Elections

What Happened Last Night?

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses supporters at his Super Tuesday night rally in Los Angeles, Calif., March 3, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The short version of last night: It was the biggest setback for socialism since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today’s Morning Jolt surveys the political landscape after Super Tuesday’s earthquake wiped out Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren and left Bernie Sanders in really rough shape. That Joe Biden nomination that looked so unlikely just a week ago now looks extremely plausible.

The Worst Beating of a Socialist Since Rocky Fought Ivan Drago

This Super Tuesday, everything went as well for Joe Biden as he and his campaign could possibly hope. He won nine states, swept the South, won Massachusetts and effectively humiliated Elizabeth Warren, and is now the front-runner once again. The race isn’t over, but it’s now effectively down to two, and the only thing that stopped the night from being a blowout was Bernie Sanders winning California and three other states. Biden is ahead in delegates and heading towards six states that all look like friendly territory. Before our eyes, he is pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in American political history.

Put yourself in the shoes of the Democratic establishment one week ago. Bernie Sanders had won the most votes in the first three caucuses and primaries, and he appeared to be cruising towards the nomination. Sure, he would lose a state here and there, but he appeared set to keep winning pluralities in most states, head into Milwaukee with the most delegates, and force the party to accept him as their nominee this summer.

In the eyes of the Democratic establishment, this was setting the stage for a political catastrophe. Sure, Sanders galvanized a certain segment of the youth vote, but nominating him carried enormous risks. He might have a better shot in Michigan, but he was virtually going to concede Pennsylvania with his proposed ban on fracking — and perhaps any other state that has a lot of oil and gas jobs, such as Colorado and New Mexico. His praise of Castro made Florida unwinnable. House Democrats in swing districts were openly fretting that Sanders could cost them their majority. A Sanders nomination suddenly brightened the outlook for at-risk Republican senators such as Cory Gardner. Eleven states select governors this year, and socialism is not an easy sell in places such as North Carolina or Montana. What’s more, this year brings elections for 86 of the 99 state legislative chambers, and in many states, these are the chambers that will control redistricting after the census. Texas Democrats know their state isn’t going to turn blue in the presidential election but had been making gains in the state legislature.

If the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, and the theme of the 2020 election is whether America should become socialist, the Democrats will just get crushed in a lot of places. If you’re the kind of Democrat who doesn’t indulge in fanciful visions of a sweeping revolution, your nightmare scenario is not the Democratic nominee losing to Trump. Your nightmare is Sanders losing to Trump and dragging the rest of the party down with him, ensuring Trump begins his second term with a GOP Congress and, for the fourth time since 2010, a coast-to-coast shellacking that prematurely ends the career of your party’s rising talent in the states.

If you’re the Democratic Party establishment and you want to avoid the worst-case scenario, you desperately want the presidential candidate with the highest floor. The one who’s not going to alienate the soccer moms and white-collar suburban dads. The one who has a shot of boosting African-American turnout above the disappointing 2016 numbers. If you’re the Democratic Party establishment, you push the button that pulls out all the stops to make Biden the nominee.

This doesn’t mean Biden is guaranteed to be the nominee. As of this writing, the Associated Press estimates that Biden has 453 delegates and Sanders has 382. (Keep in mind, these numbers are going to change as California is still counting the votes and may be counting those votes for a while.) To in the nomination, a candidate needs 1,991. Sanders needs to prevent Biden from winning 1,538 of the remaining delegates before the Milwaukee convention.

But as Ryan Lizza observes, Super Tuesday blew up Sanders’s argument that he, and only he, can bring out the massive wave of new voters that Democrats will need to defeat Trump. (Note: They may not need a massive wave of new voters. A big question is whether they can win back the Obama voters that drifted to Trump.) After Super Tuesday, we can say definitively, that the Sanders-driven surge of new voters has not arrived and appears unlikely to arrive anytime soon. The states that had record turnout, such as South Carolina and Virginia, were won by Biden. (Considering the rate of population growth over a four-year period, every primary with a non-incumbent should have record turnout.) As of this writing, Nate Silver’s gadget over at FiveThirtyEight thinks there’s a 61 percent chance that no one wins enough delegates to clinch before the convention. But now there’s a 31 percent chance that Biden wins enough to clinch, and only an 8 percent chance Sanders will win enough.

What happened? For starters, the first two contests being almost entirely white hasn’t mattered as much in past years, but it really mattered this year. No state will ever be perfectly representative of the rest of the country, but Iowa and New Hampshire are ridiculously unrepresentative, particularly of the demographics that make up the Democratic Party everywhere else. Nevada is 10 percent black, 29 percent Latino, and almost 9 percent Asian. It’s mind-boggling that the Democrats ever agreed to a schedule where the first heavily African-American state goes fourth.

As one Twitter voice put it, “Black people don’t got time for Bernie and his foolishness.” The majority of Democratic voters in southern states is black. Biden just stomped through those states like Godzilla. Sanders supporters are quick to note he’s doing much better among younger black voters, but they just don’t come out to vote in the numbers of their parents and grandparents.

Secondly, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar separately were never going to rise above also-ran status. But together, their supporters made up anywhere from 13 to 18 percent in a lot of states, and when you put most of those voters into the Biden pile, you get something like last night. Biden didn’t run a single ad in Minnesota. Both supporters and detractors of Biden are murmuring about some sort of behind-the-scenes deal. Welcome to American politics; this is how you get things done. You build a coalition. “You help me by dropping out and endorsing now, I’ll help you out by giving you a nice position in my future administration after November.” If there was an offer to these candidates, Bernie Sanders could have made the same offer. He chose not to because he regards most of the rest of the Democratic Party as a bunch of useless corporate sellouts. It says a great deal about Sanders supporters that many of them see routine horse-trading and coalition-building as cheating.

And now the Democrats will learn the steep price of having a segment of their base that is angry and paranoid all the time, the “dirtbag Left” that sees everything as a corporate conspiracy. Sean King is apparently hallucinating segments of Rachel Maddow’s program.

Who’s spreading online disinformation now?

Morning Tapas: Small Servings of News

The spectacular collapse of the Elizabeth Warren campaign suggests that the national news media is now something of a liability to the Democratic Party, as the media keeps falling in love with candidates who are nowhere near as popular, likable, and appealing as their media coverage suggests. While the people who make up the national media are mostly Democrats, they are no longer representative of Democrats as a whole. They have advanced degrees, make more money, live in big cities or high-end suburbs, and are extremely socially liberal and focused in identity politics. They may vehemently oppose and even demonize Tea Partiers or MAGA-hat wearing Trump fans, but they also don’t have much in common with the churchgoing older African American in a small city in South Carolina, the Latina kitchen worker in the Nevada Culinary Union, or the gun-owning blue-collar recreational hunter in Iowa . . .

. . . Tim Mak with a spectacular scoop:

American Alan Gross, a prisoner in Cuba for five years during the Obama administration, is accusing Senator Bernie Sanders of commending the Communist country when he came to visit him behind bars.

Sanders visited Cuba as part of a congressional delegation in 2014, along with Senators Heidi Heitkamp and Jon Tester.

During the one-hour meeting, Sanders told the prisoner that he didn’t understand why others criticized Cuba, Gross said in an interview with NPR.“He said, quote: ‘I don’t know what’s so wrong with this country,’” Gross recalled.

The Florida GOP will be kicking the wastepaper basket in frustration if Sanders isn’t the nominee.

. . . Perhaps Mike Bloomberg was always going to be too capitalist for the Left and too nanny-state for the Right. But man, would he have been helped by some basic debate preparation and just a little bit of personality or warmth. To you or me, a fortune of fifty billion dollars would solve a lot of our problems, but it carries the cost that no one is willing to be honest with you for the rest of your life.

. . . The Democratic message can and should have been simple: “We will continue this economic growth, without the daily chaos that Trump brings.” Whether or not you, my mostly conservative audience, believe they actually can, that’s the kind of message that appeals to the broadest segment of voters.

ADDENDUM: Some people might look at the enormous twists and turns of the Democratic primary and think, “If this whole thing is so unpredictable, why do people cover this, then?” I happen to think that a lot of the presidential race is indeed over-covered, particularly the early segments. The debates get over-interpreted, the poll movements are treated as more important than they are, political obituaries are written prematurely. (I looked so smart on The Editors podcast in 2019, saying that despite his visible flaws, Biden had a good chance to be the nominee. Then he lost Iowa and New Hampshire badly and I declared his campaign a failure.) Longshot candidates are taken seriously and then flop.

Nobody’s clairvoyant. Many of the handful who foresaw a Trump win in 2016 also believed a “red wave” would preserve the GOP House majority in 2018. Almost no one saw Jesse Ventura becoming governor, Dave Brat knocking off Eric Cantor, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knocking off Joe Crowley.

This is what makes politics fascinating. In sports, “This is why you play the game.” Upsets happen. Voters can change their minds. Voters can express one preference to a pollster and then vote differently in the booth. District lines that were gerrymandered a decade ago to protect incumbents suddenly don’t look as safe as populations shift and people move around. Everything’s a moving target.

To quote one of the wisest philosophers in the history of Western civilization, “You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game! You don’t play it to just play it! When you start telling me it doesn’t matter, then retire. Get out. Because it matters.”

Elections

It May Be Impossible, but Please Choose Wisely

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Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden during the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Have yourself a super Super Tuesday. A slightly different format to the Morning Jolt today, as we sort through the four (three?) remaining contenders for the Democratic nomination. One week from tonight, almost half the states will have held their primaries.

The Choice Before the Democrats Today

I won’t be voting in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary, even though Virginia doesn’t register voters by party and allows those registered to vote to cast ballots in whichever primary they prefer. I hate it when Democrats try to make mischief in GOP primaries and don’t think we should encourage this practice. I’d prefer to see “closed primaries” in every state. The Democratic nominee should be selected by registered Democrats, and the Republican nominee should be selected by registered Republicans. If you want a say in which candidate a party is going to nominate, you should be willing to spend the five minutes required to fill out the paperwork to join the party.

As I see it, the Democratic primary has one just-barely-bearable option and three bad-to-catastrophic options. Your mileage may vary.

If Joe Biden became the next president, and he was working with a Republican House and Senate, you could imagine him becoming something like second-term Bill Clinton without the sex scandals. Biden’s not that much of an ideologue; he’s in politics to be a back-slapping dealmaker. He offers casual blasphemy to his fellow Democrats such as, “I really like Dick Cheney for real. I get on with him, I think he’s a decent man,” and calling Mike Pence “a decent guy.” During the Obama years, congressional Republicans preferred negotiating with him because he didn’t waste time lecturing them. Of course, a President Biden would be picking Supreme Court justices and federal judges that conservatives don’t want.

But because the Democrats control the House and would probably keep control if Biden wins in November, a President Biden with a Democratic House and a tightly divided Senate would probably result in a hodge-podge of deals with contradictory compromise provisions. Biden wasn’t put on this earth to hold the line against his party’s left wing, he was put here to give it half a loaf and promise they’ll get the other half next time. Sooner or later, he would feel the need to throw a bone to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her allies. Still, from the perspective of conservatives, Biden is probably the least-damaging option in the Democratic field.

Biden’s only real competition for that title was Amy Klobuchar. It says a great deal about the modern Democratic Party that Klobuchar stands out because she’s willing to say pro-life Democrats still have a place in the party. Like Biden, Senate Republicans said that she’s so nice, easy to work with, and reasonable, that they doubt she can win the nomination.

But she and Pete Buttigieg are both out of the race and endorsing Biden.

The best thing you can say about Mike Bloomberg is that he not only accepts American capitalism, he’s sometimes willing to stand up and defend it. In 1997, before he started running for office, the business media mogul wrote his autobiography, Bloomberg on Bloomberg.

The book is full of sections that hopefully reflect the former mayor’s true beliefs but are verboten in a Democratic presidential primary:

America really is the land of opportunity and home to more start-up enterprises than any other country. In this country, banks, venture capitalists, and stock exchanges are all accustomed to funding new ideas. The United States has a culture that prizes innovation, its social hierarchy is primarily built around merit, and it rewards a risk taker. Low barriers that encourage trade, publicly funded research that spurs innovation, and favorable tax laws that encourage entrepreneurship have been critical to our country’s growth… The simple fact is, the public sector traditionally has not innovated very well. There are powerful disincentives working against government innovation, because innovation involves risk, and risk involves the potential for failure. And if there’s one thing that scares politicians — not to mention their political advisors, — it’s failure.

But the prospect of President Bloomberg brings a lot of downsides. It’s bad enough that he fundamentally opposes the Second Amendment, but it’s even worse that he feels it can be ignored without amending the Constitution. He’s the nanny state on steroids; he genuinely believes he was put on this earth to save you from your bad habits and the bad decisions you make:

“Some people say, well, taxes are regressive. But in this case, yes, they are. That’s the good thing about them because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money. And so, higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves. So, I listen to people saying ‘oh we don’t want to tax the poor.’ Well, we want the poor to live longer so that they can get an education and enjoy life. And that’s why you do want to do exactly what a lot of people say you don’t want to do.  The question is do you want to pander to those people? Or do you want to get them to live longer? There’s just no question. If you raise taxes on full sugary drinks, for example, they will drink less and there’s just no question that full sugar drinks are one of the major contributors to obesity and obesity is one of the major contributors to heart disease and cancer and a variety of other things.”

Mike Bloomberg is explicit about the idea that you cannot be trusted to know what’s good for you and to make good decisions for yourself, and that government must step in and use the full force of law — the tax code, stop-and-frisk, “broken windows” policing of the most minor infractions — to stop you from making bad decisions. Many of us are willing to accept bad outcomes for some people as a consequence of living in a country of personal liberty, where the government isn’t meddling in every choice you make. Bloomberg wants the opposite.

And this is where Bloomberg’s overall intellect and competence work against him. In his first year in office, President Trump fumed on Fox News about his difficulties getting legislation passed through Congress. “It’s just a very, very bureaucratic system. I think the rules in Congress and, in particular, the rules in the Senate, are unbelievably archaic and slow-moving.” Trump’s idea of fighting the good fight is to send a lot of angry tweets.

Bloomberg has the same instinct that he should say “jump,” and the rest of the government should respond “how high?” The real danger is that Bloomberg would apply that intellect and competence to furthering an imperial presidency.

It’s difficult to see a path to the White House for Elizabeth Warren, but she’s still in the race. Everyone who lived through the events that set off the Great Recession can understand why a lawmaker would be deeply distrustful of big banks, the financial industry, and Wall Street, and believe that federal regulators and overseers have become sleepy night watchmen. There’s a reason Lou Dobbs used to be one of her biggest fans.

The problem with Warren — and a great many Democrats — is that they have limitless suspicion of the private sector but a bewildering faith in the abilities and good judgment of the federal government. Warren touts herself as the candidate with all the plans. Just because a president tells a federal agency to do something, it doesn’t mean that they will do it — quickly, efficiently, correctly, or at all. (I wrote the book on this.) Even when federal government employees want to enact the plan, the government is full of human beings, and human beings make mistakes. The EPA accidentally released 3 million gallons of tainted wastewater, turning rivers yellow in three states; the Office of Personnel Management put all of the potential blackmail material on every government employee who handles classified information in one place for Chinese hackers to steal; and the Transportation Security Administration failed to find hidden fake explosives in 67 out of 70 tests. If you put the federal government in charge of banning porn, you’d probably end up getting Stormy Daniels videos sent to your phone by FEMA. The federal government would not magically become super competent and wise under a Warren administration.

Oh, and even by the standards of politicians, Warren lies a lot.

