Tuesday, April 30, 2024

BTRTN: The Other “Big Lie"…That Republicans Are Better Stewards of the Economy than Democrats

Back in 2020, BTRTN published a post entitled “Bigfoot, Unicorns, and Superior Republican Stewardship of the Economy,” which used historical data to smash the myth that the GOP is better at managing the economy than Democrats. Now, with polls showing that a majority of Americans rate Trump as better for the economy than Biden, it is time to revisit that topic with the latest data… and fresh insight.

On Friday morning, April 5, the latest jobs report showed that the roaring Biden economy had added a mind-blowing 303,000 new jobs in the month of March.

The story was instantly buried by a 4.8 earthquake in the Northeast corridor, where cellphones lit with Instagram clips of coffee cups shaking for fourteen seconds before everything returned completely to normal. CNN instantly began its nonstop coverage of the fourteen-second non-thing that caused no damage and no injuries.

The jobs report? Gone from the news cycle, never to return.

It’s been that kind of year for Joe Biden on issues related to the economy.

The economy is sizzling. The financial powers that be in Washington – Biden, his economic team, and the Fed – appear to have threaded a fiscal needle, growing the economy and tamping inflation, all while avoiding a recession. The jobs report – the only thing actually buried under the earthquake -- was indeed stunning, adding to the Biden administration’s already powerhouse record job performance. Inflation is now 3.5%. Yes, that’s up from 3.2% last month, but down from 5.0% last year, and way down from 9.1% in June, 2022, when inflation peaked as the economy choked on Covid-related supply chain dysfunction.

Once upon a time, 3.5% inflation, 3.8% unemployment, and a 2023 GDP increase of 6.1% were the stuff incumbent presidents dreamed of as election day approached.

The stock market hit record highs before its recent slight retreat. Many Democrats don’t like to talk about strong stock market performance, worried that it comes off as elitist – the rich getting richer. They seem unaware that 36% of U.S. Households have an IRA, and those folks – some 40 million people -- are likely to be pretty damn happy about the performance of the stock market under Joe Biden.

Yes, the price of milk and gas is still higher than in the Trump years. No one can diminish the significance of this fact, and the severe challenges it creates for millions of Americans who live on the edge, paycheck to paycheck.

But the fact is that with inflation – and more importantly, a very robust jobs market -- wages are also on the increase. Little known fact: wages have been growing at a faster rate than inflation every month since February, 2023. But – Biden’s fate -- no one seems to talk about that.  

Somehow, in the nation’s staggering case of Trumpnesia, there are people who think we had it better under a president who wanted us to ingest bleach, who separated children from their families at the border, coddled dictators, and who led an insurrection to overthrow democracy and the rule of law.

The truth is that it is hard to imagine an administration that inherited a mess borne of a once-in-a-century pandemic doing a better job. Yet Biden’s approval rating for “handling the economy” is lower than his overall rating, and the population at large gives Donald Trump higher ratings for his ability to manage the economy.

The result: we hear Republicans who willingly acknowledge that Trump is a loathsome, corrupt, spiteful, destructive, utterly selfish authoritarian conclude they will support him because “Republicans are better stewards of the economy than Democrats.”

It’s infuriating. It is unjustified. More than anything, it is ignorant. It is historically inaccurate.

That inaccuracy is a huge problem for Joe Biden, because James Carville’s Rule # 1 of presidential politics has been proven over and over again: “It’s the economy, stupid.” A strong economy keeps a political party in power, and the perception of a flailing and failing economy gets you fired. No matter how great a job Joe Biden has done on Covid relief, infrastructure, prescription drug prices, microchip manufacturing, and global crisis management, it is always going to come back to the price of a quart of milk at Kroger’s.

So it is time to puncture, once and for all, the “other Big Lie” – that Republicans do a better job of managing the economy than Democrats. This column arms you for the next time that annoying neighbor of yours tells you that sure, Trump has his flaws, but hey, I’m voting with my wallet and I just have to vote Republican.

There are three critical points to be made to Republicans who, absent fact and data, mindlessly parrot ignorant claims that Republicans have historically outperformed Democrats on economic measures.

