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“We Weren’t Really Trying”: Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Offers Awkward Take On State Of The Race

Presidential campaigns are long, exhausting exercises for the candidates and their teams, and the fatigue invariably leads otherwise competent people to slip up. It happens in every race, in both parties, whether things are going well or going poorly.

A few weeks ago, for example, Tad Devine, the top strategist in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and an experienced consultant, mentioned in passing the idea of Hillary Clinton adding the Vermont senator to the ticket as her running mate. Asked if Sanders would consider such an offer, Devine replied, “I’m sure, of course.” Soon after, Devine realized that this made it sound as if the independent lawmaker wasn’t really running to win, so he walked it all back. Staffers everywhere had a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment.

The strategist obviously just made a mistake, said something he didn’t really mean, and reversed course quickly. Today, however, I think Devine slipped up again in a way he’ll soon regret. Mother Jones reported:

“[Hillary Clinton’s] grasp now on the nomination is almost entirely on the basis of victories where Bernie Sanders did not compete,” said senior strategist Tad Devine. “Where we compete with Clinton, where this competition is real, we have a very good chance of beating her in every place that we compete with her.”

Devine named eight states where he said the Sanders campaign did not compete with a big presence on the ground or much on-air advertising: Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas.

According to a report from Business Insider, Devine added, “Essentially, 97% of her delegate lead today comes from those eight states where we did not compete.”

No matter which candidate you like or dislike, I think it’s fair to say Team Sanders has generally run a strong campaign, exceeding everyone’s expectations, and positioning the senator as one of the nation’s most prominent progressive voices for many years to come. Sanders isn’t the first presidential candidate to run on a bold, unapologetic liberal platform, but he is arguably the first in recent memory to do in such a way as to position himself as a leader of a genuine movement.

But whether or not you’re impressed with what Sanders has put forward, his campaign’s latest pitch is an unfortunate mess.

As a matter of arithmetic, there’s some truth to Devine’s assessment: when it comes to pledged delegates, Clinton leads Sanders by about 250. Add together Clinton’s net delegate gains from Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas, and it’s about 250.

But as a rule, presidential campaigns don’t get to lose a whole bunch of key primaries by wide margins and then declare, “Yeah, but we weren’t really trying.” If these eight nominating contests have left the Sanders campaign at a disadvantage they’re unlikely to overcome, it’s actually incumbent on his top aides and strategists to explain why they didn’t make more of an effort in these states.

It’s easy to imagine folks from Team Clinton saying they weren’t exactly going all out to win in Idaho and Utah – states Sanders won easily – but competitive candidates for national office don’t get to use that as an excuse when things aren’t going as well as they’d like.

At its root, Devine’s argument is that Team Sanders identified a series of early, delegate-rich states, but they chose not to bother with them. That’s not just a bad argument; it’s the kind of message that’s probably going to irritate quite a few Sanders supporters who expect more from their team.

Making matters slightly worse, Tad Devine’s pitch isn’t altogether accurate. In Virginia, for example – one of the eight primaries in which he says Team Sanders chose not to compete – plenty of campaign watchers know the senator actually made an effort in the commonwealth and lost anyway. The senator also campaigned in Texas, which is another one of the states Devine said the campaign wrote off.

As for the argument that Sanders wins “in every place that we compete with her,” even taken at face value, it’s not an especially compelling argument: Team Sanders made a real effort to win in states like Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, and Massachusetts, but he lost in each of them.

Don’t be too surprised if Devine walks back his comments today. It’s just not a message that does Team Sanders any favors.

Update: Devine also said the Sanders campaign chose to compete for state victories, rather than compete for delegate victories. I have no idea why the campaign would deliberately choose to compete by the wrong metric that would lead to defeat, but if I were a die-hard Sanders backer, this kind of rhetoric would be incredibly frustrating.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2016

March 29, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton, Tad Devine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tied To The Party’s Nominee”: Why Donald Trump Is Big Trouble For Republican Senators And Congressmen

Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to put a brave face on things. Asked on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday whether he’s encouraging Republican Senate candidates to distance themselves from Donald Trump should he be the party’s nominee, McConnell essentially said that it isn’t a problem. “We are going to run individual races no matter who the presidential nominee is,” McConnell said. “Senate races are statewide races. You can craft your own message for your own people. And that’s exactly what we intend to do this fall, no matter who the nominee is.”

