Biden Caught In A Trap Of His Own Making

[ Posted Thursday, May 18th, 2023 – 15:14 UTC ]

President Joe Biden really has no excuse for the conundrum he has created for himself in next year's early primaries. He should have understood from the start what the outcome would be, but he apparently didn't think things through enough. If he had a different history in politics he might have had a believable excuse, but he just doesn't.

For instance, if Biden had hailed from California, the entire fiasco might be a little more understandable. What I mean by this is that sometimes I talk to friends of mine out here in the Golden State (who have lived most or all of their lives here), after they have either moved to or travelled through states east of the Mississippi River. And at some point they all uniformly say the same thing while describing their adventures: "I can't believe how small the other states are! You drive for a couple hours and all of a sudden you are in another state! And then you drive like another hour and you're suddenly in a third state!" Important to note: these people had been travelling in the Midwest and South. None of them (so far) had made it up to New England, which would truly have blown their California-bred minds.

In one recent such conversation, my friend made a further point (after an extended visit to Ohio): "I can't believe how much state and local boosterism there is -- all the college logos and team logos and state pride, it was just everywhere." Well, yeah. People take pride in their state and the smaller the state is, sometimes the fiercer that pride gets.

Which brings us to the issue of the 46th-largest state: New Hampshire. Last year, in a surprise move, President Biden decided to punish New Hampshire Democrats. I thought it was a horrible decision, which I explained back in January:

At President Joe Biden's urging, the Democratic National Committee has picked a big and (in my opinion) a completely unnecessary fight with the state of New Hampshire. Last year, when the party met to decide which states would go first in the presidential primary calendar, Biden blindsided just about everyone with his own preferred schedule. Earlier, the party had announced there would be a free-for-all for states to apply for early primary slots, which was largely seen as a convenient way to demote Iowa from the early states, for multiple reasons (the largest being how incompetent they had been in 2020). This conventional wisdom held that one or perhaps even two other additional states would be elevated to the ranks of the early-voting states, again for multiple reasons. But few predicted that New Hampshire would be affected. This proved to be wrong, as Biden released his preferred schedule: South Carolina would be the "first in the nation" state, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire three days later (both voting on the same day). Yesterday, the party met again and instead of locking in Biden's new schedule, gave two states until June to comply with the new setup -- New Hampshire and Georgia (which was newly elevated into the ranks of early-voting states).

This is a largely symbolic and also a completely avoidable fight. What real difference is it going to make to the primaries if New Hampshire goes first or second? Why did Biden decided to pick this fight when it is going to continue to be a gigantic and distracting headache over the course of the next two years?

I also pointed out how important this all was to the voters of New Hampshire:

New Hampshire is proud of it's "first-in-the-nation primary," and has been for over 100 years. They even passed a state law which locked this status in. While allowing a state with a selection process other than a primary to go first (which allowed Iowa's caucuses to the be the first vote), it dictates that the New Hampshire secretary of state schedule the state's primaries one week before any other state's primary is held. That is how proud they are of their status. No other state has a law which hinges the scheduling of primaries on what other states do.

I concluded with:

Joe Biden was wrong to pick this fight in the first place. The Democratic Party was wrong to unquestioningly follow his lead. It might have been impossible to achieve even if all the New Hampshire Democrats had been on board with the idea (which they are most definitely not). This whole fight is counterproductive and self-destructive for the party, for no real reason at all. It will be a gigantic storyline at the very start of the primary season, and Democrats are simply not going to come out of it looking good. If Joe Biden skips campaigning in New Hampshire, it opens the doors for some crank candidate to "win" a state that won't even count at the convention (indeed, the story today that Marianne Williamson is eyeing New Hampshire was what prompted me to write this today -- sample quote, just in case you've forgotten how truly flaky she is: "If I run, there are forces within the Democratic Party who would be trying to invisibilize me"). Is that really the outcome Democrats want to see happen?

The title and last sentence of this article speaks for itself: "Let New Hampshire go first."

It is almost June, and the D.N.C.'s self-imposed deadline (June 3rd) now looms. New Hampshire, predictably, hasn't budged. What is incredible about this isn't the stance that New Hampshire is taking, though, it is the refusal of the Democratic Party to accept the reality of the situation. From a Politico article today on the whole mess:

Now, national Democrats are searching for an off-ramp. With a June deadline looming for New Hampshire to make progress on changing its law or get kicked out of the official early voting lineup, Democratic National Committee members are privately considering giving the state more time.

"If there's any opportunity for this to get resolved by New Hampshire having more time, all of us will say, 'Give New Hampshire more time,'" said labor leader Randi Weingarten, who sits on the DNC committee that approved the changes to the nominating calendar.

Some have also floated the possibility of putting together a party-run primary to get around its state law.

