Bernie Sanders must be as full of holes as a voodoo doll from the number of times pundits have stuck a fork in him, but he’s still not done. Just when Hillary Clinton thought it was safe to focus on the lunatic about to be nominated by the GOP, Sanders pulled off a stunning upset in the Michigan Democratic primary.
In addition to the pollsters having pushed Michigan into the Clinton column, it appeared that she had succeeded in a total distortion of Sanders’ record on the auto industry bailout. Sanders was stuck with one of those moments that sunk John Kerry, in that he voted for it before he voted against it.
The funds to save auto manufacturing in the U.S. had been rolled into the second tranche of money for saving the billionaire bankers who caused the whole fiasco in their first place. By that time, the voters had caught on that they were being pantsed by Wall Street, and merging the auto money required those trying to save auto worker jobs to vote against it and gamble being able to bring it back in a clean bill or to vote for it and pay off the perpetrators of the crisis.
Sanders voted against that and Clinton trotted the vote out to claim he was against the autoworkers. It should be noted that “autoworkers” includes much more than just GM and Chrysler. Small to medium parts makers—and a few big ones, like Johnson Controls and Cummins—employ thousands of people who stood to go down with the carmakers.
In the last debate, Sanders appeared to be blindsided by Clinton’s cockamamie claim. He knew that she knew better. This is the innocence of a pol who has never run a negative ad in his career.
Everybody knew that Clinton had Mississippi in the sack and Sanders needed Michigan to remain in the hunt. I went to bed thinking she had tricked the voters into sinking him—sad to say, a trick well within the common bounds of U.S. politics, where lots of legislative time is wasted on show votes to create data for bogus attack ads, and where you can kill a good bill by manipulating a cloture vote and claim you have no ink on your fingers.
The next day, Michiganders showed they had felt the Bern and Sanders was back from the dead. Again.
If the Democrats had any sense, they would purposely keep Sanders in the hunt even if they don’t like him, because most of the states Clinton has claimed so far are states that will not go Democrat in the general election.
The Republican southern strategy came from academia observing the possible electoral ramifications of the Civil Rights Movement. A Richard Nixon operative, Kevin Phillips, put the theory on the ground successfully in 1968.
Since Nixon, the anti-Civil Rights Dixiecrats have become the Republican base and the GOP is a party of the old confederacy. What remains of the Democrats below the Mason-Dixon line are a few white liberals and a lot of African-Americans enfranchised in 1965 by the Voting Rights Act. Lack of voter turnout in November has kept African-Americans from taking full advantage of their position, but they can dominate the Democratic primaries.
So Clinton sweeps the Republican base states and the national polls continue to reveal terrible scores for her on “honest and trustworthy.” The only candidate who scores lower is the one the Republicans seem determined to nominate. Both parties need a fallback position.
Last night’s debate was co-sponsored by Univision and broadcast in Spanish, making it inevitable that immigration came up prominently. Immigration was Donald Trump’s launching pad to popularity, so Trump’s people were trolling for sound bites.
Clinton tailored her opening statement to the audience, emphasizing upward mobility.
Sanders gave his one and only stump speech, attacking billionaires and Citizens United. This is why Clinton gets to call him a “one-issue candidate.”
Each candidate was served a fastball political question at the top of the first inning. For Clinton, it was, What went wrong for her in Michigan? After being pressed with a follow up, she said the vote had been very close and she was satisfied with the result.
For Sanders, it was, Can you win? He pointed out how far he’s come in a short period of time and claimed that with more of the same he could pull it out.
Keeping Clinton on the grill, the next question was about the State Department email fiasco. Who gave her permission to have her own server? Obama? Would she resign if indicted?
She said, correctly, she didn’t need permission. Pushed by a follow up, she refused to dignify the indictment question with an answer. She did not talk around it but rather refused directly.
Sanders reiterated that there are real issues to talk about and he would not waste time on her emails. Let the process go forward, but while it does, there’s nothing to debate, he said.
Both candidates were asked to call Donald Trump a racist. Neither bit on the word “racist,” but both gave Trump’s words a whacking. Clinton once more demonstrated workmanlike preparation when she claimed to have said of Trump, “¡Basta!” (Enough!)
Both candidates were confronted with various statements that arguably conflict with their current views on immigration and asked if their current positions are “Hispandering?”
Both candidates then made accusations about votes in Congress by the other that could be made to look bad in the rearview mirror. There was no lying in this exchange, but there was major spinning and disregard of political context.
The bottom line is that they are both anti-immigrant or neither is. The latter is the truth and their differences are tactical.
I had to hand it to Sanders when one of Clinton’s silly accusations was based on the fact that the border vigilantes, the Minutemen, liked a bill Sanders voted for, his response was ¡Basta!, albeit in English.
Moderator: “Did you support the Minutemen?”