That leaves the front-runner, Bernie Sanders. If elected, Sanders may be the oddest man to reach the presidency since . . . well, since Donald Trump, but they would probably rank number one and two in most improbable presidents. Trump and Sanders may have some uncomfortable similarities. Both men have been saying outrageous, provocative, and controversial things throughout their public careers. Both have benefited from improbable twists of luck to rise to the top of the political world. (If the NRA hadn’t decided to punish a turncoat Republican, Sanders might have never been elected to Congress.) While Trump had never been elected to anything before the presidency and Sanders has been in elected office pretty much continuously since 1981, they had roughly the same amount of influence on America’s laws until 2016 or so. Both men have a weird admiration for anti-American foreign dictators, just different ones. Neither man sees his respective political party as anything more than a means to an end. Neither man is instinctively gracious to those who disagree, and both men relish furiously denouncing their opponents as corrupt. Both see their mission in life to tear down an “establishment,” obliterate a status quo, and to turn American life upside down. Both men attract angry supporters; Sanders has a following that declares a desire to murder their opponents and embrace hate and then insists they were joking. After the attempted mass shooting at the congressional baseball game, it’s hard to shrug off people who are eager to play KGB or NKVD in a new Soviet America.

Many Republicans believe Sanders will be the easiest to beat in a general election, and they may be right. But I think Ramesh is correct when he warns that even Sanders winning the nomination would shift the Overton Window of American politics dramatically to the left:

If Mr. Sanders wins, it will mark a huge change in American politics. Self-described socialists have been elected in other developed countries, but never in this one. Here, “socialism” has been an accusation, not a boast. Politicians on the left wing of the Democratic Party have considered the label, and the associations that come with it, deadly to their electoral chances. Republicans hope it still is. If Mr. Sanders beats them, the taboo will be broken.

It’s not just a matter of the label. The limits of what’s politically possible will shift left as the political world adjusts to the new reality. Politicians, strategists, journalists, activists and voters who thought that certain ideas were too far left to make it in America would revise their sense of the country, and of what counts as extreme or as realistic within it. The ground on which future races for president, governor and Congress are contested would move left.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. would be Venezuela, or even Denmark, by the start of 2022. But it is reasonable to expect that government policy 10 or 20 years from now would be considerably more socialistic than it would be if Mr. Trump were re-elected — or if Mr. Biden were elected.

If you live in a Super Tuesday state and will be voting in the Democratic primary, choose wisely, America. The year 2016 should have taught us all that the candidates who supposedly can never win . . . actually can win.

Elections

Super Tuesday Approaches

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Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters at his South primary-night rally in Columbia, S.C., February 29, 2020. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

What a weekend, and what a week ahead! Biden comes back from the dead, doing the math on the Super Tuesday delegates, and why Mike Bloomberg might be setting himself up to be remembered as one of the most colossal underachievers in presidential-campaign history.

Forget a New York Minute. In a South Carolina Weekend, Everything Can Change.

Joe Biden’s campaign is resurrected and Pete Buttigieg’s is over.

The most interesting dynamic in the race right now is the battle between the factors supporting Joe Biden — African-American support, the Democratic establishment’s increasing desperation to nominate someone besides Sanders, the steadily narrowing field, and fewer non-Sanders options to split the vote — and the factors working against him: that he’s the same 78-year-old rambling symbol of the Washington establishment, best known as the wacky, amiable veep to a president who is oddly reticent as this campaign continues.

Remember, Biden led Iowa until last fall, and the late polling had him still in the mix for a strong second. Biden enjoyed polling leads in New Hampshire as late as January. Democratic voters in those states abandoned him because they thought he would falter in a general election against Trump. The idea of a Biden candidacy — driven by memories of the younger, sharper Biden from the Obama years — is stronger than the actual Biden candidacy. But Democrats may conclude they would prefer to roll the dice with wacky, forgetful Uncle Joe over Bernie Sanders, who’s inspiring his Saturday Night Live parody doppelganger to declare regarding the coronavirus, “you know who was great at washing his hands? Joseph Stalin! Just saying!”

At this point, there’s almost no scenario where Bernie Sanders does not finish with the most delegates by the time all the votes are counted from Super Tuesday. But Sanders’s lead matters less than the margin of Sanders’s lead.

(And it may take quite a while to count those votes: “In California, for example, vote-by-mail ballots don’t have to reach county elections officials until three days after the election, as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day. In 2018, it took weeks for some races to be decided in California.” We’re going to have some results from California tomorrow night, and almost everyone expects Sanders to win. The bigger question is the margin.)

The threshold to clinch the nomination is 1,991. Right now, Sanders has 56, Biden has 48, the now-departed-the-race Buttigieg has 26, Elizabeth Warren has eight, Amy Klobuchar has seven, and Mike Bloomberg has none. (More on him below.) Tomorrow fourteen states, one territory, and “Democrats Abroad” will vote, with 1,357 delegates up for grabs. Every Democratic primary in every state has a 15 percent threshold to win any delegates. Almost all the states award a portion of their delegates based upon the statewide vote and then a portion based upon who wins each state’s congressional district. On paper, a candidate can win a delegate without hitting 15 percent statewide if their support is concentrated in one district — but if you’re not hitting 15 percent statewide, you’re probably not winning many congressional districts.

If Biden is within 100 or so delegates of Sanders at the end of Super Tuesday, it looks like a competitive race all the way to the convention. If Sanders is up by a number closer to 200, his lead will be tough to overcome.

California has 415 delegates at stake. Right now, Sanders is leading, Biden is probably above the 15 percent threshold, Warren is probably just above it, and Bloomberg is close to the threshold. The disaster scenario for Sanders opponents is that they all finish with 14 percent or so, he gets the overwhelming majority of the state’s delegates, and the rest of the field has almost no chance of catching him. If Biden, Warren, and Bloomberg hit 15 percent — a plausible scenario, if Buttigieg’s voters split the right way among the three — then Sanders’s lead from the state will be much smaller. One other wrinkle: As of Thursday, more than 2.7 million voters in California had returned ballots in early voting. Buttigieg was getting 10 percent in recent polls in California, and Tom Steyer was getting 2.7 percent. If the early vote mirrors the polling average, about 324,000 Californians have already cast ballots for a candidate who quit the race.

The Trump campaign must be giggling like there’s a nitrous oxide leak, as the pieces are falling into place for a long, costly, and nasty primary all the way to the convention in Milwaukee in July. Either the Democrats nominate Sanders and carry the down-ticket burden of the socialist label (along with fracking costing them Pennsylvania and pro-Castro comments costing them Florida) or the superdelegates deny Sanders the nomination, sending the already-volatile Bernie Bros into a destructive rage.

Sanders is still the front-runner, and now Biden has reestablished himself as his top foe. But there’s one other guy who appears determined to stay in it for the long haul . . .

Psst! Gargantuan Ad Spending Is Obscuring the Fact That Mike Bloomberg Is Flopping.

Mike Bloomberg spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign advertising a week ago, more than twice the previous record. Tomorrow will reveal whether that fortune was wasted on a futile effort to sell a candidate that the Democratic electorate was simply not interested in buying. So far, the signs are ominous for the former New York City mayor.

Every Democratic primary in every state has the 15 percent threshold to win any delegates. This morning in the RealClearPolitics average, Bloomberg is at 13 percent in California, 16.7 percent in Texas, 16 percent in North Carolina, and 11.5 percent in Virginia.

The two most recent polls in Colorado put him at 14 percent and 11 percent. The one recent poll in Maine puts Bloomberg at 14 percent. A poll in Utah puts him at 19 percent. (They must have thought his large soda ban was aimed at caffeine. I kid, my dear Mormon readers, I kid, because I love.)

One poll last month did give Bloomberg the lead in . . . Arkansas, by a point over Biden. Yeah, that surprised me as well. So perhaps the mayor from New York City — “New York City?!” — could finish with the majority of the state’s 31 delegates.

Nor is Bloomberg likely to win delegates in his opponents’ home states. The only recent poll in Vermont puts him at 7 percent. The three most recent polls in Massachusetts put Bloomberg at 13, 13, and 9 percent. There have been only two polls in Minnesota in the past month, one putting him at 9 percent and the most recent putting him at 3 percent (!).

Nobody’s polled Democrats in Alabama or Tennessee.

Add it all up, and you’ve got extremely slim pickings for Bloomberg tomorrow. He could pick off some delegates by winning a congressional district here and there. His advisors are already telling reporters that there is no result on Super Tuesday that would be bad enough to get him to quit the race. (I am reminded of the slogan, “too big to fail.”)

But after spending a half-billion dollars, and having the airwaves entirely to himself in some states . . . shouldn’t he be winning someplace besides Arkansas? There aren’t even many states where he’s a strong second place.

If Bloomberg does flop, it will be a valuable lesson for every other billionaire who looks in the mirror and sees a president staring back at him. If you are not a naturally good campaigner, and if you do not emotionally connect with people, and if you are not prepared to go into a debate to defend your record and reputation, you will not succeed. Period, full stop, it doesn’t matter if you spend a half a billion.

If Bloomberg falls flat on his face, and discourages other billionaires from launching their own vanity campaigns, he will have done the whole country a giant favor.

ADDENDA: I went back and checked — back on January 2, I wrote: “There’s a good chance that two months from now, every delegate in the first four contests will have gone to one of four white candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Pete Buttigieg.” Every delegate in the first four contests went to one of five white candidates, that quartet and seven delegates to Amy Klobuchar.

Elections

The End of Elizabeth Warren?

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the menu today: The end is in sight for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, David Brooks desperately tries to wave Democrats away from a critical error, and the mainstream media finally finds the coronavirus scary in a particular context.

The End of Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Is Near

Is it too harsh to say that this has become Elizabeth Warren’s campaign trail . . . of tears? Polling suggests she’s on the verge of pulling a Marco Rubio — losing her home state to the frontrunner:

The poll shows Sanders is the choice of 25 percent of likely Democratic-primary voters, while Warren is in second place with 17 percent. The former mayors, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, are in a virtual tie for third at 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Former vice president Joe Biden rounds out the top five at 9 percent.

The Sanders campaign must be drooling at the prospect of that outcome — 91 delegates and Sanders would get the vast majority, with Buttigieg, Bloomberg, and Biden below the 15 percent threshold to win delegates. (Some will be allocated by who wins each congressional district, so the under-15 candidates could get one here and there.)

Separately, the UMass poll also puts Sanders ahead of Warren in her home state, 25 percent to 23 percent.

If you’re a conservative, one of the great delights of the 2020 presidential campaign cycle has been watching one Democrat that the media adores after another fall flat on his face. Everybody looks good in a blue state or district, with a mostly friendly national media parachuting in and swooning over their inspiring rhetoric. Even a modestly successful “beating expectations” presidential campaign is really difficult. We’ve seen Kirstin Gillibrand flop, Beto O’Rourke look buffoonish, Julian Castro get ignored, Cory Booker fail to launch, Kamala Harris rise quickly and sink even quicker . . . .

And soon, Warren may join the list.

Let’s give Warren credit where it is due: Most candidates never come anywhere near frontrunner status, and in October, Warren was either ahead of Biden or right next to him nationally. She rarely turns in bad debate performances, and she absolutely tore apart Bloomberg on his nondisclosure agreements in the Nevada debate.

If you believe that the media, big progressive organizations, and the professional white-collar coastal elites are the most important demographics in the Democratic-presidential nominating process, then Warren ran a near-perfect campaign for much of 2019. (It is more accurate to say those groups are among the most important factions but not the most important.)

Warren touted herself as the “I have a plan for that” candidate, which invited scrutiny of her plans, and she took a lot of fire for her plan to finance Medicare for All — so much fire that she stopped talking about her plan. The plan assumes that the federal government can get pharmaceutical companies to cut drug prices by 70 percent for brand-name drugs and 30 percent for generics through a series of reforms.

Her campaign seemed to be based upon the idea that a lot of Bernie Sanders’s supporters could be persuaded to jump on her bandwagon. The two senators are progressive allies, but each one took a different path to get to where they are, and you wonder if Sanders supporters have nagging doubts about the former Republican Harvard law professor who made hundreds of thousands of dollars representing big corporations. She converted to the progressive cause, but Sanders spent a lifetime in it. The Vermont senator has been in Washington since 1990, but he still can semi-plausibly claim to be an outsider because clearly exceptionally few people in Congress actually listen to him or his recommendations. Warren has been in important positions (Harry Reid’s TARP overseer, special advisor to the Treasury Department, U.S. senator) since 2008.

When Sanders supporters proved tougher to win over than Warren expected, she tried playing the “sexist” card on him, and that didn’t work well at all. She was much tougher on Sanders after the debate in their private exchange than she was on camera during it.

Since then, Warren has attacked everyone except Sanders, leading many, including myself, to suspect she wants to be Sanders’s running mate. Just about anything can happen in politics, but she seems to be an unlikely choice — she probably won’t bring in any voters that he doesn’t already have.

Keep in mind, Warren’s rise and fall occurred with the rest of the field steadfastly refusing to make Warren’s “person of color” status at Harvard a campaign issue, and with some members of the Washington press corps acting as Warren’s reputational bodyguards.

For someone who was supposed to be a really savvy politician, Warren is generating underwhelming results. Warren did okay in Iowa, getting eight delegates and about 20 percent of the final vote — the kind of finish that doesn’t generate a lot of momentum, but keeps a candidate in the game. But she struck out in New Hampshire, which is supposed to be friendly territory for a Massachusetts senator. Her 9.2 percent put her in fourth place, and perhaps even worse, she was ten percentage points behind Amy Klobuchar. She won no delegates in Nevada and finished fourth again with 11.5 percent.

The road ahead doesn’t look any better. No poll puts her above 15 percent in South Carolina, which was never going to be a particularly good state for her. The poll mentioned above suggests Sander might beat her in her home state, which would more or less spell the end of her campaign. If any Warren fans are hoping some overperformance in other Super Tuesday states might balance it all out . . . she might be a distant second in California, and she might get delegates in Virginia and Colorado. But you can’t second-place and third-place your way to the nomination. If Warren can’t win Massachusetts, where is she going to win?

Brooks: Bernie Sanders Is What the Founding Fathers Feared

David Brooks is desperately trying to warn the readership of the New York Times what they’re signing on to if they choose to nominate Bernie Sanders:

Populists like Sanders speak as if the whole system is irredeemably corrupt. Sanders was a useless House member and has been a marginal senator because he doesn’t operate within this system or believe in this theory of change.

He believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.

A few months ago, Brooks — former Weekly Standard contributor, the center-right voice on the op-ed page — wrote he would vote for Warren over Trump. But Sanders appears to be a bridge too far. Brooks ends today’s column: “I’ll cast my lot with democratic liberalism. The system needs reform. But I just can’t pull the lever for either of the two populisms threatening to tear it down.”

Earlier this week, the New York Times had six columnists write the best argument for each candidate; Brooks made the case for Mike Bloomberg. Thomas Friedman did not participate, but I think he would have picked Bloomberg, and it would have gone something like this: “The world is hot, flat, and crowded, which is why we need somebody cold, short, and super rich to manage it. I was hiking across the Himalayan ranges outside Kathmandu with a tech CEO from Dubai, and we agreed that billionaires just have an intrinsic sense of what is best for the common man. We’re the only ones who recognize that the only way to solve problems in a world full of terrorism and the coronavirus is to open our doors wide to the world and say, ‘come on in and cough up your best ideas.’ The best way to take care of the little people is to pick a little mayor who understands what they need better than they do themselves. If we could be China for a day, we would clear out all the messy divisions and get stuff done, without all the complaints from the great unwashed who—”

The Daily Beast: Oh, Hey, Now the Coronavirus Is Generating ‘Mayhem’

Headline at the Daily Beast, February 6: “The Virus Killing U.S. Kids Isn’t the One Dominating the Headlines . . . Coronavirus, with zero American fatalities, is dominating headlines, while the flu has killed dozens of U.S. kids this season—including 11-year-old Luca, a true ‘Giver of Light.’”

Headline at the Daily Beast, February 28: “Trump Spends 45 Minutes With ‘Deep State’ Play Actors Amid Coronavirus Mayhem . . . Meanwhile, the man he tapped to run point on the virus, VP Pence, took to a conservative activists conference and had meetings with pro-Trump media luminaries.”

The gist is that because the Daily Beast‘s editors have decided that now that the coronavirus is generating “mayhem,” the president and vice president should not take any time out of their day to speak to CPAC or handle any other duties. Twenty-two days earlier, the Daily Beast was playing “the flu is the real threat to America” card.

