Opinion | April Fools’ Day Is Coming to a Political System Near You

Gail Collins: Hey, Bret, we just hit April Fools’ Day. Did you have any political nominees?

Bret Stephens: Leaving aside anyone buying a Trump Bible for $60, my nominee is Kari Lake: 2020 election denier, 2022 Arizona loser in the governor’s race and now a 2024 Republican aspirant for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kyrsten Sinema. Lake is being sued by another Republican, Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder, who contends that she defamed him by making false claims about her loss in 2022, which led to all kinds of threats against Richer and his family.

Lake isn’t even bothering to defend herself on the substance of the suit and has asked the court to move directly to the damages phase. I hope the court takes the Fake out of Lake with a whopping judgment in Richer’s favor.

Who is your nominee?

Gail: Well, so many to choose from. Think I’m gonna go with James Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who’s been busy trying to come up with a way to impeach Joe Biden for … whatever. Current subject is the business dealings of Joe’s son Hunter, a road we’ve been down a trillion times before.

Bret: Hey, think of all the fun we’ll have when Democrats return the favor by investigating Javanka, Don Jr. and Eric when Donald Trump is — gulp — back in office.

Gail: Do you think it’s possible Comer’s chosen the timing of his non-investigation to attract attention away from Trump’s first criminal trial in New York? Think it will? Hahahaha.

Bret: On one hand, I think the impeachment investigations are cynical and corrosive. On the other hand, they’re shrewd. The point isn’t to get a conviction in the Senate, which Comer knows will never happen. It’s to instill the view in the minds of some voters that the Biden family is just as corrupt as Trump’s, so that wavering voters who like Trump’s policies but not his persona will have reason to think that, ethically speaking, the two candidates are equal.

What a sad, degraded state of affairs. It’s another reason Joe Lieberman’s passing is such a loss.

Gail: Sigh. I knew we were going to go there. Don’t think there’s any politician we’ve disagreed about more than Lieberman. You start.

Bret: A lovely man, who represented an era in American politics when people could reach across the aisle and the mark of political virtue for a Democrat or a Republican wasn’t having a 100 percent liberal or conservative voting record.

Gail: We went way back to the Connecticut Legislature, which I covered in the 1980s. Then he moved up and eventually, of course, ran as Al Gore’s vice-presidential nominee, when he did such a terrible job debating Dick Cheney that some people actually blamed it for Gore’s itty-bitty loss to George W. Bush.

Bret: I’d say the fault lay more with Gore for his condescending eye rolls, sighs and tedious Social Security mansplaining in the debate with Bush — later the subject of some hilarious mockery by Darrell Hammond on “Saturday Night Live.”

Gail: Like many Connecticut politicians, Lieberman was attached to the insurance industry, and he fought very hard against public health reform. Then there was his staunch backing of the Iraq war, and lately his leadership in No Labels, the let’s-have-some-third-parties movement that could wreak havoc on our elections, if it can get its act together.

And then — oh, hey, I’m gonna stop. He passed away unexpectedly and it’s almost never enjoyable to complain about the recently deceased. Want to say one last good thing about him, and then we’ll move on?

Bret: Joe always did what he thought was right. He put ethics and patriotism ahead of ideology and partisanship. He stood against every bigotry and tyranny, from Jim Crow to Saddam Hussein. And he never left love, humor or sincerity out of his politics. I’ll miss him dearly.

Mind if we switch the subject to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.?

Gail: Love to. I was curious to see who Junior would make his running mate — did sorta like the idea of having a presidential race in which the ballot included a former W.W.E. star.

But instead he picked a woman I’d never heard of — a lawyer who’s sorta scary since she’s so rich I could imagine her underwriting a real campaign.

Bret: Nicole Shanahan, whose fortune seems to derive mostly from her divorce from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, a brief marriage (her second) that, according to credible reporting in The Wall Street Journal, ended on account of an intervention — if you get my drift — from Elon Musk. Just bringing readers up to speed …

Gail: Cannot tell you how much I appreciate it when we devolve into gossip.

