During the fourth Democratic presidential debate in October 2019, in response to a line of questioning about his son Hunter Biden’s conduct on the board of an energy company in Ukraine, former Vice President Joe Biden took an opportunity to remind voters that the real corruption was coming from inside the White House.
“The fact of the matter is that this is about [President Donald] Trump’s corruption,” Biden said. “That’s what we should be focusing on.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders disagreed.
“I think it would be a disaster if the American people believed that all we were doing is taking on Trump and we’re forgetting that 87 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, the existential threat of climate change, the fact that half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
On a debate stage that at the time held 12 candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, the exchange catalogued the stark ideological divide between the two men who would emerge as the final contenders in the race to take on Trump in 2020. For Sanders, the chief issue is the structural threat to America’s working class, which has existed since long before Trump took office. For Biden, the greatest current danger to the American people is Trump himself — and he must be stopped at all costs.
As Joe Biden prepares to clinch the Democratic nomination, the Associated Press reported on Monday that former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent critic of Trump, has been tapped to speak on his behalf at the Democratic National Convention next month. While it’s unclear whether or not the Kasich appearance will serve as an official endorsement, the move is clearly designed to further the campaign strategy that Biden has been laying the groundwork for since the earliest days of his candidacy. If the former Vice President has been propped up as a smiling, glad-handing alternative to the president, and not a pathway to any real progressive change, it makes sense to ensure that the circus tent is big enough to hold the large swaths of the GOP establishment Republicans who are already scrambling to distance themselves from the president.
An appearance by Kasich would also be firmly in line with the grand Democratic tradition of fetishizing “good Republicans” — so-called moderates who, like Kasich, echo their own centrist appeals for decorum and common decency. It’s the same strategy Hillary Clinton often deployed during her own presidential run in 2016, which many of her left-leaning critics believe may have cost her the election.
During his time as the governor of Ohio, Kasich implemented some of the strictest anti-abortion policies in the country, all of them aimed at limiting the scope of women’s healthcare providers in the state. In 2016, he signed a bill that effectively stripped Planned Parenthood of $1.3 million in state funding, impacting the ability of an estimated 54,665 Ohio women to access vital services like cancer screenings and other vital, life-saving services. Later that year, he signed into law a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal anomaly — considered to be one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country, then or since.
“Kasich is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told Mother Jones in 2015. “He’s going out there trying to sell himself as a moderate, he’s no moderate. He is an extremist. He is—if not the worst—among the worst of anti-choice governors in this country’s history.”
If Kasich is a “moderate,” tell that to the pregnant women who have had to scramble across state lines as a result of his draconian 20-week abortion ban. If Kasich’s appearance alongside the Democratic presidential nominee at the DNC represents no threat to the very base that the party exists to protect, tell that to the members of the LGBTQ+ community whom he told to “take a breath and calm down” amid the spread of anti-gay legislation throughout the South.
The internal logic of this decision by the Biden campaign is as facile as it is unambiguous: Donald Trump is the Big Bad, and all those who oppose him are on their side. It doesn’t matter that Kasich passed a 2013 budget that banned rape crisis counselors from referring victims of sexual assault to abortion services; he wears dad jeans and speaks in broad platitudes about wanting a “United States, not the divided states,” and, most importantly, he thinks Trump is unfit to serve in the Oval Office.
For the Biden campaign, and for the Democratic Party political machine as a whole, politics is a cynical, superficial game, and their sales pitch has not changed: This fall, do you want a red tie in the White House, or a blue one?
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