The 3 Men Who Will Defeat Biden.
A UNFTR Quickie.
Summary: Today’s Quickie predicts the three men who will combine to beat Joe Biden next November. Can you guess any one of them?
Before he was a famous podcaster…before he was an adviser to the Trump White House...before he was sentenced to prison on obstruction of justice charges…he was an investment banker with a specialty in financing media deals in Hollywood, and one of the founding board members of Breitbart News.
The Chaos Agent
Stephen K. Bannon was one of Donald Trump’s closest advisers during the 2016 presidential election, and according to lore is one of the only people who discouraged the future president from dropping out after the “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape surfaced. While it would go on to destroy the career of entertainment reporter Billy Bush, this famous phrase emboldened Trump, who once proclaimed that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it.
Unlike so many other high profile people who drop out of the mainstream media limelight, there’s a case to be made that Steve Bannon has become even more influential in the shadows. According to Podchaser, a podcast analytics platform, Bannon’s War Room has between 11 and 16 million downloads monthly and his show has almost a million followers on Rumble, if you believe their numbers.
It’s less about the top line figures and more about the influence he peddles on these platforms. There isn’t a conspiracy theory he won’t promote, all in service of muddying the waters.
Noami Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and other best sellers including her most recent book Doppelganger, recently told the Guardian, “While most of us who oppose his political project choose not to see him, he is watching us closely. The issues we are abandoning, the debates we aren’t having, the people we are insulting and discarding.”
Listening to what drives opposition voters and twisting these things into fear tactics and conspiracies serves solely to distract. It doesn’t matter to Bannon what belief systems or doctrines emerge from the debate, only that we debate. Because the more we argue, the less we solve. Bannon is hosting a debate with the American public and both sides of the political apparatus, throwing around Gish gallop rhetoric to just keep us talking.
A recent Esquire profile of Bannon by Chris Heath is long, meandering and searching. It’s actually quite a frustrating piece. Over thousands of words, the writer struggles to find a sliver, just a shred of doctrine in Bannon. Every thread pulled comes loose and winds up discarded on the floor. Each time Bannon is confronted with his own quotes, he denies them and obfuscates. Heath asks him about other rather unflattering portrayals, and Bannon claims to love them. He’s the epitome of no press is bad press. Spell the name right, and whatever you do, just keep talking.
When presented with logic, as in the excerpt below from the Showtime show Circus, he accepts the premise, then draws opposing conclusions. Here’s Tim Miller pressing Bannon on what Trump 2.0 might look like, after Bannon just got through telling him that Trump is the most authentic candidate who genuinely cares about improving the lives of Americans.
Miller: “But here’s my question. You have a MAGA lawyer, likes to come on your podcast—Mike Davis—here’s what he suggested were the top priorities for Trump’s attorney general: One, fire the ‘Deep State’ executive branch; two, indict the whole Biden family; three, deport 10 million people—‘kids and cages, it will be glorious;’ four, detain people at Gitmo; five, pardon every January 6 defendant. What do you think about that five step plan?”
Bannon: “I think it’s fantastic. We should have all five. We’re going to start the largest deportation program in history. All 10 million must leave.”
Miller: “You’re saying that it’s about people’s gut feelings, it’s about people’s lived experiences. You think somebody that’s struggling, you think somebody that’s struggling right now in the economy cares about firing random deep state people, indicting…”
Bannon: “Did I say that’s all they’re going to do? That’s Mike Davis, who [will] probably be the Attorney General.”
Miller maintains this look on his face throughout the entire segment of complete incredulity. And Bannon just smirks.
Because, they just keep talking.
Over the weeks that Heath spent with him, Bannon was furiously texting during the McCarthy House Speaker fiasco, insisting the “Next couple of weeks going to be crazy nasty.” As Heath writes, “Reading his texts and watching his shows, I find it difficult to determine how much he is reporting on events and how much he may be playing a role in orchestrating them. (He certainly often seems to know what is going to happen next well before it happens.)”
Side note, Bannon capped off his text exchange with “toxic and lit,” demonstrating his ability to connect with the younger generation because he texts like a 14-year-old girl.
The piece ends chillingly with a gleeful text from Bannon to Heath when McCarthy was eventually ousted as Speaker: “Chaos,” he writes, “is our friend.”
The Man With His Thumb on the Scale
My favorite little economic indicator, as you know, is the Conference Board of Leading Economic Indicators. It just published a quarterly report stating, “business investment stalled in Q3 2023 as interest rate increases made financing activities more expensive.”
