Recent events have proved to be clarifying if unedifying. Michael Bloomberg did us the enormous favor of spending over $500 million in an effort to win the Democratic Presidential nomination. For his efforts he won a total of 13 delegates; 4 in American Samoa plus another 9 scattered around the country. That’s about $38 million per delegate. Two days later former Mayor Bloomberg dropped out of the race and pledged to work for the election of Joe Biden.
All of this would seem to provide rather conclusive evidence discrediting the idea that money is determinative in elections. Despite the evidence though, we can expect Progressives to continue their attempt eviscerate First Amendment speech rights under the guise of campaign finance reform and fighting “hate speech” because the goal is control, not clean elections or civility.
And, by the way, if the best Michael Bloomberg could do was grab 13 delegates with $500 million, why would anybody continue to believe that Russian propaganda on Facebook was sufficient to tip the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump.
About Those Norms
The Trump Administration—actually POTUS himself—has been criticized, frequently and correctly, for violating long held political norms. Trump, for example, launched a typically idiotic Tweet calling for Justices Sotomeyer and Ginsburg to recuse themselves from cases involving him and his administration. And candidate Trump famously attacked a federal judge complaining that the judge, who was born in Indiana, was Mexican and therefore could not be counted on to give Trump a fair hearing.
Well, Chuck Schumer has done Trump one better. On March 4, speaking at a demonstration at the Supreme Court, Schumer said the following referring to an abortion case before the Court.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price…You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Which is to say that Chuck Schumer (Harvard Law, 1974) issued a direct threat by name to sitting justices on the Court, contingent on their votes. Surprisingly enough, Schumer’s fellow progressives who were once so concerned about democratic norms, have fallen strangely silent.
Feel the Phony Bern
Bernie Sanders (I. Rolling Stone) has spent the better part of the last 40 years or so attacking “the establishment” and singing the praises of folks like Fidel Castro. In 2012 he threatened to “primary” (now a verb) then President Obama who wasn’t quite left wing enough for comrade Sanders taste. But on Super Tuesday he got trounced by former Vice President Biden, who among other things grabbed a commanding share of the African American vote.
And all of a sudden Bernie-the-Authentic has decided that he has been a fan of Obama after all. So his campaign has released an ad showing what pals he and Obama were and are. Needless to say, former Obama officials have denounced the ad as deceptive, misleading etc etc. Which, of course, it is. Just like the rest of his campaign.
The ad is below. Have a look and think about what it says about the raw political ambition of the selfless Socialist from Vermont.
The grand pooh-bahs of the DNC are about to break into full panic mode.
When Nancy Pelosi pointed her impeachment gun at President Donald Trump she shot former Vice President Joe Biden in the heart. Unforced errors like that one, combined with a disgruntled primary electorate has put Bernie Sanders (D. Rolling Stone) in a strong position to capture the Democratic presidential nomination. And he is not even a Democrat.
Sanders supporters (better described as a fan base) comprises somewhere between 25% to 30% of the Democratic primary electorate. Moreover they are intensely loyal and consider themselves part of a movement. Attendees do not go to Sanders rallies to be convinced; they are already convinced. That is why a Sanders rally has the look and feel of a religious revival meeting.
The Sanders base is an odd mix of resentment and misplaced idealism. It includes blue-collar working class voters, students and young college educated voters. They are overwhelmingly white.
Sanders working class supporters, like Trump’s, firmly believe that they have been screwed over by “elites”. His young supporters, especially students and recent college graduates are enamored by his championing “democratic socialism” largely because (1) they have no idea what socialism really is, democratic or otherwise, and (2) they would like to have their college loans forgiven.
But the Sanders loyalist base does not include include older voters, especially those over age 65 who have displayed a good deal of hostility to the Sanders movement. Not only are these voters old enough to remember the cold war, they understand what socialism really is. They grew up reading George Orwell’s 1984; they remember Britain’s winter of discontent; they saw the depredations of Castro, Mao and Pol Pot; they saw the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, waited on gas lines and saw the Berlin Wall crumble. They did not grow up with trigger warnings or win participation trophies. Which is to say, they actually grew up.
These factors suggest that Sanders has a strong floor of support at around 25% to 30% of the Democratic primary electorate. It also suggests that his support has a rather low ceiling that will be hard to break through. With the Democratic field splintered, a loyal support base of 25% to 30% may be enough for Sanders to win a plurality of pledged delegates to the Milwaukee convention and then the nomination.