It’s certainly what many of them will try to do. But can they get away with it?

A few might. But distancing yourself from your party’s leader may be harder now than it has ever been.

To see why, we have to start with an understanding of how much information voters have about different candidates. We can think about a kind of information hierarchy, the top of which is the presidential race. That contest will dominate all the news sources people have about politics: newspapers, local and national TV news, social media, even the conversations they have with family, friends, and co-workers. If the race is between Trump and Hillary Clinton, the clash of these two big, controversial personalities will dominate the news.

The next level down is races for Senate or governor — amply funded, and featuring incumbents with whom people have at least a passing familiarity, but not nearly as prominent as the presidential race. You’ll absolutely hear Trump and Clinton’s messages, whether you believe them or not, but with the lower offices, it’s a challenge just to get the candidate’s name and face in front of people. Go to House seats, and then farther to state legislature or local races, and voters hear only the occasional snippet, drowned out by everything else that’s going on.

That means that it can be difficult to convince voters of something a bit complicated, something that requires them to undo their default assumptions. And one of those assumptions is that candidates from the same party are going to be partners.

Split-ticket voting (choosing one party’s candidate for president and a different party’s candidate for lower offices) has declined in recent years, which is understandable in an era of partisan polarization and tight party unity. Half a century ago, when both parties contained a relatively broad ideological spectrum — for instance, the Democratic Party had both Northern liberals and Southern conservatives — it made more sense to view an individual senator or congressman as a free agent who might act independently of his or her party. But today, most important votes break firmly along partisan lines, which means that your senator is probably not going to surprise you, or the president, with anything he or she does.

That’s not to say there are no more maverick legislators who frequently abandon their party to support the other side’s position. There are a few, like Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or Susan Collins (R-Maine). But there are fewer of them after every election, and they’re almost gone. The more party unity there is, the more every race is nationalized.

So a message like, “I don’t agree with my party’s leader, even though I will sometimes, but not at other times, and I agree with you that he’s a jerk” is going to be less persuasive now than it might have been at another time.

This could be especially tricky for the Republican incumbents representing swing states. We often think of “purple” states as containing mostly moderate voters, but that’s often not the case. Instead, they may have roughly equal numbers of strong liberals and strong conservatives. You can see that in places like Iowa and Wisconsin, both of which will have incumbent Republican senators facing serious challenges this year. That makes things complicated for those Republicans — they don’t want to alienate the Trump fans who will be coming out to vote for president, but they also don’t want to push away voters who can’t stand him.

And you can bet that in nearly every competitive Senate race, there are going to be ads targeting the Republican that will try to tie him or her to the Republican presidential nominee, particularly if Trump’s popularity stays as low as it is now. “Senator X stands with Trump,” they’ll say, as sinister music plays in the background. “Demeaning women. Threatening immigrants. Encouraging violence. Is that what we want representing us? Tell Senator X and Donald Trump that our state says no thanks.”

Some Republican incumbents are running in extremely conservative states, in which case they probably don’t have to worry. But others will face two questions: Whether they even want to distance themselves from Trump, and if they do, whether they can do it successfully. One thing’s for sure: it isn’t going to be as easy as Mitch McConnell would have you believe. And the farther you go down the ballot, the harder it’s going to get.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, March 22, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Secretly On The Ballot In November”: The Future Of The ‘Nuclear Option’ For Supreme Court Nominees

