Monthly Archives: February 2020

Bernie Sanders: Pro and Con

It appears that Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic Nomination — the 538 website rates his chances as “1 in 2.” Bernie is not my favorite candidate; nonetheless, if he wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll work hard for him. Here’s my assessment of Bernie’s strengths and weaknesses.

The latest Real Clear Politics summary of national polls shows Sanders beating Trump by an average of 4.7 percent.  Nonetheless, we remember all too well that Clinton led Trump throughout a long and agonizing campaign and then lost the election, courtesy of the electoral college.  Bernie can beat Trump but it’s far from certain.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/24/who-would-win-trump-sanders-election/)

Sanders’ strengths:  1. Enthusiasm.  If you’ve followed the 2020 Democratic nomination process, you’ve probably noticed that Bernie Sanders’ followers are the most enthusiastic.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but Sanders’ rallies have the most energy.

It isn’t always the case that follower enthusiasm translates into get-out-the-vote energy, but it is a major consideration; in my experience, 2008 Obama election workers were more enthusiastic than 2016 Clinton workers.  Enthusiasm is an important factor because, at the moment, Democratic voters, in general, are more enthusiastic than Republican voters.  (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-enthusiasm-exclusive/exclusive-ahead-of-2020-election-a-blue-wave-is-rising-in-the-cities-polling-analysis-shows-idUSKBN20D1EG )

Imagine two campaign rallies in Ohio: one for Trump and the other for the Democratic nominee.  Only a Bernie rally would match the enthusiasm at the Trump rally.  This makes sense because both candidates rile up their audience with a populist, “blow up the establishment” message.

2. Broad Coalition: Bernie appears to be able to build the broad coalition that Democrats have been yearning for.  The Nevada Democratic caucus exit polls (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/entrance-polls-2020-nevada-caucuses/) indicate that Sanders carried most Demographic groups; for example, all age groups except those voters aged 65 and over.  (Sanders carried 29 percent of White-non Hispanic voters and 51 percent of Hispanic voters.)

A lot of concerns that we might have had about  Bernie’s ability to build a broad coalition have been assuaged in the last couple of weeks.  His core message resonates with all segments of he Democratic Party  — although he needs to do more to reach out to women who were once ardent Hillary supporters.  (Bernie’s core message is “the system is rigged:” “Bernie has fought tirelessly for working families, focusing on the shrinking middle class and growing gap between the rich and everyone else.”)

3. Swing State Strength:  Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because she faltered in critical swing states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wiscconsin.  According to Real Clear Politics, in Michigan, Sanders leads Trump by 5.3 percent; in Pennsylvania, Sanders leads Trump by 3 percent; and in Wisconsin, Trump leads Sanders by 1 percent.  (BTW: In the last Ohio poll, Sanders was ahead of Trump; they’re tied in Florida.)

Sanders’ weaknesses: 1. Socialist label: Bernie describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist.”  This has given pundits a huge opportunity to criticize him.  Many mainstream-media talking heads have declared that because of his socialist label, Sanders will never beat Trump.  I’m not convinced that the socialist label will make that much of a difference.

First, Sanders isn’t really a socialist.  New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, observed: “The thing is, Bernie Sanders isn’t actually a socialist in any normal sense of the term. He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning; he has expressed admiration, not for Venezuela, but for Denmark. He’s basically what Europeans would call a social democrat — and social democracies like Denmark are, in fact, quite nice places to live, with societies that are, if anything, freer than our own.”

Second, there will be two kinds of 2020 campaign ads: vitriol and substance.  The Republican vitriol ads will call Bernie a socialist and predict dire consequences.  The Democratic vitriol ads will call Trump a pathological liar and a Russian asset.  If you already like Trump you will vote for him regardless of the negative ads; if you don’t like Trump, you’re unlikely to vote for him regardless of what they say about Bernie.

