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“Bernie Sanders Isn’t Electable, And Here’s Why”: Revolution On Hold, Politicians Think Of Their Own Necks First

The blunt truth: I just can’t see Bernie Sanders winning a general election. Three months ago, I thought it might be possible, maybe. But watching the campaign unfold as it has, and given some time to ponder how circumstances might play themselves out, I’ve become less convinced that he could beat any of the Republicans. He’d probably have the best shot against Ted Cruz. But in that case, as we now know, Mike Bloomberg would get in, and I think he’d be formidable, but I don’t want to get into why here. That’s another column, if indeed it ever needs to be written.

This column is about Sanders’s chances, which I think are virtually nil for two reasons.

Reason one: He’s not an enrolled Democrat. Understand that I say this not as a judgment on him, but as a description of what would surely become, were he the nominee, a deep, practical liability. Let me explain.

That he’s not an enrolled Democrat doesn’t matter, obviously, to his fans. I’m sure it doesn’t matter to most rank-and-file Democrats. It doesn’t matter to me. But you’d better believe it matters to Democratic office holders and party officials—members of Congress, state legislators, governors, mayors, national committee members, and state committee members across the country. These people are Democrats, and they’re Democrats for a reason. It’s important to them.

A party’s nominee, to these people, needs to lead the party—he or she needs to be the country’s No. 1 Democrat. Sanders has never been a Democrat, which is fine, it’s served him well. But even as he made the decision to seek the presidency as a Democrat, he doesn’t seem to have made any effort to act like he cares about the party he wants to lead.

Politico in early January published an interesting news story comparing Clinton’s and Sanders’s fundraising operations. Clinton raised more than $100 million in 2015, and Sanders $73 million. But here was the key thing: In addition to that $100 million Clinton bagged for herself, she raised an additional $18 million for Democrats around the country.

The Sanders figure? Zero.

There’s a lot I don’t know about life. But I know this: Democratic office holders keep tabs on that sort of thing. Now maybe some of them didn’t want Bernie Sanders at their fundraisers, but that wouldn’t have prevented the Sanders operation from writing checks to progressive Democrats all over the country as a kind of down payment, which apparently did not happen. Also, Sanders could just say at any time, “You know what? I’m a Democrat now.” He cannot, technically, enroll as one, because Vermont has open, non-party registration. He could however simply say it, but he hasn’t. He caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, but that’s just because any senator has to choose one side or the other.

Partly as a result of this, and for other reasons, Sanders has very little Democratic support. He has one Democratic member of Congress, Keith Ellison of Minnesota (out of 232); and, according to the relevant Wikipedia page, just 115 Democratic state legislators across the country. Actually, that’s not across 50 states; it’s across only 14 states. Of the 115, 94 are from New England: Maine 37, Vermont 29, New Hampshire 19, Connecticut five, Massachusetts four. The Vermont number of 29 is particularly interesting, because the Vermont General Assembly (which includes both houses) has 103 Democrats, meaning that Sanders doesn’t have even one-third of the Democrats in his own state.

Maybe 115 sounds like a quasi-respectable figure to you. But there are 3,175 Democratic state legislators in America (.pdf). So 115 is nothing. And again, the vast majority come from states right in his neighborhood. Where are the others from? According to this list, to take stock of some large states and key swing states, there’s one from Ohio; zero from Florida; zero from Virginia; zero from Colorado; zero from New Mexico; one from Nevada; two from New York; one from Illinois; and from California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, zero, zero, and zero.

Now, my argument is not that endorsements matter that much. Rather, the important part is the likely consequence of this lack of support. Say it’s late spring, and somehow or another, Sanders is charging toward the nomination. He’ll pick up some more Democratic endorsers, in safe liberal districts in states that he won. But here’s what’s going to happen. Every one of those roughly 3,200 elected officials is going to conduct a poll of his or her district to ascertain whether association with Sanders helps or hurts. It’s my guess that for a lot of them—and I would say the substantial majority of them—the answer is going to be “hurts.”

And even if that’s not the case, these legislators will sound out, as they inevitably do, their top donors, and their districts’ major employers. How many Sanders enthusiasts are going to be found among those two groups? These legislators will keep their distance from Sanders. They won’t do the things that party people normally do for their nominee—go out and make speeches, share voter information, give tips about the district that only they know, and so on.

