Memo for Benie supporters

Apparently Ross Douthat is making the case that Bernie is the unifier that the Democratic party has been missing.  Really?

The Democratic Party needs a nominee, but right now it has a train wreck instead. The front-runner seems too old for the job and is poised to lose the first two primary season contests. The woman who was supposed to become the front-runner on the basis of her policy chops is sliding in the polls after thoroughly botching her health care strategy. The candidate rising in her place is a 37-year-old mayor of a tiny, not-obviously-thriving city…

But it’s still reasonable for Democratic voters to look for someone who can do a version of what Harris was supposed to do, and build a coalition across the party’s many axes of division.

And there’s an interesting case that the candidate best positioned to do this — the one whose support is most diverse right now — is the candidate whom Obama allegedly promised to intervene against if his nomination seemed likely: the resilient Socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

Like other candidates, Sanders’s support has a demographic core: Just as Elizabeth Warren depends on very liberal professionals and Joe Biden on older minorities and moderates, Bernie depends intensely on the young. But his polling also shows an interesting better-than-you-expect pattern, given stereotypes about his support. He does better-than-you-expect with minorities despite having struggled with them in 2016, with moderate voters and $100K-plus earners despite being famously left-wing, and with young women despite all the BernieBro business…

That decent polling, I suspect, reflects a sense among voters drawn to populism that Bernie is different from not only the more centrist candidates — latecomers Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick especially, but Buttigieg as well — but also from his fellow left-winger, Warren, who has fully embraced the culture-war breadth of the new progressivism while Sanders remains, fundamentally, an economic-policy monomaniac.

He’s still a social liberal, of course, and he isn’t in the culturally conservative/economic populist quadrant where so many unrepresented voters reside. But for the kind of American who is mostly with the Democrats on economics but wary of progressivism’s zest for culture war, Sanders’s socialism might be strangely reassuring — as a signal of what he actually cares about, and what battles he might eschew for the sake of his anti-plutocratic goals. (At the very least he’s no more radical on an issue like abortion than a studied moderate like Mayor Pete.)

This is why, despite technically preferring a moderate like Biden or Amy Klobuchar, I keep coming back to the conservative’s case for Bernie — which rests on the perhaps-wrong but still attractive supposition that he’s the liberal most likely to spend all his time trying to tax the rich and leave cultural conservatives alone.

Certainly an interesting take, but color me unconvinced.  I did receive an email asking for my take from a Bernie supporter, so I figured I might as well turn it into a blog post.  So, here you go…

Oh, yeah, and I still stand by that statement [that Bernie has no chance], as does pretty much every other political scientist I know that studies American elections.  I think Douthat makes an interesting case, largely by cherry-picking polling data in ways that suit his argument, but the short version is that Sanders has never really shown much ability to reach beyond his base and I haven’t seen anything in 2019 to make me think otherwise. I would also argue that he’s never had the truly harsh media scrutiny that comes with being a candidate seen as having a real chance of winning (e.g., the scrutiny Warren was put under after her big surge in the polls).  Ultimately, he’s a factional candidate and factional candidates don’t win primaries.  Also, Douthat elides the fact that one of the central knocks on Biden is his age, and Bernie, especially post heart attack, faces the same issue.  After Donald Trump, I generally avoid “no chance” type statements (except, rhetorically, to make a point), so I would not say Bernie has “no chance,” but I still think his chances of winning the nomination are quite low, and much lower than they would be for a candidate with his polling numbers.


Impeachment versus the demagogue

Damn this NYT Op-Ed from Obama’s White House Cousel, Bob Bauer, is really good:

The founders feared the demagogue, who figures prominently in the Federalist Papers as the politician who, possessing “perverted ambition,” pursues relentless self-aggrandizement “by the confusions of their country.” The last of the papers, Federalist No. 85, linked demagogy to its threat to the constitutional order — to the “despotism” that may be expected from the “victorious demagogue.” This “despotism” is achieved through systematic lying to the public, vilification of the opposition and, as James Fenimore Cooper wrote in an essay on demagogues, a claimed right to disregard “the Constitution and the laws” in pursuing what the demagogue judges to be the “interests of the people.”

Should the demagogue succeed in winning the presidency, impeachment in theory provides the fail-safe protection. And yet the demagogue’s political tool kit, it turns out, may be his most effective defense. It is a constitutional paradox: The very behaviors that necessitate impeachment supply the means for the demagogue to escape it…

As the self-proclaimed embodiment of the American popular will, the demagogue portrays impeachment deliberations as necessarily a threat to democracy, a facade for powerful interests arrayed against the people that only he represents. Critics and congressional opponents are traitors. Norms and standing institutional interests are fraudulent.

President Trump has made full use of the demagogic playbook. He has refused all cooperation with the House. He lies repeatedly about the facts, holds public rallies to spread these falsehoods and attacks the credibility, motives and even patriotism of witnesses. His mode of “argument” is purely assaultive. This is the crux of the Trump defense, and not an argument built on facts in support of a constitutional theory of the case…

The difference in Mr. Trump’s case is not merely one of degree. Richard Nixon despised his opposition, convinced of their bad faith and implacable hatred for him. But it is hard to imagine Mr. Trump choosing (and actually meaning) these words to conclude, as Nixon did, a letter to the chair of Judiciary Committee: “[If] the committee desires further information from me … I stand ready to answer, under oath, pertinent written interrogatories, and to be interviewed under oath by you and the ranking minority member at the White House.”

Mr. Trump has instead described Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as a “corrupt” politician who shares with other “human scum” the objective of running the “most unfair hearings in American history.”…

The Trump impeachment is headed toward a very different summation. A demagogue can claim that Congress has forfeited the right to recognition of its impeachment power, then proceed to unleash a barrage of falsehoods and personal attacks to confuse the public, cow legislators and intimidate witnesses. So long as the demagogue’s party controls one of the two chambers of Congress, this strategy seems a sure bet.

When this is all over, we will not hear warm bipartisan praise for how “the system worked.” The lesson will be that, in the politics of the time, a demagogue who gets into the Oval Office is hard to get out.

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