Nonetheless, a recent academic study published in Vox (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/2/25/21152538/bernie-sanders-electability-president-moderates-data ) suggests that a Sanders’ candidacy would be problematic: “Our survey data reveals voters of all parties moving to Trump if Sanders is nominated, a liability papered over by young voters who claim they would be inspired to vote by Sanders alone.”

2. Weak Coattails:  The main reason Democratic pundits are worried about Bernie is because they fear that a “Democratic Socialist” will hurt “down ballot” Democratic candidates.  Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg has made this assertion: “Bernie Sanders would ‘jeopardize’ the re-election of 42 House Democrats in battleground districts and therefore the party’s majority rule of the chamber if the self-described Democratic socialist becomes the party’s nominee for president.”

In 2020, Democrats have to take back both the Presidency and the Senate.  If “Moscow Mitch” McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will block most Democratic legislative initiatives.  From here, the contested Senate seats are: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, and North Carolina.  (Democrats have to win four.)

Consider the situation in Arizona, where there’s a contested Senate seat now held by Republican Martha McSally — a Trump acolyte.  In the 2020 Arizona Senatorial election, she’ll be opposed by former astronaut Mark Kelly — husband of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords.  In 2016, Arizona narrowly went to Trump.  Would Bernie Sanders help or hurt Mark Kelly?

I think that having Bernie as the 2020 Democratic nominee will help improve Arizona voter turnout and that will help Mark Kelly.  Republicans will run negative ads targeting Bernie and Democrats will run negative ads targeting Trump; those will cancel out.

The Nevada exit polls indicated that the most important issues were: health care, climate change, and income inequality. If these are the most important issues in (neighboring) Arizona, Sanders will help Mark Kelly  because Bernie is much stronger on these issues than is Trump.  (Actually Trump isn’t strong on any issue other than the “economy” and, at the moment, this is teetering because of the impact of the coronavirus.)

I believe that Bernie will help down-ballot Democratic senatorial candidates in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine.  I’m not sure about Georgia, Kansas, and North Carolina.

3. Temperament: Like Trump, Bernie offers his own brand of charisma.  That attracts loyal followers but masks his irascibility.  He really is crochety Uncle Bernie.

Writing in the New York Times ( https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/26/opinion/bernie-sanders.html?referringSource=articleShare), Frank Bruni observes: “[Bernie Sanders] isn’t and has never been popular with his Democratic colleagues in the Senate… I know that because I’ve heard some of those colleagues talk about him, describing him as arrogant, uncooperative, unyielding, even mean.”

Summary: Maybe the 2020 election will come down to “our S.O.B. versus their S.O.B.”  Personally, I’d hoped that the Democratic candidate would be someone who could make progress on healing the nation.  Perhaps that’s too much to hope for.

Evaluating the Democratic Candidates

We’re heading towards March 3rd, “Super Tuesday,” and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains competitive.  A field of 29 candidates has been winnowed to eight: Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Peter Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren.  Here’s my evaluation  of the Democratic survivors.

The February 10th Qunnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3655 ) provided us with fresh insight on the state of the Democratic race: “[Bernie] Sanders gets 25 percent of the vote among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, while [Joe] Biden gets 17 percent, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg receives 15 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren gets 14 percent, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg receives 10 percent, and Senator Amy Klobuchar gets 4 percent. No other candidate tops 2 percent.” In other words, heading into Super Tuesday, there are six viable contenders: Bernie, Biden, Bloomberg, Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.  Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer appear to have fallen far behind.

In evaluating the top six candidates, I’m using four different criteria: (1) who has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump; (2) who does the most to strengthens the overall Democratic ticket; (3) who has the best perspective on “renewing” the presidency, and (4) who champions the best policies.

