Saturday, February 15, 2020
With the Democrat nomination under way some political insiders and strategists say the way to see which candidates will remain viable is simple: look at the money, especially with Super Tuesday approaching which will require huge amounts of cash to be competitive in advertising in numerous states simultaneously. The thinking is that - barring some unexpected surprise revival of Biden's dying campaign - that Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg - and perhaps Pete Buttigieg - will be the ones with the money to remain competitive. Many Democrats complain about money in politics, yet the way campaign costs have skyrocketed, money becomes a determining factor. Likely casualties will be Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar and, of course Biden, if donors run scared based on his abysmal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the husband and I have been invited to meet with Bloomberg staffers next week as Bloomberg goes all out in Virginia. Here are excerpts from a piece in Vanity Fair on the money picture:
More than a dozen states and territories will vote on Super Tuesday, little more than two days after the polls close in South Carolina’s primary. That short window, every four years, shines a harsh light on whoever emerges from the first four states with a pulse. It reveals which campaigns are serious built-to-last enterprises, and punishes the ones that are flash-in-the-plan flukes, destined only for Wikipedia entries about the 2020 primary race.
[A] grim truth is that Democrats should be looking at another metric—money—that says much more about where this race is going. And barring huge surprises or upset comebacks in Nevada or South Carolina, the money suggests something rather obvious: The Democratic primary is careening toward a head-to-head clash between Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders, currently the only two candidates with the cash and constituencies to push their candidacies beyond the first four states and Super Tuesday. Who else can scale up? “This is a huge issue,” said David Axelrod, the former Barack Obama adviser. “The cost of competing across 14 states is astronomical and the remaining candidates will expend most of their limited kitties to get there. For Bloomberg, the Super Tuesday ante is lunch money. He will be able to communicate at a high level everywhere. Bernie has a reliable, renewable war chest and universal recognition. For the others, they have to hope to catch a wave of publicity and dollars off of unexpected showings in Nevada and South Carolina.”
Rufus Gifford, a Democratic fundraiser who held senior finance jobs for both of Obama’s campaigns, said he thinks there will be three finalists for the nomination in the end. “But Bernie and Bloomberg are definitely going to be two of them,” said Gifford. “It’s because they have money. They have resources. It’s hard to think of who else will be viable.”
Bloomberg has built an almost 50-state campaign from scratch, spending almost $300 million on television ads and roughly $50 million on digital ads, saturating YouTube ads to the point where there are now teenagers on TikTok reciting his ad scripts by heart. He’s now in third place nationally, barely trailing Biden and cutting into his support among black voters. Sanders, meanwhile, has a first place hold in the national polls and a burst of momentum thanks to back-to-back victories, however narrow, in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Among the rest of the Democrats, only Pete Buttigieg—slightly ahead of Sanders in the delegate chase—has proven himself a durable fundraiser, working the big-donor circuit as hard as his email list. He has a packed fundraising schedule over the next two weeks. But Buttigieg has to show growth among nonwhite voters. His donor support may shrivel if he doesn’t. “Donors are the consummate CNN and MSNBC viewers, they watch media trends, they pay attention to the buzz,” said Gifford.
Biden has never been a strong fundraiser. . . . . Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, made a show of refusing big donors early in the campaign, a departure from her Senate races, a decision that’s left her dangerously handcuffed if the donations dry up.
A reason many have failed in this primary is they have run out of money and massively underestimated how easy it would be to raise money.” Both Biden and Warren are at risk of running out of cash if they don’t finish well in Nevada and South Carolina. Amy Klobuchar has boasted about raising more than $2 million after her surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire, but those dollars will only go so far without having built a war chest over time. “Every dollar Amy gets, she’s gotta spend it,” said James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist. “She’s living off the land. If she gets a dollar, it’s gotta go somewhere, and then you’re depleted again.”
Buttigieg, Warren, and Biden all have staffers on the ground in Super Tuesday states, with Buttigieg clearly in a stronger position than both, according to polls, delegates and money. But only two Democrats, Sanders and Bloomberg, have the financial resources to wage the long and costly battle ahead, regardless of what happens in Nevada or South Carolina.
