Sunday, March 1, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Joe Biden gets his first primary win in South Carolina, winning by a larger margin than polls had indicated. With 99.91% reporting, Biden had 48.45%, Bernie Sanders 19.91%, Tom Steyer 11.34%, Pete Buttigieg 8.24%, Elizabeth Warren 7.06%, Amy Klobuchar 3.15%, and Tuli Gabbard 1.28%. He will have three days to enjoy the win before Super Tuesday next week.

Before the election, Nate Silver posited three possible Super Tuesday projections estimates based on how well Biden does in South Carolina. According to the "Biden wins big" scenario, Biden is expected to win Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas next week, with Klobuchar favored in Minnesota, and Sanders ahead in California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Utah, Maine, and Vermont. Bloomberg will be on the ballot then, but Silver doesn't expect him to win any states. His best bets seem to be in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Virginia (with 28-25% share of delegates). That would leave Sanders with 39% of committed delegates, Biden 29%, Bloomberg 13%, Warren 10%, Buttigieg 6%, Klobuchar 3%. Sanders best upset prospects are in Virginia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas (where he's led several polls; see NBC News polls: Sanders has the edge in Texas, is tied with Biden in North Carolina).

Following his big win in Nevada, a bunch of Bernie Sanders pieces, including a lot of hysteria from Democratic Party elites and "Never Trumpers," and a little more on the race:

  • Zack Beauchamp:

    • Pete Buttigieg drops out of the presidential race. Given how little time there is between South Carolina's primary and "Super Tuesday," and how much of an outlier South Carolina is compared to other Democratic primaries, I'm surprised that anyone would fold up their campaign between the two, but we now have two candidates (Steyer and Buttigieg) doing just that. Given that Steyer was self-funded, you can be pretty sure that his decision was his own. It makes some sense: in the rich egomaniac lane, he was certain to get crowded out by the even richer Michael Bloomberg, so at least he's exiting on a plateau. Buttigieg, however, came into the race as one of the poorest and least promising of candidates, and he's actually had a pretty remarkable run. He may have never had the money or oganization to run a national campaign, and his prospects weren't great, but he would certainly do better on Super Tuesday than he did in South Carolina, so why not give it a few more days? I have no doubt that the answer was that his donors pulled the plug, hoping to move his votes to Biden or Bloomberg in a frantic effort to stop Sanders. I never shared " the level of contempt directed toward Buttigieg from Sanders supporters," but I do think he hurt himself and his future credibility by going so far out of his way to badmouth Sanders. I think he could have tried to bridge the gap between business and its many victims, in a way which would help reduce the social toll while still growing a healthy economy. He could, in short, have made himself seem concerned and committed, as well as cautious and pragmatic, but he didn't. Rather, he let himself be a spokesperson for a bunch of rich assholes who discarded him as soon as he became inconvenient. As Molly Ivans put it, "lie down with dogs, get up with fleas." [PS: I finally got around to reading Masha Gessen: The queer opposition to Pete Buttigieg, explained, and found I couldn't care less. Her conclusion, that "he is profoundly, essentially conservative," explains why his gayness turned out to be so boring.]

    • What David Brooks gets wrong about Bernie Sanders: "The New York Times columnist is a perfect exemplar of the baseless centrist freakout about Sanders's supposed authoritarianism." Brooks' column is titled No, not Sanders, not ever, where the guy who got rich voicing conservative attacks on liberals declares "I'll cast my lot with democratic liberalism," which for him means anyone but Sanders. Beauchamp answers by quoting a Jedediah Britton-Purdy tweet:

      The Sanders campaign is an effort to make real the principles of personal dignity, autonomy, free association, plurality, & self-development that liberalism prizes. To say the opposite sells criminally short both liberalism and Sanders.

  • Jamelle Bouie: The case for Bernie Sanders: "Despite his age, he promises a true break from the past." Part of a series, with: Michelle Goldberg on Elizabeth Warren; Ross Douthat on Joe Biden; Frank Bruni on Pete Buttigieg; David Leonhardt on Amy Klobuchar; and David Brooks shilling for Mike Bloomberg. Bouie also wrote: The Trumpian liberalism of Michael Bloomberg: "He may be running as the anti-Trump, but when it comes to the politics of racial control, there is a resemblance."

  • Zak Cheney-Rice: Fear powered Joe Biden's South Carolina victory.

    Rather, it suggests another calculation at work. There's a yawning chasm between black people's recognition that we deserve better from the political order and our belief that elected officials will deliver it. More likely than not, Biden didn't win South Carolina because he built the best case for himself. He won because black people have seen what it looks like when he fails them. Saturday was not a glowing endorsement of his candidacy. If anything, it was a concession to a politics of fear.