This will vary from district to district and state to state, but the sum and substance will likely be, if I’m right, that in a number of important jurisdictions, the message of the state and local Democratic candidates and party infrastructures to Sanders will be: You’re on your own, pal. Politicians think of their own necks first, and they’re fearful of the unknown and are overly cautious on matters like this anyway.

So that’s the first reason: Having never been a Democrat, and having even not given them any of his money in this past year, Sanders just isn’t going to get much help from Democrats. The Democratic Party hasn’t nominated someone who wasn’t an enrolled member of the party since, I believe, 1872, when it chose newspaperman Horace Greeley (I’m still checking on Gen. Winfield Scott, 1880, but even if it was he, that’s a long time ago).

Now, the second reason. I think Sanders is uniquely vulnerable to scorching foreign-policy attacks. Scorching. He’d be subject to stinging attacks on domestic policy, too, but on domestic policy, I’d imagine he can hold his own. On economics and health policy and monetary policy, whatever you think of his proposals, he clearly knows the nuts and bolts.

On foreign policy, that’s not so clear at all. It’s not his lefty past here that I’m mainly talking about, although you’d better believe that Republicans would make sure every voter in America knew about that, and they’d lie about its extent to boot. But even putting that to the side, the issue is his apparent lack of interest over all these years in foreign policy. The world is in a pretty parlous state right now, so I’d bet foreign policy will matter more in this election than it usually does, even without a Big Event in October. One factor that greatly benefited Bill Clinton in 1992 is that the Cold War had ended and foreign policy was low on voters’ radar screens. Sanders won’t be so lucky. I could write the ad myself, and it would be crushing, but I don’t want to give them ideas. Rest assured, they’ll think of them on their own.

And now, here’s where my first and second reasons relate to each other. If a nominee has strong backing from his party, when those attacks come, the other folks will have his back. If he doesn’t, they won’t. Mind you it is not my intent here to scold Sanders, even though many readers will take it that way. My intent is just to describe what I think would be the reality. When the right started savaging Sanders over foreign policy (and over socialism too, of course), the bulk of the support systems that are usually there for a candidate under attack won’t be.

Now, since I know this column is going to face plenty of rebuttal, let me spend two paragraphs pre-butting myself. It’s possible that if Sanders won the nomination, local Democrats would by and large just say “OK, he’s our guy,” and they’d get behind him. I don’t think so, for reasons stated above, but I concede that it’s possible, with so much at stake. And he still would have the support of the unions, who these days do most of the get-out-the-vote legwork. So it’s possible that a lack of support from Democratic candidates in swing (and other) states won’t be that severe and won’t mean as much as I suspect it will mean.

On foreign policy, we see from his debates with Clinton what Sanders’s reply will be: I opposed the Iraq War, and I was right. And second, I support Barack Obama’s foreign policy, so I’ll just do more of that. Who knows, that might be enough. My suspicion is that it will not be. It certainly won’t be against Donald Trump, who also opposed the war in Iraq, making that issue a wash between the two of them. But I suspect that as a general election campaign progresses, Sanders will have a harder and harder time leaning on a decision he made 14 years ago, even though it was the right one.

So that leads to my first stipulation. I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. Despite what some of you are going to say on Twitter and elsewhere, I don’t presume to know everything.

Stipulation No. 2: Though I admire Hillary Clinton, my argument doesn’t have anything to do with her. It’s not a brief for Clinton. She has a number of flaws. She lacks the natural pol’s exuberant charisma, she has made errors of strategic judgment in her career that make me wonder how effective she’d be at negotiating with Republicans (or Israelis and Palestinians), and though I don’t think she’s corrupt, this stonewalling reflex of hers is just terrible, and it’s kind of shocking after all these years that she can’t see how poorly it has served her.

And she comes with risk. As I wrote Monday, I doubt she’ll be indicted over the email business. But something short of that could still prove politically problematic: an FBI report that gives Republicans enough grist to grind through the attack-ad mill this fall, say.

So what I’ve written here doesn’t have to do with her. Joe Biden could be the mainstream candidate, or John Kerry, or Joe Manchin, or Claire McCaskill, or a Democratic governor, or anybody, and I’m certain I’d still think the same thing.

My feeling that Sanders could win a general election was never strong, based on the usual stuff, i.e., 74-year-old socialist from Vermont. But recently I’ve been reflecting on these two matters, his lack of affiliation with the party whose standard he wants to bear, and his unique vulnerability to attack on foreign policy at a time when those issues are much more in the forefront of voters’ minds than usual. As I’ve written before, current general election head-to-head polling is meaningless, since conservatives haven’t yet spent a dollar attacking him. If he’s the nominee, they’re going to spend at least five hundred million of them doing that. And some Democrats, more likely a lot of Democrats, are going to run away from him. I can’t see how that ends well.

