“We Can Survive This. We Can’t Survive Trump Round Two.” – Slate

A chronicle of Donald Trump's Crimes or Allegations

“We Can Survive This. We Can’t Survive Trump Round Two.” – Slate

Listen to What Next:
Late last month, as I watched President Joe Biden flail in his first presidential debate against Donald Trump, I kept telling people I wanted just one thing: a peek at the texts of just about any elected official to confirm were they seeing what I was seeing? So, when I called up Rep. Mike Quigley this week, I straight up asked: What was going on in your DMs that night? “I was getting a ton of texts and messages and phone calls from constituents, friends, family, staff—different waves of panic. A lot of WTF?,” he said.
Quigley is a Democrat who represents Illinois’ 5th District, which is part of Chicago and its suburbs. He’s been on the Hill for 15 years. He says the debate was sad for him to watch, like it was for a lot of people. “The worst part of this was the visual at the end of the debate, after the debacle that it was, with the first lady walking across the stage and him needing her help to get down the stairs,” he said.
But afterward, Quigley didn’t just wring his hands in private. Instead, he started showing up on cable news. At first, he simply implied he was open to a new nominee for president. After a few days, though, he got more blunt, saying, Biden simply can’t be on the top of the ticket.
I reached Quigley at a strange time. After a handful of politicians like him had gone public with their concerns, Democratic members of Congress all got in a room to privately hash things out at DNC headquarters. This was Tuesday morning. To the reporters staking this meeting out, it certainly looked like the president was consolidating his support. Congressional leader Jerry Nadler told reporters, “We have to support” Joe Biden—despite having misgivings just a few days ago. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “The matter is closed. … Joe Biden is our nominee.”
This vibe shift, though, did not seem to be bugging Quigley. “This is a process. Everyone follows a different path. This is unprecedented. It has, I suspect, freaked people out. But I think they’ll get there. My message is: Take whatever time you need, but we need to act, and we don’t have unlimited time,” he said.
On Wednesday’s episode of What Next, we heard from a “calm, thoughtful voice,” who thinks Biden should not be leading the ticket. A portion of our conversation, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, has been transcribed below.
Mary Harris: When was the last time you saw President Joe Biden in person?
Mike Quigley: The State of the Union.
How’d he seem at the time?
I thought he had a good night. I will just tell you that it’s hard to deny the fact that he appears somewhat frail.
Even then he seemed a little frail to you?
Oh sure, but that’s just the reality of the situation.
Him being 81?
Yeah. And I think that’s OK. I think he can function very effectively as president. I think the added burden of an extraordinary campaign that will be brutal as it moves forward is probably too much to ask for.
If President Biden did leave the race, it would throw a huge wrench into the election cycle. Why, in your opinion, does he have to go?
I don’t think anything has gotten better since the debate. It’s gotten worse.
Why do you say that?
Look, what would be the normal course of action after that debate? You’re on the phone the whole next day. You’re doing tons of press with no holds barred. You’re pushing back. Not by what you’re saying, by what you’re doing.
You’re saying it looks like the president’s on the backfoot.
He’s on the backfoot, he’s being defensive, and now everything’s in the context of the prism of what people saw that night. I’m not into the speculation that’s out there about whatever issues might exist with the president, but the fact is that’s what everyone’s talking about. Therefore, you’re not talking about how bad Donald Trump will be as president. I’m not a pundit, but the polls are going the wrong way in a hurry. Big donors are drying up. The president’s underperforming down-ballot races. That’s a recipe for a red wave. You just have to be honest with yourself what the situation is, and take the appropriate action.
The problem is that the president seems to have made a decision here that he’s staying in. He wrote an open letter to elected officials like yourself saying as much. He told people like you who are calling for him to leave the race to go ahead and challenge him at the convention. Are you prepared for that kind of outcome?
No. This is a decision he needs to make not by a challenge in that manner. And he knows better. I think he’s just trying to buy time and hope this all passes. And respectfully, it’s not. It’s getting worse. And, there’s a point of no return. It’s tough to do all this because I respect him. This is very hard to do. But it’s just being honest with the situation.
You say you’re not prepared for chaos at the convention, which will be in your hometown. Do you think about what that convention’s going to look like?
Before the debate, my concern for the convention was disruption. I’m all for First Amendment rights and healthy protest. I was concerned that there would be those that take it too far and attempt to disrupt or commit violence. That was before the debate. I think if there’s a change, the process will take care of itself. There are rules. The president would relinquish his delegates. And then there’s a natural process that follows.
Respectfully, that process from the outside could look like chaos.