  • Thomas L Friedman: Dems, you can defeat Trump in a landslide: The idiot-savant of the New York Times argues for a "national unity" ticket, combining Sanders and Bloomberg, with cabinet-level positions for everyone from Mitt Romney (Commerce Secretary) and William McRaven (Defense Secretary) to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (UN Ambassador). Once again, Friedman shows off his boundless faith in the benevolence of the rich and famous. I wonder if he realizes that the track record for pairing antagonists on the presidential ticket has a pretty checkered record: especially Lincoln-Johnson and Harrison-Tyler, where death elevated unpopular vice-presidents who were politically opposite to their mandate, but I can think of other Friedmanesque dream tickets that could have gone as badly (e.g., Jefferson-Burr, Jackson-Calhoun).

  • Masha Gessen: What Bernie Sanders should have said about socialism and totalitarianism in Cuba: Actually, I don't have any problem with what Sanders said, except that I might have been more impolitic in pointing out that Castro started with one of the most corrupt and savagely inequal nations in Latin America -- a state can can be traced to its last-in-the-hemisphere abolition of slavery and to colonialism by American economic interests -- and struggled heroically to fashion one of the most egalitarian ones, despite constant hostility from the US, including the imposition of crippling blockades and sanctions. I'd also point out that America's hostility had nothing to do with concern for the civil or human rights of the Cuban people, and everything to do with spite engendered by Castro's expropriation of American business property and the threat international companies felt from the existence of the revolutionary government. I'd also point out that anti-communism in America has always been dictated by business interests, and has been especially effective at undermining unions and the left inside as well as beyond US borders. It also bugs me when emigres from the Soviet bloc have so completely internalized cold war propaganda that they continue to use it reflexively to promote militarist, anti-left, and anti-democratic political agendas.

  • Sarah Jones: Who's afraid of Bernie Sanders?

    To deny Sanders victory if he conjures up a plurality rather than a clear majority is to make Sanders's evaluation of the party its epitaph. Democrats would confirm to the public that the party isn't working for anyone who isn't well-educated and well-off -- and that they don't really want to change. They would damage not only their credibility but the lives of the nation's poor, for whom another Trump term would be catastrophic.

  • Akela Lacy: Bloomberg has hired the vice chairs of the Texas and California Democratic parties.

  • Branko Marcetic: Joe Biden has a long history of giving Republicans what they want: "For Republicans, Joe Biden has long been the ideal negotiating partner -- because he's so willing to cave in on most anything Republicans want." A excerpt from the author's forthcoming book, Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.

  • Dylan Matthews: If anti-Bernie Democrats were serious, they'd unite around Joe Biden right now. This is basically a taunt, but ego aside (and sure, that's a big aside) Bloomberg got into the race because he doubted Biden's up to the task. Biden's first win doesn't prove otherwise, but his comeback does seem to reflect a belated recognition that the other "center lane" candidates no longer look promising -- as Jonathan Chait argues: Joe Biden now the only Democrat who can stop Bernie Sanders. Also: Heading into Super Tuesday, Biden gets big funding boost, although "big" here is still way short of what Sanders is raising, let alone how much Bloomberg is spending. [PS: Buttigieg dropping out looks like his donors pulled the rug out from under him to move votes to Biden. By the way, the ducks are lining up: Wasserman Schultz endorses Joe Biden for president.]

  • Media Matters:

  • Ella Nilsen: Bernie Sanders posts a record $46.5 million February fundraising haul.

  • Alex Pareene: The selling of the Democratic primary. [PS: Pareene tweet: "my no-irony take is that Biden would've won in 2016 but he's incoherent now and it would be deeply irresponsible to nominate him."]

  • Steve Phillips: Bernie Sanders can beat Trump. Here's the math.

  • Charles P Pierce: The biggest challenge for the Sanders campaign is its own premature triumphalism. Sample bloviage:

    Bernie Sanders has surrounded himself with people so utterly pure in their own opinion of themselves that they object to compromises that they themselves made. . . . Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. He is an independent who quadrennially cosplays as a Democrat because he wants to run for president. For this, he should be eternally grateful that a) nobody makes the point that at least Ralph Nader had the stones to be an independent and run as an independent; and b) that he is running now and not back in the days when there really was a Democratic establishment that would have been able to crush him like a bug. . . . It turns out that many of the Bernie stans can be more insufferable in victory than they were in defeat. I say this in all love and Christian fellowship: Bernie Sanders and his more fervent followers and the many sanctimonious ratfckers who run his campaign can fck right off.

    It's hard to tell where the various smear campaigns against Sanders supporters start and end (if indeed they have any limits at all). I'm not involved in the campaign, and I doubt I know anyone who is, but it's hard not to feel personally insulted by such blanket slanders. Makes me feel like one of Hillary Clinton's deplorables, which I guess we were even before she took aim at Trump's minions.

    Admittedly, I'm less bothered when Pierce applies his vocabulary to something like What a day it's been for the paranoid little terrarium that is the modern conservative mind, or Trump's coronavirus press conference was the apotheosis of 40 years of Republican philosophy.

