The Democratic Primary Is Dramatic and Suspenseful . . . but Maybe Not for Long

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren during the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Westerville, Ohio, October 15, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

If you hate predictability and don’t have a dog in the fight, then this Democratic primary is pretty fun and exciting. Any of the big four of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, or Elizabeth Warren could win Iowa, and all four still have a shot at New Hampshire, although Warren and Buttigieg appear to be sliding back.

But . . . this means there’s a chance Biden ends up on top of a cluster of close-finishing candidates in Iowa, and then does the same thing the following week in New Hampshire, and his current leads in Nevada and South Carolina remain stable. This means there’s a not-so-crazy chance that Biden goes four-for-four in the early states and a lot of people conclude this primary is effectively over by the end of February.

The race wouldn’t really be over; Mike Bloomberg and his 1,000 staffers and bazillion dollars of television advertising are waiting to ambush the front runner on Super Tuesday. But in the primaries, momentum counts for a lot, and campaigns can only survive so many fourth-place finishes. Campaigns can spin lousy polling numbers but not lousy finishes in actual contests. Four years ago, New Hampshire knocked out Chris Christie, South Carolina knocked out Jeb Bush, and Super Tuesday knocked out Ben Carson. The following week, “Super Tuesday two,” featured Trump beating Marco Rubio in his home state, which drove Rubio to quit the race.

After a while, the primary finishes start to turn into the incentive structure from Glengarry Glenn Ross: “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”


‘Bernie Is Not Normal’

I wrote about Bernie Sanders today:

The most substantively outrageous presidential campaign in American history has some serious chance of success.

Bernie Sanders is leading or near the top of most polls in the first two Democratic nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He could plausibly win both, which would instantly transform the race into a desperate effort to Stop Bernie.

Sanders doesn’t exactly get good press. A lot of the punditry (understandably) wrote him off when Elizabeth Warren eclipsed him in the polls a couple of months ago and he had his health scare. Longer profiles have tended to be fond, while expressing skepticism that Sanders can build out his coalition. But the same people who have spent years worrying about norms — by which they usually mean things President Donald Trump says and tweets — express little alarm about Bernie’s campaign of jaw-dropping radicalism.

National Security & Defense

We Can’t Trust the Media to Report Honestly on Iran

President Donald Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House advisors, and senior military personnel, delivers remarks from Cross Hall at the White House, January 8, 2020. (Shealah Craighead/White House)

It’s hard enough watching journalists blaming the United States for the Islamic Republic’s perniciousness or exaggerating the importance of “revered leader” Qasem Soleimani while minimizing the actions of the courageous Iranians who oppose the mullahs. Even before a pro-Iranian regime bias infected much of the institutional media, conservatives were reading outlets like the New York Times through a prism of skepticism. In general, though, one could trust that the underlying facts and framing were basically correct. The past four years have made even that impossible.

Take the Soleimani killing, for example.

In the newest iteration of the story from NBC News, we learn that after Iran shot down a U.S. drone this summer, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s then-national security adviser, tried to persuade Donald Trump to kill the Iranian terrorist leader. Trump, instinctively uneasy about escalating Middle East conflict, resisted the pressure. According to “current and former senior administration officials,” NBC News states, the president instead drew a red line: He would authorize the killing of Soleimani only “if Iran’s increased aggression resulted in the death of an American.”

Trump even tweeted, warning the mullahs that further violence would have repercussions.

Well, after subsequent escalations by Iran, and proxies attacked the United States embassy and murdered an American contractor, Trump followed through on his threat to take out Soleimani. Apparently Ali Khamenei did not take Trump literally or seriously.

The big problem with the NBC News account of the killing is that it conflicts almost entirely with the premise and tone of much of the earlier coverage, most notably an adjective-laden New York Times story published the day after Soleimani was killed, which claimed that Trump’s decision was extreme and impulsive:

In the chaotic days leading to the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful commander, top American military officials put the option of killing him — which they viewed as the most extreme response to recent Iranian-led violence in Iraq — on the menu they presented to President Trump.

The Times asserts that the plan to kill of Soleimani was objectionable, only placed in front of the president to make the other options more palatable. Trump, however, went for it, shocking everyone. (If eliminating a mass murderer and leader of a group designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is the radical choice, one wonders what the moderate option looked like. Maybe it entailed sending John Kerry to Paris with a bag of Swiss francs to hand Quds Force commanders?)