Much like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the coronavirus became much scarier and more newsworthy to U.S. mainstream media once Donald Trump became involved.

That being said, I would not have minded seeing the president appoint a separate coronavirus “czar” — some sort of temporarily appointed special advisor to the president on COVID-19.

Way back in 2009, when the Obama administration was naming policy “czars” left and right, I argued that one newly created position was easily justifiable, the one focusing on cybersecurity. Because that potential threat covered so many areas of the federal government — the Departments of the Treasury, Transportation, Energy, Health and Human Services — that it made sense that if and when there was a crisis, to have one person in the room who has focused almost exclusively on this issue. Cabinet secretaries are fine people, but they have a lot of duties. You have to wonder how much Vice President Pence or HHS secretary Alex Azar can put their regular duties on the back burner during the coronavirus outbreak.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to everyone who came out to last night’s get-together for NRPlus subscribers down the street from CPAC. (You, too, could get invited to those events by becoming a subscriber. NRPlus is currently $69 per year, $75 if you want the print magazine as well — for just six bucks, you might as well throw it in — and as far as I can tell, there’s always some sort of reduced-price promotion going on.) I was struck by the number of people who told me how much they’re enjoying The Editors podcast, and it is pretty fascinating how you can get together a group of conservative writers and editors — Rich Lowry, Charlie — er, Charles C. W. Cooke — Michael Brendan Dougherty, and frequent appearances by Alexandra DeSanctis and political consultant Luke Thompson — and get such a mix of personalities and perspectives.

Health Care

Coronavirus Chronicles

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President Donald Trump gives a news conference on the coronavirus outbreak at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Today’s Morning Jolt is all about the coronavirus. A fact that doesn’t help anyone score any partisan points, and thus will be largely ignored, disregarded, or forgotten: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the broader Trump administration could make all the right choices regarding how to handle the coronavirus, and it could still be a serious and disruptive problem.

Reasons You Should Not Be Too Worried about the Coronavirus in the United States

The Associated Press fact-checkers point out that the Democratic accusations that the administration is unprepared are based upon a budget proposal that was never enacted: “Trump’s budgets have proposed cuts to public health, only to be overruled by Congress, where there’s strong bipartisan support for agencies such as the CDC and NIH. Instead, financing has increased. Some public health experts say a bigger concern than White House budgets is the steady erosion of a CDC grant program for state and local public health emergency preparedness — the front lines in detecting and battling new disease. But that decline was set in motion by a congressional budget measure that predates Trump.”

All across the United States, since 9/11, hospitals and first responders have been training and running drills to deal with bioterrorism and mass-casualty events. This means for roughly eighteen years, everyone in the medical profession has been thinking: “If the worst-case scenario happens, what is my role in responding? How do we contain it, treat the sick, and minimize the danger to everyone else?”

What’s more, the outbreaks of the past years — swine flu, H1N1 flu, SARS, MERS, and Ebola — have given doctors, clinics, and hospitals good dress rehearsals for something on this scale:

“For the whole country, this is not our first rodeo with new germs,”  Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Providence St. Joseph Health, said. “Ebola was our wake-up call that we needed to be ready for the next pandemic. So we, as well as other hospitals, put in place the ‘just-in-case’ scenario planning.”

That scenario is something that hospitals across the country have been rehearsing for weeks as cases of the new coronavirus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, rise around the world. And while not every U.S. hospital will get notice that a possible coronavirus case is coming through its doors, many say they have been bracing in other ways: They are holding daily briefings with state and local health departments, stocking up on personal protective equipment for health care workers and working with engineers to control air flow in their hospitals to make sure they are best positioned to stop the virus from spreading.

“We’re already acting as if it’s here,” said Dr. Michael Phillips, chief epidemiologist at the NYU Langone Health System in New York City, which has yet to see a confirmed case. “We’re already thinking about what we should be doing, how we make sure our health care workers are safe. Are we messaging them enough, but not over-messaging them?”

Much like other viruses, the amount of danger the virus presents is probably connected to your age and overall health condition:

The sample’s overall case-fatality rate was 2.3%, higher than World Health Organization official 0.7% rate. No deaths occurred in those aged 9 years and younger, but cases in those aged 70 to 79 years had an 8 percent fatality rate and those aged 80 years and older had a fatality rate of 14.8 percent.

No deaths were reported among mild and severe cases. The fatality rate was 49% among critical cases, and elevated among those with preexisting conditions: 10.5% for people with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer.

The latest China-based study, which was not peer-reviewed by U.S. scientists, found that men had a fatality rate of 2.8% versus 1.7% for women.

Some of those numbers sound scary, but keep in mind, this means that if you’re 80 years old and catch it, you’ve still got an 85 percent chance of surviving.

As noted earlier, the Chinese numbers may be significantly affected by smoking rates in that country. Roughly half of all Chinese men smoke, while very few Chinese women smoke.

If you’re a nonsmoker who is in good health and takes basic preventative steps such as washing your hands, you’re probably going to be fine . . . at least, based upon what we know so far.

Reasons You Should Be at Least a Little Bit Worried about Coronavirus

Even if the United States is about as prepared as any country can be for a severe viral outbreak, a lot of other countries are not. And even the most technologically advanced, economically prosperous, and well-run countries are going to find this a serious challenge.

The government of Japan just closed all the public schools in the country for a month:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday asked all elementary, junior high and high schools nationwide to close from Monday through the students’ spring break, which typically ends in early April.

“Efforts have been made to prevent the spread of infection among children in each region, and these one or two weeks will be an extremely critical period,” Abe told a meeting of key Cabinet ministers on the coronavirus outbreak crisis.

The Japanese also reported that a woman who had the virus and appeared to recover had tested positive a second time.

Hong Kong is closing schools for two months.

Saudi Arabia halted travel to Mecca.

Milan, Italy, is not completely shut down, but the cathedral, opera house, schools and universities, and many bars and restaurants are shut down.

Joint military exercises with South Korea are being scaled back.

The quarantine of Wuhan began January 23. It’s still in place.

As I was discussing earlier, China has roughly 60 million men over age 60 who are regular smokers. If the coronavirus spreads throughout that population and kills just five percent of those, we’re looking at 3 million deaths.

Besides the severe economic consequences, I don’t think anyone really knows how the Chinese people would respond to a public-health crisis and disaster on this scale.

Beyond all of that, the United States and most Western countries are probably reasonably well prepared for this. Poorer and less developed countries probably won’t be well prepared. Any regime that has a history of being less than fully honest about the country’s problems is in for some serious trouble ahead.

If you thought Iran had problems before, take a look at the situation now:

“We think that this virus has been in Iran for the past three to four weeks and has circulated throughout the country. Right now in Iran we are facing a coronavirus epidemic,” said a senior medical doctor at the Masih Daneshvari hospital in Tehran, the country’s top pulmonary public hospital and the main facility overseeing coronavirus patients.

Since it first announced the presence of COVID-19 last week, Iran has so far reported a total of 245 cases and 26 deaths, a far higher fatality rate than seen elsewhere. The doctor, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said the official tally vastly underestimates the true number of cases. “We didn’t have a way to test people earlier and don’t have the capacity to screen everyone,” he said, in a telephone interview. “Let me put it this way, if in general two out of 100 corona patients die, in Iran, if we now have 20 deaths that means we have 1,000 infected patients.”

An anesthesiologist at one of Tehran’s top private hospitals, who also requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said she believed officials are victims of their own inaction in tackling the disease. “The reason these government officials are contracting the virus is because, they always want to hide the truth; so they don’t use any protective measures when going from this hospital to another just so they project this image that there’s nothing serious going on. It’s only natural that they have been exposed to the virus.” Speaking in a telephone interview, she claimed government officials held back information out of fear of low voter turn out in last week’s parliamentary election.

No matter how much we may detest the Iranian government, this situation still means suffering for innocent Iranian people. This is an erratic, paranoid, fundamentalist regime that is eager to find scapegoats. It is not difficult to envision scenarios where things go very wrong very quickly in Iran.

Why We Can’t See a Problem Like the Coronavirus Clearly

Ross Douthat picked up on something I couldn’t quite articulate as well as he did. We live in a U.S. media environment that can hype the dangers of everything from sharks to fracking to micro-aggressions to Russian-generated Facebook posts. Think of all the times your local news has run quick commercials like: “This common home appliance may be trying to kill you. We’ll tell you which one at eleven.”

But up until recently, a lot of our media voices were doing the opposite of fearmongering. For a few weeks, the dominant tone of the coverage was, “Actually, you’re in much more danger from the regular flu.” As our MBD observed: “Because most reporters are terrible at vetting information when it requires numeracy, they want to file many, many, many articles about how the seasonal flu was a greater threat than the coronavirus. Meanwhile, trade shows and global production lines began to shut down, when the flu never causes them to shut down.”

ADDENDUM: More coronavirus discussion, along with a lot of talk about the state of the Democratic primary, on this week’s edition of The Editors.

Elections

This System of Debates Is Failing Everyone

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Candidates at the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the menu today: Both the Democratic and Republican Parties need to recognize the disaster that is the debate setup this cycle and plan accordingly for next time.

This Debate System Does Candidates a Disservice

After last night’s debate of angry shouting and incoherent crosstalk, it is time for the Democratic National Committee to recognize that its system and design for this cycle’s primary debates is failing just about everyone, and for the Republican National Committee to take notes for next cycle.

How many candidates entered this cycle thinking, “Sure, I’m not well known nationally, but once I’m up on that debate stage, people will realize what a superstar I am, and the donations to fuel our campaign will roll in”? The problem is that it is extremely difficult to stand out on a debate stage with ten people, and even harder when the party holds two debates over consecutive nights to accommodate the twenty candidates who qualified. Candidates such as Tim Ryan, Michael Bennet, Jay Inslee, and Steve Bullock barely made impressions upon the audience, much less used the debates as a steppingstone to serious contention.

The DNC faces a catch-22 situation: The more they try to make a debate process fair to lesser-known candidates, the more an increased number of lesser-known candidates will qualify for the debates, making it harder for all lesser-known candidates to stand out and rise in the field.

Most of these candidates seemed inexplicably oblivious to the fact that their debate answers sounded a lot like everybody else’s debate answers. The point of a debate is to draw contrasts, even though that is apparently upsetting to some news columnists who complained about “divisive questions.” The purpose of a debate is not to assure nervous Democrats that all of their candidates are terrific and that everyone in the party gets along and mostly agrees with each other.

One of the reasons that the Las Vegas debate was so refreshing and almost riveting is that for once, the candidates spoke bluntly about why they didn’t think the others should be nominated. Elizabeth Warren really believes that Mike Bloomberg was a creep to his female employees and offers far too little contrast with Trump. Mike Bloomberg really believes that Bernie Sanders is a Communist and unelectable. Amy Klobuchar really believes that Pete Buttigieg is insufferably smug and unsubtly condescending to everyone else around him.

For most of these debates, just as two Democrats started exploring a contrast that might actually be useful to undecided primary voters, someone would jump in and say, “this kind of infighting is just what Donald Trump and the Republicans want to see” — trying to play the role of the mature peacemaker, the “only adult in the room” pose that Barack Obama loved so much. Cory Booker was the worst offender, believing he could advance to the top tier by repeatedly arguing that leaders of a diverse party representing a variety of viewpoints should never disagree in public.

The DNC’s system of ten candidates per night meant that the top-tier candidates couldn’t believe they were sharing the stage with Marianne Williamson talking about “dark spiritual forces” and obscure members of Congress such as John Delaney. This cycle we’ve seen jokes that the debates need a “play-in round” such as the NCAA basketball tournament, a preceding contest that determines the lowest-ranked seed in the main tournament of 64 teams. Maybe when there are 20 candidates, something like that makes sense. This entire cycle, the DNC flinched when accused of being unfair and hesitated to tell candidates and their supporters a hard truth about campaigning and life: You have to earn your place on stage.

As this cycle’s debates went on, it became clear that the moderators were not interested in ensuring that each candidate got roughly the same amount of time. I believe the greatest disparity came in the second debate, where Joe Biden spoke for 21 minutes and John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, and Marianne Williamson spoke for 8.7 minutes. An imbalance like this is fundamentally unfair but also a recognition of a cold, hard fact: The audience is just not as interested in what the longshots have to say.

The presence of the audience in the auditorium or hall is a mistake, as some of us have been emphasizing throughout this process. It creates all kinds of bad incentives, most notably to aim for applause lines instead of answering the question, and an attempt to get your supporters in the hall to cheer as loudly and wildly as possible, no matter how anodyne the answer. The presence of a large audience also allows for hecklers and protesters — one more discordant note to disrupt whatever rhythm the candidates had established.

Then there are the moderators’ questions. There is a time and a place for broad, open-ended questions such as: “What changes would you make to the American health-care system?” Given a minute and 15 seconds to respond, a candidate can’t get into many specifics. The answers usually turn into a list of goals — “I will make health care more affordable for everyone, and I will make sure every American gets the care that they need” — with little sense of how to get there or what specific changes to law would be made to try to bring about that outcome. It reflects badly on the primary and general electorates that they are so easily satisfied with a wish list instead of a plan with specific details.

This cycle’s debates have intermittently acknowledged that almost every idea discussed on stage would require passage of a bill through Congress, and the votes aren’t likely to be there unless there is a historic Democratic landslide in this year’s Senate races. Some candidates have pledged to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate, even though the president doesn’t have any power over that. Few of the remaining candidates have much of a record of creating bipartisan coalitions. (If you ask Senate Republicans, Biden and Klobuchar are the ones who have actually reached out to hammer out deals.) Most of these candidates are setting themselves up to lament, “Well, I wanted to enact my agenda, but I thought I would have more Democrats in the Senate, and I just didn’t have a backup plan to figure out how to handle a GOP Senate majority.”

Last night, CBS partnered with Twitter and submitted a question from user Casey Pennington:

“How will your policies address and ensure affordable housing and education equity for minimum wage workers?” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that question, but again, you’re not going to get many specifics in 75 seconds. Even if candidates can remember the specifics of their plans in the heat of the moment, they and their debate coaches have little faith in the audience’s ability to follow the fine details of federal policy.

Any candidate who does get into policy details runs the risk of being mocked as an out-of-touch Washington insider; in the second debate Williamson mocked “this wonkiness” as insufficient to address the challenge of Trump. Her criticism was simultaneously unfair — this is a debate about what the next president should do, of course the solutions are going to focus upon federal policy — and will probably be a reflection of the views of many voters.

Thus, most candidates answer policy questions with variations of, “this is important. I have done a lot on this issue. I have led the fight on this issue. We will do a lot, including achieve these goals. Visit my website for more information.” Here’s Klobuchar’s answer:

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. This is one of the first times we’ve talked about housing. And I put forward an extensive policy. I think — when I’ve looked at this both in my job in local government and in the Senate, one sure way we can make sure that kids get a good start is if they have a roof over their head and a stable place to live. So the way you do that is, first of all, taking care of the Section 8 backlog of applicants. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people waiting. And I have found a way to pay for this and a way to make sure that people get off that list and get into housing.

Secondly, you create incentives for affordable housing to be built and, third, to help people pay for it. And I want to make clear, given South Carolina and the rural population, as well as urban, that this isn’t just an urban problem. It’s a big urban problem, but it’s also a rural problem, where we have housing deserts and people want to have their businesses located there, but they’re not able to get housing. So for me, it’s building a coalition. And I actually like to get these things done and to — the way you do it is by building a coalition between urban and rural so you can pass affordable housing and finally get it done.

Last night, one segment of the debate addressed an important and under-discussed matter: Bernie Sanders proposed more than $50 trillion in new spending and has only laid out about $25 trillion in new taxes. Norah O’Donnell asked, “Can you do the math for the rest of us?”

I’ve never missed Andrew Yang more.

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to follow a discussion of numbers auditorily. It’s easier to understand differing amounts of money when you can actually see the numbers visually. In a better world, during this part of the debate, the candidates would have had to literally add up the numbers of their plans on a whiteboard or giant touchscreen with an Excel spreadsheet or something, or at least had charts. Visualize the scale of the gap for us.

