Gail Collins: Well, Bret it looks like Joe Biden will be announcing his re-election bid this week.
Bret Stephens: Proving my prediction from last week dead wrong.
Gail: I know you disagree with him on many issues, particularly relating to the economy.
But given the likely Republican presidential candidates, any chance you’ll actually be able to avoid voting for him?
Bret: Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Probably not.
It says something about the state of the Republican Party that the two current front-runners — let’s call them Don Caligula and Ron Torquemada — are nonstarters for a voter like me. And I’m a guy who believes in low taxes, a strong military, broken-windows policing, entitlement reform, a border wall and school choice. That’s the Nikki Haley side of the party — now reduced to single digits of the G.O.P. base.
Gail: Sorry about Haley’s failure to take flight. I know you were rooting for her.
Bret: Well, I’m still holding out hopes — increasingly faint though they are.
On the other hand, I really, really wish Biden weren’t running, for all the reasons we’ve discussed. He’s just not a convincing candidate. And for all the talk of Donald Trump being unelectable in the general election, we’ve heard those predictions before. All it might take is a recession — which is probably coming — for swing voters to care a lot less about abortion rights in Florida or the Jan. 6 attempted coup than they will about jobs and the economy.
Aren’t you a wee bit nervous?
Gail: Nervous? Just because we’re talking about a presidential election in which one of the two major parties nominates either a loony ex-president drowning in legal problems or a deeply unappealing, extremely right-wing enemy of Disney World?
Bret: It’s a game of Russian roulette, played with three bullets in the six-shooter.
Gail: As for the Democrats, I’ve already told you I think 80 is too old to be planning another presidential campaign. And Biden has been around so long, it’s hard to make anything he talks about doing sound exciting.
But what you’re worried about — a popular reaction against a bad economy — would be a problem for anybody in the party.
Bret: True, but Amy Klobuchar or Gretchen Whitmer or some other plausible nominee can’t be accused of owning the economy the way Biden can.
Gail: Biden certainly has negatives. But Trump has a lot more — all way more dire. And even if Ron DeSantis weren’t a terrible campaigner, I can’t see him winning over the electorate with his past plans to torpedo Medicare.
Bret: You’re probably right about DeSantis, who seems too obsessed trying to slay Mickey and Minnie to appeal to regular voters outside Florida. As for Trump, this is a strange thing to say, but: The guy has demon energy. You know the movie “Cocaine Bear”? Trump is “Diet Coke Cujo,” if you get my Stephen King reference.
Gail: Yeah, he’s never boring. Sigh. But we’ll see how energetic he looks when he’s defending himself for falsifying business records, and all the other investigations that await him.
Alas, we’ll be conversing about this for a very long time, Bret. On the more immediate horizon, there’s the Fox-Dominion settlement. Tell me your thoughts.
Bret: I am sorry we didn’t get to watch Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and the rest of the gang of cynical, lying, repulsive and wretched propagandists squirm under oath in courtroom testimony. Would have paid money just to see that.
But, realistically speaking, it’s probably the best possible result. $787.5 million is rich vindication for Dominion. It’s the closest Fox will ever come to admitting guilt. And it spares us the possibility of an appeals process that might have ended with the Supreme Court revisiting the strict libel standards of Times v. Sullivan and potentially limiting the freedom of the press.
Gail: Yeah, for all my daydreams about Fox celebrities having to get up in court and apologize to the nation, in the real world this is probably the best you can get while protecting all the rights of a free press.
Bret: The good news, Gail, is that Dominion still has suits pending against Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Newsmax and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow Guy, along with a few others. And there’s also the pending Smartmatic suit against Fox, too.
Having fun, making bank and doing good at the expense of creeps has got to be the greatest joy adults can have in a boardroom.
But we mentioned the Supreme Court. Any thoughts on the mifepristone ruling, staying the lower court’s ban on the abortion pill? I’m relieved, of course, that the court will allow the pill to remain on the market.
Gail: Well, this is the nice thing about a democracy. You have the powers that be suddenly realizing the public is totally not on their side. So they fudge a little, dodge a little and quietly backtrack.
Bret: It’ll be some irony if Republicans come to rue last year’s Dobbs decision for making them unelectable in all but the reddest parts of the country — and Democrats come to celebrate it for helping them cement a long-term majority that eventually changes the composition of the court so that abortion rights are restored.
Gail: But we’re still a long way from living in a country where every woman has the right to control her own body when it comes to reproduction issues.
Bret: As the dissents from Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the mifepristone ruling make clear ….
Gail: I’ve always wanted to see state lawmakers from both sides get together on a package of reforms that would couple abortion rights with easily available, easily affordable health and counseling services for poor pregnant women.
Along, of course, with high quality child care for low-income working mothers. Ahem.
Bret: Gail, would it shock you to know that I don’t disagree with anything you just said? Of course, child care won’t solve the root of so many of our problems, which is the near-destruction of stable two-parent families in too many poor households. But that’s a disaster whose cure lies beyond a government’s ability to solve.
Gail: Wow — government support for high-quality early education? I think I’m hearing a major change of heart. If so, gonna buy a very nice bottle of wine for dinner tonight and drink a toast to you.
Bret: I tend to soften in your presence.
Gail: Awww. Well, go on — back to the issues of the day.
Bret: Speaking of disasters, your thoughts on Biden’s E.P.A. rule controlling emissions from power plants?
Gail: A worthy effort to protect future generations from environmental disaster, and of course the Republicans hate it.
Bret: There should be a better way of saving the planet than by using administrative means to impose high costs on industry that will inevitably be passed along to consumers in the form of higher energy prices — which also hit poorer people harder — while setting wildly unrealistic target dates for an energy transition.
Notice that I’m saying this and I still will probably have no choice but to vote for Biden. Unbelievable.
Gail: Our colleague Jim Tankersley wrote a great analysis about the ongoing crisis over raising the debt limit, which has got to get done this spring. And how more than half of the Republicans’ 320-page version of a debt limit bill is actually about removing clean energy restrictions.
Bret: I’d need to see the fine print before making a judgment, but a lot of what passes for “clean energy,” like biofuels, is really a dirty-energy, big government, big business boondoggle. As for the debt limit, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Biden showed any willingness to meet Republicans halfway on spending cuts and work requirements for able-bodied adults taking federal subsidies.
Gail: Bret, the debt limit is — something responsible people take care of without creating a political crisis with demands they’ll never achieve.
But hey, that’s a mean way to end our talk. You’re always great about telling me about something new you’ve just read. Go ahead.
Bret: Gail, I have to recommend Katie Hafner’s smart and humane obituary on Richard Riordan, the last Republican mayor of Los Angeles and a man who brought calm good sense to a city reeling from riots and racial strife. Riordan was a warts-and-all kind of guy, who cracked some dumb jokes that would have probably been politically fatal in our cancel-culture age. But he also brought common sense and a strong work ethic to his job and embodied a Republican pragmatism that we could sorely use today. He was the last of nine children born to an Irish Catholic family — California is better because his parents were persistent.
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