Showing posts with label Bernie Sanders. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bernie Sanders. Show all posts

Friday, July 31, 2020

Democrats Have Nothing to Fear, but Themselves

(Image: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted”
-Aldous Huxley

When Mr. Trump completed his hostile takeover of the Republican Party and claimed the 2016 nomination, it became Mrs. Clinton's election to lose. Her senior aides had secretly been hoping she would face Mr. Trump because they were convinced that “a race against Trump would be a dream for Clinton”. A few months before the election it became clear to me that Mrs. Clinton’s hubris might cost her the election. She did not feel the need to make a case for why voters should choose her, and instead came across more like a Queen expecting a political coronation.

Fast forward to the 2020 Democratic primary, once again my views were out of sync with the majority media, political pundits and progressive party base. From the outset it was clear to me that Joe Biden would win the nomination. Not because I believed Mr. Biden was the strongest or most qualified candidate, but reading between the lines of a fractured and deeply divided party it was evident that of the frontrunners, he was the only one who had support among Black voters; without whom no Democrat can win the White House.

In February this year, I would have put Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election at about 90% because the economy was going great guns, and Democrats seemed too divided to form a cohesive front. Covid-19 changed everything. With the economy in freefall, small businesses shuttering in record numbers and the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, the picture now is very different.

In addition, the President’s handling of the crisis has been nothing short of a disaster and his repeated refusal to follow the guidance of his top scientists or develop a coordinated federal response has led to a patchwork of disparate actions at the state level, leading to a dangerous resurgence of coronavirus cases and deaths all over the US.

As a result, polls show Mr. Biden’s lead growing to double digits nationally.  He is widening the gap in swing states and even leading in states that Mr. Trump won with double digits in 2016. There is growing consensus in the media and within the Republican ranks that Mr. Trump is hurtling toward a massive defeat, one that could see Democrats win not just the White House, but also gain majorities in both chambers of congress.

Like 2016, it would seem that the 2020 election is fast becoming Mr. Biden’s to lose. Especially since Mr. Trump continues to administer self-inflicted wounds almost daily. His latest approval has dipped below 40%. Other than Harry Truman no incumbent President has won reelection with such an abysmal job rating. However, if there is one thing Democrats excel at, it is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There are six things I would caution them about:

Don’t take Black (and Latino) voters for granted: Since 1968 no Republican presidential candidate has received more than 13% of the Black vote, so it is no surprise that Democrats have come to take the Black vote for granted. In 2020 they do so at their own peril. A recent survey by BlackPAC of registered African American voters found that a significant number are disillusioned with the Democratic Party and more than half feel that the party is not paying close enough attention to the black community.

The Democratic Party’s overly simplistic view of African Americans as a monolithic voting bloc is out of touch with the reality. Blacks in America comprise multiple ethnicities and nationalities, with immigrants representing almost 10% and 24% of Latinos also identify as Black. Similarly, Black voters do not hold the same views across the board. As the Bernie wing of the party pushes the party farther leftwards, they are in danger of disillusioning 25% of Black Democrats who called themselves conservative and 43% who called themselves moderate.

Worryingly, polls show that Mr. Biden’s support among young Black voters, who are leading movements like Black Lives Matter and spearheading calls for systemic change, significantly trails the levels of support he enjoys among older Black voters. Also, Mr. Trump’s support among Black and Latino voters has increased in the past year from 8 to 10 percent and 28 to 30 percent, respectively, this despite his best efforts to the contrary. What should worry Democrats is not the level of support Mr. Trump has, which remains low, but that displeasure with the President has not translated into more support for them.

It’s (still) the economy, stupid: In the second quarter US GDP shrank 32.9% on an annualized basis, making it the worst contraction since record-keeping began in 1947. If the current trajectory continues then Mr. Trump will lose the only arrow in his tiny quiver. But we are still almost 100 days away from the election, and we have seen that the moment the country begins re-opening, as it did in May, there is an economic rebound. In May and June alone a record-breaking 7.5 million jobs were added and there was evidence of pent-up consumer demand with retail brick and mortar sales rising 7.5% in June, following a record jump of 18.5% in May.

If we are able to get the current coronavirus surge under control and start re-opening businesses once again across the country, it is possible that we might see the start of an economic recovery just in time for the election. This would unquestionably be a boost for Mr. Trump because the economy is the only issue he is still trusted on, more than Mr. Biden. In fact, a sizable majority of swing state voters approves of Mr. Trump’s handling of the economy, and trusts him more than Mr. Biden to lead America out of this economic crisis.