Klobuchar tried: “Nearly $60 trillion. Do you know how much that is, for all of his programs? That is three times the American economy — not the federal government — the entire American economy.” At another point, Bloomberg said, “Let’s put this in perspective. The federal budget is $4.5 trillion a year. We get $3.5 trillion in revenue. We lose $1 trillion a year. That’s why the federal budget — deficit is — right now, the debt is $20 trillion, going up to 21. We just cannot afford some of this stuff people talk about.”

Sanders’s answer on how he would fill that gap was a 7.5 percent payroll tax on employers.

Here’s the Tax Foundation’s calculation of how that tax would play out:

Sanders’s proposal to levy a new 7.5 percent payroll tax on employers with a $2 million payroll exemption for each employer would result in a 0.90 percent decline in long-run economic output, according to the Tax Foundation General Equilibrium Model. The capital stock would be about 1.02 percent smaller, and employment would drop by 1,190,000 as a result of the tax.

The combined effect of the 7.5 percent payroll tax on employers and extending the 12.4 percent Social Security tax on wages would lower economic output by 1.17 percent over the long run. It would also reduce the capital stock by 1.33 percent, with about 1.5 million fewer jobs.

While the 7.5 percent payroll tax is formally levied on employers, employees would bear the full burden of the new payroll tax. Employees would earn lower wages, lowering the return to labor.

Enacting tax hikes that would eliminate 1.5 million jobs and lower wages is a terrible idea. Too bad you need a white paper to show the consequences to people.

Add it all up and you have a system that doesn’t serve the top-tier candidates, the longshot candidates, the moderators, or undecided voters watching at home.

ADDENDUM: Notice Bernie Sanders’s upcoming schedule:

The Vermont senator will kick off his Bay State swing with a 7:30 p.m. rally Friday at the MassMutual Center, 1277 Main St., in Springfield. Doors open at 6 p.m.

On Saturday, the day of the South Carolina primary, Sanders will hold a rally at noon on the Boston Common before traveling to Virginia for events later in the day.

The South Carolina primary is Saturday. Sanders spending the day in Massachusetts and Virginia suggests he isn’t quite so focused on the Palmetto State (and that maybe, despite some polls showing him in good shape, he’s not so optimistic about winning or finishing a close second in South Carolina) and that he thinks he has a real shot at winning Massachusetts, which would pretty much end Warren’s candidacy.

Elections

What Happened to That Democratic Voter Surge?

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(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Good morning. If tonight’s debate, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS, doesn’t turn into a dogpile on Bernie Sanders quickly, then the rest of the field doesn’t really want to win.

On the menu today: sorting through the meager evidence that the Bernie Sanders campaign can stir up enthusiasm and bring out new voters, what percentage of the electorate in each swing state is likely to remember the Cold War, and the reasons to keep in mind that even Bernie Sanders would not necessarily be easy to beat in a general election.

Wasn’t There Supposed to Be a Surge of New Democratic Voters by Now?

One reason to look forward to Super Tuesday is that it will give us our first large-scale comparison of turnout in the Democratic primaries of 2016 and this year’s primaries. Since about late Election Night 2016, Democrats have believed that President Donald Trump is a one-man Democratic get-out-the-vote machine, and they certainly saw supporting evidence for that theory in the 2018 House races. Suburban soccer moms and white-collar dads who had previously split favorably to Republicans turned to the Democrats in significant numbers.

But you don’t run on socialism, banning private health insurance, a ban on fracking, abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, banning U.S. exports of oil, or praise Fidel Castro (see below), and pledge to allow convicted felons to vote from prison while serving sentences if you want to keep suburban soccer moms and white-collar dads.

The argument of the Bernie Sanders campaign is that he doesn’t have to worry about alienating or frightening the suburban soccer moms and white-collar dads, because he’s going to bring out a big number of people who previously didn’t vote. As David Frum summarized: “The Sanders campaign is a bet that the 2020 race can be won by mobilizing the Americans least committed to the political process while alienating and even offending the Americans most committed to it.”

If we want to determine whether the Sanders campaign is realistic about its ability to bring out new voters, or whether they’re getting high on their own supply, there are two useful measuring sticks here. The first is the overall Democratic turnout levels compared to past cycles, and the second is how many of those votes Sanders is getting.

In the three Democratic contests so far . . . the evidence is mixed at best.

Turnout in the 2020 Iowa caucus was about 176,400 people, which was a bit more than the 171,000 who attended in 2016 attendance but was well short of the record 240,000 Democrats set in 2008.

We don’t know how many people in the 2016 caucus showed up to vote for Sanders, because apparently no one in the Iowa Democratic Party thought it was worth writing down. We can get a very rough (okay, very, very rough) estimate of Sanders supporters by taking his 49.6 percent of delegates and applying that to the total votes. By that measure, 85,415 people showed up in 2016 supporting Sanders.

In 2020, just 45,831 ended up supporting Sanders in Iowa. Of course, the dynamic is different in a multi-candidate race than a two-candidate race. But this is evidence to confirm what many of us have been arguing for the past four years. A significant chunk of Bernie Sanders’s support in 2016 was rank-and-file Democrats saying, “I don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton,” not an unshakable loyalty to Sanders and his agenda.

New Hampshire gives the Democrats better news: 296,622 people voted in this year’s primary, compared to 250,983 in 2016, and beating the old record of 287,542 set in 2008. But as I noted on primary night, almost 78,000 more voters were eligible to vote in this year’s contest than twelve years ago, and the GOP primary isn’t competitive or all that interesting this year. Under those circumstances, New Hampshire Democrats really should be setting a record.

Four years ago, 152,193 people voted for Sanders. This year, just 76,324 did. If Bernie Sanders is going to bring out a big number of people who didn’t vote in previous cycles, it’s not happening in New Hampshire yet.

In the Nevada caucuses, the results were comparable to Iowa: This year’s total of 105,195 participants was better than the 84,000 voters who participated in the 2016 caucuses, but short of the record 118,000 people who participated in 2008.

As in Iowa, Democrats in Nevada didn’t think anyone needed to know the total sums of votes for each candidate in 2016. So we have to guestimate that Sanders 47.3 percent of delegates, applied to 84,000 votes, comes out to about 39,732 votes for him four years ago.

This year the Democrats did release the vote totals, and Sanders received 41,075.

In other words, the evidence that Bernie Sanders can bring out significant numbers of lapsed or new voters is pretty sparse. Maybe he did in Nevada.

But we’ve only had three contests so far. Future primaries might be different. But there’s one other wrinkle, which is that Democrats believe that inactive voters represent a giant and almost limitless pot of potential new supporters. As John Fund observes, that’s not necessarily the case in the Trump era: “Indeed, a new study of non-voters by the Knight Foundation looked at 12,000 ‘chronic non-voters in America, across the country, and in key battleground states.’ They concluded that if they all went to the polls, Democrats would increase their popular-vote margin and lose the Electoral College even more decisively than they did in 2016. Most of the untapped vote in such states as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, and Arizona consists of white voters who have little to no college education. Many like Trump’s blowtorch rhetoric and anti-elitist attitude and are suspicious of left-wing social planners.”

You Probably Don’t Want to Bet the Election on Historical Amnesia

Steve Kornacki of MSNBC: “Younger voters, especially those under 30, have little or no first-hand memory of the Cold War. Their politics have been shaped by Iraq, Afghanistan, the great recession and Trump. Sanders’ comments on Castro, the USSR , Ortega etc. just land totally differently with them.”

This is where Democrats talk about the rising tide of Millennials and scoff that only old fogies talk about Communism and socialism being bad.

Overall, 56 percent of voters in the 2016 election were 45 and older. But the percentage in the swing states was mostly higher:

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Arizona in 2016: 62 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Florida in 2016: 59 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Iowa in 2016: 59 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Maine in 2016: 57 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Michigan in 2016: 58 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in New Hampshire in 2016: 58 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in North Carolina in 2016: 56 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Ohio in 2016: 56 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Pennsylvania in 2016: 59 percent.

Percentage of voters over age 45 in the general election in Wisconsin in 2016: 61 percent.

If Democrats go into this election thinking, “The Soviet Union and Cuba stuff will only hurt us among those born before 1975,” they’re whistling past the graveyard.

William Saletan offers Democrats the lesson they do not want to hear:

Rank-and-file Democrats, as a whole, are significantly more pro-socialist than independents are. And while Republicans, conversely, are more anti-socialist than independents are, the gap between Democrats and independents, on average, is about 10 points bigger than the gap between Republicans and independents…

Democrats, perhaps because they differ from the rest of the electorate in their feelings about socialism, are bad at estimating how socialism would play in a general election. Two weeks ago, in the Yahoo News poll, a 49 percent plurality of Democrats said most, nearly all, or about half of Americans would consider voting for a presidential candidate who called himself a democratic socialist. The guess was incorrect. According to the same poll, only 35 percent of voters said they’d consider voting for such a candidate. Democrats got it wrong.

Democrats think that the socialist label is harmless because it has no negative connotation to them and in their circles.

Don’t Get Fooled into Thinking a Trump Win Will Be Easy

This newsletter has laid out a lot of reasons why Bernie Sanders is going to be an enormously flawed messenger for the Democrats in 2020. But the 2016 cycle should teach us some humility. The electorate is unpredictable.

The coronavirus is going to be a kick to the crotch of the world economy that will, at minimum, hurt the U.S. economy by reducing consumption, disrupting supply chains, reducing travel, and stirring up fear and uncertainty. Without a rip-roaring economy, Trump will have to make the case for his reelection based upon his grace, elegant oratory, eternally courteous comportment and rhetoric, diplomatic and courteous approach to problem solving, and eagerness to soothe America’s divisions.

Most of the Democratic Party will fall in line behind Sanders. Chris Matthews is already having his on-air struggle session where he admitted his crimes of thought against the proletariat. The vast majority of the 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 are going to vote for the Democratic nominee, no matter who he or she is. The Bernie voters who flipped to Trump — in numbers large enough to swing Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — would presumably flip back in significant numbers. The suburbanites who voted for Democrats in 2018 but don’t like Bernie aren’t going to be eager to vote for Trump, either.

We can have a healthy wariness about polling at this point and still feel that Trump’s head-to-head numbers are not great. His job-approval numbers are getting better but are still low by historical standards.

ADDENDA: Michael Brendan Dougherty makes the unnervingly strong case that the World Health Organization soft-pedaled its initial warnings about coronavirus in order to avoid angering China.

Hey, who needs Florida, right?

“Donald Trump wins Florida if Bernie is our nominee,” said state Rep. Javier Fernandez, a Democratic candidate in a majority-Hispanic state Senate district.

“If Bernie Sanders is atop the ticket, it’s going to make it tougher for all of us to win in Florida,” said Fernandez, who has endorsed Sanders’ rival Joe Biden. “No one really sees Sanders winning Florida and I don’t think his campaign does either.”

Elections

Bernie Sanders’s Long Career

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Sanders supporters at a rally in Las Vegas, Nev., February 14, 2016. (Ethan Miller/Getty)

On the menu today: a reminder that Bernie Sanders’s controversial remarks came when he was well into adult life; the grim outlook for Sanders in the general election in Florida and Pennsylvania; and why you shouldn’t always bet on the candidate who’s hot on social media.

People Will Discuss ‘Ancient History’ When the Nominee Is an Ancient Candidate

As winter turns to spring, and as spring turns to summer, prominent Democrats and left-leaning public voices will try to gaslight you. Some of the Democrats who are most worried about nominating Bernie Sanders right now will bury their doubts and objections down deep and insist that anyone who isn’t on board is some sort of unthinking lunatic, or that not being a Sanders supporter must reflect a complete endorsement of everything Donald Trump has done as president.

One of the arguments you are certain to hear in defense of Sanders, when others criticize his past stances and statements, is a variation of: “Why are you bringing up all this ancient history?”

The correct answer is: “Because you guys nominated an ancient candidate. You notice nobody’s talking about what Pete Buttigieg did in the 1980s.”

Bernie Sanders was born three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This means Sanders was 28 years old when he wrote: “The manner in which you bring up your daughter with regard to sexual attitudes may very well determine whether or not she will develop breast cancer.

Sanders was 30 years old when he wrote his infamous op-ed about women’s rape fantasies.

He was 31 years old when he decided that George McGovern was too centrist for him.

He was 32 years old when he discussed eating placentas with a new mother on a Vermont commune. “How long after the birth were you eating the afterbirth? Don’t all mammals eat the afterbirth?”

He was 33 years old when he ran for a U.S. Senate seat while collecting unemployment benefits.

Sanders was 38 when he joined the Socialist Workers Party and became its presidential elector in Vermont for the 1980 election. The Socialist Workers Party’s candidate declared of the American hostages in Iran, “we can be sure that many of them are simply spies . . . or people assigned to protect the spies.”

He was 39 years old when he was elected mayor and received “his first steady paycheck.” (Think about how many steady paychecks you had collected by age 39, or how many you will collect if you’re younger than 39.)

He was a 40-year-old mayor when he declared at a United Way fundraiser, “I don’t believe in charities.”

He was a 44-year-old mayor when he told the Los Angeles Times that he espouses “traditional socialist goals — public ownership of oil companies, factories, utilities, banks, etc.” He was the same age when he asked, “We’re spending billions on military. Why can’t we take some of that money to pay for thousands of U.S. children to go to the Soviet Union?”

That was the same year Sanders traveled to Nicaragua and attended the rally led by Daniel Ortega. For what it’s worth, Kurt Eichenwald reported:

The Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,” while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

Sanders was a 46-year-old mayor when he decided that the University of Vermont Medical Center was no longer a tax-exempt institution in the eyes of the city and sent the hospital a tax bill for $2.9 million. Sanders declared, “There are a heck of a lot of people up there making a heck of a lot of money,” when a Superior Court judge ruled against the city on all counts, and the state supreme court ruled against the city as well.

He was at least 47 years old when he declared: “I have my own feelings about what causes cancer and the psychosomatic aspects of cancer.

In 1994, then-53-year-old congressman Bernie Sanders voted for the crime bill — you know, the one everyone keeps giving Joe Biden grief about. The crime bill that created 60 new death penalty offenses under 41 federal capital statutes, the one that eliminated higher education for inmates, authorized boot camps for delinquent minors, and created fifty new federal offenses, including membership in a gang, and three-strikes provisions.

Bernie Sanders was 57 years old when, as a congressman, he tried to get nuclear waste from Vermont dumped in Sierra Blanca, Texas, a small, extremely poor, and mostly Latino town, which brought charges of “environmental racism”:

On May 11th, about a dozen activists met with Sanders at his office. The delegation included two University of Vermont students who had just completed a thorough analysis of the scientific arguments in support of the Texas dump; they found numerous unanswered questions and more than a few outright falsehoods in the proponents’ arguments. Several participants in the meeting were astonished by the “independent” congressman’s vehement and unrelenting support for shipping nuclear waste 2400 miles to West Texas. It was the best site geologically, he claimed, much better than having nuclear waste scattered across the country, and besides, how dare we accuse Bernie Sanders of environmental racism? The August meeting with the Texas delegation featured Sanders at his most obstinate, insisting that he’d done the right thing and that he was no longer interested in the issue now that the compact bill had passed the House.

Bernie Sanders was 62 years old when he voted against creating the Amber Alert system, contending “its sentencing provisions were an unconstitutional intrusion by Congress, taking power that should rest with the judiciary.” The bill passed the House 390 to 24 and the Senate 98–0.

None of these are the actions or statements of a confused, rebellious teenager. Yes, they date back to five decades ago, but the candidate has been around for almost eight decades. He was a grown man when he said and did these things, and they aren’t so easily dismissed as youthful naivete and indiscretions.

Hey, Who Needs to Win Florida, Anyway?

The Democrats appear to be on the verge of unofficially conceding the state of Florida in 2020, nominating a man who believes that Fidel Castro doesn’t get enough credit for all the good things he did. Last night on 60 Minutes, Sanders declared: “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair simply to say everything is bad. You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program.”