1. Over the past 100 years, the stock market has performed better under Democrats than Republicans. Not by a little… by a huge margin. The strongest stock market performance by a two-term president was a Democrat. So was the second strongest stock market performance by a two-term president. The worst? That was a Republican.

2. Today’s “Republican” is an isolationist, deficit-spending, reality-challenged, anti-government, anarchist who worries about the “gazpacho police.” Today’s MAGA Republican has absolutely no idea of what is meant by traditional “Republican economic theory.”

3.Here’s the piece that academic economists seem to completely miss: the one sure way that a president can most directly and profoundly influence the economy is by making stupid policy decisions. The two most recent Republican presidents severely damaged the economy – not by making bad specifically economic decisions -- but making stupid policy decisions. All the theory in the world is meaningless if your policy decisions crater the economy.

First, the raw facts.

Since 1992, two Democrats each presided over eight years of booming economic growth and left office with unquestionable statistical proof that the nation was better off than it had been went they took office. All you Republicans who vote solely based on your portfolios? In Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased  by 227%. In Barack Obama’s eight years, the Dow increased by 138%. 

Since 1992, two Republicans have served as president. The first, George W. Bush, ended his two terms in office leaving the nation in its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. At the end of Dubya's eight-year term, the DJIA actually was down 25%.  The second Republican president, Donald Trump, was thrown out of office after one chaotic term in which he increased the national debt by 25% in just four years. The supposed fabulous stock market performance? Trump’s increase of 50.9% was well below the first term performance of either Clinton (105.8%) or Obama (73.2%).

And yet I can still hear you Republicans refusing to accept the truth: that’s an unfair comparison! You are just focusing on the last 30 years! If you took a much longer-term view, surely you’d have a different answer.

Well, yes, you would. On the longer term, it is even more unambiguous that stock market performance is stronger under a Democratic administration than a Republican one. Consider this from a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research:

"Stock market returns in the United States exhibit a striking pattern: they are much higher under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones. From 1927 to 2015, the average excess market return under Democratic presidents is 10.7% per year, whereas under Republican presidents, it is only -0.2% per year."

Republicans, now getting desperate, may ask why I cite data from the Dow Jones Industrial Average rather than the S&P. Have at it, dude, do your diligence. The numbers for the S&P make the same points.

How about this question: who was in the White House for the worst stock market crashes of all time? Let’s start the granddaddy of them all -- in 1929 under Republican Herbert Hoover. How about the single biggest one-day nose-dive in DJIA history? That happened on Black Monday, October 19, 1987, when 22.6 percent of market value evaporated in a single session. That was under Republican Ronald Reagan. And who can forget the global market meltdown of 2008 under Republican George W. Bush?

Even the articles I found on this subject in what I view to be conservative financial journals agreed that the stock market performed better under Democrats. They simply tried to make the argument that the 120 years of superior market performance was not because Democrats were in office. Here’s my favorite tidbit from a conservative analysis aching to deny the reality: stock market gains were “easy” for Barack Obama, one writer asserted, because the stock market was so far in the toilet when he was elected. Uh, who do you think put it in the toilet?

And the writer thought those gains were “easy?” The economy was in meltdown when Obama was elected president, and his decisive actions with the stimulus and saving the domestic automobile industry were critical to reversing a slide that could have caused a Chernobyl-grade market catastrophe. Many Republicans seem to have selective memory in their recollection of how a GOP White House brought the global economy to its knees …and how a Democratic administration saved it. 

But to even talk about “Republican economic theory” in today’s MAGA alternate reality is lunacy. Donald Trump has no idea of what even “Republican economic theory” is.

When it comes to “traditional Republican economic philosophy” on issues like economic controls, discipline, borrowing, debt, balanced budgets, free trade, an independent Fed, and wise investment in growth industries and in our nation’s – and our planet’s -- future, Donald Trump is AWOL.  

However, far beyond alleged beliefs in and adherence to a code of economic principles associated with a political party, there is actually a far bigger determinant of our nation’s economic fate. This is where we depart from the theories of traditional economists to arrive at a very reasonable explanation for the vast difference in performance between Republican and Democratic administrations over the past 30 years. 

Our hypothesis today is that the biggest reason for the strong performance of the economy under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama was simply that neither made a huge, epic, stupid decision on a matter unrelated to the economy. The two Democratic presidents governed adroitly and competently, and the vast engine of capitalism hummed away, growing organically, churning with innovation and investment, happily uninterrupted for eight years by a policy catastrophe.