Who would beat Trump: No matter which of these six candidates is picked to oppose Trump, most Democrats will vote for them.  The February 10th Quinnipiac poll reported: “Among all registered voters, Democratic candidates lead President Trump in general election matchups by between 4 and 9 percentage points: Bloomberg tops Trump 51 – 42 percent;  Sanders defeats Trump 51 – 43 percent;  Biden beats Trump 50 – 43 percent;  Klobuchar defeats Trump 49 – 43 percent;  Warren wins narrowly over Trump 48 – 44 percent; [and] Buttigieg is also slightly ahead of Trump 47 – 43 percent.”

Quinnipiac provides no insight into what fuels these differences, but here are a couple of suggestions: the ultimate 2020 campaign can either be a referendum solely about Trump or it can be a “Which candidate is the least worse” such as the 2016 contest between Clinton and Trump.  If the contest becomes a Trump referendum, then it will focus on Trump’s handling of the economy.  (Quinnipiac noted: “Voters approve 54 – 42 percent of [Trump’s] handling of the economy.”) In that contest, Bloomberg would be the best Democratic candidate to attack Trump’s “stewardship” of the economy.

Of course there will be mudslinging, but in a Trump referendum contest: Bloomberg gets the best mark of 3; Warren and Klobuchar get 2; and the others score 1.

There’s another way to look at the question of who can beat Trump: who would be best to counter the Trump-campaign disinformation juggernaut?  (It’s rumored that Trump has raised $1 billion to campaign via Facebook, Twitter, and similar social-media outlets.(https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/ ))  The only Democratic candidate that has a shot countering this is Bloomberg.  So he gets a bonus point.

Who Strengthens the Overall Democratic Ticket:  In 2020, Democrats have to take back both the Presidency and the Senate.  If “Moscow Mitch” McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will block most Democratic legislative initiatives.  So the question is: who will be the best candidate to organize Democrats to make sure they win across the board?

Consider the situation in Arizona, where there’s a contested Senate seat now held by Republican Martha McSally — a Trump acolyte.  In the 2020 Arizona Senatorial election, she’ll be opposed by former astronaut Mark Kelly — husband of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords.  In 2016, Arizona narrowly went to Trump.  Which 2020 presidential candidate would have the best chance of turning Arizona blue and helping Mark Kelly win the Senate seat?  From here, it would seem that Biden, Bloomberg, and Klobuchar would do the best job, because they are centrist candidates.  Possibly Pete Buttigieg but he is not well known in Arizona.  Because of their brand of liberalism, Sanders and Warren would not play as well.

We can carry this analysis through all the states with a contested Senatorial contest: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, and North Carolina.

Here’s my ranking of the candidates on this vector: (3) Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, (2) Buttigieg, and (1) Sanders and Warren.

Who renews the presidency: It goes without saying that Donald Trump has divided the nation and demeaned the Presidency.  (Even Trump voters don’t like his behavior; they have chosen to ignore his Tweets and manic outbursts.)

Which Democratic candidate would be the best choice to unite the nation, bring dignity back to the White House and civility back to the halls of Congress?  At one time, I thought this perspective favored Joe Biden.  Now I would add Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.

Another way to parse this factor is to ask: Which of these six candidates is likely to get the most votes from folks who do not traditionally vote Democrat?  I’d say this is Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden.

Who champions the best policies:  Indivisible (https://scorecard.indivisible.org ) rated the candidates’ policy platforms.  Based on that, Warren and Sanders get a 3, Buttigieg a 2, and Klobuchar, Bloomberg, and Biden a 1.  (Mike Bloomberg didn’t get rated by Indivisible but his policies are very similar to those of Amy Klobuchar.)

While the Democratic primaries may be policy oriented, I suspect that the general election will have a more narrow focus: Trump’s “leadership;” the economy; global climate change; health care; and immigration.  All of the top six Democratic candidates are a strong alternative to Trump.  Nonetheless, Bloomberg would do better on the economy.

Summary: Based on the BB rating system, Mike Bloomberg gets an 11, Amy Klobuchar gets a 9, Peter Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren are tied with 8, and Bernie Sanders has 7.  (This rating is heavily skewed by my perception that Bloomberg and Klobuchar would do the  most for the overall Democratic ticket.)