After the initial intense focus on President Obama’s determination to nominate a successor to Antonin Scalia and Senate Republicans’ determination to block him, it’s beginning to sink in that the struggle for control of the Supreme Court could be a complicated and drawn-out battle. As Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes of the Washington Post point out today, the next president could have more than one chance to appoint a justice, and both conservatives and liberals understand the stakes could be huge:

The Scalia vacancy technically gives Obama the chance to establish a liberal majority on the court for the first time in decades, but even if he manages to seat a new justice in the face of blanket GOP opposition, the victory could be fleeting …

Scalia’s death at age 79 shows the peril of making predictions about the Court’s future, but the age range among the current justices would suggest that a Republican successor to Obama could have greater impact on remaking the court than a Democrat, especially if Scalia’s seat stays vacant into the next administration. Simply put, the court’s liberal bloc is older and may offer more opportunities for replacement.

When the new president is inaugurated, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be almost 84. Anthony Kennedy will be 80 and Stephen Breyer, 78. Replacing Ginsburg and Breyer, both appointees of President Clinton, with conservatives would instantly shift the court’s balance for years, even if an Obama’s appointee were to replace Scalia. (The next oldest justice is Thomas, who was nominated by George H.W. Bush and will be 68 this summer.)

Many conservatives, of course, hate Kennedy, too; he was the swing vote in upholding Roe v. Wade in 1992, and played a key role in the Court’s marriage-equality decisions.

But more fundamentally, partisan polarization and gridlock in Congress has significantly elevated the importance of non-legislative entities, including the federal courts and executive-branch agencies whose power the courts might choose to expand or restrain.  So control of the commanding heights of the Supreme Court is more important than ever.

What complicates the issue is the precedent set by Senate Democrats under Harry Reid in 2011 (Republicans had come close to taking the same action in 2005): the so-called “nuclear option,” removing the right to filibuster executive branch and non-SCOTUS judicial appointments. With both parties in the Senate steadily retreating from the ancient practice of deferring to the president’s choices for the High Court, and with the hot-button issues facing SCOTUS making “compromise” choices less feasible, the difference between having to muster 50 and 60 Senate votes to confirm a presidential nomination is increasingly momentous.  And for that reason, if either party wins both the White House and the Senate this November, going “nuclear” on SCOTUS appointments by getting rid of the filibuster is a very high probability (and even if it doesn’t happen, the threat of “going nuclear” can and will be used to force the minority party to be reasonable).

But the converse situation is worth pondering, too. If, to cite a lively possibility, Democrats hang onto the White House while Republicans hang onto the Senate, there is no way the Senate invokes the “nuclear option.”  Senate resistance to a progressive justice would likely stiffen in 2018, when Republicans will enjoy one of the most favorable Senate landscapes in memory. 25 of 33 Senate seats up that year are currently Democratic, including five in states Obama lost twice.  Add in the recent GOP advantage in the kind of voters most likely to participate in midterm elections, and the ancient tendency of midterm voters to punish the party controlling the White House, and the odds of a Democratic president being able to impose her or his will on the Senate on crucial SCOTUS nominations between 2019 and 2021 is very slim.

If Democrats want to shape the Court’s future, they’d do well not only to win the White House but to take back the Senate this November, and get rid of the SCOTUS filibuster in hopes that restoring it will be too controversial for Republicans even if they reconquer the Senate in 2018. By then, of course, Senate Republicans may be looking forward to their own ability to shape the Court after 2020 if they win back the presidency then. It’s going to be a chess game with big and continuing arguments over the rules.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 29, 2016

March 1, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Filibuster, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Momentum Meets The Wind”: Clinton’s Nevada Win Casts Democratic Race In New Light

The run up to the Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada offered something oddly refreshing: a race in which no one really knew what was going to happen. Most pollsters stayed away, and those who tried found a race in which Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were effectively tied.

As of yesterday morning, no one could say with any confidence who was even favored. But when the dust settled, there was nevertheless a clear winner.

Hillary Clinton won Nevada’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday, NBC News projected, scoring a much-needed boost in the nomination race and depriving rival Bernie Sanders of a victory in a racially diverse state.