The two Republican presidents in question, however, each made monumental errors on matters that, at face value, were not related to the economy. Except, uh, everything is related to the economy. If you make huge, stupid decisions about a war, a pandemic, or a natural disaster, you are going to have a huge impact on the economy. Throw in George Bush’s obscenely lax regulation of the financial industry, and you understand why the stock market actually declined over his eight years in office. 

Let’s review the Bush record first. George Dubya was steamrolled by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to use phony intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to link Saddam Hussein and Iraq with 9/11.  Using this bogus justification, Bush allowed our country to become engulfed in an endless quagmire that divided the nation, drained our economic resources, and led to mushrooming debt.

Bush’s administration turned a lazy regulatory blind eye to a tsunami of arcane financial instruments that were metastasizing on Wall Street, and could only watch as trillions of dollars of investment and savings vaporized when the house of cards collapsed. Bush’s inexperience, poor judgment, terrible decision making, and abdication of financial stewardship led to economic carnage. 

On to Donald Trump, who claimed that his brilliant leadership was responsible for strong stock market growth and employment numbers. These assertions are easy to challenge. 

First and foremost, he inherited a strong economy from the Obama administration – unlike Obama himself, who won the presidency in the darkest abyss of Wall Street carnage under Bush’s watch. Both GDP growth and the decline in unemployment recorded under Trump prior to the coronavirus were a continuation of the trajectory established for years under Obama. 

Second, Trump eased government regulations across a broad swath of industry sectors, particularly in the financial and energy sectors. It is a no-brainer that reducing the direct and indirect cost of regulations will pump up corporate profits and stock prices. America will pay the price in the long term, of course, as we fall behind in renewable energy sources and continue to damage our climate. 

Third, Trump’s tax policy – a sloppy wet kiss to his wealthy donors and big companies – was passed with the assurance that the Federal deficit would be reduced because of the organic growth the tax cuts would stimulate. Instead, the deficit ballooned under Trump. Indeed, according to the Daily Beast, Trump was warned in 2017 about an inevitable debt crisis, and an eyewitness reported Trump’s response: “yeah, but I won’t be here.” Hey, it’s easy to pump up stock prices if your grandchildren are paying for it.

It is worth noting in this context that Trump is just the latest in a long line of Republican presidents -- including Reagan and George W. Bush -- to promise that a tax cut will stimulate growth and result in increased revenues to the government that could be used to reduce the debt. It never happens. Nothing ever "trickles down." Deficits and debt rise faster in Republican administrations than when a Democrat is in office. Why? The last time a tax cut resulted in offsetting growth was during the administration of John F. Kennedy, who took this step in an environment of very high marginal taxes... a situation that did not exist for Reagan, Bush, or Trump. It is easier to get a stimulus when you are taking high rates down, not as easy when you are taking low rates down. And, yes, Kennedy was a Democrat.

How about trade policy? Trump efforts to play hardball with China largely puzzled Republicans, who readily acknowledge that it is Americans who pay the tariffs. Republicans generally abhor tariffs as a bargaining tactic.

People who only look at the economy through the single lens of narrow fiscal policy theories can happily conclude that a person who claims to believe in balanced budgets, supply-side economics, and smaller government is the right candidate for them. Somehow, they fail to assess whether Trump actually understands, believes, or acts on any of those economic principles. 

By the end of Trump’s term, any claims to economic triumph – stock market growth, unemployment, trade agreements -- had been overwhelmed by the emergence of a global pandemic. Trump has been roundly criticized for exacerbating its impact on the American economy by virtue of his failure to act decisively, comprehensively, centrally, and quickly to contain the coronavirus. 

Trump’s profound incompetence on matters wholly unrelated to the economy had a crushing impact on economic vitality. He failed to grasp the potential scope and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, seemed to simply wish and hope it would end quickly, and failed to take the rapid decisive actions that other world leaders took and that the medical and scientific community so strenuously urged. He did nothing to create a centralized, coordinated, and immediate national response based on mitigating contagion, and failed to invoke his presidential powers to ramp up a properly scaled national testing program.