There are about 2.3 million Cuban Americans in the United States, and roughly 1.5 million live in Florida. Oh, and more than 200,000 Venezuelan immigrants have moved to Florida from 2000 to 2017.

Back in 2016, Donald Trump won the Cuban-American vote in Florida, 54 percent to 41 percent. Trump won Florida by 1.2 percent in 2016, but that amounts to a margin of 112,911 votes.

First-term Barack Obama was much less open about normalizing relations with Cuba than second-term Obama, and Hillary Clinton wasn’t as openly pro-Castro (or pro-normalization) as Obama was. (People forget she went after Sanders’s embrace of Castro during the primary debates.) Maybe Sanders’s “Fidel is getting a bad rap” routine doesn’t lose all the Cuban-American votes in Florida, but it probably doesn’t improve on that 54–41 split. The Vermont senator is going to have to make up those votes elsewhere.

Hey, Who Needs to Win Pennsylvania, Anyway?

The Democrats appear to be on the verge of unofficially conceding the state of Pennsylvania in 2020, nominating a man who pledges to ban fracking. Don’t take it from me, take it from Democrats in the Keystone State:

Pennsylvania’s top Democrats, including Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, have tried to discourage talk of a fracking ban, while labor leaders point to thousands of building trades members working on gas drilling sites, laying billions of dollars in pipelines and building massive refineries.

“Nobody can tell me what these new jobs are that are going to replace these good union jobs in the energy industry if we ban fracking,” Rick Bloomingdale, the president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AFL-CIO, said in an interview Thursday.

Wait, there’s more!

After the fracking ban bill was introduced earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-PA., wrote a letter urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to move the bill.

“If this bill were enacted — and survived likely court challenges — it would eliminate thousands of jobs in my state and likely millions across the country,” Lamb wrote. “It would also remove from our energy grid the source of power that has been most responsible for reducing carbon emissions in our country.”

ADDENDUM: Peter Hamby, arguing that Democrats are far too pessimistic about Sanders: “Instead of asking if Sanders is unelectable, ask another question: What if Sanders is actually the MOST electable Democrat? In the age of Trump, hyper-partisanship, institutional distrust, and social media, Sanders could be examined as a candidate almost custom-built to go head-to-head with Trump this year.”

Of course Sanders could win; if 2016 taught us anything it is that elections are unpredictable. By the time you read this, the coronavirus will have knocked U.S. stock markets for a loop. We don’t know how this will impact the global economy, and maybe Trump won’t be running for reelection with such a great economy this fall.

But Hamby’s argument for Sanders’s strengths sounds a lot like his argument that Beto O’Rourke should run for president even if he loses his Senate race, from back on August 29, 2018:

What the wise men of Washington are absolutely wrong about is this: O’Rourke can absolutely run for president if he loses. Who is the Democratic primary voter who would care? Does that person exist? He’s a star who would pack any room in Des Moines or Nashua, end of story.

In little over a year, O’Rourke has built a thriving political movement in the country’s second-largest state, with a strategy built purely on hustle, grassroots organizing, and his hunch that the standard-issue campaign playbook met its final demise in 2016. O’Rourke has raised over $23 million so far, all from small donors and a lot it from out of state. But his campaign money hasn’t gone to television ads or consultants. It’s gone to online advertising (Sanders’s digital firm, to be precise) and a T-shirt vendor in Austin tasked with pumping out thousands of heather gray “Beto for Senate” shirts. He’s Spanish-fluent and hails from a border city, El Paso, in a moment when immigration has become the hottest-burning political issue in the country. And at a time when Americans view politics through their mobile screens, O’Rourke passes the ever-fetishized “authenticity” test by a mile.

Beto . . . didn’t quite catch fire, did he?

Elections

Who Should Pick a Party’s Nominee for President?

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Michael Bloomberg hosts a kick off for “United for Mike” in Miami, Fla., January 26, 2020. (Maria Alejandra Cardona/Reuters)

On the menu today: Deciding which candidate should receive the nomination could be an ugly process this year; the Bloomberg campaign’s edited debate video; and the average American thinks very little about foreign policy.

The Divisive Question 

What should a political party do when one candidate doesn’t win the requisite number of delegates to become the presidential nominee, but enters the convention with a solid lead?

Wednesday night on stage, all of the Democrats except one argued that the delegates should choose whom they think the best nominee is, even if that person is not the one who won the most delegates during the primaries.

TODD: Yes or no, leading person with the delegates, should they be the nominee or not?

BIDEN: No, let the process work its way out.

TODD: Mayor Buttigieg?

BUTTIGIEG: Not necessarily. Not until there’s a majority.

TODD: Senator Klobuchar?

KLOBUCHAR: Let the process work.

TODD: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: Well, the process includes 500 super-delegates on the second ballot. So I think that the will of the people should prevail, yes. The person who has the most votes should become the nominee.

TODD: Thank you, guys. Five nos and a yes.

(I don’t want to hear any of these people other than Sanders complaining about the Electoral College.)

How you feel about this will be shaped by how you answer a couple of related questions: Do you think the party’s primary voters always make the best choice? Do you think having the largest plurality is close enough to having a majority? Do you think the largest plurality of the party’s primary voters should get their choice, even if it’s a bad one?

The Republican Party — that allegedly insider-y, selfish, bourbon-and-cigars party of the powerful — faced these questions four years ago and answered: “no, yes, yes.” And the choice ended up working out pretty well for them.

A total of 2,472 delegates attended the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the winning candidate needed a simple majority of 1,237 votes to become the GOP nominee. Trump clinched it in May, and ironically, it wasn’t because of a primary or caucus win. The Associated Press determined that enough unbound delegates — for example, each state’s three representatives to the Republican National Committee get to be delegates — ended up backing Trump to put him over the top.

That more or less ended the possibility of the GOP convention in Cleveland nominating someone besides Trump. In 2016, Donald Trump won 44.95 percent of the ballots cast in the Republican primary. But because of winner-take-all states and other quirks, Trump ended with 1,441 delegates. The next-closest, Ted Cruz, won 25 percent, and the third-place finisher, John Kasich, finished with 13.7 percent. Even a Cruz–Kasich unity ticket theoretically represented the preferences of fewer people than Trump did. Dislodging Trump would have required something such as a Cruz–Kasich unity ticket and Marco Rubio being named the Secretary of State-in-waiting and all of the 130 uncommitted delegates jumping on board with the alternative ticket and 204 of Trump’s delegates changing their minds and abandoning him.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post ran an op-ed with the laugh-inducing headline: “It’s time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president.” I don’t know about you, but I’m just glad someone is standing up for the people who really get forgotten and ignored, the ones who don’t enjoy any advantages, the ones who have gotten treated badly, and who are the true victims of injustice in this country: America’s elites.

Still, there’s a reason that parties used smoke-filled rooms to select their candidates for so long. Those smoke-filled rooms had all the major internal factions represented, and those power brokers had to hammer out the nominee and running mate that gave them the best chance of winning. The men in the smoke-filled rooms couldn’t get idealistic, or swoon over fantastic visions, or bet all their chips on a longshot radical. They had to be hard-nosed realists with a keen sense of what the electorate as a whole was inclined to prefer.

Meanwhile, the slogan “trust the people” sounds good, until you see an Iowa caucusgoer who didn’t know a basic fact about the candidate she preferred, or a New Hampshire voter who used eeny-meany-miney-moe to make her choice.

Yesterday while recording The Editors podcast, Charlie and MBD concurred that while the Bernie Bros may be furious and unhinged, they aren’t necessarily wrong about what’s going on here. The Democratic Party offers a lot of lip service to respecting the will of the people and then are willing to toss it out the window the moment they fear it lessens their odds of victory. I would argue that the Democratic Party’s rules on superdelegates and rogue delegates on subsequent ballots are there for a reason. They want their convention to nominate the candidate with the best possible chance to win in November, regardless of whether that figure won the most votes in the primary.

If Sanders and his supporters didn’t trust the Democratic Party’s nominating process to operate fairly, he probably shouldn’t have run for the Democratic nomination. For most of his career, Sanders made it clear that while he may caucus with and often vote with the Senate Democrats, he did not think of himself as a Democrat. He only formally filed paperwork to run as a Democrat in 2015. The distrust is mutual.

You’ve seen a lot of jokes this past week that Mike Bloomberg — a guy who only became a Democrat in 2018 — is fighting Sanders — a guy who only became a Democrat in 2015 — in order to try to beat Donald Trump — who only re-registered as a Republican in 2012. Nine years ago, none of these guys were in their respective parties.

In fact, according to Politico, Bloomberg is planning to win on the second ballot:

Mike Bloomberg is privately lobbying Democratic Party officials and donors allied with his moderate opponents to flip their allegiance to him — and block Bernie Sanders — in the event of a brokered national convention.

The effort, largely executed by Bloomberg’s senior state-level advisers in recent weeks, attempts to prime Bloomberg for a second-ballot contest at the Democratic National Convention in July by poaching supporters of Joe Biden and other moderate Democrats, according to two Democratic strategists familiar with the talks and unaffiliated with Bloomberg:

“There’s a whole operation going on, which is genius,” said one of the strategists, who is unaffiliated with any campaign. “And it’s going to help them win on the second ballot … They’re telling them that’s their strategy.”

It may be “genius,” but it is also a formula for chaos, a scenario that would worry me more if I were a Democrat. Picture the plausible scenario where Sanders wins the most votes and the most delegates but falls short of the threshold to win the nomination outright. He goes to Milwaukee, no one wins on the first ballot . . . and then the superdelegates choose to nominate the Wall Street billionaire who finished second, or maybe even third. (Keep in mind, Bloomberg is running at around 15 percent nationally right now. For what it’s worth, when Democrats are asked to choose between just Sanders and Bloomberg, the Vermont senator wins, 53 percent to 38 percent.) We all saw the epic baggage that Bloomberg carries on debate night, and Bloomberg has gotten here by spending $463.8 million in three months. I am not exaggerating when I say the Bernie supporters might riot over having the nomination “stolen” from him.

(In the divided-convention scenario, does Joe Biden make more sense as a consensus candidate? Does Amy Klobuchar?)

You Can’t Police Jokes out of a Fear They Could Mislead Stupid People

After a debate performance that was mostly disastrous, Mike Bloomberg put out a short, funny video that is, in my eyes, so blatantly edited that it doesn’t count as dangerous disinformation. (Does anyone think there were audible crickets in the debate hall?) But the Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler is livid: “We’re taking a tough line on manipulated campaign videos before viewers are flooded with so many fakes that they have trouble knowing what is true. The Bloomberg campaign should label this as a parody or else take the video down. In the meantime, Bloomberg earns Four Pinocchios.”

Meanwhile, “Twitter told The Verge that the video would likely be labeled as manipulated media under the platform’s new deepfakes policy that officially goes into place on March 5th.” (I guess Twitter didn’t think that deceptively edited videos would be a problem until after Super Tuesday.)

Democrats Are As Functionally Isolationist As Trump Is

We hear a lot about how Donald Trump shocks, horrifies, frightens, and unnerves foreign populations and foreign leaders, including our allies. But David Ignatius points out that the Democrats did not do much to reassure those groups this week:

People throughout Eastern Europe and Asia who have struggled to escape from socialism must find Sen. Bernie Sanders’s enthusiasm for it — and the fact that the Vermont independent is leading the field — especially bizarre.

The Democrats’ lack of interest in the world will also be noted. Foreign policy was barely mentioned in Las Vegas. As the candidates shouted at each other, they seemed unaware that voters would be judging them in part on their fitness to be commander in chief. Rather than discuss rational global climate policies, such as a carbon tax, they talked about putting U.S. energy executives in jail.

I noticed that the word “coronavirus” was not mentioned. China was only mentioned briefly during a discussion about carbon emissions. Russia was mentioned once, in the context of election interference. Iran was not mentioned at all.

It’s probably true that few Americans care what foreign populations or foreign leaders think about our president. This reflects the fact that most Americans don’t think about foreign policy much. The Democrats don’t want to waste their time or breath trying to convince Americans that they should care.

ADDENDUM: Over on the home page, I miss the era when American politics was dominated by middle-aged, multi-term, reform-minded governors.

Elections

Finally: A Debate Worth the Watch

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Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg appear on monitors in the media filing center during the Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, Nev., February 19, 2020. (David Becker/Reuters)

On the menu today: the Democratic debate in Las Vegas turns into Ragnarok; the Democratic Party’s foundation starts to develop deep cracks and worsening fissures; and contemplating the exceedingly grim finale of the Norwegian geopolitical thriller, Occupied.

For Once, I Hope You Watched the Democratic Debate

For the first time during all of these Democratic primary debates this cycle, I felt as if my voice and viewpoint were represented on stage Wednesday night. That’s not because Mike Bloomberg was present. That’s because I can’t stand most of these candidates, and last night, the candidates made clear they can’t stand each other either, either.

If you love to see Democratic candidates tearing into other Democratic candidates, the Las Vegas debate was joyous, beautiful, exciting, and wondrous. It was WrestleMania, it was Roman gladiators, it was a demolition derby. Don’t let anyone spin you; most of the candidates came out in worse shape than they entered. Tensions, frustrations, and outright disdain that simmered under the surface for almost an entire year exploded out into the open within the opening minutes. Many of the attacks carrying the not-so-hidden subtext: “My rivals are a bunch of unqualified idiots, and I cannot believe that the entire Democratic primary electorate hasn’t picked up on this yet.”

Mike Bloomberg got off to a catastrophically bad start. Michael Brendan Dougherty’s warnings were prescient, and Kevin Williamson wonders if Bloomberg’s campaign is effectively over, thanks to a “beyond incompetent” response to an entirely predictable series of questions about how he treated women who worked for him and his use of non-disclosure agreements.

Bloomberg LP has faced nearly 40 discrimination and harassment suits from 64 employees over the past two decades, with most of them accusing Bloomberg of “creating a culture of sexual harassment and degradation.”

Bloomberg’s response last night was, “none of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.” You don’t get nearly 40 lawsuits from 64 employees over a mere bad joke.

The former mayor got a little better as the night went on and mostly bad debate performances can be wiped away with another $400 million or so in television ads. But the bottom line of last night is that Bloomberg is what his critics charge: a billionaire who’s been so used to running everything around him for so long that he freezes when someone challenges him and gets in his face. On top of that, he’s a cold fish. He radiates the warmth and empathy of the head of a DMV office. Bloomberg’s convinced he never did anything wrong regarding any of his female employees, and he can’t understand why anyone would think otherwise.

If you believe in such things, it’s as if fate, the universe, or the Gods of Politics decided to punish the Democrats yet again for the way they laughed at the GOP’s inability to stop Trump in the spring of 2016. The Democrats find themselves in a similar situation as the Republicans were four years ago: A populist septuagenarian, who only formally joined the party a few years ago, has jumped to an early lead, has a loyal base of diehard supporters, and is set to head into the convention with the most delegates because of the apportionment rules. The upstart disdains the party’s previous stances and leaders, promises to turn the country upside down, and casually alienates some of the party’s longtime supporters. But the establishment can’t unite behind one alternative candidate, risks a colossal fight at the convention, and is probably going to end up nominating someone at odds with its previous policies and values.

Instead of uniting quickly, the Democrats appear set to spend the next three or four months watching Sanders and Bloomberg pound the snot out of each other in a nasty, bitter, substantive, consequential, resource-devouring, personal fight.

This Democratic primary could not have turned out any better for President Trump. The candidate who repeatedly polled best against Trump, Joe Biden, is reduced to an afterthought. Trump’s opponent is likely to be an old white man that some Democratic women contend is sexist and who faces lingering problems of motivating African-American voters.

The Cracks in the Democratic Party Foundation Can’t Be Easily Spackled Over Anymore

In four of the past seven presidential elections, the Democrats lucked out and found themselves lining up behind a once-in-a-generation political talent. Whatever you think of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both men were enormously skilled orators, could thrill or at least satisfy every major faction in the party, and provided enough of a blank slate so that both centrists and progressives could believe he was “one of us.” In two of the three presidential elections that didn’t feature Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, they nominated Clinton’s running mate in Al Gore and his wife in Hillary Clinton. (Notice that the one time that Democrats nominated someone with no particularly strong connection to either Clinton or Obama — John Kerry — they lost the popular vote.)