That’s why the DNC is headed for full fledged panic. The main mission of political parties is to win elections. That requires assembling coalitions and getting them to the polls on election day. Here, the Democrats have a structural problem that is in many ways reminiscent of the one faced by Republicans in 2016. The nominally Republican nominee (Trump) wasn’t really a Republican, but he was able to win the nomination because his hard core of support held firm while the conventional candidates split the remaining (majority) of the vote. He was only able to win the general election (again with a minority of the vote) because (1) the distribution of the votes favored him in the electoral college by the barest of margins and (2) the Democrats succeeded in nominating the worst possible candidate (Hillary Clinton) who ran a terrible campaign and in so doing managed to unify Republicans against her.
Now consider two possibilities. First, Bernie Sanders gets the Democratic nomination; or second, somebody else does. Under either scenario it is difficult to see how the Democratic nominee unifies the party to win the general election.
Let’s suppose that Bernie Sanders gets the nomination. Remember, his core supporters tend to be younger, many are students or already have college degrees; they are friendly to the idea of “democratic socialism”. In addition, a lot are blue collar workers without college degrees. And they tend to be Caucasian, although that could change. The problem that the Democratic nominee faces, whether or not it is Sanders, is that the constituencies that make up the Democratic Party are at war with each other.
Consider the left-wing obsession with race, class and gender. Older Democrats were inspired by the rhetoric of Dr. Martin Luther King who spoke of the content of man’s character as opposed to the color of his skin. Try that one now with fans of intersectionality with its elaborate rules for considering the proper pecking order for victimology. Elizabeth Warren, one of the most vocal proponents of identity politics, an outgrowth of intersectionality, promised that her choices for Education Secretary would be vetted by a “trans person”. How do you think that will fly with middle class, midwestern families?
Now consider all the free stuff that the party is promising to deliver. Start with forgiveness of college loans. It’s easy enough to see why college students with loans (most of them) are in favor of this. But when you look at the underlying numbers a different story emerges. That story has to do with the size and distribution of loan balances. The mean loan balance is about $32,000, which is not all that burdensome considering the difference between lifetime earnings potential of degree holders versus non degree holders. More importantly the median loan balance is only about $13,000. The wide difference between the mean and median is explained by a relatively small number of students who owe very large balances ($100,000 – $200,000). But those balances are often due to large loans taken out to finance expensive graduate and professional eduction at top institutions, like for instance, Harvard Law School.
Which begs the question: Why is a bus driver supposed to be taxed in order to facilitate the graduate education of somebody else’s kids at the nation’s elite universities? There is no good answer to that question.
Then there is the race question. The Democratic Party has long been home to a majority of non-white voters. In the past liberal Democrats looked for ways to expand opportunities for minority citizens. That was before the days of intersectionality which necessarily demands a constant search for victims and oppressors. The problem is that (1) the Democratic Party is home to both the alleged victims and their alleged oppressors, and (2) the gradations of victimhood and oppression are constantly changing depending on the latest woke fashion. After all, it is reasonably difficult to form a coalition comprised of “victims” and “oppressors” when there is no such thing as shared interests. There is only identity, and that is not transferable. Any attempt to coalesce around common goals and values simply leads to cries of “co-option” and false consciousness. Similarly, attempts to integrate new customs and styles results in complaints of cultural appropriation.
The Democratic majority has little use for all this; they are grown-ups. But the party is being driven by left-wing radicals who have a very strong grip on maybe 25% of the Party’s primary voters. Further, there is a philosophical problem with modern liberalism that makes the Party’s electoral situation rather dire. The fundamental problem is that modern liberalism has no limiting principle. Whatever a “moderate” Democrat proposes, Bernie Sanders, the Squad and the rest of the progressive caucus can just do them one better and push further to the left. So we have the spectacle of moving from reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions to fundamentally restructuring the entire U.S. economy via the Green New Deal. Whereas the Democratic Party of yesterday vowed to keep abortion “safe, legal and rare” the new Democratic Party supports subsidizing abortion on demand at any time for any reason. Instead of financial aid for college students, let’s just forgive all accumulated debt and make college “free”. And while we are at it, why not increase social security benefits, even though the program is already insolvent?
So here we are. Serious contenders for the Party’s nomination, with the possible exception of Senator Amy Klobuchar, are fundamentally unserious people. And the Party’s leaders are virtually powerless to stop the suicide march to a brokered convention in Milwaukee and an electoral disaster in November. And Bernie Sanders, the likely Presidential nominee leading the parade toward the cliff is not even a Democrat.
And the really final results from Iowa will be in any day now.