UPDATE: A first reader reminds me that Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona has also endorsed Sanders. A second reader corrects that the Democratic nominee of 1880 was Gen. Winfield Hancock. Winfield Scott was the Whig Party nominee of 1852.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 27, 2016

January 31, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, General Election 2016, GOP, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Who’s Buying The Midterm Elections? A Bunch Of Old White Guys”: White Men Make Up 65 Percent Of Elected Officials

This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties. The list of would-be kingmakers includes Tom Steyer, the former hedge-fund manager who’s poured out $73 million to elect environmentally friendly Democrats; Michael Bloomberg, who’s distributed upwards of $20 million on behalf of both sides; and Paul Singer, the “vulture-fund billionaire” and powerful Republican fundraiser.

Take a look at the list of top donors. They might have distinctly different political agendas, but they have one thing irrefutably in common: they’re almost exclusively old white guys. Only seven women made it into the forty-two, and not a single person of color.

One of the things highlighted in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, is how poorly America’s political leadership, from city councils to the US Senate, reflects the diversity of the country. According to data compiled by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, white men make up 65 percent of elected officials—more than twice their proportion in the general population. Only 4 percent of our political leaders are women of color. As Jelani Cobb writes in The New Yorker, the midterm elections won’t right this imbalance between demographics and political representation, no matter which party wins the Senate.

In fact, the midterms suggest that white men are gaining clout, at least behind the veil. As campaign-finance laws erode, political power is increasingly concentrated among the billionaires playing the strings of the electoral marionette—a pool that looks less diverse even than Congress. (Given the prominence of dark-money groups, it’s likely that some of the biggest individual players in the midterms are anonymous. But there’s no indication that secret donors are any more diverse than others.)

It’s shrinking, too. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of individual donors increased each election cycle. This year, the pool contracted from 817,464 individual contributors in 2010 to 666,773 as of late October, according to a new analysis from CRP. “Despite only a slight increase in the cost of the election, outside groups, which are overwhelmingly fueled by large donors, are picking up more of the tab, candidates are cutting back on their spending, and there are fewer large (over $200) individual donors contributing overall to candidates and parties,” reads the report.

Politicians should be accountable to the electorate, which is growing more diverse. But the fact that candidates are growing more dependent on a narrow group of contributors means that they may be responsive to a limited set of concerns. There are many factors blunting the political impact of demographic changes, but certainly laws that amplify a less diverse group of people’s voices over others’ in an election is one of them.

The unfettering of big money also makes it harder to elect minority candidates. “Why is it that the Congress we have right now doesn’t look anything like the rest of the country? A lot of it has to do with our campaign-finance laws and the fact that there’s so much money in the system and you need so much money to run for office,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program and the Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s no question that it makes it more difficult for people who aren’t connected to these very wealthy donors to run for office.”

Candidates raise money from people they know, Norden explained, and American social circles are deeply segregated. Three-quarters of white Americans, for example, don’t have any non-white friends. Neighborhoods remain segregated by race and class. “If you don’t have a lot of money to begin with, you’re not interacting with the people who can provide that money,” said Norden.

A number of structural changes have been proposed to right lopsided representation, many of them focused on increasing turnout among minority voters. Those suggestions are particularly salient in response to the GOP’s campaign to pass laws that make it more difficult for low-income people and people of color to vote. But turnout won’t affect the diversity of elected officials if the pool of candidates isn’t diverse to begin with. As long as the financial bar for running a viable campaign keeps rising, it’s going to be more difficult for people of color, women and low-income people to appeal for votes at all.

There’s some evidence that public campaign financing increases proportional representation. Connecticut implemented a voluntary public-financing system in 2008, which provides a fixed amount of funding to candidates who rely on small donors. A study by Demos found that the program led to a more diverse state legislature and increased Latino and female representation. Another study found that the percentage of women elected in five states with public financing was significantly higher than the national average. Unfortunately, in several states recently politicians have set to dismantling, not strengthening, public financing.