Once-in-a-generation political talents can spackle over a lot of deep cracks in a party. On paper, the Democratic Party shouldn’t function; the environmental agenda contradicts the goals of big labor, racial minorities and the white working class generate their own friction against each other, big-city machine politicians are anathema to the good-government reformers. Too many wine-cave big donors look down upon the working-class and rural communities as inherently less worthy in a meritocratic system. The cultural radicals freak out the soccer moms. The tech bros think they’re the innovative geniuses building the road to the progressive future, but much of the rest of the party sees them as arrogant and unaccountable excesses of capitalism.

Without a once-in-a-generation political talent to unite the party’s factions . . . you end up with a primary such as this one. Democrats have to choose from a list of deeply flawed options, and some faction is going to be left so disappointed, they will be, at minimum, not all that motivated in the general election. Some may leave the party entirely. You may recall former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz declaring, “Bernie Sanders, who three years ago had fringe ideas, is now the poster child for the American people with regard to the Democratic Party . . . The Democratic Party left me, I didn’t leave them.” There are a lot of business leaders who, because they’re pro-choice, buy solar panels, and are comfortable with higher income taxes, think of themselves as Democrats. Not all of them will stay in the party if Sanders is the nominee.

If Bloomberg is the nominee, many Sanders supporters will not lift a finger to help him. Last night, Warren asked after the debate, “How can we say we want to trade our arrogant billionaire for your arrogant billionaire? Especially when this is a man who has treated women so badly. You know, can we please keep in mind how important women have finally — we have been acknowledged to be important in electing our candidates? You just can’t lead with a guy who’s got this kind of history.”

The Grim Ending of Occupied and the Hard Lessons Europe Doesn’t Want to Learn

I finally had time to finish the third and final season of Occupied, which I describe as Norway’s version of 24, set in a near-future where the United States departed NATO and Europe gradually realizes it has little or no leverage against an increasingly aggressive Russia. This was always a heavy and intermittently dark show, with no promises of smooth or happy endings, but the finale of Occupied makes the divorce drama Marriage Story look like a lighthearted comedy.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I can see why the creative team chose to end the series the way it did, but man, what a downer. The message is unmistakable: Russia’s occupation of Norway, even seemingly reversed, has done irreparable damage to all of the characters, and those who didn’t die will spend the rest of their days physically, psychologically, and emotionally broken. For two seasons and change, Occupied excelled in painting portraits of characters who wanted to do the right thing, but who found themselves making larger and larger moral compromises in extreme and desperate situations. But by the middle of season three, everyone’s become almost unrecognizable morally. The prime minister, Jesper Berg, accidentally sets off a vicious, violent campaign of Norwegians throwing acid in the faces of other citizens they deemed collaborators or war profiteers. He also basically shrugs at an environmentalist group blowing up a natural-gas plant and killing lots of people. The old defense minister, Harald Vold, can’t even bring himself to denounce the acid attacks. The single mom restaurateur who gives us the perspective of the average citizen, Bente Norum, has gradually slid from conflicted noncombatant to a willing tool of Russian intelligence.

Every major character ends the show defeated. The new Norwegian prime minster is compromised by the Russians. The European gay rights group “Love Without Limits” is secretly gathering compromising material on closeted politicians on behalf of Moscow. Berg has become an environmentalist cyberterrorist. Hans Martin, the show’s version of Jack Bauer, kills himself to protect his family, and his wife Hilde and daughter have fled to Washington, where the U.S. government doesn’t seem to care about any of this. Vold apparently sold out to the Russians at some point, and either committed suicide or was murdered on Berg’s orders. Bente’s probably never getting out of Russia or seeing her daughter again. Even the Russian villains get their comeuppance in wince-inducing ways; Irina’s poisoned lover doesn’t appear likely to recover anytime soon, she’s destined to live as a virtual slave to the FSB, and Gosev gets whacked by his Russian superiors based upon lies from Bente.

Even the climatic cyberattack on Moscow illuminates an unnerving point: A bunch of freelance hackers angry about carbon emissions punish the Russians far more effectively than any of the European powers or Norwegian government could. One of Berg’s closing lines is, “don’t wait for democracy to save the world.” The implication is that democracy cannot save the world; it certainly couldn’t save Norway when it counted.

A few years ago, I called Occupied “the most inadvertently conservative show in a long time . . . A good portion of Occupied portrays Norway’s progressive, sophisticated, well-educated political class slowly realizing that no one is coming to rescue them.” One of my favorite lines came from Berg as he casually dismissed a Green Party underling’s ability to negotiate with the Russians, saying something such as, “The Russians tried to walk all over me, they’ll definitely walk all over you.” The show is the European Left’s middle-of-the-night anxiety attack, a terrified recognition that they’ve miscalculated how the world works and left themselves helpless in the face of existential threats.

Occupied began as a thought experiment that Europe really needed to have: How well can modern European “soft power” counter old-fashioned military and authoritarian “hard power”? The show offered viewers the unsettling answer that it can’t. Maybe the creators became uncomfortable with their own conclusions. By the end of season three, it’s fair to wonder if modern Norway is worth saving, as Norwegian citizens seem like easily manipulated violent rage monkeys, itching to turn on each other and naively believing that the threat from Russia has passed. European progressive democracy failed; the suggestion that American-style center-right democracy could succeed might have been too much for its international audience to handle.

ADDENDUM: Over at TurnOnTheJets.com, I talk about my preferred offseason strategy for the team with Scott Mason. The NFL Scouting Combine is February 24, and free agency begins March 18.

Elections

Bloomberg Is Concerning to Both the Left and Right

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Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg addresses a news conference after launching his presidential bid in Norfolk, Virginia, November 25, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

On the menu today: a deep dive into whether Bernie Sanders or Mike Bloomberg would lose more Democrats to Donald Trump in the general election; the critics of the former New York City mayor on the left and on the right start to see the same traits; and the Democratic National Committee apparently doesn’t want you to watch their debates after tonight.

The Democrats’ Conundrum: Does Bloomberg or Sanders Keep the Party More Unified?

Assume, for a moment, that the Democratic primary comes down to a choice between Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg. (Some might argue that it already has; yesterday the Bloomberg News organization reported an exclusive that the Bloomberg presidential campaign organization believed that the race already came down to Sanders and the Bloomberg presidential candidate. That strikes me as premature, as well as far too many “Bloomberg” monikers in one sentence.)

That said, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe contends that right now Sanders is on pace to lock up a pledged delegate lead he will not relinquish by Super Tuesday, March 3. The Vermont senator wouldn’t clinch the nomination that day. But he would be so far ahead that he would be virtually guaranteed to go into Milwaukee with an insurmountable lead in delegates. At that point, the party couldn’t afford not to nominate him. He would finish about 20 percentage points ahead of anyone else.

For Democrats, the decision in the coming weeks may come down to a particularly challenging conundrum. If you nominate Sanders, how many anti-Sanders Democrats and independents drift away in the general election? And if you nominate Bloomberg, how many anti-Bloomberg Democrats and independents drift away in the general election?

The Trump campaign and fans of the president shouldn’t fool themselves; the vast majority of people supporting either Sanders or Bloomberg are going to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee. But “vast majority” might mean about 80 to 90 percent, and that might not be enough where it counts when all the votes are tallied on Election Day.

Did Sanders voters cost Hillary Clinton the presidency? Many political scientists have gone through the exit polls and come up with different estimates of just how many Sanders primary voters ended up voting for Trump in the general elections. The low end of estimates is 6 percent, the high end is 12 percent. Political scientist Brian Schaffner put it at 12 percent nationally, and offered a state-level estimate: In Wisconsin, 9 percent of Sanders voters cast ballots for Trump, in Michigan, 8 percent of Sanders voters cast ballots for Trump, and in Pennsylvania, 16 percent of Sanders voters cast ballots for Trump. That comes out to about 51,000 voters in Wisconsin, where Trump’s margin of victory was 22,000. That comes out to about 47,000 voters in Michigan, where Trump’s margin of victory was 10,000. That comes out to about 116,000 voters in Wisconsin, where Trump’s margin of victory was 44,000. Notice that even if you cut the Sanders-to-Trump estimates in half . . . you still end up with a sum larger than the Trump margin.

In other words . . . yeah, Bernie Sanders voters ended up making Donald Trump president in 2016.

The good news for Democrats is that nominating Sanders brings back at least a chunk of those voters. A “socialist grandpa” candidate doesn’t give off a vibe of urban elitist condescension. The bad news for Democrats is that nominating Sanders probably loses a chunk of Hillary Clinton voters.

Down-ticket Democrats aren’t mincing words: Nominating Sanders puts a lot of them in danger of defeat in November.

“They’re terrified,” Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., the first House Democrat to endorse Buttigieg, told ABC News of his colleagues’ response to Sanders’ rise. “Very few people see Bernie as electable.”

“It could be challenging in parts of the country that we have to win in order to win the presidency and win a majority in the Senate,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a centrist who dropped his own White House bid after the New Hampshire primary, said Thursday of a Sanders’ nomination.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a New York Democrat fighting for reelection in a district carried by Trump in 2016, wouldn’t commit to supporting Sanders if he becomes the party’s nominee for president.

“He won’t be the party’s nominee,” he said Thursday when repeatedly asked if he’d support Sanders in the general election. “I’ve made it clear that I think we should nominate a more moderate candidate who has the ability to reach across the aisle and get things done.”

A House Democrat in a swing district who did not want to be identified told the New York Times that if the Democrats nominated Sanders, “there is a growing concern among especially those of us on the front lines that we will not only lose the White House but the House of Representatives.” Texas Democrats believe Sanders would torpedo their hopes of big gains in the state legislature.

Socialism — explicit socialism, wearing the label proudly — has only niche appeal in this country. The Democratic Socialists of America endorsed 42 candidates in 20 states in 2018. None of their senatorial candidates won, neither of their gubernatorial candidates won, and three of their twelve House candidates won: incumbent Danny Davis in Illinois, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. As you may have noticed, those are heavily Democratic districts.

Wait, there’s one other wrinkle, and I’m not making an age joke. Sanders said yesterday he had changed his mind and will not release any more of his medical records. This is a 78-year-old man who had a heart attack in October. At the time, the senator’s campaign said he had been hospitalized with “chest pains,” and three days later announced he had a heart attack and that doctors had inserted two stents.

At this point, many Democrats might be thinking: “To heck with all that, let’s nominate Bloomberg.” But he comes with his own risks. Do you think the Trump campaign can gain some traction on Bloomberg defending bonuses to executives at companies bailed out by the taxpayers?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said financial industry employees and Wall Street workers should still get year-end bonuses even as their companies receive federal aid.

The U.S. Treasury is providing assistance to a range of firms as part of the federal $700 billion rescue program.

“It’s a populist thing to say I don’t want to give any bonuses,” Bloomberg today during his weekly appearance on WOR radio. “It’s just unrealistic to say that the employees for these companies, who work hard, shouldn’t get compensated at the rate in that industry.”

The companies receiving federal assistance will have trouble getting back on their feet if they can’t retain employees, Bloomberg said.

Mike Bloomberg, the “bonuses for bailed-out bankers” candidate. If you thought a lot of Sanders voters flipped to Trump or voted third party in 2020, just wait until Democrats ask them to vote for the brusque and charmless Wall Street billionaire. The Trump campaign will make sure suburban moms know about the claims of Bloomberg’s sexist, profane, and obnoxious comments to female employees, that African Americans know about “throw them up against the wall and frisk them,” and that everyone knows about the time Bloomberg’s lawyers threatened a woman whose husband wrote too critically about China. When Nina Turner, a national campaign co-chair for Senator Bernie Sanders, called Bloomberg an “oligarch” and when Sanders’s national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray called Bloomberg a “racist authoritarian,” I don’t think they’re doing it just for show or in the heat of the moment. I think they genuinely believe it. Mike Bloomberg represents everything these folks got into politics to fight against and summoning the will to vote for the “lesser evil” racist authoritarian will not come easily.

Whether Bloomberg or Sanders is the nominee, leading Democrats will insist, “but Trump is worse!” And many Democrats, and Democratic-leaning independents, will agree.

Does Michael Bloomberg See You As a Human Being?

Another cautionary note about Bloomberg that is emerging: His critics on the right and on the left see the same traits that trouble them.

Zaid Jilani: “It’s hardly a surprise that Bloomberg is on record defending the Chinese system of government, insisting that Xi Jinping is “not a dictator”. Bloomberg sees himself as an enlightened autocrat, who uses his money to get around inefficient democratic processes.”

Tim Carney: “In Bloomberg’s eyes, any talk of the dignity of the human person is mawkish sentimentality. Mike Bloomberg doesn’t see people as ends in themselves, but instead as means to ends . . . Human beings, to Bloomberg, are not unique creatures, all deserving freedom, respect, and dignity. They are not ends in themselves, in Bloomberg’s eyes. People are either inconveniences to be ignored or terminated (babies), threats to be neutralized and intimidated (minority males), corporate machine parts to be exploited for profit (employees), or tools for sexual gratification (women).”

We probably all know someone in life who is a genius or indisputable runaway success in one area — making money, working out computer problems, cooking, understanding the tax code, being a coach, sorting out engineering problems — but who is not nearly as wise and astute in other areas of life. His relationships are a mess, he freezes up when speaking in public, he’s socially awkward, he micromanages others. Human beings are rarely good at all tasks.

Mike Bloomberg is that kind of personality who believes that because his judgment was proven correct in one area — building a fortune — that his judgment must be inerrant in just about all areas. (You no doubt have noticed that the current president is not exactly a bubbling fountain of humility, modesty, and self-effacement, either.) Colorado Springs and Pueblo are “a part of Colorado where I don’t think there’s roads.” Bloomberg is unconvinced God exists, but believes that if He does, “when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” He declared, “if you want to have a gun in your house, I think you’re pretty stupid.”

If you disagree, hey, he’s the eighth-richest man in America, and you’re not. What could you possibly know that he doesn’t?

The DNC Apparently Hates Big Debate Audiences

Tonight is debate night. Enjoy it, because the next two debates are on Saturday nights. Apparently, the Democratic National Committee doesn’t want people to watch.

ADDENDUM: Under Nate Silver’s projection of the delegates, the three top finishers are straight white males over seventy, and the top four are white males. The top female finisher would be Warren with 8 percent. The Democrats probably couldn’t have ended up with a less diverse top tier if they tried.

Elections

When Is Obama Going to Speak Up?

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President Barack Obama listens to a question during his last press conference at the White House, January 18, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

As I heard at the doctor’s office this morning, “Happy Monday-Tuesday.” On the menu today: Why former president Barack Obama has been quiet during the most intensely divided Democratic primary in recent memory; gun-control advocates take it on the chin in Virginia; a new batch of data gives a clearer sense of the fatality rate of the coronavirus; and remembering America’s easily forgotten but still significant presidents.

The Silence of Barack Obama

For the last six weeks or so, we’ve been watching Joe Biden metaphorically drown, while former president Barack Obama files his nails and leans against a life preserver on the dock. Mike Bloomberg is running an ad that really makes it sound like Obama and the former New York City mayor were close allies and longtime buddies, and depending upon your point of view, maybe even implies an endorsement. (Obama and Bloomberg were not close allies and did not have a particularly warm relationship. In fact, in 2016, Bloomberg suggested Obama had failed to unify the country along racial lines.)

One phone call from Obama — either to Bloomberg himself, or to the media — could get that ad taken out of circulation pretty quickly. The fact that the commercial has been airing for two weeks suggests Obama has no real problem with it.

Back when Biden announced, Obama at least offered some kind words through a spokeswoman. “President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill said. “He relied on the vice president’s knowledge, insight, and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency. The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today.” (Dear friends: If you need a statement of support, I will release a brief written description of our many years of close companionship through my staff.)