It’s finally here. After what seems like years of primary campaigning, Iowa Democrats are finally about to have their say in the matter via the Iowa caucuses. The field has narrowed considerably from the original 2 dozen or so contestants and polls suggest that soon the battle for the Democratic nomination may be a 2 man contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. That prospect already has the leadership of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) looking not so furtively at the panic button. They have, for instance, already changed the debate rules in a way that gives Michael Bloomberg a chance to appear on stage.
In analyzing elections and the strategies the Parties and candidates use to win, it is important to make a distinction between the Party professionals on the one hand, and the candidates and their coalitions on the other. Political parties are organized around winning elections. Period. Candidates organize their campaigns around issues designed to win a sufficient number of delegates to capture the nomination and then win the general election.
The issues that the candidates choose to organize around and then galvanize a campaign may be ideological, but need not be. Sometimes interests are sectional with ideological overlaps. Both the Civil War and the struggle over civil rights were partly driven by sectional clashes. The clash over slavery that ultimately led to the Civil War represented a clash between the Republican North and the Democratic South. But the civil rights struggles of the 1960s saw an alliance of moderate to liberal Northern Republicans and Democrats, while opposition was mostly an alliance of Southern Democrats irrespective of ideology and Northern conservatives from both parties.
In fact there are many instances where differences in regional interests and ideological interests have shifted back and forth and the Parties have reconfigured themselves accordingly. In the late 19th century the Republican Party was the party of tariffs designed to protect Northeast manufacturing, while the Democratic Party represented farmers that wanted free trade. But by 1980 the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan was a strong proponent of free trade and the Democrats increasingly promoted trade restrictions to protect manufacturing and union jobs in the Midwest. Now the Republican Party of Donald Trump promotes managed trade pretty much like the Democrats have been doing since the 1980s.
All this is not to suggest that the Republican and Democratic policy preferences have begun to converge. They have not. What has transpired is enormous demographic, generational and cultural shifts in the respective Party constituencies that are not fully reflected in the Party hierarchies. The Republican Party has to a large degree been Trumpified; the question here is whether this reconfiguration is temporary and tactical or permanent. The results of the general election in November may provide some clues. But the result will importantly depend on who the Democratic nominee is.
The case of the Democratic Party is in some respects much more interesting. It is clear that the Party has taken a very sharp turn to the left. Not only that, younger, more affluent Party members seem to be positioned far more to the left than older and less white constituents. Those with college degrees are more prone to head left.
Given the state of play there are two questions facing Iowa caucus goers. The first set of questions is obvious: Should the Democratic Party go with a “safe” nominee like Joe Biden who appears on paper to be best positioned to defeat Donald Trump, and perhaps help the Party keep the House and win the Senate? Or should the Party go all in and nominate a very left wing candidate (like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren) who promises to transform the structure of American life using the force of the state? The results in Iowa will hinge on that calculus.
The second set of questions address an issue that is very important and more than a little disquieting. Namely, is there a truly substantive difference between the candidacies of the moderates e.g, — Biden, Klobuchar and the truly radical candidates like Sanders and Warren? The nominating process may provide an answer to that question as well.
It was only 4 years ago that had Debbie Wassermann Schultz tripping all over herself while attempting to argue that there is a real difference between socialism—in whatever form—and the liberalism that the Democratic Party claimed to represent. And now 4 years later, Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is a leading candidate for the Party’s Presidential nomination.
There is every reason to believe that Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even a registered Democrat, will win the Party’s nomination and go on to face Trump in the general election. If that happens it will mean that the Democratic Party has made a decisive turn to the left with the aim of transforming the structure of American life from that of a Liberal market democracy into an Administrative State where citizens are transformed into subjects.
Such an election would likely bring an end to decades of electoral stalemate where the results are separated by a few percentage points and the game is mostly played inside the 40 yard lines. Of the many possible outcomes, there are 2 that are the most interesting. On the one hand, there is the possibility of a contest that looks like the 1972 race between George McGovern and Richard Nixon in which McGovern’s liberalism was soundly rejected; in the process McGovern went on to lose 49 states, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, which has never voted for a Republican.
On the other hand, the race could just as easily look like the one in 1980. In that case Democrats were initially encouraged by the Republican’s selection of Ronald Reagan as the Party’s standard bearer, the reasoning being that the public would never vote for a candidate as extreme as Reagan. In the event, Reagan went on to defeat incumbent Jimmy Carter in a landslide. Reagan carried 44 states and won with 50.7% of the vote against Carter’s 41% of the vote, while third-party candidate John Anderson’s got 6.6% of the vote.
An election contest between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is one that could settle a lot. It would provide a much needed clarification of what the electorate thinks is desirable and achievable. An election contest between Sanders and Trump would force the electorate to consider that fundamental issue with eyes wide open.