Biden’s enthusiasm gap: A recent national survey conducted by SSRS for CNN finds that there is a gap in enthusiasm among Biden versus Trump’s supporters. 70% of Trump voters say they support the President and are voting to reelect him, with only 27% stating they are voting against Biden. On the flipside Biden voters claim the opposite with 60% saying they are voting against Trump, and only 37% casting a vote in support of Biden.

We also know that the Democratic Party is deeply divided with various factions within it jockeying for position. Earlier this year an Emerson College poll found that 50% of Bernie voters would not support a candidate in November if Mr. Sanders was not the nominee. The vitriol and divisiveness was laid bare during the recent primaries, and while one has seen some degree of coalescing between the Bernie and Biden wings of the party, there is still more that divides them than unites.

More recently Nina Turner, a co-chair of Mr. Sander’s campaign, described the choice in November to a reporter at the Atlantic as, “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.”

Harvard professor and Bernie supporter Cornell West added in the same article that, “We have to be true to ourselves and acknowledge that Biden is a mediocre, milquetoast, neoliberal centrist that we’ve been fighting against in the Democratic establishment.”

In polls we trust: In 2016 national pollsters consistently predicted that Mrs. Clinton’s likelihood of winning the presidency was around 90 percent. Two weeks before the 2016 general election multiple polls showed her leading in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with leads of anywhere from 4 to 9 points. Mr. Trump won all three states.

One big difference between 2016 and 2020 is that Mr. Biden’s lead has been larger and more consistent at both the national and state levels. Also, we should note that the issue is not so much accuracy of polling, because studies show that they have been historically accurate within the margins of error, but that the country has become so divided that the winning or losing can lie within these margins of error of +/- 4 points.

Also, remember that winning the popular vote does not mean winning the Electoral College. In 2016 Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by around 2.5 million votes, but won the Electoral College thanks to 79,646 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Democrats must not grow complacent based on current polling numbers. We know that Mr. Biden faces a serious gap in enthusiasm with his voters and he also must not repeat Mrs. Clinton’s mistake, and assume people will turn up simply because they dislike the sitting President. Mr. Biden must continue to outline his kinder and more inclusive vision for America, and contrast it with the President’s divisive one, giving voters a reason to come out for him.

Biden’s fitness for office: Rasmussen poll conducted at the end of June found that nearly four out of 10 voters believe Joe Biden has dementia. It is true that a higher percentage of Republican voters (66%) think this, but 30% of independents and 20% of Democrats also believe it. The same poll finds that over fifty percent of Democrat voters feel it is an important issue, and one that Mr. Biden should publicly address. Another poll by Zogby found that 60% voters aged 18-29 thought it likely that Biden is suffering early-onset dementia, along with 61% of Hispanics and 43% of Blacks.

To be fair, unlike Obama’s birth certificate, this lingering doubt is not a figment of the fringe right-wing’s imagination. Through the primary debates Mr. Biden’s performance was viewed as uneven, with him often losing his train of thought, forgetting words and sometimes the question he was answering. He would routinely cede time back to the moderators, when every other candidate was fighting for more time to speak. Julian Castro brought up the issue of Mr. Biden’s memory lapses during one debate, and was backed up by Cory Booker, who said in a post-debate interview on CNN that it was a legitimate question based on Biden’s “fumbling”.

It is worth pointing out that there is a double standard in the mainstream media on this issue. They have openly debated and discussed President Trump’s cognitive faculties but seem to stay away from questioning Mr. Biden’s. In the end, it will likely come down to Mr. Biden’s debate performances against Mr. Trump, which will lead the American people to decide for themselves.

Covid-19 and vote by mail; fail: New York has a Democratic Governor and the party holds majorities in the state senate and assembly. The Mayor of New York City is a Democrat, and the city council has a super majority with only 3 Republicans serving in its 51 member body. For our local primary election on 23rd June this year, every official from the Governor down vowed to expand voting by mail and other options.

So far, around 100,000 absentee ballots have been invalidated, which is about one in five, and a number of races are still waiting for results at the end of July. To say it was an unmitigated disaster would be an understatement. What is scary is that, in a state committed to getting this right, and completely controlled by Democrats, the official preparation and infrastructure was clearly not capable of handling the influx of mail-in ballots.