So what should we expect after Super Tuesday?  I believe that on March 4th we will have a three candidate race: Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Sanders.  I like Amy Klobuchar but I don’t believe that she has the financial support required to compete effectively on Super Tuesday.  I think that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren once had a shot but, for whatever reason, have not garnered enough votes.  After March 3rd, I predict a three-man race.

What I Learned at the Dog Park

I didn’t attend the February 3rd Iowa Democratic Caucuses, but I did hold my own version of the caucus at our neighborhood dog park. The results are probably as accurate as those from Iowa: Biden lost, Bernie and Buttigieg tied for first place, and there’s an opening for Bloomberg.

I live in West Sonoma County — roughly 60 miles above San Francisco.  Most days I take my Australian Shepherd to a well-equipped dog park.  While my Aussie plays, I talk to a regular group of dog owners about dogs, life, and politics.

There’s one golden rule of dog-park behavior: take care of your dog — clean up after him/her and don’t let them abuse other dogs.  If you meet this standard then you are accepted.  And, your political opinion is tolerated.

There may be a Trump supporter among this crew, but they’ve never come out.  Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed that the dog-park crew are overwhelmingly Democrats.  Some of them admit that in the 2016 presidential election they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, but they did not vote for Donald Trump; they either didn’t mark their ballot or voted for Jill Stein.

After the results of the Iowa caucuses were in, I queried the dog-park crew about what they thought the results meant.  Here’s what I learned:

1.Any Democratic candidate is better than Trump but some Democratic candidates are better than others.  (By the way: I never heard anyone say, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, I’m not going to vote” — words that my stepson says he’s heard from His “Burning Man” friends.)

2. Some folks really don’t like Bernie Sanders.  He got the most negative comments of any of the Democratic contenders.  But that doesn’t mean these dog-park denizens won’t vote for Bernie in a contest against Trump.

3. There’s no candidate that elicits universal praise.  Most of the dog-park women like Elizabeth Warren but they are not “disciples” — they don’t have the fervor that we saw, from some women, when Hillary Clinton ran.

4. My homies don’t like Trump because of his poor character.  Sure, they don’t agree with many of his policies — such as his denial of global climate change — but this isn’t what’s driving their political behavior.  The dog-park crew can’t stand Trump as a person.  They cite his lying, intolerance, adversarial approach — “my way or the highway,” and all-around ineptitude.

5. For the dog-park denizens, this election is much more about character than policy.  While from a policy perspective there is a liberal group and a moderate group of candidates, their ultimate choice for the Democratic candidate will be based upon their assessment of who would have the best chance of beating Trump — and bringing dignity back to the oval office.

6. Everyone was surprised that Pete Buttigieg did so well in the Iowa caucuses.  (Buttigieg and Sanders tied for first place.)  The dog-park crew likes Mayor Pete but they don’t know that much about him.  Some wondered if a gay man can beat Trump.

7. No one was surprised that Joe Biden did not win.  People like Joe but they don’t believe he is strong enough to beat Trump.

8. There was mild surprise that Elizabeth Warren came in third.  The dog-park women have Elizabeth as their first choice.  Some men feel that Elizabeth reminds them of a school teacher, who lectured them.

9. I observed that the Iowa result might provide an opening for Michael Bloomberg — who was not on the ballot in Iowa but will be on the ballot for the March 3rd California primary election.  When I made this suggestion, nearly everyone around said, “I’d vote for Bloomberg.”

10. Most of the dog-park crew expect there will be a contentious Democratic Presidential convention in mid-July.

Summary: From this perspective, it looks like the race for the Democratic nomination has narrowed to Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and Bloomberg.  For the record, Buttigieg and Warren have dogs; Bloomberg and Sanders don’t.