It doesn’t have to be that way. But I think the first day of a second Trump administration would be very similar to the last days of the first Trump administration. I was in the room on Jan. 6. So if you’re balancing Gee, it doesn’t look good for Democrats versus a real threat to what I believe is a fragile democracy and a Supreme Court, which has told a lawless president that you’ve got a green light to do whatever the hell you want. So if I’m to balance the greater good, any day of the week, I’ll take a little intensity at the convention.
If Biden hangs on until the convention, will that be that for you? Like, you’re on the Biden train?
Look, at some point if he’s the nominee, I’m with him because, again, the worst day of Joe Biden is better than the best day of Donald Trump.
But I guess the question is: When is “at the end of the day”?
I’m going to give the economist answer: It depends. I’m doing this a day at a time. Nobody was trained to be in this position. You just have to assess where we are. Listen to people. I’m listening to my constituents. I’m listening to the best political experts I know, legal experts I know. And trying to tell the truth.
I’ve noticed you making this argument again and again that the reason you’re calling for Joe Biden to leave the race isn’t just about the White House, although that’s important to you. It’s about down-ballot races. But it seems to me like you’re a strange person to make this argument because you personally are in a seat that the Cook Political Report calls safe. Very safe. You’re not part of top congressional leadership, whose job it is to look out for the majority. Why put yourself out there anyway?
The Senate is virtually a tie every term. The House is single-digit control, and we’ve seen what that does, especially with the Republicans, who can’t seem to handle the responsibility of power and have a habit of getting rid of their speakers. So, the races are going to be tight. The division between power and being in the minority is night and day. And every vote’s going to count. So, the presidential years, you really need the top of the ticket to be strong. It will make all the difference. I’ve heard people even say, “Well, look, this could be a bad election, but we can correct all this in 2028.” I would tell you: This could be what we saw as our last totally free and fair election. And people say that’s hyperbole. Well, no one would have thought Jan. 6 would happen and that the person who instigated it would get away scot-free and be the president of United States again. And let’s just remember where the Republicans have been on limiting access to the polls. If you give them both houses and the White House, I shudder to think what they would do.
You always hear this, but this is the most important election of our lives. I don’t want to tell my grandkids that I had my opinion, but I just kept quiet. I’d like to think there’ll be more joining me soon. I think that’s accurate, but the pace will have to increase pretty quickly.
There have been a few different theories about what should happen after a hypothetical Biden drop. One is that there should be some kind of mini-primary, and another is that the nomination should just go to Kamala Harris, the vice president. What do you think should happen?
Neither of those are going to happen.
Why do you say that?
There’s no structure and time for there to be whatever primary that people think might exist. So that’s just not going to happen. Second, if we want the process to be viewed as legitimate, to simply say we’re going to coronate one person over the others makes that a much tougher sell.
Arguably Kamala Harris has been the person people elected to be the backup plan for Joe Biden.
Well, that’s in terms of succession. And do I think Kamala Harris, the vice president, would be a great candidate? Absolutely. I’m just saying that the on-high folks can’t just say, “Oh, it’s the vice president.” I want to make sure the public sees this as a process where people had some input.
Don’t you think there’s a problem of legitimacy no matter what direction it goes? Because you can’t redo the primaries.
Yeah but any number of reasons the nominee can’t be the nominee the Democratic Party has rules and a process.
But in my lifetime, I’ve never had a bunch of delegates at a convention decide who my nominee is going to be for president. It’ll be a new thing.
I know, but isn’t that originally what they were supposed to do?
Yes!
OK! We can survive this. We can’t survive Trump round two.
Get more news from Mary Harris every weekday.
Here’s something I keep returning to: Even if the president does change the narrative on Capitol Hill, convinces other electeds to get in line behind him, the polling is still quite bad for him.
My first message to the White House is: You don’t have to convince me. What you should be focusing on is doing what you haven’t done so far, and that’s actually convincing the American people that this was a single bad episode. But that’s not happening. And I would respectfully suggest it’s because the president’s not capable of changing that narrative. And the polls won’t get better. They will get worse. He is a shaky base, and I don’t think politically he can win back the swing voters that he lost. So that’s the ballgame.
Are you saying Trump will win if Biden remains in the race?
Right now it would be very hard to change the tide. Never say never. But you put the Democratic Party, in all the races this fall, in serious jeopardy by staying in the race.
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