Monday, May 20, 2024

Meta-panic -- intensified panic over the lack of panic in another.

This piece from Josh Marshall nicely captures the divide in what we somewhat euphemistically call the "liberal press."On one side is the meta-panic crowd, represented by people like Ezra Klein and Nate Silver, journalists and pundits equally worked up about what they see is the inevitable doom of the Biden campaign and by the fact that Biden and so many others don't actually see it is doomed. On the other side are calmer voices such as Josh Marshall and Tom Bonier who are more sanguine about how things are going, are more likely to take a holistic view of the data, and who, to be ball peen hammer blunt, tend to have a way better track record. (Obviously, I'm not playing coy about whom I'm inclined to agree with here.)

The post also serves as a remarkably effective prebuttal to the op-ed Klein published a few days later, effectively dismantling most of the NYT opinion piece's arguments days before Klein made them. Marshall comments directly on the op-ed in this Twitter thread. He was not impressed.

We'll try to say more about Klein's arguments in some future posts, but TPM is the essential read here.

 From Marshall's "A Quick Survey of Numbers, Vibes and the Inner Lives of Campaigns":

Remember that Axios piece that said Biden was in denial about his poll numbers? The idea here is that because Biden isn’t shaking up his campaign or firing his campaign manager or switching his message he’s not only behind but sleep walking toward defeat. When I saw the whole debate thing flare up yesterday it struck me as a total power move by Biden. He dared Trump to debate him. Trump quickly agreed. In principle. Then Biden said, great let’s do this CNN one. Not only a power move but Biden got Trump to agree to what is almost universally seen as a less-than-Trump-friendly format — no Fox, no audience, just the two men and two legit journalists, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.


[Jonathan Last piece in the Bulwark] is quite good. It captures the balance, the heart of it. Yes, Biden’s a bit behind. But there is a poverty to what we might call “make some changes” discourse. It’s tough running behind in a campaign. It’s tough running just a bit behind (which is the accurate characterization of this race) when the stakes are so damn high. You also want your candidate to have a good theory of the campaign and be confident in that theory. We’ve seen plenty of campaigns hit a point where they just start throwing spaghetti against the wall, seeing what will stick. A “reboot,” a “reset,” a new campaign manager. The result is almost universally ugly as fuck. You ditch your strategy for a new one. But that one doesn’t work any better. How long do you hold on to a runner-up strategy when it’s not working any better than your first choice? Probably not long. Soon you’re on to your second reboot and your third strategy and everyone inside the campaign and out knows you’re in a death spiral. It’s pretty hard to get your voters and activists and campaign workers pumped when you’re sending the signal loud and clear not only that you think you’re losing but that you’ve decided you have no idea what to do to change the situation. Like I said, a death spiral.

Sometimes you’re 10 points back a month before Election Day and your theory of the campaign hasn’t worked so … really, what the fuck else are you going to do? This is why a lot of campaigns not only lose but lose ugly. Because they’re simply out of options. And if you’re definitely losing the non-risk of losing ugly is worth taking for the slight chance you’ll happen on something that works better.

Needless to say, being a point or at most two back six months before the election is not that situation. You absolutely don’t want your campaign doubting its theory of the election or its strategy, “making changes” as they say. Especially when it is a good theory of the election (which I take to be: use key issues to consolidate fractures in the D coalition and focus everyone on the binary choice between Biden and Trump). But you do want to remain on the offensive and be on the lookout for opportunities to create moments of volatility in which existing strategies can get traction. And like Last, I think this debate move is a good example of that. Stay on offense, always on offense. Maximize the time you’re acting rather than reacting.


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