A PBS report uncritically reported that “If the healthy economic expansion and hiring endure, Powell said Thursday, the central bank might have to further raise its benchmark rate. The Fed’s long series of rate hikes have raised the costs of auto and home loans, credit card borrowing and business loans, imposing financial burdens on many households and companies.”
I want you to just think about that statement for a moment. If the healthy economic expansion and hiring endure, Powell will have to consider raising rates. Because of its so-called dual mandate of maximum employment and stable prices, the Fed will stop at nothing to cool this economy.
Here’s longtime journalist Jeanna Smialek’s blunt explanation in her book on the Fed, titled Limitless, “The Fed is purposefully insulated from politics so that it has room to make hard decisions. Most important, it sometimes needs to harm the economy to contain inflation, a difficult short-term decision that leaves society better off in the long run.”
So cool. So calculated.
You know what China’s inflation rate is? .7%.
Prime interest rate? 3.4%.
But I digress.
Even with gas prices plummeting over the last 60 days, which helped boost holiday shopping figures according to most economic observers, the reality is that holiday shopping and most consumer spending is now being done on credit. We’ve covered this pretty extensively in our newsletter and in our pieces on the Fed, so you already know the drill.
What’s amazing is that the Dow and S&P are approaching their historic highs once again, even when short-term bond yields are higher than long-term treasuries and far less risky than the equity market. It’s all so nuts and unpredictable, but it seems like no matter what happens, the investor class is killing it while the masses are getting killed.
Anyway, that’s tangential to the point of this Quickie. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s relentless pursuit of 2% inflation at the cost of the entire economy has no other outcome than to smother the working class of the nation. Inflation is still a global phenomenon with wildly disparate figures, from 2.3% inflation in Ecuador to 314% in Zimbabwe. Germany’s prime lending rate is 5.8% but inflation is 6.3%. Brazil’s inflation rate is about 4.7% but their prime lending rate is—get this—57%! The point is, interest rates are only one weapon in the entire economic arsenal.
Public policy, social welfare investments, public infrastructure spending, areas of economic growth and focus, legal structures, trade balances, you name it—they all play a role in how an economy functions. Right here and now in the United States, because we have a system that favors the very top earners, interest rates are meaningless to them. But in comparison, higher interest rates are absolutely punishing anyone with student debt, car loans, lines of credit, variable mortgages and credit cards.
The real concern here is the lack of any sort of coordinated economic plan. The Biden administration spent the entirety of its political capital on massive stimulus packages that will help transition the economy over the long-term. Great. Here’s the problem, the money from these bills will take years to invest and decades to blossom.
By sacrificing short-term measures like student debt relief, finally going after usurious credit card rates, allowing the child credit payments to expire and letting monopolies that control consumer goods get away with outlandish price increases that generated historic profits for multinational companies, they sacrificed the vast majority of Americans in the name of large-scale infrastructure bets. And guess what? Everything they did can be undone if Democrats lose the Congress and the White House. And you know how that happens? When people are broke.
So, Jerome Powell will likely get his way as the economy for the masses sputters along, businesses decrease investments, cut back on new hires and then start cutting headcount. That’s the natural death spiral that occurs when consumers and small businesses are squeezed.
Look Inside Yourself
The person behind door number three is none other than the man himself, old Cornpop Joe Biden. In the first couple years of this presidency, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. That’s all come unraveled.
Let’s play upside-downside.
Upside, we’re out of Afghanistan. Downside, the people of Afghanistan are just as fucked as they ever were.
A trillion dollar infrastructure bill.
Upside, we need it badly, and it invests in some old stuff and some emerging market stuff that will serve us well in the long-run. Most of this will likely be left untouched because it spreads it around to red and blue states alike. The downside is that it was so overdue that it barely makes up for lost time and it will take a while to filter through the economy.
The Inflation Reduction Act.
This bill more specifically targeted clean energy initiatives and helped close the spending gap for seniors on certain healthcare items such as prescription drug costs. This is mostly upside, with a few caveats.
The early returns on the concept of carbon capture aren’t all that promising in terms of reducing emissions. It’s a very expensive potential solution to a problem that can only really be contained by attacking the protein production and fossil fuel industries. Moreover, these are initiatives that can and will likely be reversed under a Republican controlled government.
The CHiPs and Science Act.