People are quick to give him credit for his efforts to develop vaccines, but ironically this was the single area of his most egregious mismanagement. Yes, vaccines were quickly developed and manufactured -- but Trump's White House had no plan for distributing the vaccines. When Joe Biden was sworn in, his team learned that half the available vaccine doses were sitting unused, as absolutely no thought had been given to getting them into the arms of eager people. Biden put Jeff Zients on the task and the problem was rapidly solved.

Trump's final Covid failure: once the vaccines had been developed, he hastily retreated from them, fearful of MAGA nation’s negative reaction. He failed to create the robust endorsement of the vaccines that could have rapidly built-up societal immunity.

We return to our core thesis: there is no economic policy on earth that can devastate the American economy as quickly and as comprehensively as a lazy and ignorant president who is not up to the job, and who is an abject failure in a crisis.

So let me spell this out for all you Republicans, so you can baste is the sour brine of irony:  it is extremely reasonable to hypothesize that the economic toll of the coronavirus was far more devastating than it would  have been had an Obama, Bill Clinton, or Hillary Clinton been president. Any of those three individuals were completely committed to soliciting and respecting expert opinion. Each would have listened to the scientists, and the doctors. They would have acted more quickly, and the economic impact of the pandemic would have been less damaging than what occurred under Trump.

What does it all mean for 2024?

If your lazy-minded Republican neighbor says he has decided to vote with his wallet in 2024, tell him that’s a brilliant idea.

Tell him that if he really wants to be as selfish as possible and base his entire decision on the 2024 election on which candidate will be best for his own financial gain, then there is only one candidate to choose.

Joe Biden.

Tell your pal that Joe Biden has delivered an outstanding fiscal record as President of the United States.

Tell him that if he is considering voting for Trump because Republicans are “better stewards of the economy,” show him the numbers that prove that Republicans are historically far worse at delivering personal wealth than Democrats.

Tell him that if he is a huge fan of Republican fiscal policy, Donald Trump – with his deficit spending, tariffs, and global isolationism is about as far from any known Republican economic dogma as you can find.  

And tell him that all the economic theory and policy in the world is meaningless if the decision maker in the White House is a selfish, uninformed lightweight who makes terrible policy decisions.

Trump 2024? Get ready for an avalanche of stupid policy.

Trump will abandon Ukraine and take the United States out of NATO, which will embolden Putin and very likely lead to a far larger and catastrophic war in Europe. That war will make the Dow Jones nosedive following the invasion of Ukraine look like a pothole.

The total focus of Trump’s presidency will be revenge on perceived domestic enemies in government and the press, the destruction of independent government institutions that would challenge his authority, and making personal financial gains at the expense of American taxpayers.

This singular focus, coupled with his naïve admiration for fellow authoritarians like Putin, Xi, and Kim Jong Un, will leave our nation -- and our allies -- extremely vulnerable to foreign challenges in energy, cyber-warfare, and manufacturing.

And heaven help us if there is another pandemic or natural disaster that Trump is not up to managing.

If you are voting for Trump because you think it is good for your wallet, ask your broker how the markets generally react to chaos. Because chaos is what you’ll get with Trump.

Ask analysts what behaviors they look for in Fortune 500 CEOs when they make recommendations about their stocks. My bet: it is not ignorance, impulsiveness, vindictiveness, self-worship, and deceit.

Then ask yourself if you’d trust Donald Trump with your own portfolio.

There are dozens of reasons to re-elect Joe Biden. That he is not Donald Trump is number one on my list, but I know many see things differently. And many think that stewardship of the economy is a reason to change course.

This, friends, is the last reason to change course. The economy is strong and getting stronger. We’ve recovered from Covid as fast as any nation on earth. The key indicators of vitality – jobs, GDP, markets – are all surging.

Most of all, consider this. Joe Biden will not make a big, stupid policy decision that craters our economy. He will not implement “shock and awe” in Iraq on phony pretenses. He will not pretend that a global pandemic will just go away.  

Yes, if you couldn’t care less about reproductive rights, the preservation of democracy, standing with our allies in Ukraine,, NATO, gun control, civil rights, and are solely, wholly, and totally focused on your own personal economic health and your damn portfolio, then by all means, buddy… vote for your wallet.