But I’ve always been worried about the Kennedy third-party deal. Even if he’s the worst possible choice for president, it scares me that Democrats and Independents who don’t like Biden could be cajoled into supporting the son of a politician some of them would have loved.

Bret: If you haven’t seen it, you should watch Kennedy’s nine-minute “State of Our Union” video from last month. Say what you will about his views — and you know they are very far from mine — the video is master class-level politics, perfectly combining American nostalgia, moral seriousness and a vague sense of hope. I see him drawing away a critical mass of disaffected Democrats from Biden.

I know how much you hate third parties, but the fact is that Kennedy is running and is going to be a factor in November. What’s the plan to stop him from throwing the election to Trump?

Gail: Hard to have missed the Kennedy family delegation at the White House’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration — about 50 of them gathered to remind America that virtually nobody who’s related to Junior would ever vote for him.

Bret: Unfortunately for the larger Kennedy clan, he’s the most politically relevant member of the family. And he seems intent on doing to Biden what his uncle, in a slightly different way, did to Jimmy Carter.

Gail: Speaking of electoral twists and turns, Biden’s folks have been very busy trying to win over Nikki Haley voters to their side. Like the video the campaign has released where Trump is asked how he’s going to win over her supporters, and him replying “I’m not sure we need too many.”

Bret: I’m one of those would-be Haley voters who’ll probably vote for Biden. But to win those voters, Biden needs to do two things: First, remind them that a vote for Kennedy is a vote for Trump, and second, tack toward the center instead of the left. This is going to be an election that will turn on the votes of independent-minded voters who are disgusted by Trump but disappointed in Biden.

Gail: You know some of those disappointed-in-Bidens are sorry he isn’t taking a more progressive turn on some issues … But I know, you’re talking about the Haley folk.

Bret: Winning those disappointed voters back is going to take more than hoping that Trump gets convicted in one court or another.

Gail: So many trials, so many possibilities. But of course also so may potential occasions for disappointment.

Bret: This gives me an idea: Biden should use the tragedy of the Baltimore bridge disaster to do more to talk up infrastructure in a way that can win over middle-of-the-road voters. The virtue of infrastructure is that it creates shared public goods and union jobs; the problem is that red tape means not enough projects get off the ground or completed in a timely way. Biden can offer an infrastructural equivalent of Operation Warp Speed, combining big spending on signature projects plus major deregulation. Are you with me on this?

Gail: One person’s deregulation is another’s withdrawn protection. You know what I mean? But if we can slide down the middle and look for ways to make public works more efficient, God bless.

Bret: The regulations that are often the most absurd, burdensome and time-consuming are, I’m sorry to say, environmental. Let’s protect people and care less about, say, fish — the kind of concern that did so much to hold up the rebuilding and drive up the costs of the Tappan Zee (now Mario Cuomo) Bridge over the Hudson.

Gail: Same thing for the Biden administration in general. Getting rid of waste is great, striving for efficiency, ditto. But Biden also needs to show he’ll be able to improve public services like education and health care.

Bret: Or impose better control of the border with additional construction of an, er, barrier.

Gail, a final question for you. A California assemblyman named Matt Haney has proposed first-in-the-nation legislation that would give employees the legal right to ignore all communication from their employers during off hours. Opponents of the bill argue that California has more important priorities, and that employees can always just turn off their devices. How would you vote?

Gail: Bret, this is one of those bills that you appreciate for the public discussion it brings up without necessarily expecting it to become law. Even if it were law, people who have jobs that genuinely do require some off-hours contact would figure out ways to work around it.

Bret: Very true.

Gail: But introducing it could create some very useful discussions about employees’ right to be left alone barring some crisis at work. So I guess I’d vote for the debate and see what I could learn from it.

You know, nothing more useful than a good conversation …

Bret: Especially when you and I have one every week. Happy April Fools’ Day.

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