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“A ‘One-Issue’ Candidate”: Bernie Sanders Stumbles On Senate’s Saudi Bill

When Bernie Sanders struggled during a recent interview with the New York Daily News, the criticisms largely focused on his apparent lack of preparation. It’s not that the senator’s answers were substantively controversial, but rather, Sanders responded to several questions with answers such as, “I don’t know the answer to that,” “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,” and “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.”

He ran into similar trouble during a recent interview with the Miami Herald, which asked Sanders about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which establishes the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that may be due for a re-evaluation. The senator responded, “I have to tell you that I am not up to date on that issue as I can” be.

The interviews raised questions about his depth of understanding, particularly outside of the issues that make up his core message. Yesterday, making his 42nd Sunday show appearance of 2016, Sanders ran into similar trouble during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash.

BASH: Let’s talk about something in the news that will be on your plate as a sitting U.S. senator. Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of American assets if Congress allows the Saudi government to held – to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks. How do you intend to vote as a senator?

SANDERS: Well, I need more information before I can give you a decision.

Though the senator spoke generally about his concerns regarding Saudi Arabia, the host pressed further, asking if he supports allowing Americans to hold Saudi Arabia liable in U.S. courts. Sanders replied, “Well, you’re going to hear – you’re asking me to give you a decision about a situation and a piece of legislation that I am not familiar with at this point. And I have got to have more information on that. So, you have got to get some information before you can render, I think, a sensible decision.”

I can appreciate why this may seem like a fairly obscure issue, but the legislation Sanders was asked about was on the front page of the New York Times yesterday morning and the front page of the New York Daily News on Saturday.

It’s not unfair to ask a sitting senator about legislation pending in the Senate that’s quite literally front-page news.

Sanders’ campaign later issued a written statement, clarifying the fact that the senator does, in fact, support the legislation.

The broader question, I suppose, is whether a significant number of voters care about developments like these. It’s entirely possible the answer is no. Sanders isn’t sure how best to answer some of these foreign-policy questions that fall outside his wheelhouse, but for the senator’s ardent fans, the questions themselves probably aren’t terribly important. Sanders’ candidacy is focused primarily on income inequality, Wall Street accountability, and opportunities for the middle class, not international affairs.

At a debate last month, the Vermonter conceded he’s a “one-issue” candidate, and for many of his backers, that’s more than enough. It’s not as if Sanders’ support dropped after he made the concession.

But when it comes to building a broader base of support, and demonstrating presidential readiness, these are the kind of avoidable stumbles the Sanders campaign should take steps to correct.

Postscript: Let’s not brush past the significance of the bill itself. The Times’ report from the weekend noted that Saudi officials have threatened to “sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

The State Department and the Pentagon have urged Congress not to pass the bill, warning of “diplomatic and economic fallout.” The legislation is nevertheless moving forward – it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously – and it enjoys support from some of the chamber’s most liberal and most conservative members.

Update: Several readers have noted that Hillary Clinton, during a separate interview, was asked about the bill, and she said she’d have to look into it because she hasn’t yet read it. That’s true. The difference, of course, Clinton isn’t a sitting senator and she isn’t getting ready to cast a vote on the legislation. What’s more, there’s also no larger pattern of the former Secretary of State passing on questions related to foreign policy.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy, Saudi Arabia | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“His Red-State Wins Matter More Than Hillary’s”: Why Is Bernie Sanders Slamming Southern Democrats?

So what do we make of Bernie Sanders’s continuing habit of denigrating the Democratic voters of the South? He did it Wednesday night on Larry Wilmore’s show, when he said that having early Southern primaries “distorts reality.” And he did it again in the debate, when he dismissed the importance of Clinton’s votes from the South because the region is “the most conservative part of the country.”

Okay. I’m (in)famously on record as saying the Democrats should just forget the South. The argument of that column, admittedly florid rhetoric aside, was that for the purposes of general elections, the Democratic Party shouldn’t even try very hard in the South anymore. The party should of course fight to hold the African American House seats, and there might be occasional opportunities to swipe a seat in a college town. But other than that, for the foreseeable future, the South is gone, I argued, and the Democrats shouldn’t throw good money after bad down there. You can agree or disagree with that, but it is an argument about general elections (I wrote it right after Mary Landrieu lost to Bill Cassidy in a Louisiana Senate race).