The loss is a blow for Sanders, who hoped to use the state’s contest to prove himself as a viable candidate in a state with an electorate made up of more minority voters and fewer self-described liberals than the race’s earlier contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

With just about all of the precincts reporting, it looks like Clinton’s margin of victory was about six points, 53% to 47%. In terms of delegate distribution, it was also fairly close, with Clinton picking up 19 delegates to Sanders’ 15.

But what makes yesterday’s developments so important has less to do with these precise totals and more to do with the impact on the Democratic race overall.

There are two broad angles to keep in mind. The first is the fact that if Clinton had come up short in Nevada, as many observers predicted, the coverage was going to be brutal. The Washington Post ran a piece last week with an ungenerous headline – “Hillary Clinton could blow it in Nevada” – which seemed emblematic of the general media buzz.

Nevada, the conventional wisdom said, was supposed to be a Clinton “firewall” state, which would help the former Secretary of State bounce back after Sanders’ landslide victory in New Hampshire last week. A Sanders victory would have created chatter about a crumbling “firewall” and a renewed sense of panic among Clinton’s supporters in the party.

Her six-point victory does the opposite.

The second angle is that Nevada was a real opportunity for Sanders to change the trajectory of the race. When the Vermont independent nearly tied Clinton in Iowa, and cruised to an easy win in New Hampshire, skeptics noted that the first two states were practically custom made for the senator: Sanders is strongest in states where the universe of Democratic voters is very white and very liberal. Based on previous performance, that means the three best states in the Union for the senator are, in order, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa.

Nevada, therefore, offered Sanders a chance to prove that he can win in a more diverse state – an argument that would give his candidacy renewed credibility as the race goes forward.

Clinton’s win yesterday means that opportunity has come and gone. Conditions may yet change, but she’s favored to do well in South Carolina’s primary next week, and there’s some polling that suggests she’s well positioned to win most of the March 1 primaries soon after.

Sanders said last night that, in the wake of a defeat, his campaign has “momentum” and “the wind is at our backs.” That pitch would have been far easier to believe had he not come up short in a state he fought to win.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 22, 2016

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Nevada Caucus | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Electability Conundrum”: Scalia’s Death Only Reinforces The Need For Democrats To Choose Their Nominee Wisely

The death of Antonin Scalia has brought home two truths about the presidential race to voters in both parties. First, there may be no more important issue in the campaign than the Supreme Court (which some of us have been saying for some time). And second, if that’s true, then there may be no more important criterion in picking your party’s nominee than who has the best chance of winning in November.

Unfortunately, electability is a difficult thing to predict, no matter how much you know about politics. During the 2008 primaries, for instance, many intelligent Democrats believed there was no way that the voting public would ever elect an African American with a name like “Barack Hussein Obama.” Four years before, many Democrats thought that John Kerry was the most electable Democrat because Republicans couldn’t possibly attack the patriotism of a war hero, especially with a couple of draft-dodgers like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney at the top of their ticket. Neither of those assessments turned out to be correct.

Nevertheless, it’s an impossible question for partisans to ignore, given the stakes of the election. And just how high are they? Someone (usually someone running for president) will always say “This is the most important election of my lifetime,” and it’s easy to dismiss. After all, no matter what happens, the republic will survive. If you’re a Democrat, you can console yourself with the fact that it survived Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, as much damage as they might have done; if you’re a Republican you can say the same about Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, there are some reasons why this election could be particularly consequential, particularly for Democrats. The first is the Supreme Court, and Scalia’s passing is only part of that story. When the next president is sworn in, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Anthony Kennedy will be 80, and Stephen Breyer will be 80. What if Republicans succeed in keeping President Obama from seating a replacement, then a Republican is elected, and some or all of those three fall ill or retire? You could have a Court made up of seven relatively young conservative justices and only two liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The days of liberals losing cases by a 5-4 margin would be but a happy memory, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the end of affirmative action, and the crushing of labor union rights would be only the beginning of a judicial scorched-earth campaign that would not only lay waste to rights liberals hold dear, but would keep doing so for decades to come.

