago is looking like a tough sell for Democrats in 2010. Culver is in trouble, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) is threatened, and President Obama’s popularity has dropped by one-third since he took office.

Obama’s approval rating is 15 percent among Republicans — and only 38 percent among independents, a 10-point drop in three months. The biggest issues are the deficit, health care, and the economy. Republican strategist Craig Robinson sees “a dissatisfaction with everything Washington.” Republican state representative Pat Grassley, the 26-year-old grandson of U.S. Senator Charles E. Grassley, says, “I’m seeing people who have never e-mailed me in four years getting involved in issues. There’s frustration out there.”

There is indeed. There is in fact nothing at all unusual about this story from Iowa — which is itself noteworthy. What is happening there seems to be happening almost everywhere in America.

Democrats have a reason to be afraid. Very afraid.

Peter Slevin of the Washington Post reports from Mason City, Iowa, and finds this:

Republican Terry Branstad’s lines have a familiar ring as he campaigns to return to the governor’s office after 11 years away. He blasts the incumbent Democrat for “mismanagement,” promising an “economic comeback” and the end of “more government than we can afford.”

The pitch is working. Early polls show Branstad with a lead as large as 20 points over Gov. Chet Culver (D), who is battling a poor economy and frustration fueled by Capitol Hill vitriol that incumbent politicians are not delivering.

The state that launched Barack Obama toward the presidency just two years ago is looking like a tough sell for Democrats in 2010. Culver is in trouble, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) is threatened, and President Obama’s popularity has dropped by one-third since he took office.

Obama’s approval rating is 15 percent among Republicans — and only 38 percent among independents, a 10-point drop in three months. The biggest issues are the deficit, health care, and the economy. Republican strategist Craig Robinson sees “a dissatisfaction with everything Washington.” Republican state representative Pat Grassley, the 26-year-old grandson of U.S. Senator Charles E. Grassley, says, “I’m seeing people who have never e-mailed me in four years getting involved in issues. There’s frustration out there.”

There is indeed. There is in fact nothing at all unusual about this story from Iowa — which is itself noteworthy. What is happening there seems to be happening almost everywhere in America.

Democrats have a reason to be afraid. Very afraid.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Eric Holder’s blunder fest is serious stuff: “We’ve shaken our heads in disgust often in the last year over the Obamic decision to permit a bunch of Chicago political hacks and the U.S. attorney general–the CPH Plus One–to run much of foreign policy out of the White House. It’s had real-world consequences, not least that the tension between the Axelrod-Emanuel-Jarrett axis (appease despots whenever possible) and the Clinton state department (appease them, but accuse them while you’re doing it) has given time and breathing room to the bomb-building wing of the Iranian dictatorship.”

This, from a Republican strategist, is what passes for wisdom among the chattering classes: “Sarah Palin will have to choose to be either the leader of a movement or the leader of a nation. She can’t be both.” (He cites Goldwater and McGovern for this proposition.) Whether or not you like Palin, this is just nonsense. Ronald Reagan was both. Obama was, too (before he proved himself utterly incompetent). It’s the sort of stuff strategists say when they’re trying to oblige the media with a particular angle or shill for another, unnamed candidate.

Only in the Obama administration could Janet Napolitano not be in the top three on the ”deserves to be fired” list. John Brennan seems to have zoomed into the lead, past Eric Holder and James Jones: “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, is calling for the resignation — or immediate firing — of Obama adviser John Brennan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also called for Brennan’s head, telling FOX News Sunday that the adviser ‘has lost my confidence.’”

The California Senate race looks competitive, with Barbara Boxer leading potential GOP challengers by four or five points: “Most troubling for Boxer in the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state is her continuing inability to cross the 50% threshold against any of the GOP hopefuls. Incumbents who capture less than 50% of the vote at this stage of the campaign are considered vulnerable.”

If you appreciate understatement, this headline will appeal to you: “Indiana GOP: ‘We really like our chances.’” Yeah, I bet.

E.J. Dionne manages to get something right: “There is no way for Democrats to sugarcoat the news of Sen. Evan Bayh’s retirement: This is mighty good news for Republicans. Bayh would have been very difficult to defeat, and he has $13 million in the bank. Now, Indiana can be added to the list of seats that could shift to the Republicans, and that list is growing large enough that the GOP is within striking distance of taking over the Senate, an unthinkable idea even a month or so ago.”

Democrat Martin Frost sums up his party’s reaction to the Bayh retirement announcement: “The sky is officially falling.”

Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us that the tag team of mullah boosters, Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett, has a history of making stuff up. The proper thing to do would be to slink away, but the limelight and the chance to shill for the Iranian butchers must be too much to resist.

Eric Holder’s blunder fest is serious stuff: “We’ve shaken our heads in disgust often in the last year over the Obamic decision to permit a bunch of Chicago political hacks and the U.S. attorney general–the CPH Plus One–to run much of foreign policy out of the White House. It’s had real-world consequences, not least that the tension between the Axelrod-Emanuel-Jarrett axis (appease despots whenever possible) and the Clinton state department (appease them, but accuse them while you’re doing it) has given time and breathing room to the bomb-building wing of the Iranian dictatorship.”

