There is a battle brewing over the shape of a potential Biden administration between the center and the left. Broadly speaking, the left, defeated in the primaries, is pushing from the sidelines for Biden to aim for a bigger presidency, to follow through on all his “FDR-sized presidency” talk. On the other side, Washington’s professional centrists are eager to involve Republicans in the process of government and have already begun to raise alarms about the deficit, a clear indication that they don’t actually want to fix too many of America’s problems. The latest battle concerns the potential makeup of Biden’s Cabinet, and recent reporting from Politico makes clear where the lines are being drawn. On the left, members of the House and outside groups are pushing Biden to promise he won’t appoint C-suite executives or corporate lobbyists to his administration. And, to please the center, we have the news that Biden is “vetting a handful of Republicans for potential Cabinet positions.”
That this is happening mostly under the radar makes sense: As Politico notes, the importance of defeating Trump has temporarily sidelined the conflict between these two wings of the Democratic Party. But their conflict is not even remotely resolved and will inevitably flare up should Biden prevail. At stake are the answers to questions that will shape the Biden presidency. Should Congress pursue a broad, ambitious health care plan, including a public option, or stick to tinkering with the Affordable Care Act? What about all the people who committed major, obvious crimes against humanity—should he pursue investigations into or even charges against them, or go with the Obama-style “look forward” stance?
Whether or not Biden sticks a token Republican in his Cabinet doesn’t necessarily mean that all his plans on these fronts will be failures; similarly, having every member of the Cabinet with a “D” next to their name doesn’t mean his presidency is on the glide path to perfection. (There are plenty of bad Democrats.) But Biden going out of his way to find a Republican to appoint would indicate a lack of understanding and seriousness when it comes to fixing the country’s problems and the people who’ve had the strongest hand in creating them. As David Segal of Demand Progress told Politico, “there are no prominent Republicans” who could be trusted to enact what we are constantly told is Biden’s Most Progressive Platform Ever. Indeed, it sort of feels like if you were really interested in enacting the most progressive platform in party history, you would probably not seek the services of anyone from the party that’s steadfastly committed to minority rule, racism, turning workers into bugs, and sitting back while the capitalist economy heats our planet and turns Phoenix into an unlivable convection oven.
A good way to measure the foolishness of this endeavor is the list of potential nominees reported by Politico. The names include John Kasich, whose appearance at the Democratic National Convention enraged the left and who signed a restrictive, punitive abortion bill as governor of Ohio; and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who has overseen the second-highest rate of Covid-19 deaths in nursing home patients: One in seven long-term care residents in the state have died from the disease.
Others on the list include Jeff Flake, a spectacularly failed Never Trump guy who is probably now most remembered for being yelled at by a sexual assault victim over his decision to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh but who should also be remembered for casting horrible, anti-immigrant, anti-equality votes, all of which are unsurprising since he is a Republican. Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman and current lobbyist, also made the list. Dent has registered to lobby for clients including Raytheon, Pennsylvania health insurer Independence Blue Cross, and Amerihealth Caritas, a managed care organization that runs Medicaid plans in several states. His involvement in a Biden White House would neatly tick two boxes on the pissing-off-the-left list: Republican and a corporate lobbyist, literally for Raytheon.
Which brings us to the most impressively inexplicable name on the list: Meg Whitman. Whitman is the billionaire former CEO of eBay and a political crash-and-burn artist who spent $140 million of her own money on a failed run for governor of California—a familiar résumé in the Republican Party, reminiscent of Trump’s first administrator of the Small Business Administration, reclamation project Linda McMahon, who spent almost $100 million on two failed Senate races. (Perhaps the SBA would be a good home for Whitman, should she make the cut.) But there is no better example of Whitman’s loserdom than her current gig as CEO of Quibi, the streaming service that exclusively serves up “quick bites” of content that cost as much as $100,000 per minute to produce.
You might be thinking, “I’m not a businessman, but that sounds like a bad strategy.” Well, that’s not the kind of thinking that gets you into the billionaire club. You have to take big risks. Sometimes, the big risks don’t pay off, and you raise $1.8 billion in investment for a company that ends up on the market within five months and that sucks so much that no one will even buy it: The Information reported last night that Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg has tried to sell Quibi to NBC and Facebook and gotten no interest, meaning the company may just shut down entirely after all the hullabaloo that preceded its launch. Quibi employees “have informally been scheduling goodbye drinks,” according to the site.
It would be too perfect for Whitman to smash the ejector button out of the Quibi jet, its engines on fire and nose pointed straight at the earth, and land safely in the next president’s Cabinet. Any role in the Cabinet would come with immense prestige, power, and a very nice, six-figure salary—not that she needs it. One can just imagine the scene at Quibi headquarters where Whitman announces her exciting next venture while employees are packing their desks, like David Brent delivering the good news of his promotion to his soon-to-be-laid-off employees. (“You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you,” is the appropriate Brentism to apply in this instance.)
Another factor may have influenced Whitman’s inclusion on this reported list: In June, she donated $500,000 to the Biden Victory Fund, Biden’s joint fundraising committee with the Democratic Party. A trifling amount for someone just about to make those big Quibi bucks, to be sure, but perhaps still something that Democrats worried about the influence of big donors would want to know.
The notion that a Biden administration would benefit at all from giving a Republican a coveted and influential role is obviously false. Even the president of Third Way, a useless centrist think tank that typically fetishizes its own denial, has managed against all odds to be clear-eyed about reality in this instance, telling Politico that yanking a few Republicans into the Biden White House is unlikely to inspire any bipartisan cooperation with the Republican Party. On one hand, this Politico story may owe its entire existence to the Biden camp’s desire to launch a half-baked trial balloon gauging the reactions of elites on the issue of pulling John Kasich and Meg Whitman from the storm-gutter of irrelevance. (Politico is, after all, not the outlet you leak to when you want to test the reactions of ordinary Americans.) More worryingly, however, this article might be attesting to the fact that Biden has a genuine, persistent delusion that there is something worth preserving in the Republican Party.
If the “return to the old normal” wing wins, though, Biden should definitely go with Meg Whitman. A vain billionaire emerging from the wreckage of a terrible company, propped up by billions in fake money and producing content like Murder House Flip, and landing softly and happily in her next thing as if no one in America ever pays for the consequences of their actions; as if any other person has the luxury of fucking it all up big-time and just moving seamlessly on with the rest of their charmed life: Yep, that sounds like the Republican Party to me. Or, at least, the premise of a really good Quibi show.