Primary elections, however, are completely different animals. Primary elections are about voters within a political party—and sometimes without, in open primaries, which are another debate that we may get to in the future—having their shot at choosing which candidate their party should nominate. There are of course some states that matter more than others. But there aren’t any individual votes that matter more than others, at least among primaries (caucuses don’t usually report individual votes). For Sanders to dismiss Clinton’s Southern votes as distortions of reality is hugely insulting to Democrats from the region.

And to one group of Democrats in particular, who are concentrated in the South and who happen to be the most loyal Democratic voters in the country. I don’t think Sanders has a racist bone in his body, but is there not a certain racial tone-deafness in dismissing the votes of millions of black voters as distortions of reality? This is the one moment, their state’s presidential primary, when these African American voters have a chance to flex some actual political power in the national arena.

And then to write off Clinton’s Southern votes as “conservative” is just a lie intended to fool the gullible. Sure, the South is conservative at general-election time. But at Democratic primary time, it’s pretty darn liberal. It’s blacks and Latinos (where they exist in large numbers) and trial lawyers and college professors and school teachers and social workers and the like. They’re not conservative, any more than the people caucusing for Sanders in Idaho and Oklahoma are conservative, and he knows it.

The topic of Sanders’s own red state wins actually raises another point. He’s won seven states that both he and Clinton would/will lose by at least 15 points in November, and in many cases more like 30: Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and Alaska, along with the aforementioned two. And he won them in caucuses, not primaries, which nearly everyone agrees are less democratic, less representative of the whole of the voting population.

Now let’s look at Clinton’s red-state wins. She’s won 10 red states: Texas, Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina (I’m calling North Carolina purple, and of course Virginia and Florida and Ohio). Neither she nor Sanders would probably win in these states either, although a Clinton win over Donald Trump seems conceivable in a couple of them.

In any case, yes, they’ve both won states that are unwinnable in the fall. Yet do you hear Clinton going around saying that Sanders’s victories in these states are distortions of reality? I don’t. But Sanders goes around bragging, as he did at the debate, about winning eight of the last nine contests, “many of them by landslide” margins, referring to these very states where he or Clinton would get walloped in the fall, while denouncing her red-state wins as aberrational. What is it about his red states that count—or more to the point, perhaps, what is it about hers that makes them not count?

I try to set a limit on the number of times I use the “imagine if” device, because candidates have different histories, and those histories provide the context for our reactions to the things they do. But here goes. Imagine if the situation were reversed and Sanders had won the Southern states, and it was Clinton dismissing Southern Democratic votes as meaningless. The more sanctimonious among Sanders’s supporters would have tarred and feathered her as a racist weeks ago. Her very reputation among Democrats would likely be in tatters.

I’m not sure what the thinking is in Sanders land. Their collective back is against the wall, and they’re in a high-stress situation. But Sanders and his team—wife Jane, campaign manager Jeff Weaver—have been saying these things repeatedly now, for weeks. I guess it’s part of an electability argument. Even that is wrong—as I noted above, a couple of Clinton’s red states are possibly gettable in the fall, while none of Sanders’s states are. But insulting your own party’s—oh, wait. Ah. Maybe that has something to do with this too. Whatever the reasons—not a good look.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 16, 2016

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Demographics, Red States, The South | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Elections Are Games With Complicated Rules”: How Donald Trump Got The Republican Primary Rules So Very Wrong

Donald Trump is a man obsessed with fairness. Not so much as an abstract principle, but whether he is being “treated fairly,” which essentially comes down to everyone giving him whatever he wants. As the primary campaign moves into its final stages, he is most definitely not being treated fairly, at least as he sees it. Strangely enough, it turns out that presidential campaigns run according to complex rules and procedures that you might not have mastered if you’ve never run for office before.

Trump is still winning, but lately Ted Cruz — nothing if not a shrewd operator — has been working the system to snatch delegates from Trump left and right. It has happened piecemeal in one state after another, but Trump’s outrage erupted after Cruz captured all of Colorado’s 34 delegates. The state party decided last year to allot its delegates not through a primary, but via an intricate process involving caucuses and a series of meetings; Cruz’s people worked that process hard before the Trump campaign even realized what was happening, and wound up with the entire prize.

So now Trump is telling everyone how unfair it was, and his supporters are doing things like burning their registration cards in protest. It no doubt looks to them like, once again, the party insiders are rigging the game in their favor. But the real problem here is that Trump and the people supporting him were laboring under the misimpression that the nomination process is democratic. It isn’t.