This, from a Republican strategist, is what passes for wisdom among the chattering classes: “Sarah Palin will have to choose to be either the leader of a movement or the leader of a nation. She can’t be both.” (He cites Goldwater and McGovern for this proposition.) Whether or not you like Palin, this is just nonsense. Ronald Reagan was both. Obama was, too (before he proved himself utterly incompetent). It’s the sort of stuff strategists say when they’re trying to oblige the media with a particular angle or shill for another, unnamed candidate.

Only in the Obama administration could Janet Napolitano not be in the top three on the ”deserves to be fired” list. John Brennan seems to have zoomed into the lead, past Eric Holder and James Jones: “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, is calling for the resignation — or immediate firing — of Obama adviser John Brennan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also called for Brennan’s head, telling FOX News Sunday that the adviser ‘has lost my confidence.’”

The California Senate race looks competitive, with Barbara Boxer leading potential GOP challengers by four or five points: “Most troubling for Boxer in the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state is her continuing inability to cross the 50% threshold against any of the GOP hopefuls. Incumbents who capture less than 50% of the vote at this stage of the campaign are considered vulnerable.”

If you appreciate understatement, this headline will appeal to you: “Indiana GOP: ‘We really like our chances.’” Yeah, I bet.

E.J. Dionne manages to get something right: “There is no way for Democrats to sugarcoat the news of Sen. Evan Bayh’s retirement: This is mighty good news for Republicans. Bayh would have been very difficult to defeat, and he has $13 million in the bank. Now, Indiana can be added to the list of seats that could shift to the Republicans, and that list is growing large enough that the GOP is within striking distance of taking over the Senate, an unthinkable idea even a month or so ago.”

Democrat Martin Frost sums up his party’s reaction to the Bayh retirement announcement: “The sky is officially falling.”

Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us that the tag team of mullah boosters, Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett, has a history of making stuff up. The proper thing to do would be to slink away, but the limelight and the chance to shill for the Iranian butchers must be too much to resist.

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Electing a Nanny

One 2012 Republican contender described Obama like this:

The messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues. On national security, this perceived lackadaisical approach that he has to dealing with the terrorists. We’re saying that concerns us and we’re going to speak up about it and please don’t allow this persona to continue where you do try to make us feel like we need to just sit down, shut up and accept what you’re doing to us.

Others agree:

At the very moment he’s trying to recover his declining popularity and revive his party heading into the November elections, even some Democrats worry that he risks coming off not as the inspirational figure who galvanized the electorate in 2008 but as the embodiment of a dour Democrat that turns off some voters.

The first take is from Sarah Palin, the second from Politico. Remarkable how Obama is drawing everyone together, I know. But what is different lately is not Obama but the widespread reaction to his hectoring. Remember, during the campaign, he was scolding us, too. Mary Katharine Ham made a whole video about it. And Michelle Obama warned us:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Turns out all the finger-wagging and nagging doesn’t sit well with the American people. They have spouses, parents, and bosses telling them what to do much of the time, and they don’t need the president bossing them around, too, treating them like recalcitrant children who need perpetual instruction. Even Democrats are nervous:

Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, pointed out that, while Obama has long promised to tell people the truth even when it hurts, he needs to strike a balance.“Part of what people liked about him during the campaign is that he talks to the American people like they’re grown-ups — you don’t have to pretend that you can eat ice cream and lose weight in order to be president,” Myers said. “He did that during the campaign by appealing to hope. … I think little of that has been lost.”

Added Democratic strategist Paul Begala, another Clinton veteran, “You got to be careful about that stuff, or you become a scold.”

Republicans who have long remarked on his condescending tone and message — be it on Gatesgate or ObamaCare — are amused by the newfound consensus. (“‘Nobody wants a national nanny,’ said Republican strategist John Feehery. ‘It’s really annoying, and people don’t want to hear it.’”) Of course, it fits with Obama’s general philosophy that Americans are too dim to run their own lives and need government to guide, monitor, mandate, and regulate everything from health care to carbon emissions. That he lacks age or life experience to dispense such advice is not lost on media skeptics: “Age hasn’t stopped the president, who, at 48, is at ease urging the Obama way — on a range of issues — onto those a lot more experienced than he is. He is at once Americans’ president and their additional dad, teacher, preacher, nutritionist, life coach and financial adviser.”

This seems to be part of the growing realization that what was acceptable or cool during the campaign — including that personal remoteness — does not serve Obama well as president. It is what comes, I suppose, from electing someone we knew so little about and who had so little time on the national stage. Not all blind dates work out.