Vote for Joe Biden. 


If you would like to be on the Born To Run The Numbers email list notifying you of each new post, please write us at borntorunthenumbers@gmail.com.


Wednesday, April 3, 2024

BTRTN: The Dems’ “Three Presidents...” and What Does the GOP Have to Offer?

Steve scored tickets to the “Three Presidents” event at Radio City and provides his first-hand observations. The uplifting evening made him wonder -- what would the equivalent event look like for today’s Republican Party?

The email arrived, and I assumed it was spam.

“Click on this link and get your tickets to see Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton in New York City on March 28!”

Hey, I couldn’t resist. What if it was real? Heck, I should at least find out how many zillions of dollars I’d have to spend to get a couple of tix to this Democratic political junkie uber-fantasy.  I click on the link. Yikes, I say to myself. It sure looks real.

  The poster: It was real!...

I scan the ticket prices and see that my concerns about pricing are justified. Seats for $250,000 each? Already sold out. The $100,000 seats? All gone. The $50,000 seats? Nothing left.

I keep scrolling all the way down, and blink in disbelief. There are still seats available for $250. My heart races.

I pounce. Worst case scenario, I figure, I have made a nice contribution to the Biden campaign, and I am going to be told that my $500 entitles me to two passes to the most expensive Zoom call of all time.

But no. It’s real. I have two tickets to see Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden interviewed live by Stephen Colbert. It is the Mount Rushmore of liberalism. It is on the scale of the Beatles reunion that never happened. And I’m gonna be there!

The author in political junkie heaven.

The big day arrives. After enduring a stupefying wait in a light rain on Fifth Avenue and 49th Street, the crowd begins an agonizingly slow march of six-inch steps up Fifth, finally turning left onto 51st Street. Thousands of people press forward, seeing no evidence of queues, officials, or instructions. It is a complete mess. I am reminded of Will Rogers. “I belong to no organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

We reach our seats at 6:40, minutes before the event is supposed to begin.  Radio City Music Hall is largely empty: most patrons are still on 49th Street in the rain.  We settle in for a long wait. At 7:50, Hakeem Jeffries and Chuck Schumer are sent out to create the illusion that the event will start soon.  But it is just a filibuster, buying time until the soaking donors are inside the building.

At 8:20, Mindy Kaling appears to call the event to order. She is warm and engaging. She tells the crowd that accepting this gig means that she is forfeiting the possibility of landing the lead role in any future Nikki Haley biopic. I smile and ask myself if anyone has ever noticed that there are no Republican comedians. We’re finally underway.

In rapid sequence, Lizzo, Ben Platt, Lea Michele, Queen Latifah, and Cynthia Erivo perform with deafening percussion and an eyeball-searing light show. Given the average age and greying hair color of the Democratic donors in the audience, I am thinking that a soft acoustic set from Carole King and James Taylor would have been more on point.

Finally, at approximately 9:00 – and we only report the factual veracity of truth and accuracy here, folks – we hear the thunderous opening chords of the national anthem of New Jersey and the raspy baritone of this website’s patron saint, as a recording of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run explodes and the strobes bring this fair city light. One of the aircraft carrier-grade hydraulic lifts underneath Radio City powers up, and the foreground stage rises, bringing the “Three Presidents” and Late Show host Stephen Colbert up to stage level. The crowd goes absolutely bonkers.

As the thunderous applause recedes, they sit, and Colbert’s opening joke sets a tone: “This is an especially exciting and rare occasion. Three presidents have all come to New York, and not one of them is here to appear in court." 

Colbert gets down to business, greeting the three presidents by noting that each is a world class talker, and suggests five-minute limits on Obama and Clinton, and affording Biden seven minutes. It’s a cagey gambit: Colbert knows that once a President of the United States starts talking, there is no way he can interrupt. And each President has his own hand-held mic.

The ingoing storyline is simple: Joe Biden has taken an enormous risk by appearing onstage with two men who are younger than him and widely viewed to be among the most charismatic, energetic, and articulate politicians in American history. Bill Clinton, who was elected President 32 years ago, is three years younger than Biden.

But once again – as he did in the State of the Union – Joe Biden beats expectations.