The New York Times piece goes on to create the impression that it was all done rashly: “Right after” the embassy attack, the Pentagon “drew up options” for the president. But NBC says Trump already authorized the killing seven months ago, with a well-defined trigger mechanism. And NBC reports that the secretary of state (and former CIA director) and the president’s national security adviser had already tried to persuade him to do it, and it was Trump who had initially curbed Bolton and Pompeo.

Pompeo, by the way, is the man whom CNN informs us had Trump’s ear since 2017 and has been on a “decade-long” crusade to kill Soleimani. “Long known as a ‘Trump whisperer’ for the relationship he’s cultivated with the President, Pompeo’s ability to sell such an aggressive Iran strategy to Trump — a conflict-averse President — is testament to his unparalleled sway,” the piece says.  Actually, Trump had already promised an aggressive Iran strategy during his campaign.

And wait, on Sunday the Washington Post reported that the president “first asked for options to kill Suleimani in 2017, but his national security team didn’t provide them.” Amplifying selective leaks from the State Department, the piece makes the claim that Trump had been gung-ho to off Soleimani, and there was no one left to stop him from acting on his worst instincts.

Even factoring in Trump’s mercurial behavior, it’s rather implausible that all these stories can be factually or narratively correct.

So let me posit this theory: Maybe Trump, after Iranian escalations and mass murder, finally adopted a long-term strategy of containment and deterrence that many in his political party have been arguing in favor of for the past 15 years. Maybe Trump brought up the possibility of killing Soleimani because it is one of many rational options any president should consider in the face of constant Iranian aggression. And maybe, instead of being bullied by his cabinet, Trump finally was given little choice by the Iranians but to pick this option.

After all, if Trump were the impulsive warmonger depicted in a New York Times piece, he not only could have taken out Soleimani in 2017, he could have reacted with deadly force after the Iranian face-saving missile attacks the other day. Maybe Trump stopped mollifying the Iranian regime, and maybe he believes that force reinstituted hard limits on Iran. I’m unsure why the administration needed to claim that Soleimani was planning specific imminent attacks. His existence was an imminent threat.

Now, I realize that theory, one that suggests Trump’s actions include some logical decision-making, doesn’t fit neatly into the media’s hysteria over President McCrazy. But it may well be true in this case. If there were a basic standard of reporting, rather than a tendency to spin everything into a scandal, the public would be far better equipped to decide.


Further Thoughts on Anti-Semitism in New York

A man wearing a kippah listens to speakers during an anti-Semitism demo at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on September 14, 2014. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

In my report on tensions between ultra-Orthodox and non-Jews in the region surrounding New York City, I interviewed a wide array of people to try to show the nature of these tensions. One of the people I interviewed, a Jewish individual who is not ultra-Orthodox, told me that many people in the community (not referring to himself) view ultra-Orthodox Jews as “locusts” due to what they perceive as reliance on government resources by ultra-Orthodox villages. This same individual criticized ultra-Orthodox development, arguing that it affects the way of life of non-Jewish and non-ultra-Orthodox residents.

This quote has attracted controversy. My decision to include it obviously does not constitute an endorsement of its language or its argument. Throughout the article, I quote multiple other people who label similar rhetoric, and the attitudes underlying it, as anti-Semitic. My intention in this article was to present a picture of what is happening in the counties surrounding New York and to convey the feelings of all residents of the area, amid a housing boom and the thankfully growing awareness of New York’s anti-Semitism problem (which I have covered before).

This is a complicated subject that can veer into exceptionable territory. It is extremely vital to understand what people in the area are feeling in order to defuse any misunderstandings or ill-will among observant Jews and their neighbors. It is my hope that the reader will come away from the article with a little more knowledge of those attitudes.


The Coalition of the Ascendant Rejects Candidates of Color

Cory Booker withdrew from the race for the Democratic nomination today. The candidate acknowledged that there was “no longer a path to victory” for his campaign, an assertion borne out by his abysmal poll numbers and inconsistent fundraising efforts.