  • Leonard Pitts: Sanders' most rabid fans on the left no improvement over Trump's on the right. Pitts is nationally syndicated, and the Wichita Eagle runs his weekly column as its sole token liberal alternative to Cal Thomas, Marc Thiessen, and a host of other reactionary cranks. This is the most disappointing column I've ever read from him, as he casts even wider shade on Sanders' supporters than Pierce did (while also reminding us that Sanders is not a real Democrat). A self-appointed moderate, Pitts likes to assume that left and right are symmetrical, so he asserts that "Sanders could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters" -- Trump has actually made that boast about his supporters, many of whom are into guns and violence. But more basically, you don't get to the left without developing the critical and moral faculties to question the use and abuse of power and wealth, and that makes it impossible to blindly follow anyone -- for examples of Der Führerprinzip, look to the right.

  • Andrew Prokop: Tom Steyer drops out of the presidential race: "It turns out Democratic voters were not seeking their own billionaire to save them from Trump." One might argue that they were waiting for a richer, more obnoxious billionaire. The jury's still out on Bloomberg, but Steyer's campaign casts doubts on how easily one rich guy can buy a primary.

  • Robert Reich: Bernie Sanders' plans may be expensive but inaction would cost much more.

  • David Roberts: America's crisis of trust and the one candidate who gets it. He identifies a core problem: "how to break out of the doom loop and get on a trajectory of better governance and rising trust." His one candidate is Warren, "on the right track, substantively," but "on the wrong track, politically."

  • Alex Shephard: Bernie Sanders is winning his war on cable news. My primal fear is that the so-called liberal media, much more than the hapless DNC, is going to go all-out to sabotage Sanders' candidacy. For example:

    There's little love for Bernie Sanders on the television news circuit. After his landslide win in Saturday's Nevada caucuses, MSNBC host Chris Matthews compared the victory to Nazi Germany's successful invasion of France in 1940. Also on MSNBC, James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, deemed it a big win for Vladimir Putin. On CBS, former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel fretted that Democrats were making a suicidal choice in going for Sanders. Donna Brazile, the former Democratic National Committee chair turned Fox News contributor, and Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton administration press secretary and current CNN contributor, were irked by a Sanders tweet that read: "I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us." . . . Trump has a cable news channel in his pocket -- Sanders does not. His campaign has responded by building a media infrastructure that could withstand attacks from mainstream networks. So far, it's worked wonders.

  • Andrew Sullivan: Is Bernie the American version of Jeremy Corbyn? Gulp.

  • Paul Waldman: Why Bernie Sanders drives so many people out of their minds.

For whatever it's worth, my take on the presidential election is that as long as it remains a referendum on Trump and his Republican cohort, any at-all-reasonable Democratic candidate (which includes Sanders and Biden but maybe not Bloomberg) will beat Trump. He is, after all, very unpopular, both as a person and even more so for his issues and policies. The only way Trump wins is if he can make the campaign be about his opponent (as he did in 2016), and find in that opponent flaws that he can exploit to make "persuadable" swing-votes fear that opponent more than they are disgusted with him. This will be harder for him to do this time around, because he has his own track record to defend, and unless you're very rich and/or very bigoted, he hasn't done much for you.

On the other hand, all Democratic candidates have tics and flaws that a savvy campaigner can exploit. We can debate endlessly on which "flaws" are most vulnerable and which are most easily defensible. My own theory is that "red baiting," which we've seen a huge burst of this past week (and not just at CPAC or on Fox, where the approach is so feverish it's likely to be extended against Bloomberg), is a spent force, but one Republicans won't be able to resist. On the other hand, Sanders is relatively secure against the charges of corruption and warmongering that were so effective against Hillary Clinton, and could easily be recycled against Biden.

On the other hand, I do have some sympathy for "down ballot" candidates for Congress who worry that having a ticket led by a candidate with such sharply defined views as Sanders has will hurt their chances in swing districts. At some point, Sanders needs to pivot to acknowledge and affirm the diversity of opinions within the Democratic Party. A model here might be Ronald Reagan's "11th commandment" (never speak ill of a fellow Republican). That didn't stop Reagan from orchestrating a conservative takeover of the party, but it make it possible for the few surviving liberals in the party to continue, and it made it possible for Republicans to win seats that hard-line conservatives couldn't.

A Sanders nomination would be the most radical shift in the Democratic Party since 1896, when populist William Jennings Bryan got the nod to succeed arch-conservative Grover Cleveland. Bryan lost that election badly, and lost two of the next three, partly as a result of Democratic Party sabotage, partly because Theodore Roosevelt outflanked him with a more modern progressivism. My generation is more likely to recall George McGovern's epic loss in 1972, also occasioned by deep splits within the Party bosses, but McGovern and 1968 nominee Hubert Humphrey had very similar backgrounds and programs -- their big divide was over the Vietnam War. Nixon did a very effective job of getting McGovern portrayed as a far-out radical, while covering up his own negatives (at least until after the election -- he wound up resigning in disgrace).

Trump will certainly try to do the same to Sanders (or for that matter to any other Democrat), and Republicans have been remarkably successful at manipulating media and motivating their voters, so one has to much to worry about. Indeed, I've been fretting a lot this past week, and will continue to do so until the election is over.

Some scattered links this week:

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