Colbert’s first question is for Biden: “How would you describe what’s at stake in this election?” Biden is not shy: “I think our democracy is at stake. Not a joke. I think our democracy is literally at stake.” Biden goes straight at Trump, castigating his infamous “both sides” line after Charlottesville, and spoke of an “inflection point in history… this guy denies that there is global warming…got rid of Roe v. Wade… but wants to get rid of the ability of anyone anywhere in America to have the right to choose. All the things he’s doing are so old.”

Democrats who were worried that Biden was not up to the fight – or up to this night – relax. Biden has game.

Obama and Clinton know their jobs. Each is eager to convey that this is not just about avoiding another four years of Trump… it is about staying the course with a very successful President. Each eagerly smother Joe Biden with kudos for his achievements as President.

But inside the hall, the story line of the night is abruptly altered, as no small number of Gaza protesters have managed to gain access. In a clearly coordinated and orchestrated manner, they periodically startle the crowd by randomly leaping from their seats in different sections of the auditorium, screaming angry Pro-Palestinian invective. “30,000 deaths! Blood on your hands!” Each is rapidly subdued and hauled out by the heavy secret service presence.

A security guard whisks away a protester.

Colbert once again proves himself capable of handling dicey political topics at a level far higher than one might expect of your average talk show host, altering his scripted questions on the fly to raise the issue of Gaza directly following one of the earliest interruptions. The three presidents are more than ready.

Indeed, Biden is the one who first sees and seizes the opportunity to turn the protest into a teaching moment. “That’s all right, let them go,” he says. “There are too many innocent victims, Israeli and Palestinian. We’ve got to get more food and medicine, supplies into the Palestinians.  But we can’t forget, Israel is in a position where its very existence is at stake… All those people, they weren’t killed. They were massacred. And imagine if that happened in the United States. And the – tying a mom and her daughter together, pouring kerosene on them, burning them to death. It’s understandable Israel has such profound anger. And Hamas is still there.” 

Biden demonstrates his easy command of regional politics and his certain vision for the future. “I’ve been working with the Saudis and all the Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar. They’re prepared to recognize Israel for the first time but there has to be a post-Gaza plan, there has to be a two-state solution. It doesn’t have to occur today, but there has to be a progression.”

When Obama weighs in, another protester springs up and screams. Obama – usually the master of nuance, measure, and balance -- stares out in the direction of the protester and icily lectures: “You can’t just talk and not listen… because that’s part of democracy. Part of democracy is not just talking, it’s listening. That’s what the other side does,” he says sharply, and the audience explodes at the powerfully executed double-zing.

Clinton echoes that each of the three Presidents understand the volatility and emotional intensity at play in the region, and notes that each advocates a two-state solution: “When Joe Biden says he wants a two-state solution, we all lived through the same thing… And you should trust him to work for it, to work to ease the suffering of the totally innocent Palestinian citizens and not to allow Israel’s security to be lost over a bitter difference between the legitimacy of the Palestinians to statehood, which we agree with – all three of us.”

The protesters inside Radio City do not seem to realize that they are giving the leaders on stage the perfect opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, leadership, and grace. Defy the law of unintended consequences at your own peril. The  three men of substance and consequence demonstrate what strength, experience, and wisdom in real time really looks like. You may not agree with Biden on Gaza, but everyone in that auditorium got a lesson in navigating the intricacies of an emotionally super-charged conflict

Indeed, if there was a surprise for me in the evening, it was that Bill Clinton was less sharp than I expected. In his halting and occasionally meandering answers, Clinton may have helped make Biden look strong. I reported this observation to my brother, who immediately wondered whether wily old Bill Clinton was merely once again proving he was the smartest guy in the room.

The three presidents indeed lived up to Colbert’s concern that they would each exhaust their allotted time. Occasionally they rambled. It seemed possible that Barack Obama was throttling back, not letting loose his full oratorical genius for fear of irretrievably upstaging the incumbent President. But there was no doubt Obama remains the supernova in the Democratic galaxy, and Biden is smart to hold him tight and turn him loose. He’s fired up – and he’s ready to go.  

There was no shortage of criticism of -- and grave concern about -- Biden's predecessor in the Oval Office. Colbert was at his interviewing best when he began a question to Biden by referencing January 6. "I remember my feelings that day," Colbert said. "But I have never heard you talk about what was going through your mind that day. What were thinking about when you saw that unfold?"