Booker is just the latest candidate “of color” to be rejected by the base of voters who claim to very much care about the melanin count of their eventual nominee. A Columbia journalism professor named Errin Haines delivered an emblematic progressive lament on this issue: F0r a group touted as “the most diverse field of candidates” to “ever run” for president, she said, it does not have that diversity “reflected on the debate stage or in polling.”

Andrew Yang, an Asian American, might have something to say to Haines about the diversity of the current field. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, might too. As I recall, Pete Buttigieg is openly gay, and while the operative definition of the word is always changing, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are, by all accounts, still female. For a putatively anti-Semitic, homophobic, patriarchal country that once interned a group of Asian-Americans, it’s quite something to claim that the field as constituted is not diverse.

Semantic quibbles about what constitutes a diverse field aside, one cannot help but notice the presumable culprits here: Democratic primary voters, many of whom are themselves racial minorities. Internalized oppression, indeed.

Health Care

Unforced Errors on Preexisting Conditions

President Donald Trump delivers a statement about Iran at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

These Trump tweets have stirred up quite the reaction among lefties. I hate to say it, but the lefties have a point.

Obamacare — enacted under, well, Obama — is the reason it’s generally illegal for insurers in the individual market to take enrollees’ health into account when setting premiums. Trump didn’t “save” these protections; to the contrary, the GOP’s various failed replacement bills would have weakened them to a debatable extent, and the administration has (to its credit!) expanded the availability of plans that don’t comply with Obamacare’s regulations. Further, if the Trump-backed lawsuit aiming to eliminate Obamacare succeeds, the direct effect will be, uh, to eliminate Obamacare, including those popular preexisting-condition provisions Trump is trying to take credit for.

True, if Republicans win the House, a victory in the lawsuit may in theory give them an opening to replace the law without needing to repeal it too, and any Republican plan will offer at least some help to those with preexisting conditions. But that’s getting pretty far ahead of ourselves. Republicans failed to get a health-care plan through the last time they had the chance, and if Obamacare is struck down in its entirety, it will become a lot harder to pass all the needed reforms through the “reconciliation” process that allows bills to go through the Senate with 50 votes instead of 60.

By this point I’ve made my view of the GOP lawsuit pretty clear. The legal arguments are bad, and it’s politically unwise for red states and the Trump administration to toss a hand grenade into the individual market after they’ve done so much to improve it over the past few years. And it’s hard to say you support the current preexisting-condition protections when you’ve signed onto a lawsuit that will destroy them if it succeeds.


Roger Scruton’s Inferno

Sir Roger Scruton (Wikimedia Commons)

The death of Roger Scruton moved me to revisit two of his essays. The first, “Why I Became a Conservative,” appeared in The New Criterion in 2003. The second was published in the Daily Mail last summer under the headline, “Sir Roger Scruton battled the Thought Police behind the Iron Curtain as a young man. Now he says they’ve come for him in Britain after he was wrongly accused of making racist slurs.” Both pieces describe aspects of Scruton’s intellectual development in which his experience with Communism was central.

By the time he first visited Communist Europe in the late 1970s, Scruton had studied Edmund Burke and adopted many of the lessons of Reflections on the Revolution in France. He found Burke’s defense of authority, of tradition, and of the social compact between generations rather than individuals essential as he worked out his intellectual response to the student uprisings of 1968. “I had grasped the positive thesis — the defense of prejudice, tradition, and heredity, and of a politics of trusteeship in which the past and the future had equal weight to the present — but I had not grasped the deep negative thesis, the glimpse into Hell, contained in his vision of the Revolution,” he wrote in 2003.

His visit to Prague in 1979 was a dark revelation. “I knew nothing of what it was like to live under Communism — nothing of the day-to-day humiliation of being a nonperson, to whom all avenues of self-expression are closed.” Police accosted him as he tried to enter the apartment where he had been invited to teach a seminar. The participants — members of the Czech intellectual remnant — had been erased from public life. They eked out livings as stokers. Scruton was inspired to become involved in the lives of Czech dissidents. The more time he spent in central Europe, the more aware he became of the evil of Communism. “In the Czech lands,” he wrote in 2019, “I sensed the presence all around me of a dark, impersonal force, a controlling and all-observing eye whose goal was to plant suspicion and fear in the heart of every human relationship.”

