Behind the ‘last firewall’: Hill Democrats scramble to save themselves

Source: Politics

As President Joe Biden’s campaign scrambles to calm nerves about the president’s disastrous debate performance, Democrats on Capitol Hill are growing increasingly furious at those around him and increasingly despondent about his prospects for re-election — and their own chances of winning House and Senate majorities.

Conversations about a strategy shift are already underway, with some Democratic lawmakers and many deep-pocketed donors plotting how, should Biden continue in the race, to ensure a congressional check on a second Donald Trump term.

“The way I’m talking to my donors is: The House is the last firewall, folks. We have to flip the House,” one frontline House Democrat told Playbook last night. “Ninety-nine percent of the people I talked to can’t get their credit card out fast enough.”

Those private discussions could eventually morph into an explicit campaign to place a Democratic check on an expected Trump presidency — much as congressional Republicans did back in 1996, when Bob Dole was on his way to a thumping.

Democrats aren’t there yet. Top party leaders, we’re told, are prepared to continue stumping for Biden as the party’s best choice for November, as they did on yesterday’s Sunday show circuit. Part of it is a collective action problem — no one wants to be first, and potentially the last — and part of it is that many believe that speaking out might only make Biden dig in further.

But make no mistake: The despair and frustration are real, and it is pushing upward inside the party. It has been felt acutely by frontline members — the swing-district Democrats who would be the cornerstone of any majority. Donors blew up their phones over the weekend, with some prodding them to go public with a group letter calling for a new candidate, an idea that some discussed over the weekend.

“The leadership of the party should be going to the White House and knocking down the doors and saying, ‘Time’s up,’” an adviser to top Democratic donors said. “Anybody trying to prolong the inevitable here is just basically putting us on a giant fucking death march towards the end.”

That sense of anger is palpable among rank-and-file congressional Democrats, many of whom blame Biden and his family for hiding the reality of his condition. The House Democrat lamented defending the president on the campaign trail despite getting political advice to run away from him, only to find out how bad things were on Thursday.

“It’s just his egotism and his family’s enabling,” the person said. “Jill [Biden] of all people — she sees him every single day. She’s the one person who could end this train wreck. … This should have been a one-term president.”

Many senior Democrats haven’t given up hope that Biden will change his mind should new polling reveal mass internal bleeding. They are prepared to argue that rather than disgracing his legacy, a graceful exit would be among his greatest, most selfless acts to save democracy.

“There is an enormous amount of affection and deference to the president — but nobody thinks this is sustainable,” one senior Democratic aide told Playbook.

Republicans, meanwhile, are readying to paint Democrats as enablers of a feeble president.

Over the weekend, the NRSC teased a new strategy of making Democrats eat their own words in downplaying concerns about Biden’s fitness for office. In Pennsylvania, Republican David McCormick went live with a new ad that ping-ponged from incumbent Sen. Bob Casey expressing confidence in Biden’s leadership with the president’s halting debate performance.

“Casey knew about Biden’s condition,” the words on the screen read.

The NRCC has compiled a similar dossier and is planning to “weaponize the silence of vulnerable House Democrats … capitalizing on Biden’s political collapse to expand the map and grow the House Republican majority,” according to a new memo obtained by Playbook.

“House Democrats have stood by and enabled this crisis due to their own fecklessness and allegiance to their party over the people of this country,” the memo continues.

DCCC spokesperson Viet Shelton dismissed the GOP threat, arguing that “House races have always been about the strength of our candidates, combined with the fact that Democrats deliver when in charge while extreme Republicans sow chaos.” He also noted that Democrats outrun their GOP opponents.

Left unsaid: They also outrun Biden considerably, as well. But if recent history is any guide, that could easily change.

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