News & Politics

The Best Reactions to Politico Founder Jim VandeHei’s Billionaire-Savior Fantasy

Mark Zuckerberg, the face that launched a thousand takes today. Photograph via iStock.

As everyone in on the 5 PM Acela probably knows by now, former Politico CEO Jim VandeHei let loose a scorching take in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal that attempts to solve the political dysfunction between “Establishment America” and “Normal America.” VandeHei’s prescription, in short, is that the only cure for the anti-establishment vulgarity of Donald Trump and working-class outrage of Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent, third-party candidate for President—possibly the too-young Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, his chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, or, everyone’s favorite fantasy benevolent despot, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The Bloomberg-as-savior thought experiment is an old trope, but VandeHei’s article wasn’t just “Morning Joe filler segment” bad, it was so hot and stinky to inspire its own universe of reaction takes. You’ll be spared another here, but in lieu of that, here are some superlative awards for some of the reactions VandeHei elicited:

Most righteous: Slate

Isaac Chotiner calls VandeHei’s column “one of the more clueless and despicable op-eds I have read from a current or former journalist. That it manages to be at once both sinister and utterly banal is its signal achievement.” That’s just the lede.

Most pedantic: Vox

From Zuckerberg’s constitutional ineligibility—he’s 31, four years too young to serve in the Oval Office!—to voters’ overwhelming resistance to cutting social-safety-net programs to Bloomberg’s own realization he would fare poorly in a three-way race, Vox has got many questions about the sanity of VandeHei’s plan. Dylan Matthews hits VandeHei especially hard for wanting a candidate to stoke irrational fears of Islamist terrorism. “Does VandeHei want to take a hint from Thurmond/Wallace and go full xenophobe in service of his fear-mongering plan?” Matthews asks. Why bother? There’s already Donald Trump!

Most Teutonic: The Huffington Post

It takes a while, but Jason Linkins wraps up his criticism of VandeHei in the original German: “Jim VandeHei fills me with fremdschaemen. I’m embarrassed for him, I pity him and I sincerely hope he finds some billionaire to give him money — so long as that money is given to him with one string attached: He can never write again.”


Most Violent: Gawker

VandeHei goes pretty far in dreaming of an independent, military-friendly, fear-mongering, socially tolerant billionaire, but Gawker editor Alex Pareene suggests he doesn’t go far enough. “It’s time for some real change you can believe in,” Pareene writes. “After Obama’s term in office is up (or even before), the United States Armed Forces, backed of America’s most innovative entrepreneurs, should stage a coup d’état.” Pareene knows a half-measure when he sees one. Good for him!

Most Positive: Politico

Not so much an anti-take as a shameless plug, but VandeHei’s once-and-future associate Mike Allen gives the Journal column decent placement in today’s Playbook. “Behind paywall, but see full text by clicking link through Drudge,” Allen writes. For his part, even Matt Drudge found some obvious folly: “POLITICO FOUNDER UNLEASHED: Floats Zuckerberg/Sandberg for White House! But fails Constitution 101: Mark too YOUNG to be president…”

Most Ready-made: Washingtonian

VandeHei’s chief complaint is that “Establishment America”—of which DC is the beating heart—is too out of touch with places like his hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and his “adopted hometown” of Lincoln, Maine. But as Franklin Foer wrote in these very pages in March, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

“Don’t take it from me,” Foer wrote, “Take it from James Madison. This Founding Father warned about the perils of factions. Democracy works best when it rises above parochialism, he showed. The important civic virtues are detachment, a sense of the national interest. In other words, being out of touch with any one chunk of the country.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.