He meditated on these sensations. “And I came to see,” he wrote for the New Criterion, “that Burke’s account of Revolution was not merely a piece of contemporary history. It was like Milton’s account of Paradise Lost — an exploration of a region of the human psyche: a region that lies always ready to be visited, but from which return is by way of a miracle, to a world whose beauty is thereafter tainted by memories of Hell. To put it very simply, I had been granted a vision of Satan and his work — the very same vision that had shaken Burke to the depths of his being.”

The Communist bloc was Roger Scruton’s Inferno. But it wasn’t Virgil who guided him there. It was Edmund Burke. “As to the task of transcribing, into the practice and process of modern politics, the philosophy that Burke made plain to the world,” Scruton wrote in 2003, “this is perhaps the greatest task that we now confront.” And so it remains.


Bernie Sanders’ Folk Album, and Other Less-Mentioned Moments in His Long Career

Former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif., December 19, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Bits and pieces of Bernie Sanders’ history that didn’t quite fit in my piece on the homepage . . .

  • A generation before Donald Trump started complaining about “fake news,” Sanders was talking about “social control and the tube.” In 1979, Sanders wrote: “Like heroin and alcohol, television serves the function of an escapist mechanism which allows people to ‘space out’ and avoid the pain and conflict of their lives and the causes of those problems . . . Television is the major vehicle by which the owners of this society propagate their political points of view (including lies and distortions) through the ‘news.’ . . . There is no question that television has an enormous impact on our society, and that the controllers of that medium have far more power than almost any politician. For those of us who are concerned about living in a democratic and healthy society, it is necessary to address the control of television as a political issue and organize to win.”
  • Sanders recorded a folk album in 1987. No, really.
  • As a congressional candidate in 1990, Sanders casually compared America’s low voter turnout to South Africa’s Apartheid regime: “All of us are dismayed that  in South Africa, for example, black people can’t vote — how many of us know that in this people, poor people don’t vote anymore?”
  • Sanders notes that he had never been inside the U.S. Capitol Building until he was elected to Congress.
  • Once in Congress, called for a 50 percent cut in the defense budget, while saying he was open to supporting funding for the V-22 Osprey because Vergennes, Vt.-based Simmonds Precision Products had a $125 million contract to develop the aircraft’s fuel management system. His chief of staff said in 1991, “Bernie’s position is that some defense contracts will remain” after his massive spending cut was enacted, and that “Vermont should get its share of them. Just because Vermont has a congressman who wants these kinds of cuts, that doesn’t mean Vermont should lose out.”
  • In 2016, Sanders inspired such fanatical loyalty that almost 6 percent of the voters in Vermont wrote him in; among the states that counted write-in votes, Sanders received 111,609 votes — all after formally conceding the nomination to Clinton and not running.

No doubt, during his long career, Bernie Sanders has often made controversial statements and generated plenty of news coverage for a willingness to say things that almost no one else in politics — certainly no one in the political establishment — is willing to say. But hey, it’s not like the American electorate would ever elect a guy like that, right?


Kyle Smith Has Never Been This Wrong

I come not to praise my friend Kyle Smith but to bury him.

Kyle argues that the late Neil Peart might be considered the greatest drummer in the history of rock music, and adds: “though some would go with Keith Moon.”

Ye gods — where to begin with this?

Neil Peart and Keith Moon could hardly be said to have played the same instrument. Peart was a virtuoso and a technician whose reputation was based on flashy displays of skill, whereas Moon was from the primal-scream school of drumming, his peers being bangers such as John Bonham and Jerry Allison, not nerds like Neil Peart, whose relevant points of comparison are other prog-rock dorks like Bill Bruford.

Keith Moon could have been in the Ramones; Neil Peart . . . could not.

Give the prog-rock dorks their due, of course: Unlike the founders of punk rock or the Beatles in their earliest days, they were (and are) good at playing their instruments. A million years ago, I spent an afternoon with one of the bassists from one of the iterations of Yes, who confessed that he got his job mainly because he was free to start touring and could sight-read well enough to hit the road more or less immediately. (He did a funny pantomime of himself flipping the pages of his sheet music while playing “Roundabout.”) He also did a very impressive bass version of Chet Atkins’s “Yankee Doodle Dixie,” playing the melody from “Yankee Doodle” in one register and “Dixie” as counterpoint, which is a pretty neat trick on the bass.