In New York Magazine, Gabriel Debenedetti reports that Obama’s silence is a strategic move designed to ensure he can help unite the party this summer:

With the race looking more and more likely to grow bitter and messy, and maybe even wind up in a contested convention, the former president and those around him are increasingly sure he will need to play a prominent role in bringing the party back together and calming its tensions later this summer, including perhaps in Milwaukee, where the party’s meeting is scheduled to be held in July. So he is committed to not allowing his personal thoughts to dribble out in the meantime, directly or via leaks, conscious of how any sense that he’s taking sides in intraparty disputes could rock the primary in the short run and potentially undermine his ability to play this larger role in the months ahead.

With each week and Sanders’s continued rise, I’ve been thinking about this report from Ryan Lizza, writing in Politico, back on November 26: “There is one potential exception: Back when Sanders seemed like more of a threat than he does now, Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him. (Asked about that, a spokesperson for Obama pointed out that Obama recently said he would support and campaign for whoever the Democratic nominee is.)”

It’s now mid-February, and the results of the latest national poll from Marist/NPR/PBS are: Bernie Sanders 31 percent, Michael Bloomberg 19 percent, Joe Biden 15 percent, Elizabeth Warren 12 percent, Amy Klobuchar 9 percent, Pete Buttigieg 8 percent. (How odd is it that the current leader in delegates is running sixth nationally?) If Sanders isn’t running away with the nomination, he’s starting to get close. If Obama’s going to object to Sanders, now is the time to do it. But according to the Debenedetti report, he’s not going to.

A huge component of the Biden campaign is the Obama aura; perhaps the funniest line in the past year from Saturday Night Live was Woody Harrelson’s impression of Biden — “in closing, I’d like to say, just one more time . . . Barack!” Perhaps one of the factors in Biden’s slide is Democratic voters recognition that while Biden constantly invokes Obama and is more or less pitching himself as the next best thing to a third term, there is not much indication that Obama himself sees a Biden presidency that way.

In fact, when you look at anecdotes such as this one, buried at the back of an August New York Times story . . .

In March, Mr. Obama took the unusual step of summoning Mr. Biden’s top campaign advisers, including the former White House communications director Anita Dunn and Mr. Biden’s longtime spokeswoman, Kate Bedingfield, to his Washington office for a briefing on the campaign’s digital and communications strategy with members of his own staff, including his senior adviser, Eric Schultz.

When they were done, Mr. Obama offered a pointed reminder, according to two people with knowledge of his comments:

Win or lose, they needed to make sure Mr. Biden did not “embarrass himself” or “damage his legacy” during the campaign.

. . . you start to wonder if Obama thought a Biden presidential campaign was such a good idea.

Should former presidents remain neutral in their party’s primaries? We haven’t had this issue in our era of quasi-dynastic politics. No one doubted that George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush preferred Jeb Bush, and no one doubted that Bill Clinton preferred Hillary Clinton. Former presidents have viewpoints and ideologies and values and agendas, and undoubtedly they think some candidates would be better in the job than others. If they think nominating a particular candidate would be a terrible mistake, why shouldn’t they speak out?

Gun-Control Advocates Get Kicked in the Teeth in Virginia

Another case of a newly elected majority overestimating its mandate and not checking to ensure that its agenda is popular enough in all of its members’ districts: After a great deal of hype, four Virginia senate Democrats joined senate Republicans in voting to send back a bill expanding the definition of “assault weapons” for review, meaning it won’t be considered for at least another year. Among those Democrats? Creigh Deeds, who was the party’s gubernatorial nominee back in 2009.

My friend Cam Edwards has a good roundup of all of the various gun-control proposals that have, so far, fallen short this year in the Virginia state legislature. The election of a narrow Democratic legislative majority in both houses did not quite translate into a narrow majority for gun control, or at least not for these measures.

The Coronavirus Fatality Rate Is . . . 2.3 Percent.

Gee, why would people feel confused by the coverage of the coronavirus?

For several weeks, we’ve been getting coverage with headlines such as, “The flu is a far bigger threat to most people in the US than the Wuhan coronavirus.” And while that was statistically true enough, the coronavirus was just getting started. Besides that, most Americans know to get their flu shots and those that do get the flu get through it just fine with fluids and bed rest.

This morning, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention offered a new analysis of data:

An analysis of 44,672 coronavirus patients in China whose diagnoses were confirmed by laboratory testing has found that 1,023 had died by Feb. 11. That’s a fatality rate of 2.3 percent. Figures released on a daily basis suggest the rate has further increased in recent days.

That is far higher than the mortality rate of the seasonal flu, with which the new coronavirus has sometimes been compared. In the United States, flu fatality rates hover around 0.1 percent.

Yes, if you live in the United States, you’re much more likely to get “regular” flu, but if you do catch it, the odds of it killing you are 1 in 1,000. If, God forbid, you catch the coronavirus, the chances of it killing you are 23 in 1,000, based upon what we know now.

ADDENDA: Monday has come and gone, but you will want to listen to yesterday’s edition of the Three Martini Lunch podcast, paying tribute to four of America’s less-remembered but still significant presidents: Thomas Whitmore, Jonathan Fowler, James Bennett, and Charles Logan.

Elections

Bernie and Bloomberg Battle It Out

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Michael Bloomberg speaks during a campaign event in Chattanooga, Tenn., February 12, 2020. (Doug Strickland/Reuters)

On the menu today: The growing battle between Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders reveals two difficult truths to Democrats; a portion of Pete Buttigieg’s career seems to get erased from history; and a sense of just how predictable the impeachment outcome was.

Bernie vs. Bloomberg Is the Democratic Primary Fight We’ve Always Wanted

Good heavens. The Democratic presidential primary just took a giant leap beyond pass-the-popcorn stage. (We were doing that from the moment Beto O’Rourke learned the media wasn’t willing to treat him like he had magical powers anymore because he wasn’t running against Ted Cruz.) We were at hit-record on-your-DVRs when it became clear on Iowa caucus night that no one was going to win. No, the Democratic presidential primary has reached a point few of us outside it ever thought it would reach: They’re having a conversation they actually need to have.

Mike Bloomberg’s campaign just unveiled a web ad making the obvious point that almost everyone else in the Democratic Party would prefer to ignore: There’s a thuggish mentality to Bernie Sanders’s online supporters. After Sanders charged that Bloomberg didn’t have the kind of energy that would be needed to defeat Trump, Bloomberg came back with an ad pointing out that Sanders supporters regularly tweet and offer memes with comments such as “vote Bernie or bad things will happen.” Supporters of Bloomberg are “going on lists.” The 53-second Bloomberg ad calls out Sanders for a seemingly disingenuous or powerless and pointless call for “civil discourse” while his grassroots supporters speak as if they can’t wait to get started on the liquidation of the Kulaks after Election Day.

Throughout his career, Sanders talked about the value of bread lines in Socialist countries, cheered on the Marxist Sandinistas, honeymooned in the Soviet Union, praised Communist China’s progress in “addressing extreme poverty,” talked about his admiration for Fidel Castro, warmly welcomed the Irish Republican Army, saluted Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan regime, and almost never criticized Nicholas Maduro.

And now he’s got a lot a slew of people who want to volunteer to serve as his personal KGB and NVKD.

For a guy who keeps insisting he only wants non-authoritarian socialism, Bernie Sanders has gone out of his way to praise authoritarian socialists. As Jeff Blehar pointed out: “Why honeymoon in Moscow when you can just as easily visit Stockholm instead? C’mon now.” It’s not like Westerners didn’t know about the secret police and show trials and forced labor and the Holomodor and gulags and being sent to Siberia. Praising the Soviet system meant, at minimum, excusing all of that, if not de facto justifying it.

(Hey, remember which institution has been standing athwart socialism and all of its adherents and advocates since 1955? Sanders was only 14 then.)

Meanwhile, the New York Times — that allegedly always failing New York Timespulls back the curtain on the Bloomberg campaign and reveals that some of the biggest and most influential activist groups on the Left just averted their eyes when it came to Bloomberg, because either they wanted or had grown dependent upon his generous contributions.

In the fall of 2018, Emily’s List had a dilemma. With congressional elections approaching and the Supreme Court confirmation battle over Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh underway, the Democratic women’s group was hosting a major fund-raising luncheon in New York. Among the scheduled headline speakers was Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor, who had donated nearly $6 million to Emily’s List over the years.

Days before the event, Mr. Bloomberg made blunt comments in an interview with The New York Times, expressing skepticism about the #MeToo movement and questioning sexual misconduct allegations against Charlie Rose, the disgraced news anchor. Senior Emily’s List officials seriously debated withdrawing Mr. Bloomberg’s invitation, according to three people familiar with the deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In the end, the group concluded it could not risk alienating Mr. Bloomberg.

Remember, kids, bias in law enforcement is bad, unless it’s happening in the jurisdiction of a wealthy donor, and then it — presto-change-o! — turns into something not important enough to mention:

That chilling effect was apparent in 2015 to researchers at the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group, when they turned in a report on anti-Muslim bias in the United States. Their draft included a chapter of more than 4,000 words about New York City police surveillance of Muslim communities; Mr. Bloomberg was mentioned by name eight times in the chapter, which was reviewed by The Times.

When the report was published a few weeks later, the chapter was gone. So was any mention of Mr. Bloomberg’s name.

At least one senior official wrote at the time that there would be a “strong reaction from Bloomberg world if we release the report as written,” according to an email reviewed by The Times. And three people with direct knowledge of the situation said Mr. Bloomberg was a factor.

Alienating him might not have been a cost-free proposition. When the report came out, he had already given the organization three grants worth nearly $1.5 million, and in 2017 he contributed $400,000 more, according to Ms. Léger and the center’s limited public disclosure of its donors.

The Times concludes, “his political and philanthropic spending has also secured the allegiance or cooperation of powerful institutions and leaders within the Democratic Party who might take issue with parts of his record were they not so reliant on his largess.” Like most political institutions, big progressive groups run on money from donors; their ability to stand up for the little guy is almost entirely dependent upon the generosity of the big guys. This means a sufficiently big guy can purchase the redirection of their outrage and public condemnations. An institution such as the Center for American Progress doesn’t expose the worst abuses in American government; it exposes the worst abuses among those who weren’t willing to donate to their group.

Meanwhile the Washington Post lays out just what Bloomberg was like as a boss:

In the lawsuits against Bloomberg and his company, the former employees allege that Bloomberg’s views about work and women permeated corporate life.

In the most high-profile example, a top saleswoman, Sekiko Sakai Garrison, alleged that Bloomberg told female salespeople about a male colleague getting married: “All of you girls line up to give him [oral sex] as a wedding present.” And, the lawsuit said, when Bloomberg saw certain women, he said, “I’d f— that in a second.”

Garrison said in her suit that shortly after her arrival, she began to observe Bloomberg making inappropriate comments to her and other women at the company.

“The Company, through its male managers and employees from Chief Executive Officer Bloomberg on down, engaged in a pattern and practice of sexual harassment, sexual degradation of women, and discrimination” against Garrison because of her nationality, the lawsuit alleged. She is of Japanese descent.

In any other situation, the eighth-richest man in America, who made his billions on Wall Street, with a history of crude comments about women, who owns a fleet of private jets and helicopters, whose preferred way to address crime is to target minority youth and “throw them up against the wall and frisk them,” is the irredeemable villain in the Democratic Party’s narrative. Mike Bloomberg is effectively purchasing an indulgence for his entire life, and all of us can see it. If the Democratic Party were a person, we would have already established what profession it is in; now they’re just haggling over the price.

Luke Thompson observes: “Strategically, Bloomberg and Sanders would be well-served going after one another, elevating each other as binary options, and starving every other campaign of oxygen.” But the burgeoning battle between these campaigns are exposing two difficult truths that most Democrats would prefer to pretend they don’t see. The first is that a vocal portion of their grassroots has let their anger over President Trump (and Mitch McConnell, and judges, and capitalism, and anything else that irks them) to turn into fantasies of violent retribution against anyone who opposes them, including fellow Democrats. Secondly, the activist organizations that provide a lot of the wonky policy research and talking points are more or less for sale. A core component of the “woke” worldview is that America’s semi-capitalist economy is inherently unjust and that all wealthy people obtained their fortunes through some role in an exploitative system. But the Democratic Party apparatus cannot function without rich people funding it.

The Buttigieg Campaign That Was Collectively Forgotten

It’s as if Pete Buttigieg’s unsuccessful bid for state treasurer in 2010 was just erased from history.

Martin Frost, The Hill, February 12: “Mayor Pete, who has never run for office beyond his city of 102,000 people . . .

Chris Cillizza, CNN,February 13: “Buttigieg has never even run for statewide office before.

Richard Ostling, GetReligion, April 11, 2019: “Buttigieg has never run statewide . . .

In fact, some idiot wrote last year, “Buttigieg has never run for anything bigger than mayor” — wait, wait, that idiot was me.

As you may recall, 2010 was a good year for Republicans and Indiana’s a pretty GOP-leaning state, and incumbent Richard Mourdock stomped all over Buttigieg, 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent. None of us are the same people we were ten years ago, and so the down-ticket race doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about how Buttigieg would perform in the Midwest in a general election. But it probably shouldn’t be completely memory-holed, either.

Time Is a Flat Circle

Ahem. Written back on November 23:

If you want to skip to the end of the impeachment of Donald Trump, he’s almost certainly going to get impeached by the House on a near-party-line vote, followed by an almost certain near-party-line vote in the Senate to remove him from office that falls short of the Constitutionally-required two-thirds of the chamber.

Some time in late winter or early spring 2020, Democratic senators will insist this proves Trump deserved to be thrown out of office but was only saved by partisan loyalty, Republicans will insist Trump’s errors didn’t warrant the political equivalent of the death penalty, and everyone will refocus their attention on the real contest to determine if Trump continues as president – the 2020 election.

Trump is likely to interpret the vote falling short as another total exoneration and respond with some sort of ebullient strutting just short of twerking on the White House lawn.

Yesterday the ebullient strutting came in the form of a victory lap at Daytona.

ADDENDUM: Over in The Article, trying to find the thread that ties together the Iowa caucus meltdown, House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s tear-it-up response to the State of the Union, the end of the impeachment process, and the seeming collapse of Joe Biden’s campaign: The Democratic Party’s inability to greet those who don’t already agree with them with empathy, and to at least try to look at the world through their eyes and understand why they believe what they believe.

World

How Long Will Coronavirus Remain a Threat?

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Officers in protective gears carry luggage cases after people who were transferred from the cruise ship Diamond Princess arrive at a maritime police base in Yokohama, Japan, February 5, 2020. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

On the menu today: America’s Center for Disease Control warns that this virus may well be with us for some time; Nevada Democrats struggle to straighten out issues before their caucuses next week; and some people can’t decide what they think about Bill Barr.

CDC: The Coronavirus Is Probably with Us Beyond This Year

Feel free to come back and tell me I’m wrong at the end of the year, but I think that if the presidential race is the No. 1 story of 2020, then No. 1A will be the coronavirus.

Yes, we’ve been through H1N1 and swine flu and various other outbreaks that came and went without having a significant impact on the life of the average American. This is different. The calmer-than-thou declaration that “more people die of the flu each year than the coronavirus has killed so far” is a non-sequitur. Nobody locks down the world’s largest cities, shuts down air travel, or turns away cruise ships over the flu. (I think we had a National Review cruise on the Westerdam a couple of years ago.)

Besides, almost all of our information about the coronavirus’s impact comes from a notoriously dishonest authoritarian government. While it’s possible the Chinese government might overstate the number of cases, it’s much more likely they would understate the number of cases. Or perhaps they’re freaked out enough to be honest in these circumstances. The numbers they’re releasing indicate the situation is getting worse:

China disclosed on Friday that 1,716 medical workers have contracted the virus and six of them have died…

Numbers continued to climb after the government changed the criteria by which it tracks confirmed cases. China on Friday reported 5,090 new coronavirus cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.

The authorities said a total of 63,851 people had been infected by the coronavirus and at least 1,380 people had been killed by the disease. Most of the cases occurred in Hubei, the center of the outbreak, which recorded 4,823 new cases and 116 deaths over the same period.