This is the Way It Ends, Not with a Bang but a Whimper

When I learned that Senate Republicans had blocked witness testimony for the Impeachment Trial, I was reminded of the concluding line from T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men:” “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” I wasn’t surprised that Republicans voted to let Trump off the hook; I was surprised that their coverup was so brazen.

Throughout the Impeachment Trial, I have been hoping that some Republican would take the moral high ground and recognize Donald Trump’s perfidy.  It’s not like Trump was accused of a sexual indiscretion, and then lying about it; Trump was accused of jeopardizing national security for political gain, and then obstructing the investigation.  This is a big deal, a clear impeachable offense, and it’s depressing that Republicans do not acknowledge this.

In the end there were 49 votes to allow additional testimony, and 51 votes against.  Two crucial Republican “swing” votes, Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski, voted with the majority.  They both grabbed onto political “escape outlets” that had been proffered by the Trump’s legal team.

Tennessee Senator Alexander said ( https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/30/politics/lamar-alexander-impeachment-witnesses-vote/index.html):

I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense… It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

In other words, Alexander had made up his mind and saw no need for additional evidence.   Rather than describe Donald Trump’s action as “unlawful,” Alexander deemed them “inappropriate.”  Wow.

Alaska Senator Murkowski said (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/31/politics/murkowski-impeachment-vote-statement/index.html):

The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena… Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything.”

Trump’s legal team offered wavering Republican Senators two escape outlets:  Lamar Alexander took the first, arguing that Trump did something wrong but it was not impeachable.  Lisa Murkowski took the second escape route, arguing that the process was so flawed that it was not possible to have a fair Senate trial and, for that reason, no further testimony was needed. (“This is how it ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”)

Next week, the Senate will “acquit” Donald Trump.

Observing Donald Trump over the past 4 years, we’ve learned he’s an escape artist. Time and again, when we thought damning evidence would bring Trump down, he’s skated away. (It’s one of the reasons his behavior is so outrageous; Trump believes he can get away with anything.)  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resisted starting impeachment proceedings because she was afraid they would fail and Trump would be emboldened.  Then came the whistleblower complaint and Pelosi had no choice but to launch an impeachment initiative.  Next week, The Impeachment Trial will end.  What will the consequences be?

Trump may be emboldened but we still have John Bolton to hear from.  On  January 26th, the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/us/politics/trump-bolton-book-ukraine.html) revealed: “President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.”

Remember that Donald Trump has long asserted that his (now) famous July 25th phonemail with Ukrainian President Zelensky was “perfect” and “there was no quid pro quo.” (“Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).)  For most of us, one phrase sticks out: In return for the promise of U.S. assistance, Trump requested, “I would like you do us a favor,” and asked Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.  Trump’s defense team asserted that this phrase was innocent and Trump did not intend to tie a Biden investigation to the provision of military assistance.  Bolton can refute this.  Bolton apparently had a conversation with Trump where Trump said there was a quid pro quo,  That’s a big deal.

But beyond this, the Republican Senators have thwarted the will of the American people.  On January 28th, Quinnipiac (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/28/politics/quinnipiac-impeachment-poll-witnesses/index.html ) reported: “Three-quarters of registered voters think witnesses should be allowed to testify in the Senate impeachment trial...This includes 49% of Republicans who think witnesses should be allowed to testify, 75% of independents and 95% of Democrats.”  Most voters wanted to hear more evidence but Republican Senators blocked this.

Ultimately, if voters feel cheated, they will take out their ire on Republican Senators who are vulnerable in the 2020 election: Collins (Maine), Ernst (Iowa), Gardiner (Colorado), Loeffler (Georgia), McSally (Arizona), Perdue (Georgia), Tillis (North Carolina), and possibly McConnell (Kentucky).  If voters feel the Senate Impeachment trial was a coverup, then on November 3rd the American public can express their anger by voting out these Senators, and Donald Trump.

Voters can choose to end this dreadful episode with a bang, not a whimper.