There’s a third kind of drummer, of course: the stay-the-hell-out-of-the-way drummer, invaluable players such as Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, and Frank Beard, who did a pretty good imitation of a drum machine on Eliminator, when ZZ Top was at the height of its commercial success.

But the most interesting kind to me are the ones who straddle the line between Keith Moon’s raging id and Neil Peart’s disciplined superego, drummers such as Lars Ulrich and African Force-era Ginger Baker.

Musical ambition can be a dangerous thing for a rock musician: The Sex Pistols couldn’t play their instruments to save their lives, but they were a great band; prog-rock, on the other hand, is full of virtuosos making music that doesn’t go anywhere. With the exception of the occasional guitar prodigy such as Steve Vai and a few examples of what we might call High Metal, the thing about rock is that great musicians rarely make great music. Imagine trying to put sheet music in front of Chuck Berry and asking him to go on tour. Rush had a couple of great songs thanks to the Canadian modesty that kept them from going the full King Crimson.

If there’s anything more dangerous for rock music than musical ambition, it is literary ambition. And while Kyle may get excited about those Ayn Rand-derived statement songs Rush recorded, the less said about Neil Peart’s career as a lyricist

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees . . .

the better. They aren’t handing out any Nobel prizes in literature for “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah . . . yeah, yeah,” but that’s not what rock is there for.

A bop bop aloom op a lop bop boom.


The Evolving Libertarianism of Neil Peart

Rush drummer Neil Peart performs during a sold-out show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., July 17, 2004. (Ethan Miller/Reuters)

Like every true rock fan I was saddened to hear of the passing of Neil Peart, the lyricist and virtuoso drummer for the prog group Rush. We all love the band’s key albums, the handful culminating in 1981’s Moving Pictures, and we inevitably have some opinions about the others too. I absolutely loved their 2007 effort Snakes and Arrows, for example, and I can’t stand the really synth-heavy stuff they did in the mid and late ’80s. (Before anyone asks, in my definition that includes Power Windows but not Signals.)

We on the right, of course, have a special debt to Peart for being the rare entertainer to espouse political beliefs other than lefty ones. The incredible first side of 2112 is based on Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and in “The Trees,” from Hemispheres, Peart makes a point about equality: All trees can be the same height . . . if you cut them all down.

But like a lot of us who had strong libertarian tendencies when we were young, Peart saw his views evolve as he aged. “The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum),” from the aforementioned Snakes and Arrows, is a heartfelt meditation on the “different fortunes and fates” human beings find themselves subjected to. And in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012, Peart identified as a “bleeding-heart libertarian” rather than the Randian kind:

For me, [the work of Ayn Rand] was an affirmation that it’s all right to totally believe in something and live for it and not compromise. It was a simple as that. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Because I do believe in the principles of libertarianism as an ideal — because I’m an idealist. Paul Theroux’s definition of a cynic is a disappointed idealist. So as you go through past your twenties, your idealism is going to be disappointed many many times. And so, I’ve brought my view and also — I’ve just realized this — libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we’re all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that’s when I evolve now into . . . a bleeding-heart libertarian. That’ll do.

May he rest in peace.

Politics & Policy

Paid Leave and One-Earner Families

John Hirschauer makes two solid points: No paid leave policy can create more time in the day, and there are real upsides to having one parent take paid employment while the other stays home with the children. He suggests that Republicans who are trying to come up with paid-leave proposals have lost sight of these points and should instead come up with “policy solutions that will make it easier for families to raise a family on one income.”

I don’t think the criticism really applies to the leading Republican paid-leave proposals, because those proposals are such policy solutions. The Romney-Rubio plan (which would let parents of newborns take some of their projected Social Security benefits earlier) would create a new option for both one-earner and two-earner households, without favoring one arrangement over the other. So, I gather, would the Cassidy-Sinema plan (which would let parents take child credits early).

The criticism makes more sense if deployed against proposals to raise taxes on everyone to help two-earner families — but the Republican plans have been devised in part to stave off those policies.


Did Bernie Tell Warren a Woman Can’t Win?

Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren during the first night of the second 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

CNN is out with a report saying that Bernie told Elizabeth Warren in a private meeting that a woman can’t win. The story relies on anonymous sources who weren’t in the meeting — “two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting” — and Bernie’s denial is full-throated.

