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The Trap Of Turning This Election Into The Final Battle Of 2016

We can relitigate 2016 in all our waking days and sometimes in our dreams. Now, some people are even exploring new frontiers in relitigation, free from the original battles of the 2016 primaries.

Posted on March 5, 2019, at 9:45 p.m. ET

Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

Over the weekend, a woman asked Elizabeth Warren why — despite their shared views about the US economy — she hadn’t backed Bernie Sanders in 2016, a lack of action that carries some weight with a segment of Bernie fans.

“I’m just going to be blunt with all of you,” Warren said. “We can’t go back and relitigate 2016.”

Obviously, this is false. We can relitigate 2016 in all our waking days and sometimes in our dreams. People in their seventies are going back and relitigating 2016 right now with the genteel restraint derived from life’s many trials and tribulations.

“(Crooked) Hillary Clinton confirms she will not run in 2020, rules out a third bid for White House.” Aw-shucks, does that mean I won’t get to run against her again? She will be sorely missed!

The relitigation began immediately in November 2016 and for some may never end, like people you know who’ve suffered a terrible surprise and are forever changed.

But there’s a secondary 2016 legacy in this vein, one that isn’t quite relitigation. This has to do more with extending the paradigms and choices of 2016 into the 2020 election and seeing the present through the prism of what was denied Hillary Clinton, Sanders, or movement conservatives. It’s like the old relitigation has found new host bodies for notching points on the great scoreboard in the sky. The people who still operate inside the choices of 2016 seem destined for disappointment.

If that sounds abstract, consider the confusing ways in which people describe their second choices right now for the Democratic nomination, swinging between the supposedly opposed forces within the Democratic Party:

The second choice polling is interesting https://t.co/y3OUWryDbr

Many people do not still live within the epic struggle between Sanders and Clinton. You would not necessarily believe that on Twitter, where over Christmas, some people seemed to view Beto O’Rourke’s seemingly decent presidential chances as potential for the last and vital triumph over Sanders, and some on the left seemed to see him as yet another DNC feint. (The arguments did have a real ideological underpinning, however, particularly for the left.)

Others perceive the stories about Amy Klobuchar allegedly throwing a binder and (unintentionally) hitting a staffer as the same kind of media sexism that felled people like Hillary Clinton (what is the meaning of “likability” and so forth), even as women staffers tell women reporters they don’t believe their critiques are related to sexism, and even when these same kinds of stories have not been reported about other women candidates in the field. The reflexive application of that relativism actually seems like a disservice to Clinton, whom former immediate staff almost always seem to hold in high esteem, even the ones who’ve disagreed with management choices she’s made. Klobuchar and some of her aides have described her management as demanding but rewarding, others say she is an angry and unpredictable boss; these can be taken in sum and considered as just one part of Amy Klobuchar, the candidate. But you actually don’t have to implicitly defend someone throwing a physical object in the workplace! Not everything is so zero-sum a game.

Or consider the bitter meltdown happening within conservative media right now.

@cjciaramella Everyone’s had three glasses of wine and they’ve got SOMETHING TO SAY

The technical flash point for this involves an anti-Trump conservative outlet, the Bulwark, sending a pro-choice liberal to CPAC and the tweets she sent from that event, a few days after McKay Coppins wrote about the Bulwark, which sees a moral imperative to shame Trump backers.

Conservative media is a relatively small world. Most people within it opposed Trump during the 2016 primary — after his nomination, that shifted a bit; after his win, that shifted more, or at least more people reconciled themselves to the reality that whatever comes after Trump must incorporate the Trump era, while others simply exited conservative media. Soon after the election, the arguments began between the anti-Trump people and the anti-anti-Trump people — and at some point, detached from Trump and the Trump administration to become more personal and more moral, about how a person should behave now, about who is The True Keeper of the Weakened Flame, and what motivates the people on either side of this conflict.

Threaded through these debates is a nebulous sense that there’s still a choice, as if it’s December 2015 and there’s a slipping chance for Trump to be rejected. But that’s over. There may be plenty of voters who don’t like Trump, but the NeverTrumpers — so often the focus of Trump’s reflexive supporters in conservative media — hold little power.

And in the opposite direction, as Bulwark founder Charlie Sykes told Coppins, “The analogy [I’m] really afraid of, is that we’re the Japanese soldiers who don’t know the war is over, and we’re still hiding out in the cave.”

In a 1976 profile of Jimmy Carter, Sally Quinn described a dinner where a bunch of political operatives and donor types went after the candidate at length.

They were Kennedy people, McCarthy people, Humphrey people. Some had worked for several of the candidates. They were, you might say, veterans.

“You know,” he told them in his soft Georgia accent, “you’re a scarred group of people.”

He was right. They had been scarred by the deaths of their two favorite candidates, and by the dismal failures of the other two, by the disappointments of their divisiveness and the ineffectuality of many of their liberal plans. They had lost their sense of idealism and enthusiasm and they were cynical and suspicious of anyone who could feel those things. But not just cynical. Resentful really, that someone who hadn’t been through the wars with them could have the audacity to come in from nowhere and grab the prize.

As Fred Barnes has said, the future in politics is never a straight-line projection of the present. You don’t have to look further than the aftermath of the 2012 election, and the contemporaneous sense that a more moderate-on-immigration Republican would need to win the next nomination.

Someone’s triumph over Bernie Sanders — if it happens — will likely not be a validation of Hillary Clinton’s. Anti-Trump and pro-Trump will likely not break each other in a way that morally affirms the choice each made about Trump. Whatever happens next will be an affront to anyone who’s got their heart set on winning an election that’s been over for almost three years.


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