Every facet of the system seems to have failed in New York. There were not enough ballots printed, the postal service faced delays in sending and receiving forms, people were unable to understand the mail-in ballot instructions and now officials are struggling to count them. Furious candidates are still waiting for results more than a month after the election and many are filing lawsuits claiming voter disenfranchisement.

Consider that a major factor in Biden’s ability to win rests with 65+ voters showing up to the polls, and Democrats are more fearful of contracting coronavirus than Republicans. So with Covid-19 at large, one could conjecture that older Democrats are more likely to opt for absentee ballots, than Republicans, which would give Mr. Trump a major advantage.

The bottom line is that if a solidly Blue state, one that made a concerted effort to expand voting rights, could not get any aspect of a small local election rightwhat will happen during a massive national election, and in far more contentious swing states?

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Crisis of Hearts and Minds in the Democratic Party

(Pelosi and Schumer respond to Trump’s Oval Office speech / Image Credit: NBC News)

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” 
-George Bernard Shaw

Wayne Messam is running for President in 2020 against Donald Trump. Who? Exactly.

That, in a nutshell, defines the core problem the Democratic Party will face in 2020. Almost every mayor, senator, governor, congresswoman and man believes he can take on President Trump and that she alone is the best candidate to defeat the incumbent. I remember remarking about the demise of the Republican Party when 18 candidates ran in the 2016 primaries. That was a clear indication of a group with too many Indians and no Chiefs. At last count, we had 55 potential Democratic presidential candidates. I am just grateful that Michael Avenatti, the self-proclaimed Trump on the left and Stormy Daniels lawyer, dropped out of the race after facing multiple accusations of sexual assault.

Put it this way: if we thought the battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was ugly and exposed deep rifts within the base, then I suspect the 2016 primary will feel like a Disney movie compared to what we will witness in the 2020 primaries.

Democratic candidates are already stumbling over each other to showcase their lack of judgement and discredit the front runner, Joe Biden; whether it is Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to prove her Native American heritage with a DNA test or Corey Booker’s Spartacus moment during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Curiously, a few days after some of the progressive favourites announced their bid for the Presidency, media stories started showing up about Biden taking $200,000 for stumping for a Republican candidate and about his role in the much-maligned Clinton-era crime policies which resulted in a disproportionate number of people of colour being incarcerated for minor drug-related offences.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Kirsten Gillibrand, who announced her Presidential bid on a late night comedy show and Kamala Harris, both desperately trying to grow their likeability with younger voters. Ms. Harris released well-designed campaign merchandise with a catchy tagline, and is also taking on the new age social media darlings like Beto O’Rourke (who is expected to run) with a video of her dancing to a Cardi B song. No word yet on whether Ms. Harris will release a viral video on serious policy positions.

The problem is that when you have so many candidates with such minor policy differences, it is impossible for voters to differentiate, and candidates need to find extreme ways to stand out against the crowd. Outrageousness is exactly what helped Trump come out on top and ensured that the entire GOP narrative during the campaign and primary debates was focused more on size of manhood and pussy’ grabbing, versus substantive policy discussions.

I have written previously about how Republican’s moral blindness and abandonment of core Conservative principles during the Bush, Jr. years resulted in an internal civil war. No question that the cracks had been building for many years before, but the Bush years were the final straw, and it led to the rise of the rebel and anti-establishment Tea Party.

The freedom caucus, as they are now called, was responsible for pushing out moderate Republicans like Speaker John Boehner and House Majority leader Eric Cantor (who was defeated in a primary), and is entirely responsible for the GOP dysfunction we witnessed during the Obama years. Their antics of ‘no compromise’ without any goal or unifying vision left their party defenseless and wide open for a hostile takeover by Donald Trump. Now, the Democrats, rather than learn the lessons from the demise of the GOP, seem poised to repeat history, within their own ranks.

Much like the Republican Party, the rift we see inside the Democratic Party has been growing for a number of years and is not sudden. While Bernie did not cause this rift, his anti-establishment campaign did ignite and light the match with young Millennials who were feeling disillusioned with Obama. By going after Hillary Clinton, Bernie also took on the ageing Democratic ‘establishment’ and old guard who many felt had unfairly chosen Obama’s successor without consulting the younger, more progressive and diverse Democratic base.