Whom to believe? Noah Pollack tweeted a sharp take from a Senate aide: “this s*** is hilarious because it sounds like both something Bernie would say and Elizabeth Warren would make up.”

We haven’t heard from Warren directly, but if she doesn’t back it up, she’s going to look terrible, because the leak clearly came from her camp. Even if she does back it up, her past fabulism and the fact this is coming out when Bernie has eclipsed her in a lot of polling will undermine her credibility.

Meanwhile, Tim Carney reminds us that believing it’s harder for a woman to win isn’t exactly a hate crime, or wasn’t prior to this flare-up:

Politics & Policy

‘Society’s’ Job, and Paid Leave

Babies are pictured in a maternity ward at the Munich hospital ‘Rechts der Isar’ January 18, 2011. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

Upon reading Alexandra’s recent article detailing Republican efforts to craft a federal paid-parental-leave policy, I was reminded of a few people in the Harvard orbit with relevant stories on that score.

One is Alison Beard, a senior editor at the Harvard Business Review, who wrote this last January:

“[Feminist thinkers] assure me that the tension and guilt I feel as a working mother isn’t something I can relieve on my own or even with support from my family-focused husband, fabulous nanny, dear circle of sister-moms, and deeply empathetic boss and colleagues. It will take an entire society (perhaps one a little more like Sweden’s) to truly ease the burden.”

It would seem to me that it is not the province of “an entire society” to allay the feelings of “tension and guilt” felt by Alison Beard or any other “working mother.” Time is a finite commodity, with or without a federal paid-parental-leave policy. You cannot have it all, whether you’re a mother in Sweden, St. Louis, or South Sudan.

Former Harvard professor and current fledgling presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren wrote The Two-Income Trap in 2004 — a book that, were it written today, would end the author’s career in progressive politics. That comes to mind as a rejoinder to both Beard and Republican pols. Warren’s book advanced the argument that the post-1970s explosion in American households with two wage-earners resulted in soaring fixed costs for families, cost increases that wiped out much of their apparent gains in income. In a household with both parents in the workforce, child-care services otherwise provided by a stay-at-home parent were performed by hired help or day-care services, and the travel and associated expenses that inhere to full-time work created additional costs for families otherwise absent in the single-breadwinner model of domestic life.

Warren argued that having both parents in the workforce slashed the vital role of stay-at-home parents as automatic stabilizers — when a spouse fell ill, the domestic partner came to their aid; during hard economic times, the stay-at-home parent could enter the workforce to help bolster family income.

“A stay-at-home mother,” Warren wrote, “served as the family’s ultimate insurance against unemployment or disability — insurance that had a very real economic value even when it wasn’t drawn on.”

Instead of focusing on policy solutions that will make it easier for families to raise a family on one income, Republicans appear to have ceded that ground altogether. Would that they rediscover the virtues of that goal.


Bernie’s Strength

Bernie narrowly leads the new Des Moines Register Iowa poll, with the top four still bunched up. The poll captures real sources of strength for him:

Sanders’ supporters are more likely than those who support the other leading candidates to say their minds are made up (59%), and they are “extremely” enthusiastic about their candidate (49%). Just 32% of Warren’s supporters describe themselves as extremely enthusiastic, and 26% each for Biden and Buttigieg.

“There was a thought that his support was a holdover from when he ran before and that that would evaporate,” Selzer said. “It certainly has not evaporated.”

She said Sanders is holding on to many of those who caucused for him in 2016 while also growing support among young and first-time caucusgoers. Those are notoriously difficult groups to turn out on caucus night, she said, but Sanders has done it before and appears to be on track to do so again.

He has retained support from 44% of those who say they caucused for him in 2016. Warren earns 20% of his former supporters.

And he leads the field with those younger than 35, earning 36% of their support; Warren follows him at 20%.

And the poll notes what should be obvious — Bernie and Warren are fishing in the same ideological pool:

Further, a plurality of Biden’s supporters, 29%, say Buttigieg is their second choice; a plurality of Sanders’ supporters, 44%, say Warren is theirs; and a plurality of Warren’s supporters, 31%, say Sanders is their second choice.