"In states where state legislatures have refused to comply with the party rules, the state parties have run primaries that are conducted by the party," said James Roosevelt, Jr., co-chair of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, adding that New Hampshire Democrats are "aware that that is an alternative."

But New Hampshire Democrats, furious that national party leaders upended their prized primary, don't seem to care what the DNC has to offer. They insist they're going first -- whether Biden's on the ballot or not.

As I said, entirely predictable. The D.N.C. can give New Hampshire all the time in the world, and it will not change any of the underlying dynamic. First, Republicans control the process of setting the primary date. They are not interested in the D.N.C.'s new schedule. Second, New Hampshire Democrats are dead-set against the new schedule idea, so they are not going to somehow solve the problem by holding a Democrats-only primary at some later date.

What is going to happen -- again, entirely predictably -- is that New Hampshire is going to set its primary at least one week before any other state votes. That is written in New Hampshire granite, one might say.

The D.N.C. has limited power to punish the state. They have a bit more power to punish their own presidential candidates, though, which has set up the conundrum both Biden and the D.N.C. now face. They could threaten not to seat New Hampshire delegates at the party's convention (or perhaps only half of the number they're entitled to). But they'd probably back down on this later, as happened in an earlier attempt at being heavy-handed, in a previous election cycle (2008). New Hampshire isn't all that big, either by area or population, so they're never going to be the decisive vote for any nominee (meaning seating their delegates or not is a moot point when it comes to the nomination voting).

But the D.N.C. could sanction candidates who put their names on the New Hampshire ballot, or even campaign in the state. They could, for instance, threaten to exclude any candidate who does appear on the ballot from their primary debates. This would only be of limited use though, since it isn't really an open primary. After all, what would Biden care if there just weren't any real debates this time around?

Joe Biden's got to decide whether to just write the whole state off or defy the D.N.C. rules. If he decides to stay out of New Hampshire, that guarantees a big embarrassment in the very first primary: someone like Marianne Williamson or Robert Kennedy Junior might actually win. That's not the kickoff to primary season an incumbent president should want to see, obviously.

Biden, quite obviously, exerts a huge amount of control over the D.N.C. itself. He pretty much forced them to adopt this whole "South Carolina goes first" plan by executive fiat. So he could now get them to gracefully back down and stop with all the threats. He'd have to admit his scheme was flawed from the get-go, but to me that is merely admitting the reality of the situation that both Biden and the D.N.C. have been ignoring all along.

Biden left himself open to the charge that he was rearranging the primary schedule out of personal pettiness. He didn't do well in New Hampshire in 2020, and South Carolina saved his political bacon. So him moving South Carolina to the front of the line was no more than a power grab -- ensuring he would get a big positive result right out of the gate. Biden said it was to empower Black voters (New Hampshire is overwhelmingly White), but few really believed that was all he was thinking about with the move.

This whole fiasco was predictable, avoidable, and self-inflicted. New Hampshire sees their "first primary in the nation" status as having been handed down to them by God on stone tablets. This is not an exaggeration, or at least not much of one. They take it seriously. They are a very tiny state, and they are fiercely proud of their importance to the presidential nominating process. Even if the entire state government were run by Democrats, they still wouldn't even consider giving up their first-in-line status. And the New Hampshire Democratic Party is not going to spend a bunch of money to hold a separate (later) primary either. That is just an absolute non-starter.

As I said, New Hampshire is a small state. It might make sense that a California politician (or one from Illinois or even New York) might not fully appreciate how fierce state pride is in such a state. But Joe Biden is from Delaware. There are only four states in the nation that are smaller than New Hampshire, and Delaware is one of them (it is 49th in size, bigger than only Rhode Island). So Biden really has no excuse -- he should have deeply understood this from the start.

Biden should back down. He should urge the D.N.C. to formally abandon the plan to demote New Hampshire. The rest of the primary calendar can stay exactly as it is, but New Hampshire is going to vote a week before South Carolina whether the D.N.C. sanctions it or not. So the D.N.C. should bow to the inevitable and make the necessary changes to allow this to smoothly happen. As I said back in January: let New Hampshire go first. Because they are going to, whether you want them to or not.


[Editorial Note: Full disclosure -- for the record, I was raised in the 42nd-largest state. I understand small-state pride, I grew up with it.]

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “Biden Caught In A Trap Of His Own Making”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    42nd largest by land area or population?

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Well, you're an Orioles fan so I'm guessing Maryland, but Maine isn't entirely out of the question...

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Sounds like the way Biden is running things domestically is a lot like the way his foreign policy is going ... badly.

    Go ahead! Call me completely disillusioned, disheartenened and discouraged, not to mention discombobulated. :(

Comments for this article are closed.