And then there’s the matter of what a Republican president would be able to accomplish through legislation. If the GOP nominee wins in November, it will almost certainly also mean that Republicans have held on to the House and the Senate. That president might or not not be a radical conservative, though Donald Trump looks like the only contender with a chance who couldn’t be described that way. But Congress certainly will be radical. The Republican Party has been moving sharply to the right in recent years, and with unified control for the first time in a decade, it’s safe to say they will pretty much go nuts. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, slashing upper-income taxes, gutting the safety net, rolling back environmental regulations, passing federal restrictions on abortion—if it’s in any Republican’s fantasies, it’ll be able to pass through both houses and get signed by the president. And don’t think Democrats having the filibuster will stop that train; given the respect Republicans have shown for norms and traditions, do you think they’ll let that stand in their way?

So if you think electability ought to be part of your calculation, what do you need to consider? The Democratic primary makes it a little easier because there are only two candidates, but it’s still complicated. Here are the variables to consider:

  1. The reward to be gained from a Bernie Sanders presidency
  2. The reward to be gained from a Hillary Clinton presidency
  3. The chances of Sanders winning in November if he’s the nominee
  4. The chances of Clinton winning if she’s the nominee
  5. The consequences of a Republican victory in November

That’s not to mention how each Democrat would match up against any given Republican, which introduces another dimension of complexity. But here’s the basic calculation you have to make: Figure out whether, for your preferences, (1) is larger than (2) or vice-versa, and by how much; then figure out whether (3) or (4) is larger, and by how much; then weigh both of those figures against (5).

For instance, you might decide that Bernie Sanders’s presidency would be superior to Hillary Clinton’s, but Clinton has a higher chance of winning in November, and since a Republican presidency would be so dreadful, you’ll support Clinton even though you like Sanders better. Or you might decide that a Sanders presidency would be so good that even if Clinton might have a slightly better chance in November, it’s worth some measure of risk in nominating Sanders because the reward of him winning is so high.

The truth, of course, is that because we aren’t rational people we constantly construct post-hoc justifications for the choices we make. In this case, that means we’ll convince ourselves that whichever candidate we prefer is also the more electable one. While it might seem logical that Clinton has a higher chance of winning a general election than Sanders, I’ve yet to encounter a Sanders supporter who actually thinks so. They say that Clinton has her own electability problems (undoubtedly true), and that Sanders will bring in so many new voters that it will overcome the effect of the attacks Republicans will launch on him for his leftist views. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, find this argument laughable; they’ll tell you that Republicans will positively disembowel Sanders, and by the time they’re done with him he’ll seem like he’s too much of an extremist to get elected to the Burlington City Council.

I’ve also found that Sanders supporters are more likely to minimize the negative consequences of a Republican presidency. That might be because they don’t see as much of a difference between Clinton and the Republicans, but it’s also because they’re focused on the first variable, the potential rewards of a Sanders presidency. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, have no sweeping expectations from their candidate; for them, staving off disaster is more than enough reason to support her.

Even if your heart goes aflutter at Sanders’s mention of things like single-payer health care and free public college tuition, you’d have to grant that achieving those goals is anything but guaranteed even if he wins the White House. And most of what he would do doesn’t differ from what Clinton would do. That’s particularly true of the Supreme Court: Any Democratic president who had a chance to name a new justice would be choosing from the same pool of liberal jurists now serving in federal appeals courts or perhaps a few state supreme courts.

But even if you find the substantive differences between Clinton and Sanders to be enormous, it’s hard to see them as actually being bigger than the difference between them on one hand and the tsunami of change that will occur if a Republican is elected on the other. Which leaves Democratic voters with no choice but think hard about which candidate is more electable—even if there are no perfect answers to the question.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, February 15, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Electability, Hillary Clinton, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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