Cory Booker, the Rocket That Failed to Launch

Sen. Cory Booker responds to a question during a forum held by gun safety organizations in Las Vegas, Nev., October 2, 2019. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

The departure of Cory Booker from the presidential race will not generate a lot of exhaustive analysis, as it has already been digested by the body politic. Booker failed to launch and bounced along the bottom of the polling charts for a year. You’ll see some cringing about the all-white Democratic debate coming this week, but few expected Booker to meet the recent thresholds; he simply wasn’t competitive in any of the early states. In the RealClearPolitics averages, he’s at 2.7 percent in Iowa, 1.8 percent in New Hampshire, 2 percent in Nevada, and South Carolina — once considered one of his best chances to win — at 3 percent. Even in the Palmetto State, Booker never hit more than 6 percent.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to say about Booker’s campaign is that he’s a vivid illustration of how the traits that make a politician interesting for media profiles don’t always translate into actual support on the trail. Booker was the multiracial, vegan, former standout Stanford tight end who had been the subject of Oscar-nominated documentaries, generated tales of heroics as mayor of Newark, described vivid tales of perhaps-imaginary friends from the hood, was once an outspoken school choice and voucher advocate, created his own Internet start-up and hobnobbed with Silicon Valley titans, was the first mayor of Newark in 45 years not to leave office indicted or under the threat of indictment on criminal charges, and who dated actress Rosario Dawson. That’s a resume fit for Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World.” On paper, Booker should have been the heir apparent to Barack Obama’s celebrity politics.

Despite all that, Booker could often come across as boring. His debate one-liners and applause lines were so perfectly rehearsed that they came across as cloying. His signature move in the debate was to wait until an argument between two other candidates had started to get interesting and impassioned, and then interject with a disapproving: “this kind of infighting is just what the Republicans want to see.” But “this kind of infighting” was also a serious disagreement about which policy direction was right for the Democratic party, which is precisely the sort of thing a presidential primary is supposed to sort out. Perhaps Democratic primary voters interpreted Booker’s perpetual “tsk-tsk” response to these arguments as a reticence for getting into a nasty fight — which was not a trait you wanted to advertise if you were asking the party to make you their nominee up against Donald Trump.

Most Popular

Bernie Is Not Normal

The most substantively outrageous presidential campaign in American history has some serious chance of success. Bernie Sanders is leading or near the top of most polls in the first two Democratic nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He could plausibly win both, which would instantly transform the race ... Read More

Bernie Is Not Normal

The most substantively outrageous presidential campaign in American history has some serious chance of success. Bernie Sanders is leading or near the top of most polls in the first two Democratic nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He could plausibly win both, which would instantly transform the race ... Read More

Women Lie Too

Elizabeth Warren says Bernie Sanders once told her that a woman couldn't win the presidency. Bernie Sanders says Elizabeth Warren is lying about the encounter. I have no idea whom to believe. Some notable people on Twitter have wondered if maybe, considering all that happened during the #MeToo movement, ... Read More

Women Lie Too

Elizabeth Warren says Bernie Sanders once told her that a woman couldn't win the presidency. Bernie Sanders says Elizabeth Warren is lying about the encounter. I have no idea whom to believe. Some notable people on Twitter have wondered if maybe, considering all that happened during the #MeToo movement, ... Read More

Our Stupid Times, Etc.

I don’t think most people who read the news are too stupid to understand the news. I think they are too dishonest. I am frankly embarrassed that we’ve found it necessary to append a note to Zachary Evans’s report on anti-Semitism to emphasize that quoting a person to illuminate his sentiments does not ... Read More

Our Stupid Times, Etc.

I don’t think most people who read the news are too stupid to understand the news. I think they are too dishonest. I am frankly embarrassed that we’ve found it necessary to append a note to Zachary Evans’s report on anti-Semitism to emphasize that quoting a person to illuminate his sentiments does not ... Read More

The Democrats Have Had This Primary Before

As of this writing, the Democratic presidential contest looks very fluid, with four candidates bunched up in Iowa and New Hampshire. But the sudden relevance of foreign policy, thanks to the confrontation with Iran, has made it look more and more like a two-person race between Joe Biden and Bernie ... Read More

The Democrats Have Had This Primary Before

As of this writing, the Democratic presidential contest looks very fluid, with four candidates bunched up in Iowa and New Hampshire. But the sudden relevance of foreign policy, thanks to the confrontation with Iran, has made it look more and more like a two-person race between Joe Biden and Bernie ... Read More