“It’s really clear that that’s a major barrier to women and people of color, in particular, that can happen on all levels, even the local level,” said Brenda Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, about the growing power of outside money. Still, she noted that there’s been little research into the specific ways in which the influence of money in politics has a disproportionate effect on minority candidates. “Adding a race and gender lens to the money-in-politics conversation is a really important thing,” she said.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, October 31, 2014

November 1, 2014 Posted by | Elected Officials, Midterm Elections, White Men | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The New Touchy-Feely Organization”: All Of A Sudden The NRA Doesn’t Want To Mention Guns

Two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day that the unfortunate 9-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a firearms instructor in Arizona, the NRA kicked off a series of Netflix-style video ads that are perhaps the organization’s most disingenuous effort to present itself as something other than what it really is; namely, an organization devoted to ownership and use of guns. In fact, having watched all 12 one-minute productions, I can tell you that the only way you would know that this is an effort of the NRA is that each commentator ends his or her spiel by telling the viewer that their wholesome and didactic script was produced by the “National Rifle Association of America” with a slight pause and then heavy emphasis on the word ‘America’ even though officially the NRA is still just the NRA, not the NRAA.

This new media blitz by the people who used to bring us messages like “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is significant insofar as the word “gun” is never mentioned in any of these videos, not even once. You would think that the NRA had become some kind of touchy-feely civics organization devoted to uplifting our moral virtues rather than a trade association committed to getting everyone in America to own a gun. And not only are the minute-long lectures all about honesty, and decency, and respect for everyone’s point of view, but only four of the homilies are delivered by white males, who just happen to own most of the guns in America — seven of the commentators are women, one is Asian-American and, of course, there’s always room for Colion Noir, aka NRA’s African-American spokesperson.

When I first started watching these videos I thought I was looking at a remake of the Reagan “it’s morning again in America” campaign ads from 1984. Those were slickly-produced messages which never showed Reagan, who was beginning to look his age, but instead had a variety of American families proudly standing in front of a farmhouse, a factory gate, a well-manicured suburban lawn, all smiling, all happy, all gently reminding us that if we just remembered to vote Republican that all those things we cherished and loved would never be taken away.

The NRA scripts flow back and forth between a kind of Tea Party-lite condemnation about the problems we face — government spying, unlawfulness in high places, fear of crime — and an immediate sense of setting things right with the help of the “good guys,” the real Americans who can be counted on every time to keep us safe, honest, decent and sound. And who are these good guys? They are your neighbor with a decal on the back of his truck which reads: N-R-A.

I can’t imagine anyone actually watching one of these messages and coming away having learned anything at all. But I don’t think that’s the point. What the NRA is trying to do is cast itself in a softer, more reasonable and, if you’ll pardon the expression, less combative way, because for the first time they are up against an opponent whose money, smarts and media access can sway lots of people to go the opposite way. And not only does Bloomberg have that kind of dough, for the first time he might be able to energize non-gun owners to stay active and committed to the gun control fray.

This week we have another retail chain, Panera, which is walking down the path blazed by Starbucks and Target and asking gun owners to leave their weapons at home. Like the other chains, Panera isn’t posting a gun-free sign on their front doors, but if any of the 2nd-Amendment vigilantes believes that this isn’t a victory for the folks who want more gun control, they better think again. The fact that Panera’s announcement coupled their concern about guns with their desire to build social “communities” in their stores should tell you why, all of a sudden, the NRA has stopped talking about guns.


By: Mike Weisser, The Huffington Post Blog, September 10, 2014

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Rising Up From Within”: NRA Members Need To Step Up On Ending Gun Violence

Please, Mr. Bloomberg… leave the checkbook open, but step away from the podium.

Your efforts to curb gun violence and improve firearms safety are notable. The National Rifle Association thanks you.

For years, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has been the best membership recruitment tool the NRA could hope for: a walking, talking, Big Gulp-banning embodiment of government overreach. And look what he’s done now… given the NRA yet another gift on the eve of their national convention.

In Bloomberg’s mind, his new national organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, is is a much-needed counter to the NRA: a grassroots effort that will encourage pro-gun-control voters to step up to the polls, press for expanding background checks at the state and national levels, and make sure states keep guns away from the dangerously mentally ill and domestic-violence offenders.

Everytown for Gun Safety seeks to accomplish virtually everything the NRA has opposed in recent years. Its agenda is filled with action that needs to happen to ensure more Americans don’t die by gunfire, whether accidental, suicidal or homicidal. And Bloomberg, a billionaire, is bankrolling it with $50 million.

