The Donor Convention

by Thomas Neuburger | Jul 9, 2024

The Donor Convention is happening as we speak — the behind-the-scenes (sort of) discussion being had by big money Party donors and grandees to (a) force Biden to either resign or withdraw, and (b) figure out who should replace him.

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The takeaway: None of this includes voters, except indirectly. (Questions like “Can Harris beat Trump?” include voters indirectly, by guessing their choices.)

The problem: Even though everyone in the Party seems to want to beat Trump, including most Party-adjacent voters, some may feel miffed at the obvious undemocratic nature of the process and thus stay away. At this point the Party needs all the votes it can get. That’s a hard circle to square.

Candidate Requirements

What are the requirements for the candidate in this process? I think there are four:

  1. Donors must approve of that person and give freely to her or his race.
  2. Party office-holders — House members and senators, especially those up for re-election — must fully support the choice.
  3. The press must also fully support the choice. No more talk about “uncertain futures.” No more “Dems in disarray.”
  4. Voters, both Democrat-adjacent and true independents, must think either
    • The donors chose well, or
    • Voters had a real say in the process.

All these seem required, but especially 1 and 4. When the donors decide to whom to open their wallets — and do so together — the Party and press will follow. Nervous Democrats needn’t worry about them.

But to voters, the process can’t look too undemocratic. As Ryan Grim wrote, “The key for an open convention to be legitimate in the eyes of the public is that it has to feel open.”

Grim is exactly right. A product can’t just be good for you; it has to feel good for you too. That’s why they put fizz in some toothpaste brands: It fizzes; that means it’s working. Of course, the fizz is often hydrogen peroxide, which does provide benefit. But it also feels beneficial, and that’s what moves product.

If the various candidates and their allies are on TV regularly and giving speeches on their behalf, with regular breaking-news around endorsements from big-wigs, unions, environmental groups, etc., it will feel like what we understand today as authentically real and democratic: reality TV.

Reality TV. Why would that work?

The spectacle will captivate global attention and create a bond between the viewer and the stars of the spectacle – especially if it seems like social media sentiment is playing a real role in how things are unfolding. If that sentiment is seen as helping choose the next nominee, Trump is toast. If Democratic bosses anoint somebody, that person is toast.

Not sure I’m as confident in the outcome as Grim is, but I agree the process has to feel right to voters, or few will buy into it.

Intelligence Community Speaks

I would be remiss in not saying that the “vote” of the intelligence community matters as well. They’ve already weighed in at least twice, and they don’t want Biden.

The first time was September of last year. David Ignatius is as spook-adjacent as a reporter can get. In 2023 he wrote in the Washington Post, “President Biden should not run again in 2024”. His reason, Biden’s two “liabilities”: his age and Kamala Harris.

After all, if every donor knew early that Biden was frail (as Krystal Ball said on her show), did the spook state not also know? Ignatius and his whisperers may have changed their mind about Harris, but not about Joe.

The second time came just this week. Matt Taibbi wrote this about Senator Mark Warner (subscriber post; emphasis added): “The [Washington] Post report said the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, was planning to gather prominent Democrats to ask Biden to consider stepping down. The optics of the elected official with perhaps the closest ties to the intelligence community dropping that news so shortly before Biden’s biggest televised interview since the debate were not hard to decipher.”

Court-watchers and King Lear’s “God’s spies,” please take note. Do you think they want Trump? The IC gets a vote too.

How Donors Could End Biden’s Reign

Before I say this, remember, I don’t have a horse in the Democratic Party race. There’s no real progressive option. I do want the strongest candidate though, and I’d like it soon. To that end, I offer this.

If every donor agreed that Ms. Somebody Else is their choice, the way to remove Biden and the people who’ve stiffened his spine is simple and clear: Refuse to finance his and his family’s retirement.

You know what I mean. No library money, fewer speeches, a total cold shoulder from all the big money types. It’s not even a bribe; it’s a post facto carrot that’s also a perfect stick. Even the Court says post facto tipping’s all right.

And it would work. Every modern ex-president would take that deal. The Bidens and their closest friends, if they choose right, would sail to the islands of sun on boats made of gold, surrounded by flowers and praise.

And we, the public, would know who our choices are … finally.

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