One 2012 Republican contender described Obama like this:

The messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues. On national security, this perceived lackadaisical approach that he has to dealing with the terrorists. We’re saying that concerns us and we’re going to speak up about it and please don’t allow this persona to continue where you do try to make us feel like we need to just sit down, shut up and accept what you’re doing to us.

Others agree:

At the very moment he’s trying to recover his declining popularity and revive his party heading into the November elections, even some Democrats worry that he risks coming off not as the inspirational figure who galvanized the electorate in 2008 but as the embodiment of a dour Democrat that turns off some voters.

The first take is from Sarah Palin, the second from Politico. Remarkable how Obama is drawing everyone together, I know. But what is different lately is not Obama but the widespread reaction to his hectoring. Remember, during the campaign, he was scolding us, too. Mary Katharine Ham made a whole video about it. And Michelle Obama warned us:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Turns out all the finger-wagging and nagging doesn’t sit well with the American people. They have spouses, parents, and bosses telling them what to do much of the time, and they don’t need the president bossing them around, too, treating them like recalcitrant children who need perpetual instruction. Even Democrats are nervous:

Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, pointed out that, while Obama has long promised to tell people the truth even when it hurts, he needs to strike a balance.“Part of what people liked about him during the campaign is that he talks to the American people like they’re grown-ups — you don’t have to pretend that you can eat ice cream and lose weight in order to be president,” Myers said. “He did that during the campaign by appealing to hope. … I think little of that has been lost.”

Added Democratic strategist Paul Begala, another Clinton veteran, “You got to be careful about that stuff, or you become a scold.”

Republicans who have long remarked on his condescending tone and message — be it on Gatesgate or ObamaCare — are amused by the newfound consensus. (“‘Nobody wants a national nanny,’ said Republican strategist John Feehery. ‘It’s really annoying, and people don’t want to hear it.’”) Of course, it fits with Obama’s general philosophy that Americans are too dim to run their own lives and need government to guide, monitor, mandate, and regulate everything from health care to carbon emissions. That he lacks age or life experience to dispense such advice is not lost on media skeptics: “Age hasn’t stopped the president, who, at 48, is at ease urging the Obama way — on a range of issues — onto those a lot more experienced than he is. He is at once Americans’ president and their additional dad, teacher, preacher, nutritionist, life coach and financial adviser.”

This seems to be part of the growing realization that what was acceptable or cool during the campaign — including that personal remoteness — does not serve Obama well as president. It is what comes, I suppose, from electing someone we knew so little about and who had so little time on the national stage. Not all blind dates work out.

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Identity Hits the GOP

An article at Politico quotes Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway:

Republicans will need to exercise less deafness and more deftness in dealing with a different looking candidate, whether it is a woman or a black man.

If only I could have exercised more blindness before reading that. Apparently there’s a big GOP plan underway to ensure that Republicans aren’t insensitive to race or gender and don’t succumb to “undisciplined messaging” while campaigning against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. David Paul Kuhn writes: “Many expect to be held to a higher rhetorical standard than is customary in campaigns, in part because of perceptions of intolerance that still dog the party.” Has is not been this season’s Democrats who’ve demonstrated a base reliance on the “perceptions of intolerance”? Frankly, the Republicans would have to go pretty far to match the “undisciplined messaging” displayed by Bill Clinton in his effort to convince White voters that his wife was with them. Here’s more:

Republicans will be told to “be sensitive to tone and stick to the substance of the discussion” and that “the key is that you have to be sensitive to the fact that you are running against historic firsts,” the strategist explained.

What about policy and ability? Must the whole country take part in this obsession with “historic firsts” or can we view the identity-poisoned Democratic race as a cautionary tale and move on? Having watched the Democrats use identity as a deadly weapon while pretending to celebrate diversity, I’ve had enough deftness to last me a lifetime.

An article at Politico quotes Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway:

Republicans will need to exercise less deafness and more deftness in dealing with a different looking candidate, whether it is a woman or a black man.

If only I could have exercised more blindness before reading that. Apparently there’s a big GOP plan underway to ensure that Republicans aren’t insensitive to race or gender and don’t succumb to “undisciplined messaging” while campaigning against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. David Paul Kuhn writes: “Many expect to be held to a higher rhetorical standard than is customary in campaigns, in part because of perceptions of intolerance that still dog the party.” Has is not been this season’s Democrats who’ve demonstrated a base reliance on the “perceptions of intolerance”? Frankly, the Republicans would have to go pretty far to match the “undisciplined messaging” displayed by Bill Clinton in his effort to convince White voters that his wife was with them. Here’s more:

Republicans will be told to “be sensitive to tone and stick to the substance of the discussion” and that “the key is that you have to be sensitive to the fact that you are running against historic firsts,” the strategist explained.

What about policy and ability? Must the whole country take part in this obsession with “historic firsts” or can we view the identity-poisoned Democratic race as a cautionary tale and move on? Having watched the Democrats use identity as a deadly weapon while pretending to celebrate diversity, I’ve had enough deftness to last me a lifetime.

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