The fact is that the Democratic party was already broken and hopelessly divided when Obama won his first nomination; in fact he too had defied and defeated the establishment by running against Hillary Clinton, and his primary victory simply hobbled an already weak party.

To win his primary battle against Hillary, Obama knew he needed to go around the party machinery. This is why he created Organising for Action; “OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties,” according to Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane KleebAs a result, during the Obama years there was a massive erosion of power in state legislatures, congressional districts and governor’s mansions.

At the start of Obama’s first term, Democrats controlled 59 percent of state legislatures, by the end it was down to 31percent; the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century. Democrats held 29 governor’s offices at the beginning of his term and by the end they had only 16; the party’s lowest number since 1920. There is no question that, while Obama himself was popular, his persona transcended the party and did not trickle down the ballot. His was a coalition built less on party unity and more on personal charisma, optimism and the idea of tearing down racial barriers. Large numbers of people who came out to vote for him were voting for the first time, and many were minorities who had not voted in a long time.

In 2016, Hillary failed to bring together the same voting coalition that helped Obama win office. Millennials, deeply disappointed with Obama for not being progressive enough, broke for Bernie and many older blue collar voters who voted twice for Obama, and had not cast a vote for a Republican presidential nominee beforebroke for Trump because they felt completely ignored and betrayed by Democrats. Of course, we cannot negate Hillary’s own long-standing establishment baggage and deeply polarizing personality. We also have to credit Trump for reading the depth of frustration among working class white voters, a group who had long been the core of the Democratic base. There is no doubt Trump’s message was deeply divisive, but that fact remains that he was the only candidate speaking directly to them.

After the 2016 election, I hoped the Democratic Party leadership would take time to introspect, listen with humility and then forge a new platform for the American people for 2020, one built on ideas, and not ideology rooted in identity politics. Yet, two years on, the dysfunction and factionalism within the base and party seem to have grown deeper and wider, and with their unhealthy obsession to remove Trump from office by any means, it is clear Democrats learned nothing from their humiliating 2016 election defeat.

In fact, it feels like every corner of the Democratic coalition is self-destructing or tearing itself apart in some manner. The Women’s March organisation, a powerful activist group within the base, which was formed by a diverse group of women as an act of resistance to Trump’s misogyny, had a rift in its very first meeting. Apparently, it began when the black and Latino women told their Jewish counterpart that “Jews needed to confront their own role in racism”.

Rather than find ways to unify, it seems the divisions from this first meeting only continued to grow over the past year and finally blew into full public view this year with charges of anti-Semitism roiling the movement and overshadowing plans for more marches. This rift eventually led to marches being cancelled in some cities, and three competing marches being held in New York City.

Then there is the Bernie wing of the party, who call themselves Democratic Socialists, which is represented by young, outspoken leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This group genuinely believes their time has come. 2016 was the first time since Gallup has been asking this question that a majority of “Democrats had a more positive view of socialism than they did of capitalism. Much like the Freedom Caucus, this is a rebel group that is intent on remaking the soul of the Democratic Party from the inside. In a recent interview with Five-Thirty Eight, Waleed Shahid, a Bernie Sanders campaign alumni who recruits progressive candidates for Congress, was asked if this far-left group was the equivalent of the House Freedom Caucus, his answer was unequivocal: “Yes, it is”.

One could argue that the Democrats seem united, having selected Nancy Pelosi as speaker, whom the new left was totally against, and having withstood the government shutdown as a cohesive unit. The problem is that this unity is an illusion because it is driven entirely by a shared hatred of Donald Trump, and not built on a unifying vision or faith in leadership. Hate is never a reliable adhesive for long-term unity and it just corrodes the vessel it is carried in.

Democrats will not win in 2020 by simply being the anti-Trump party, again. Hillary Clinton spent all her time and energy vilifying Trump, rather than offer Americans ideas and solutions and we all know how that movie ended. Nor will they win if they cannot clearly articulate what they stand for, and they would do well to remember that a house divided is a house that can be conquered.

Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Presidential Candidates as Movie Characters

Whether you identify as a conservative, a liberal, a socialist, a libertarian or an independent there is one thing we will all be able to agree on this election season; the fact that we have never before witnessed such a colorful and stodgy, unhinged and funny, frightening and unconventional, inane and insane set of candidates before in US history.

What better way to celebrate this motley crew of candidates than by thinking of which movie character they most remind me of…

Enjoy and happy voting!