Besides the virus itself, there is the potential danger from panic. “A Hong Kong clinic designated to treat suspected coronavirus cases suffered a second arson attack early Friday, officials said.

Regarding the rumor that the coronavirus is some sort of Chinese bioweapon that was accidentally released, perhaps from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, national-security adviser Robert O’Brien offered the somewhat surprising answer that the U.S. government doesn’t know one way or another. “I’ve seen those reports, and Twitter and the internet are alive with them. I don’t have any information on that one way or the other, so we just don’t know. I can’t comment on that.

The coronavirus probably wasn’t cooked up in a lab somewhere, because virologists have been predicting this sort of thing for a long time. In 2017, National Geographic offered an eye-opening article that laid out how China had inadvertently set up the perfect environment for viruses to spread from animals to people:

Officially, the live-bird markets in Beijing have been shuttered for years. In reality, guerrilla vendors run furtive slaughterhouses throughout this national capital of wide avenues, gleaming architecture and more than 20 million residents—despite warnings that their businesses could be spreading deadly new strains of the flu.

Many Chinese people, even city dwellers, insist that freshly slaughtered poultry is tastier and more healthful than refrigerated or frozen meat. This is one of the major reasons China has been such a hot spot for new influenza viruses: Nowhere else on earth do so many people have such close contact with so many birds.

At least two flu pandemics in the past century — in 1957 and 1968 — originated in the Middle Kingdom and were triggered by avian viruses that evolved to become easily transmissible between humans. Although health authorities have increasingly tried to ban the practice, millions of live birds are still kept, sold and slaughtered in crowded markets each year. In a study published in January, researchers in China concluded that these markets were a “main source of H7N9 transmission by way of human-poultry contact and avian-related environmental exposures.”

These areas — often poorly ventilated, with multiple species jammed together — create ideal conditions for spreading disease through shared water utensils or airborne droplets of blood and other secretions. “That provides opportunities for viruses to spread in closely packed quarters, allowing ‘amplification’ of the viruses,” says Benjamin John Cowling, a specialist in medical statistics at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health. “The risk to humans becomes so much higher.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield is warning us that this isn’t going to go away anytime soon. “We don’t know a lot about this virus. This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission.”

Nevada, the Rest of America Needs You to Pull Yourself Together

Come on, Nevada. No matter how much I enjoy watching Democrats fall flat on their faces, I prefer for our country’s elections to be free, fair, transparent, and well-run. Vladimir Putin wants Americans to believe all their elections are corrupt shams. Nevadans, please don’t mess up the upcoming caucus.

With the Nevada Democratic caucuses only a week away, both caucus workers and presidential campaigns are worried about the lack of detail the state party is providing about how the results reporting process will work.

The worries come after the state party stopped working with Shadow Inc., the company behind the app whose “coding errors” were at the heart of the chaos of the Iowa caucuses.

Having scrapped plans to use a pair of Shadow’s apps, the parties will instead use a “caucus calculator,” as outlined in a new memo released by the Nevada State Democratic Party Thursday. Described as “user friendly,” the calculator will be used to add early voting data into each precinct and calculate totals on caucus day, February 22, along with paper work sheets.

The tool, which the party does not consider an app, will be available on iPads owned by the party and “accessed through a secure Google web form.”

But caucus volunteers have yet to get their hands on the calculator even though they’re the ones expected to use it on caucus day, and they have been given few details about it, according to three caucus workers who spoke to CNN this week.

Separately, before we all collectively choose to forget about the Iowa Democratic caucuses . . .

In Iowa, African Americans are 4 percent of the population.

In New Hampshire, African Americans are 1.7 percent of the population.

In Nevada, African Americans are 10 percent of the population.

In South Carolina, African Americans are 27 percent of the population.

If the first two states to vote in the Democratic presidential primary process were Nevada and South Carolina, instead of Iowa and New Hampshire, would Joe Biden still be the frontrunner?

If You Liked William Barr Wednesday, You Shouldn’t Hate Him Today

Whenever a new attorney general gets appointed and confirmed, you hear comments about the unique nature of the position. It is a law-enforcement position, and it is also a political appointment. The nature of government — its power, the money involved, and the kinds of people attracted to power — make it nearly inevitable that some people involved in politics will be charged with crimes. Sometimes those accusations will be legitimate, sometimes they will be false nonsense, and sometimes they will be somewhere in the middle — actions that are legal but unethical, actions that follow the letter of the law but violate the spirit, and so on.

There is no such thing as a perfectly apolitical attorney general; every attorney general faces accusations from the opposition party that they’ve put their thumb on the scale or let partisan politics sway their judgment: Janet Reno, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Jeff Sessions. The attorney general is supposed to be a nonpartisan enforcer of law and even-handed, clear-eyed prosecutor of crimes. He is also simultaneously a cabinet official for a president who has a clear point of view about how the Department of Justice should operate, which prosecutions should be prioritized, and so on.

But the man who appoints the attorney general, and whom he answers to, wears those same two hats. The president is head of the executive branch, and that includes the Department of Justice. The president is not a cop, but he can set the policy course for the DOJ — “we are announcing a new initiative today to target and prosecute [insert crime here].”

All presidents feel like the opposition party is a bunch of crooks, and that their friends and political allies who have been accused of crimes are getting a raw deal. We always judge the people we like by a gentler standard and our foes by a harsher standard. It is not surprising that Donald Trump thinks Roger Stone is unfairly accused — as well as all of his former campaign staffers prosecuted by Mueller.

Past presidents mostly kept their complaints, grumbling, and desires to protect their friends and prosecute their political foes limited to fuming or rants behind closed doors, away from the eyes and ears of the public. The functioning of our constitutional government, with the separation of powers among three branches, required all of the players involved to respect — not necessarily agree with, but respect — the decisions of the others. The Department of Justice needs to be seen as an impartial prosecutor of crimes, not as a taxpayer-funded extension of the president’s legal team.

Yesterday, Attorney General Bill Barr — who as of Wednesday, just about every Trump fan would have said had been exactly the kind of pugnacious, uncompromising, direct, and clear attorney general that President Trump wanted — declared in a televised interview that Trump’s constant tweets about ongoing criminal cases were making his job “impossible.” He didn’t insult the president. He didn’t attack the president. He just laid out a fact — that it was impossible for Department of Justice staff to go about their duties when they knew that any decision that Trump didn’t like could set off an extremely public tirade from the man who sat atop the executive branch.

“To have public statements made about the department or the people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department and about judges before whom we have cases,” Barr said, “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors within the department that we’re doing our work with integrity . . . I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

As you have no doubt noticed, many people in our political realm operate on the postulation “Trump is always right” and work backwards from there. Trump was a genius to hire Omarosa, Anthony Scaramucci, and Michael Cohen, who were among “the very best people,” right up until the moment they parted ways, and then those oddball characters were terrible. No matter how glaringly obvious a hire’s flaws were, Trump’s fans dance around the fact that the president thought hiring them was a good idea in the first place. Almost everyone Trump hires goes through the same process: John Kelly, Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, Ty Cobb — the moment they’re out the door, they’re publicly revealing that Trump was an egregiously flawed president who ran a dysfunctional or barely functional White House. Every time, Trump jumps onto Twitter to call them dogs, to insist they begged for the job, that he had only hired them out of a foolish sense of sympathy or mercy, insisting that the hires constantly screwed up and did a terrible job until Trump had no choice but to fire them (although he always has a surrogate communicate the bad news). Very, very rarely does anyone who is a fan of Trump acknowledge that he’s the one who keeps hiring these apparently horrifically flawed personnel.

Fresh off declaring that John Bolton was “a tool for the left,” Fox Business Channel’s Lou Dobbs has decided that Barr is now moved over to the list of villains over his comments. “I am so disappointed in Bill Barr . . . I have to say this — it’s a damn shame when he doesn’t get what this president has gone through, and what the American people have gone through and what his charge is as attorney general . . . To hear this attorney general complain about this president, who is fighting every one of those damn people to do the right thing and get this country straightened out and it’s mission to do so, not to carp about his boss.”

Earlier in the week, Dobbs said, “Bill Barr is doing the Lord’s work.”

ADDENDA: Damon Linker, contemplating a Donald Trump–Mike Bloomberg matchup: “What it really is — all of it — is an expression of the shared outlook of New York City’s billionaire masters-of-the-universe overlord class. America should be able to do better than swapping one oligarch for another. It better be able to do better than that. It’s up to Democratic voters to prove it.”

. . . Hey, remember impeachment? Remember when that was going to be one of the most consequential acts of Trump’s presidency?

Elections

Hunter Biden’s Devastating Influence

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) points to some faces in the crowd with his son Hunter as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue following the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama in Washington, January 20, 2009. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day — grab roses or chocolate or something on the way home from work today. They’ll be more expensive tomorrow.

On the menu today: the fair question of whether Hunter Biden cost his father the Democratic nomination; Bernie Sanders warns Democrats not to try any funny business at the convention; and an old hound dog fails to bark.

Did Hunter Biden End Up Derailing His Dad’s Presidential Campaign?

On September 18, 2019, the Washington Post revealed that “the whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader.” This was the first domino to fall in a long sequence of events that lead to the House of Representatives impeaching the president and the Senate acquitting him on votes that were almost, but not quite entirely, divided along party lines.

In the third week of September, Joe Biden enjoyed a ten-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. He enjoyed a ten-point lead in the polls in Iowa; though he quickly lost that lead, he remained in the mix of the top finishers throughout the fall. In mid-to-late September, Biden enjoyed a small lead over Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Polling in Nevada and South Carolina was less frequent at that time, but the available results suggested Biden enjoyed strong leads in those states, too.

Correlation is not causation. You can point to other reasons why Biden’s lead tumbled, first slowly, then quickly, in the past six months. Biden got older and he doesn’t look or sound like the guy who kept yelling “Malarkey!” during his vice-presidential debate against Paul Ryan. His debate performances haven’t been great. He’s not out of money, but he’s not awash in dough, and he’s up against two billionaires.

But most of these factors were in play in September (although Bloomberg didn’t announce his bid until November). Maybe the voters just started to notice Biden’s weaknesses as a candidate in recent weeks.

Or maybe those weaknesses became particularly vivid in the way Joe Biden handled questions about his son.

The president’s obsessive insistence that Hunter Biden was at the heart of some sort of corruption put a giant spotlight on his arrangement with Burisma and his broader career.

During impeachment, Trump couldn’t make even the mildest concession about the ethics of his actions or show the slightest contrition, insisting he and the Ukrainian president had a “perfect call.”

Biden took a similar position, repeatedly maintaining that his son had done nothing wrong — that his actions weren’t merely legal, but there was no reason to question his judgment or the appearance of a conflict of interest. Earlier this month Biden insisted his son got the Burisma board position, despite no business experience in Ukraine or in the natural-gas industry, because “he’s a very bright guy.”

Throughout the fall and winter, Biden kept having intermittent tense exchanges with reporters and voters, flashing anger that anyone could even imagine his son had done something unethical by taking the position. Back in 2014, figures such as the New York Times editorial board, the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, a Washington Post columnist, and reportedly even officials within the Obama administration expressed discomfort and concern about Hunter Biden’s lucrative new role with Burisma.

In September, Biden’s irritation showed in an exchange with a Fox News reporter, “Everybody looked at this, and everybody’s looked at it and said there’s nothing there! Ask the right questions!

In December, Biden snapped at a voter and called him a “damn liar,” later adding “I’m not going to comment on anything other than that my son speaks for himself. He’s a 47-year-old man. He didn’t do a single thing that was illegal or wrong.” In a subsequent interview with Mike Allen of Axios, when asked, “Isn’t this something you want to get to the bottom of?,” Biden responded, “No, because I trust my son.”

That was a perfectly understandable answer from a father and an entirely unacceptable answer from a former vice president and a presidential frontrunner. During the fall and into the winter, Hunter Biden continued to demonstrate he was a troubled not-so-young man, with a messy paternity suit, legal fights over child support, past struggles with drugs, and stories of unsavory behavior in strip clubs.

Democrats could see what was coming. Donald Trump and his campaign already contended Joe Biden and his family were a bunch of corrupt, sleazy grifters from the Washington establishment. Hunter Biden was, at minimum, a scandal-ridden ne’er-do-well who had been making money off the family name and associating with shady characters for nearly two decades. Joe Biden wasn’t capable of giving a detailed rebuttal that cleared the air; his default setting was indignation that anyone would sully his son’s good name.

Week after week, month after month, Biden’s reflexive move on the topic of Hunter was to try to shame anyone who raised the issue, contending that the questioner was deliberately or inadvertently distracting from the more significant scandals around Trump and doing the work of the Trump campaign for them. He snapped at Savannah Guthrie, “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” during an interview on February 3. Guthrie is not Sean Hannity.

(One other interesting wrinkle to the Hunter Biden story. Not a single one of Joe Biden’s rivals in the Democratic presidential race used the issue against him.)

All of the problems that arose in the way Joe Biden handled the controversy over his son were always there — the age, the rote and simple answers to questions about complicated issues, the indignation that anyone could believe he wasn’t morally correct. Maybe those traits were destined to surface in one form or another eventually. But those weaknesses hadn’t held Biden back much throughout the spring or summer.

If you subscribe to the idea that Donald Trump feared Joe Biden as his toughest potential general-election opponent — and the polling generally verified that theory throughout most of 2019, both nationally and in swing states — then the top goal of Trump and his team during the Democratic presidential primary would be to do everything they could to ensure the Democrats didn’t nominate Biden.

Other Republicans, such as Rick Scott and Joni Ernst, literally told Iowa Democrats that they shouldn’t nominate Joe Biden. And so far, Democrats are listening!

By Nate Silver’s calculations, Joe Biden has gone from nearly a 50 percent chance of winning the nomination at the beginning of the year to a 16 percent chance now.

Who won the impeachment fight again?

Anybody else want to reevaluate that conventional wisdom that House speaker Nancy Pelosi is a shrewd strategic genius?

Bernie Sanders: Don’t Even Think about Dumping Me at the Convention, Democrats

Last night, Bernie Sanders said “it would be very divisive” if the Democratic convention in Milwaukee did not nominate the candidate who won the largest plurality of votes. “The convention would have to explain to the American people, ‘hey, Candidate X got the most votes, and won the most delegates in the primary process, but we’re not going to give him or her the nomination,’ I think that would be a very divisive moment for the Democratic Party.”

Most Democrats have only the vaguest idea of how quickly time is running out to stop Sanders.

As mentioned on The Editors, unless Sanders’s support spontaneously combusts or he has another heart attack, at this point his worst possible finish is a result such as last cycle’s — staying in the fight all the way through the convention and ending with a strong second. He’s going to be above 15 percent just about everywhere, so he’s going to get at least some delegates just about everywhere. He’s no worse than second just about everywhere. He’s leading in California. He’s starting to lead the national polls. The March 3 Super Tuesday will determine 1,344 delegates and a candidate needs 1,990 to secure the nomination. Two weeks later, the March 17 states determine 577 delegates. One month from now, it will be too late.

An Old Hound Dog Who Isn’t Barking

Some have noticed that Barack and Michelle Obama haven’t endorsed Joe Biden or anyone else, or even given any hint of whether they have a preference among the remaining candidates.

I realize the conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton is now nearly universally detested, and that if she endorsed anyone, it would only help Sanders.

But you know who isn’t detested, particularly in Democratic Party circles, and who has been really quiet during this process? Bill Clinton.

You’re telling me if Bill Clinton came out tomorrow and did a rally for, say, Amy Klobuchar and started encouraging his old donors to give to her campaign, that wouldn’t shake up the race? You don’t think there are a chunk of older voters in these upcoming primaries who wouldn’t mind hearing “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” again and to see that bitten lower lip and thumb-and-forefinger television remote channel-changing gesture and pledges to stand up for Americans who “work hard and play by the rules”? Nineties nostalgia is running rampant in our Super Bowl commercials and pop culture — you don’t think there’s some room for it in our politics?

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t seen it already, check out the Mayor Pete Platitude Generator.

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