This is designed to foster domestic production of important technologies to reduce our dependence on foreign companies and boost innovation sectors in the United States. This is mostly upside, though there is the stubborn fact that most of the products this bill is designed to promote still carry tremendous environmental risks. But in terms of employment and economic activity, it’s mostly positive.
The Biden Administration made marginal gains promoting safer gun laws with extended background checks and offering incentives to states to reduce the number of guns on the street. But, with an intransigent Congress, it is obviously short of what’s really needed, such as a national assault weapons ban.
There were smaller technocratic achievements that went less publicized, like net neutrality being back on the table with recent rule changes at the FCC. But the same downside applies here in that this can and will be easily undone under a Republican administration.
That’s a brief top level upside-downside review of the first three quarters of Biden’s term. It’s highly unlikely that much gets done in the final year, considering the state of play in Congress and the nature of presidential terms in election years. So, the administration is going to be riding on these accomplishments in the hope that they overcome the negative discourse from the Bannons of the world, a lackluster economy courtesy of Jay Powell and a deadlocked Congress with one priority: to lock up the President’s son and impeach the President.
Then there’s the American most in need of a nap.
Joe Biden is muddling his way through press conferences, falling off bicycles and shaking hands with flagpoles.
Despite his faltering poll numbers—being bested by Trump in nearly every major poll—the country is still willing to support a “generic Democrat” by a slim margin. Nothing says fuck you like the voting public saying, “literally anyone, no name, no face, just generic please” instead of the dude occupying the office currently.
That being said, it’s not hurting the down ballot yet, as evidenced by the fundraising gap between the GOP and the DNC. Democrats have raised two-to-one over their Republican counterparts thus far, which is likely an indication of fear over a Trump presidency and strategy to at least try to capture the House.
Having gotten out of the prediction business like everyone else, it’s precarious to try and speculate over what will happen a year from now, but if everything held as is, I can imagine a Trump White House and a split Congress, with Dems retaking the House and the Republicans potentially taking the Senate. It’s all kind of a disaster in the making yet again.
And then there’s Biden’s flagging numbers among young voters and the fracture within the ranks of the Democratic Party over our blind support of Israel at the moment. According to Politico:
“The shift is largely driven by respondents under 35 years old, who overwhelmingly said they disapprove of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack (66 percent), have greater sympathy for Palestinians in the conflict than Israelis (52 percent) and believe the U.S. is too supportive of Israel (50 percent). Older voters, especially those over 65, are far more likely to hold the opposite positions and be more supportive of Israel, as are Republican voters.”
I’m not suggesting that an administration should be guided by poll numbers, but a conscience wouldn’t hurt. Biden’s view of Israel is familiar and steadfast among his generation. Especially considering Biden was a co-author of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah in the 1100s. Narrowing the scope even further, Biden doesn’t even have to lose a large swath of young voters. As James Zogby writes in The Nation, “If past Democratic defeats have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take any group of voters for granted. If Biden loses just 25 percent of the Arab vote in Michigan—or 5 percent of the rest of the progressive coalition—it could spell defeat in 2024.”
Listen, there are so many variables at play between now and the election, so this is an overview of underlying threats to the status quo. Anything can happen. I actually believe that Biden isn’t going to run. I know, I know. But there’s no reason to pull that trigger before decisions are handed down in the multitude of cases against Donald Trump.
Yes, Trump can run from prison. Yes, that might be a rallying point among MAGA Republicans, but I actually think that could scare off normal Republicans to the extent there are any. And the MAGA base would vote for Trump if he was dead. Oh, and don’t read too much into the past by citing Eugene Debs running from prison, and trying to correlate this election to literally anything that has ever taken place in this country. This would be the most bizarre circumstance imaginable.
Then you have the 3rd Party spoilers and whatever deals might be happening behind the scenes. RFK, Jr. is not to be fucked with. Neither is Joe Manchin. The rest of the clowns are just a sideshow on the GOP side of things, but these two in particular can wreak havoc on the Democratic side.
Now, let’s say for a moment that Joe doesn’t run. I can easily see the DNC orchestrating a Harris run with someone like Gavin Handsome-Winsome-Losesome Newsom as VP because they’re stupid and pandering. But, it would be well after any other Democratic candidate could seriously mount a campaign to primary this decision and raise enough money. The Democratic machine is in full control, having finally neutralized the progressive threat from the Bernie wing. Again, I’m just spitballing here, but it makes sense in my twisted mind.
No matter what, I don’t see a path forward for Joe Biden to remain POTUS. I really don’t. But I’m really interested in learning more about this Generic Democrat.
Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).