That’s not the problem. What is worrisome is that Bloomberg plans on chairing the new group. At this point, he seems determined to be its most out-front face.

Great. He might as well have just handed the NRA talking points for its Indianapolis convention, which begins April 25.

The sad fact about the gun debate in America is that the voices on the extremes are the loudest, and they drown out those in the middle. Yes, there is a middle ground. Bloomberg just rarely conveys it.

In an interview with The New York Times to announce Everytown, he praised himself for his good deeds: “If there is a God, 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.”

This declaration was made with a smile, but the joke reveals one of Bloomberg’s qualities, his arrogance, which has a way of putting off even those of us who agree that secondhand cigarette smoke is dangerous, trans fats are unhealthy and large sugary soft drinks are a dietary scourge. And, oh yes, guns need to be better controlled.

But it wasn’t the common-sense messaging that took the lead following the introduction of Everytown for Gun Safety. No, it was Bloomberg.

The Washington Times didn’t waste an opportunity to twit the great potentate on his pompous gates-of-heaven-quote. Its editorial was headlined “Sainthood for gun-grabbing ex-Mayor Bloomberg.” The piece painted Bloomberg as a money-wasting loser, making great sport of the pro-gun-control candidates he has backed who have lost elections.

In truth, NRA-bankrolled candidates have also seen their share of defeat in recent elections. But that’s the sort of fact-check that both sides conveniently leave out. It’s in the middle ground where reason lies, where the really effective mobilizing needs to occur.

Want to move gun control efforts in this country? Energize the former or current NRA members who believe the organization no longer represents their interests.

They’re out there. The hunters, marksmen and concealed-carry license holders who readily acknowledge that violent crime is down and that there is little use for a hunter to have a military-grade weapon. Peruse hunter listservs and listen to people talk about fearing the hyped-up shooters who carry magazines to track small game like quail. Listen to families who have lost members to suicides — deaths that could have been prevented had a gun been locked away from a depressed person.

Vilifying the NRA can actually be counterproductive. It merely puffs up the organization’s most alarmist elements.

What really needs to happen is a change of thinking within the NRA membership: a rising up from within the ranks of the calm and reasonable gun owners. The stage is wide open for an effective spokesperson. Maybe a celebrity with a passion for hunting and a deep conviction that stopping many of the 31,000 American deaths to gunfire each year is not only doable, it’s an American obligation.

For all the good he has accomplished, Bloomberg just isn’t the man for that cause.


By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, April 22, 2014

April 27, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Scourge Of The Businessman Politician”: I’m No Politician, But I Can Clean Up Washington

Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging’s greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he’s “a businessman, not a politician.” As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they’re not tainted by the car repair racket.

I’ve written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn’t prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn’t too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that they don’t possess. When you try to think of business leaders who got elected, then used their business acumen to do things differently and really made a major impact, it’s hard to think of many names other than Michael Bloomberg. Here and there you’ll find someone like former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen who did pretty well, but more common is candidates like Ross Perots, or Meg Whitman, or Linda McMahon, or Al Checci (there’s a blast from the past for you political junkies). They think, “Sure I can do this better than those empty suits—I’ve made a billion dollars!” And then they lose.

Not every time, of course, but most of the time. Which is why Democrats should be pleased to hear this:

Republicans are banking on businessmen to help them retake the Senate in 2014.

A half-dozen top GOP candidates boast records as wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs. If voters decide they’re successful job creators on Election Day, Republicans could be on their way to the six seats they need to win the upper chamber.

Now maybe these candidates are all going to turn out to be just aces. But if history is any guide, more than a few of them are likely to be terrible at running for office. For many of them it’s their first time, which is often a disaster, and it’s particularly hard to have your first run for office be a high-profile Senate race with lots of pressure and press scrutiny. (The list of highly successful politicians who had a loss in their first run for office, or one of their first runs, is a notable one. It includes Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, among many others. It seems that early loss is a highly edifying experience.)

It’s easy to see why this is happening. These candidates are attractive to party leaders because they bring their own money. Republicans have also spent years creating a cult of the businessman, trying to convince others, and no doubt convincing themselves, that those who succeed in business are the most virtuous, brilliant, and generally admirable of all human beings. And that may extend to primary voters, to a degree anyway. Which gives them a good shot to make it to the general election, and which also means that we’re going to have to endure a lot more of that “I’m no politician, so I can clean up Washington!” crap in this election. But what else is new.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 26, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Businesses, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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