Sanders (with scorn): “Of course not!” And he proceeded to call out Clinton’s misdirection tactic that had caught him so off-guard in the Michigan debate.
Both candidates were nailed for yes or no answers to whether they would deport (1) children or (2) immigrants with no criminal record. Both candidates Hispandered in a very unwise way and made promises they cannot rationally keep. They have to deport whomever Congress tells them to deport. They can prioritize with discretion over limited resources but if Congress gives the POTUS the resources, then he or she will have to enforce the law.
The moderator tried to push Clinton to Hispander her economic plans but she stuck with pointing out a rising tide will lift all boats and barcos. Well done, Madame Secretary.
Bernie Sanders also kept his focus on economic issues as affecting everybody. Well done, Senator.
They turned to the related question of education.
Clinton says we should refinance existing student debt of eight to 14 percent to current interest rates. Student debt should be forgiven on a date certain if payments (set as a percentage of income) are made faithfully to that date.
Sanders agreed, in addition to his plan for free tuition at public universities. Clinton claimed the Sanders plan is too expensive and the moderators waved the bloody red shirt of Trump’s kids getting free tuition.
Sanders finally pointed out the obvious. Rich kids don’t go to public high schools, let alone public universities. He did not add but I will that it might do them good to rub elbows with ordinary folks.
The moderator called opinions solicited about Cuba “welcome to Miami” questions.
Would you meet with Cuban dissidents? Are the Castro brothers legitimate heads of state?
I did not hear an answer from either candidate and that’s not a question they should answer. Both candidates also declined to call the Castro brothers illegitimate but both called the Cuban government authoritarian and considered nudging it toward democracy to be a valid foreign policy goal.
There was not much daylight between the candidates in how they treated the “welcome to Miami” questions, but Sanders did get hammered in a manner that struck directly at the argument that he cannot win, in spite of the polls that show him running better against the Republican candidates one on one than Clinton.
Sanders was confronted with a video of a very young Bernie Sanders opposing U.S. intervention against the elected government of Nicaragua and saying nice things about both Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro. He was invited to explain the difference between socialism and communism.
The question was preposterous in the time and place and was rightly ignored, but if Sanders should become the Democratic nominee he is going to get Red-baited and his only prayer of beating that is to make a speech that will explain socialism the way President Obama explained contemporary race issues in his Philadelphia speech.
On this night he had sense enough not to get pedantic, but he left enough loose ends for Clinton to very effectively demagogue the issue. Cuban progress on medical care and education she could blow past to denounce the lack of free speech. The audience loved it.
Sanders stood on his general opposition to regime-change as a policy goal. He opposed it in Iraq and Libya, and also in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Chile. This was not enough to finesse serious Red-baiting, and Clinton supporters are correct that if he is the nominee you can take a multi-million dollar Red-baiting campaign as a sure thing.
In the Cuban questions, as in most of the evening, the audience was demonstrative without being obnoxious. The meanest reaction was against Univision’s Jorge Ramos when he asked Clinton if she lied to the relatives of the victims in Benghazi?
She gave the answer she has always given. The truth of what happened in Benghazi was a moving target. The famous email she sent her family reflected the thinking when it was sent but was showed incorrect in a matter of hours when a group that had claimed responsibility backed off.
This was a case where the email nonsense hurt her. That’s how her personal mail became public.
Rumor has it that Clinton does not believe the debates are useful to her any longer, although she has been doing well by objective standards. In principle, the candidates have agreed to meet twice more, in April and May. The details have not been ironed out and it is possible they will not be ironed out.
This Democratic Primary is the rare election where the candidates have drawn lines around civility as a first principle. As a result of spinning but not lying, I think the public perception of the candidates is fair.
Clinton is the establishment choice and has the most impressive candidate resume I’ve seen in my lifetime. She carries with her an Arkansas view of political ethics that leads to grasping for personal enrichment and constantly conducting herself in ways that do not pass the smell test, which is probably why her polling numbers on “honest and trustworthy” are horrible. Her failure to release transcripts of speeches to Wall Street firms allegedly worth $200,000 an hour also hurts.
Clinton was at her best when she admitted that she is not as much a politician as either her husband or Barack Obama. And that she understands great numbers of voters don’t trust her. It’s rational to think Clinton can get more done but she starts out wanting less change than Sanders. Clinton has moved to the left because of Sanders and she does use mushy words when on the far end to create plausible deniability when she moves back to the right.
Sanders uses words like “socialism” and “political revolution” and sometimes comes across as everybody’s cranky uncle. His numbers could only be made to work if his entire program were enacted, something that will not happen even in a political revolution. Some of his ideas are wildly impractical, but all of his ideas come from his focus on what he takes to be the public interest.
It’s rational to think Clinton’s electability flaw is her ethics and Sanders’s electability flaw is his socialism. The known qualities of these candidates are unlikely to change with two more debates.