Let’s face it: on a personal level, Donald Trump is as severely flawed as it gets. With respect to policy, he is hardly a conservative as traditionally understood, much less a libertarian. His authoritarian tendencies are beyond dispute. He is as narcissistic as they come, which is saying a lot by Washington standards. Not only is he easily the most ignorant man to assume the Presidency in at least a century, he is incapable of recognizing the truth much less telling it.
Which is not to suggest that Bernie Sanders is just swell. He is a misfit; a leftist crank who is incapable of seeing the world as it is. He is willfully blind in that he sees only what he wants to see. His “no enemies to the left” mindset does not permit him to utter an unkind word about any of the world’s brutal left wing dictatorships, including Venezuela’s Madura. Sanders does not simply have policy proposals—he means to fundamentally transform America’s Liberal market democracy into a socialist state. Were Sanders to get his way, America as we know it, would cease to exist. In that regard it is disgraceful that the mainstream press, in its loathing of all things Trump, treats Sanders as if he were a normal candidate, which he manifestly is not.
Bernie Sanders is doing to the Democratic Party what Donald Trump did to the Republicans. The nominating process will allow us to see if the Democratic Party yields to Sanders and his supporters just as the Republicans did with Trump. If they do, we will know what constitutes the modern Democratic Party, just as we now know what constitutes the modern Republican Party.
And so we have two political processes in play that could come to define America in 2020. In the first instance, the Democratic Party will either choose to become a hard left socialist party with the aim of transforming American life using the police power of the state, or it will remain a center left mainstream party. In the second instance, if Sanders is the nominee, the body politic will face a choice between a narcissistic incumbent whose incompetence is only exceeded by his ignorance, and a socialist candidate who promises to wage a perpetual class war in a never ending search for nirvana. It is not exactly an appetizing choice; in fact it is nauseating. But it is clarifying.
It is possible that a moderate Democrat, as currently defined, will win the nomination, in which case we will likely muddle along for a bit longer, and neither of the above scenarios would necessarily comes to pass. But I wouldn’t count on it.
The latest CNN poll, released today, has Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders statistically tied in the race for the Democratic nomination. (The CNN story is at this link). While not all that surprising, it seems to reflect the alienation of large swaths of the public from mainstream society—or what we used to think of as mainstream society. The leftward lurch of the Democratic Party is a reflection of this.
The growing enthusiasm for Senator Sanders is similar to the groundswell that catapulted Donald Trump into the White House. In each case the respective party establishments were appalled at how the candidate attacked elites and their policy prescriptions. Nevertheless in each case disaffected voters flocked to the outsider candidate, largely because of a sense of aggrieved populism. In each case those disaffected voters found a candidate who would speak to those grievances, real and imagined.
There is, however, an important difference between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump’s campaign and Presidency is one that thrives on symbolic politics. It checks the cultural boxes of Trump supporters (e.g., build the wall) but, with the exception of trade, most of the policy is standard Republican fare seasoned by Trump’s personal boorishness. Which is to say that the key to understanding the Trump White House is to separate policy and personality. Not an easy thing to do.
But Bernie Sanders is different. He is a man with a weltanschauung. And he gives every indication that he actually believes the preposterous things he says, which are an integral part of that world view. The problem is that a large swath, and perhaps a majority of Democratic primary voters, does not understand what it is that Bernie Sanders is trying to sell. That is because he occasionally–actually more than occasionally– obfuscates. Whether Sanders muddies up the waters because of ignorance or just plain tactics remains to be seen. For instance, he can pretend all he wants that his policy preferences are similar to the ones adopted by the Nordic countries, but they are not. While Bernie Sanders remains a committed socialist, the Nordic countries are among the most capitalist, market-centered ones on earth. Arguably more so than the United States in many respects, especially with respect to public finance.
Bernie Sanders is a hard line socialist who wishes to remake society just like every other socialist. And he has been singing the same tune (with occasional politically convenient adjustments) for at least 40 years. The problem is that a lot of people, and perhaps a plurality, have no idea how catastrophic the result would be if Sanders and his left wing allies (like the Squad) were able to seize the levers of power.
So think of the 15 minute video below, put together by Reason magazine, as a public service message. It summarizes Sanders’ policy and political activities since the 1980s. That’s pretty much all you need to see. Anyone who would even consider voting for Sanders ought to watch this film. If, after watching this, anyone still insists on voting for Sanders, that person will have succeeded in achieving the improbable goal of making Trump supporters look like comparative geniuses.