The fundamental fact is that this entire enterprise we’re witnessing is about two private entities, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, choosing the people they want to put up for the real election in the fall. Just like the Democrats, the GOP can conduct that contest in any way it wants. It could select its nominee with primaries, or caucuses, or state conventions, or by holding an essay contest, or using one of those carnival strength testers, or with careful phrenological measurements of the candidates’ craniums. It’s up to them.

The fact that Trump didn’t understand that, and doesn’t understand the particular rules under which the contest is taking place, is like someone complaining that his opponent used a flea flicker in a football game or a double steal in a baseball game. Even if it momentarily confused you, that doesn’t mean it was cheating.

It can be easy to forget, when so many Americans are going to polling places and we’re taking exit polls and counting votes, that for most of American history, the backroom deal at the convention was the norm. Each party’s leaders would get together and pick the person they thought most likely to bring them to victory (or the person best able to dole out favors). It wasn’t until both parties transformed their nomination processes in the late 1960s that the parties’ rank and file took much of a role in the nomination process, and primaries became something more than a way for those leaders to get a sense of what voters wanted — which they could ignore at their will.

Since those reforms, we’ve gotten used to the idea that the parties’ nomination processes are supposed to uphold our fundamental right of fair representation. But they don’t have to. And that’s not to mention the fact that there are lots of features of the process that no one including Donald Trump is questioning, but that are equally unfair to voters. For instance, some of the states on the Republican side allot their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, which effectively nullifies the votes of anyone who didn’t vote for the winner. Donald Trump won the Florida primary with 46 percent of the vote, yet even though most Florida Republicans voted against him, he got all 99 of the state’s delegates. I don’t recall him complaining about how unfair that was.

And of course, there’s an analogy with the general election, which is determined by the decidedly undemocratic means of the Electoral College. If you’re a Democrat living in Texas or a Republican living in California, you know for certain that your vote will have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the race, no matter how close it might be.

So even though the stakes are impossibly high, elections are games with complicated rules. It isn’t enough to be the most appealing candidate; you also have to master those rules, or at the very least, hire people who understand them and can help you avoid their pitfalls. Donald Trump never bothered, and now he’s paying the price.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Rules, Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, GOP Primaries | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Electability May Be Hillary Clinton’s Secret Weapon”: “Can Win In November” Is Top Candidate Quality Voters Are Looking For

It’s a bit early in the presidential nominating process for “electability” arguments to become prominent. Voters are just now hearing candidates’ messages, which do not typically revolve around the ability to win a general election (though that may be a component in the message). Some of the more ideological voters may sense that caring more about electability than about core values or policy goals is unprincipled. But in polarized times like our own, the closer we get to the final choice of presidential standard-bearers, the more we’ll hear discussions of their strengths and weaknesses as general-election candidates.

Interestingly enough, entrance polls from Iowa and exit polls from New Hampshire show almost identical percentages of Democratic and Republican participants saying “Can win in November” is the top candidate quality they are looking for (as compared to perceptions of candidates’ empathy, honesty, and experience). But how these premature general-election worrywarts distribute their support differs considerably.

Among the 21 percent of Iowa Republicans placing a premium on electability, 44 percent caucused for Marco Rubio, 24 percent for Donald Trump, and 22 percent for Ted Cruz. As it happens, all three of these candidates stand for different theories of how a general-election campaign would be waged.

But among the 20 percent of Iowa Democrats prioritizing electability, 77 percent caucused for Hillary Clinton and only 17 percent for Bernie Sanders.

In New Hampshire, 12 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats ranked electability first among candidate characteristics.

Again, the Republicans so inclined were scattered, with 33 percent voting for Trump, 29 percent for Rubio (far above his overall percentage), and 16 percent for Kasich (New Hampshire Republicans were not, it appears, as impressed with Cruz’s “54 million missing evangelicals” electability argument, since only 6 percent of electability-first voters went in his direction).

But again, electability-first Democrats went 79-20 for Clinton.

Now it’s possible there’s some extrinsic reason for this finding other than Clinton having a superior perception of electability; maybe voters already inclined to vote for her simply find it easier to call her electable rather than “honest and trustworthy,” another choice. It’s more likely, though, that voters simply figure this well-known candidate running for president a second time is a better bet than a septuagenarian democratic socialist with a hybrid Brooklyn/Vermont accent and a strident tone. There’s really no reliable evidence for that; Sanders does as well as or better than Clinton in early general-election trial heats, but even if he didn’t, such polls aren’t terribly useful given the inclusion of many voters who aren’t yet paying attention to politics at all.