Biden's is blunt.  "Look, we had no president on January the sixth." Biden continues, saying how Trump "sat there in the dining room off the Oval Office for several hours and watched... didn't do a damn thing."  Biden goes on to tell a story of meeting with European leaders shortly after taking office and trying to assure them that "America is back," only to hear one leaders sharply reply "for how long?" Biden excoriates Trump for saying he would pardon January 6 criminals, for his "love letters" with Kim Jong Un, and concludes that Trump as a "perverse" view of the world. Biden is harsh and forceful in his criticism. No "Sleepy" in this Joe.

As the protesters ran out of steam, the mood lightened. Colbert joked about bibles and golden sneakers. Biden said that he had once discussed playing golf with Trump, noting that he told Trump he’d give him three strokes if he carried his own bag.

In the days following the event, I read the reports. My favorite, perhaps, was the write-up on the Fox News website, in which Fox excoriated CBS for allowing their late-night star Colbert to participate in so partisan an event. I realized the answer to the question I had teed up earlier: comedians succeed by telling the truth. Fox, the GOP's in-house faux news organizations must settle lawsuits for three quarters of a billion because they lie. Why are there no Republican comedians? To be in the modern GOP is to buy into Trump's congenital lying.

The Fox article caused me to wonder: if Donald Trump’s Republican Party tried to match the “Three Presidents” event, who would be on their stage?

Here’s the fact of it: if Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush were alive, they wouldn’t even be invited to the racist, isolationist, fake-news party of Donald Trump.

The only other living Republican former President, George W. Bush, hides his head in Texas, hoping his deafening silence is interpreted as condemnation. Deceased former GOP Presidential nominees Bob Dole and John McCain were decorated military heroes who would be appalled at Donald Trump’s cowardice and obsequious deference to our authoritarian adversaries.

The last person nominated prior to Trump -- Mitt Romney in 2012 – was forceful and principled in his opposition to Trump, voting twice for his impeachment. Romney is reviled in today’s GOP. Voted off the island, he has chosen to retire from politics.

With no prior Presidents or Presidential candidates to put on their stage, perhaps the Republicans would invite the two government officials most responsible for the toxic gridlock and polarization that is crippling our government and democracy: Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. If democracy in America ends in 2024 with the re-election of Donald Trump, historians will point to these three individuals as the men who killed it.

Gingrich, as Speaker of the House, can be credited with the essential philosophy of the modern GOP: that serving the party is more important than serving the country. Newt Gingrich believed in a zero-sum philosophy in which Republicans must actively prevent any legislation that would be perceived as a win for Democrats, even if it would clearly benefit the American people.

McConnell, of course, replicated Gingrich in his systematic destruction of bipartisan cooperation in the United States Senate. It was Mitch McConnell who announced that his official objective as Senate Majority Leader was to make Barack Obama a one-term President. McConnell, too, passionately believed that serving his party was far more important that serving his country.

But Newt Gingrich is a dim memory in today’s MAGA-crazed GOP. And Mitch McConnell? He could have personally ended Donald Trump’s political career two different times by encouraging his colleagues to vote to impeach Donald Trump. In failing to do so, McConnell allowed Trump to rise again – and to toss McConnell into the trash bin. McConnell’s spinelessness and cowardice led to his own demise in Donald Trump’s party.

No, there would only be one person on the stage at the Republican event: Donald Trump, who uniquely attempts to destroy democracy with the notion that self is more important than party or country.

Trump has promised us that he intends to be a dictator… and some fools believe his coy disclaimer that it will be “only for day one.”

That the Republican equivalent of “Three Presidents” would have only one bloviating, self-worshipping 30-watt would-be dictator on stage tells you all you need to know about today’s Republican Party.

That the Democrats have three titans of democracy, three uniters, and three very wise, experienced, and thoughtful men spearheading the drive for Joe Biden’s re-election tells you plenty, too.

I left Radio City Music Hall that night re-energized.

If these three guys can give it all to save democracy, so can we.


If you would like to be on the Born To Run The Numbers email list notifying you of each new post, please write us at borntorunthenumbers@gmail.com.