Later in the process, however, electability will begin to matter a lot to Democrats, especially if Republicans seem poised to nominate Rubio, who creates troubling generational comparisons to both Clinton and Sanders, or Donald Trump, whose character and conduct could create many millions of swing voters.

As I noted when listening to her in Iowa, Clinton does spend a good amount of time warning Democrats of the long-term damage Republicans could do if they controlled both Congress and the White House in 2017. That certainly gets people thinking about electability, and also thinking about liberal policies that need to be defended as opposed to less-immediate goals like amending the Constitution to ban unlimited corporate-campaign spending or building a majority to impose a single-payer health-care system on a balky Congress.

In any event, Clinton would be smart to explore these themes more often, and see what happens. It’s one thing to accuse Sanders of promoting “pie in the sky” policy ideas. It’s another altogether to describe him as a high-risk candidate who’ll invite catastrophe if he loses and won’t accomplish much if he wins. And Sanders would be smart to spend more time talking about the unconventional alliances he put together in and out of office in Vermont. Electability will eventually matter a lot.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 11, 2016

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Electability, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Momentum Premise”: The GOP Race Is As Crazy And Wide Open As It’s Ever Been

After the results in Iowa, I crowed about how I called it. Now that the New Hampshire results are in, I have to own the fact that I faceplanted. I predicted that Donald Trump would underperform and that Marco Rubio would overperform (and win, even!). After Trump’s dominating victory, and Rubio’s meek fifth-place finish, I must admit that I was totally wrong. Fair is fair.

Where did I go wrong? By putting my faith in momentum.

The idea that candidates accumulate or lose this thing called momentum based on how they perform relative to expectations in a primary, while sometimes true (remember Bill Clinton in 1992?) is also not an iron law of politics, and perhaps less so now than at any time, when the media world is so fragmented. Back when there were only three networks, and all three were saying that So-and-So is outperforming expectations and gaining momentum, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Voters only had so many places to turn for information and analysis, and whatever the media Powers That Be declared as truth often came to be. But today, with hundreds of news organizations covering the election in their own way, neither the fragmented media nor voters themselves need to buy the momentum premise and feed it.

And in hindsight, is it really so hard to see how even after losing his momentum in Iowa, Trump’s message would still appeal to New Hampshire voters? After all, this is a state that rewarded the working-class populism of Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. The state has lost more manufacturing jobs to trade than any other state, and its now infamous heroin epidemic must reinforce the general impression of a societal malaise and decline that calls for a strongman who can, well, Make America Great Again.

As for Rubio, well… that debate failure really, really mattered. I have high regard for Rubio, who I think understands the political challenges facing the GOP better than any other candidate in the race, who has actually shown depth on the issues, and with whom I agree on most issues (though certainly not all). After his faceplant, I downplayed it. People only tuned in during the second half of the debate! They’re not going to pay attention to the debate replays because of the Super Bowl! Actual voters didn’t see it the way the chattering class did!

In hindsight, I must concede that it’s not that I thought it wouldn’t have an impact, it’s that I didn’t want it to have an impact.

So, what to make of the results now? My support for Rubio notwithstanding, it’s pretty much the worst possible outcome for the GOP. As a card-carrying member of the anybody-but-Trump, anybody-but-Cruz crowd, the hope for the New Hampshire primary was to solidify the non-Trump, non-Cruz vote (which happens to be the biggest slice of the vote) by kicking out most of the half dozen candidates running for that vote. Instead, it did exactly the opposite.

New Hampshire elevated John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Kasich seems like an honorable man and a talented administrator, but he’s almost certainly too moderate to win in the primary and too uncharismatic to win in the general. His second-place finish, by boosting his campaign, only hurts the GOP by encouraging him to stick around and take votes from the others.

And as for Bush, his heart just isn’t in it, which means he’s likely not going to win anything. And he’s a Bush, which means putting him as the face of the party in a change election, at a time when the GOP needs to change, would be a disaster. Like Kasich, the only thing he can do with his new lease on life is to hurt the party.

And yet… the race is as wide open as it’s ever been. Cruz is doing very well and has a plausible path to the nomination. Bush has a plausible path to the nomination if Rubio keeps foundering and Bush can consolidate the establishment vote. Rubio has a plausible path to the nomination if he bounces back. Even Trump has a plausible path to the nomination, now that he’s shown he can win primaries and has scattered his opponents who, inexplicably, still fail to attack him in any meaningful way.

Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to winnow the field. Instead, they have blown it wide open. The 2016 Republican presidential nomination is as up for grabs as it’s ever been.

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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