Even if one of the Democrats comes roaring back from the dead, a Point Break–size tidal wave of publicity won’t generate the kind of earned media needed to compete with Bloomberg’s billions. Among the Super Tuesday states, several of which have already started voting, Bloomberg has spent $40 million in California, $33 million in Texas, $9.5 million in North Carolina, $6 million in Massachusetts and remarkably has the airwaves to himself in Virginia and Alabama, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
The expensive days of March will bring with them another phenomenon: The unfortunate spectacle of candidates who refuse to quit even when they’re out of cash and have no path forward. Zombie campaigns were a staple of Republican primaries in recent cycles, when underdogs like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and John Kasich hustled their way to come-from-behind finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Their early-state surprises got them an addictive rush of media attention and enough money to soldier on by flying coach, but not enough support to make a dent in the race.
For the Democrats, who allocate their delegates proportionally in each primary and caucus state, there’s a likelihood that multiple candidates stay in the race on life support, collecting the occasional delegate and going on CNN to talk about it.
“The challenge for Democrats is that since nothing is winner-take-all, there’s even less incentive to drop out than there was in the GOP race,” said Schrimpf, who advised Kasich’s 2016 bid. “So you hang on, just like Republicans did, until you don’t have to be super self-aware to realize you aren’t going to be the nominee.” The question those dead-enders will have to ask themselves in a few weeks, if nothing drastic changes, will be an uncomfortable one, a prospect almost no smart person in politics considered just three months ago: Do you get behind the socialist, or the billionaire?
Virginia has moved into the blue state category due to two principal factors: (i) it has an increasingly college educated population, and (ii) it has seen a large influx of residents from liberal states. These phenomenon are especially evident in Northern Virginia and the rest of Virginia's urban crescent that stretches south through Richmond and then south east to Hampton Roads. As a piece in the New York Times notes, similar things are happening in other states that are trending blue, often driven by exiles from California who take their more liberal views and support for the environment with them to their new home states. Donald Trump constantly trashes California and its progressive policies, yet that states' former residents are transforming the political landscape in Nevada. Colorado and Arizona - and, in time, perhaps even Texas. Here are column highlights:
President Trump clearly hates the most populous state in the country he governs. While trashing California with his gutter mouth, the president has used his office to physically trash the home to nearly one in eight Americans — seeking to make its air more polluted, its water less clean, its forests more vulnerable to catastrophic fires.But now the Golden State is poised to strike back. By moving its presidential primary from June to March 3, California will finally exert a political influence commensurate to its size. Almost 500 delegates, a fourth of the number needed to win the Democratic nomination, are at stake.
Perhaps more consequential — or at least overlooked — is what’s happening among the vast diaspora of more than 7.3 million people who have left California since 2007. They appear to be changing the political makeup of the states they’ve moved to, perhaps enough to alter the Electoral College map in favor of Democrats.
With nearly 40 million people, California is still gaining population — barely. But stratospheric home prices and unbearable rental costs have created a reverse “Grapes of Wrath,” forcing those who are not rich to flee to states with much lower costs of living.
The question is: Are they bringing California values — fierce defense of the environment, tolerance of immigrants and a multiracial society, insistence on universal health care — with them? It could be just demographic churn. But if you look at the changing politics of Nevada, Colorado and Arizona, all fast-growing states packed with new arrivals from California, the answer is yes. Texas may not be far behind.
In Nevada, to which 500,000 Californians moved between 2008 and 2018, Democrats won the governor’s mansion and a second U.S. Senate seat in 2018. There used to be more Republicans, by registration. But Democrats now have a 70,000-voter advantage, and they prevailed there in the last three presidential races.
Colorado, another favorite landing spot for those who can no longer afford California, is now reliably blue. Democrats won majorities there by more than 100,000 votes in the last two presidential elections. The state is likely to flip a Senate seat, bouncing the inept Republican Cory Gardner for a popular former governor, John Hickenlooper.
Arizona could be the next to fall to Democrats. The state known for retirees and tax-averse whites is becoming more diverse and younger and is full of ex-Californians. Between 2001 and 2014, Arizona added about a quarter-million people from its neighboring state to the west.
[I]f the Dems were to win Arizona’s 11 Electoral College votes, as polls show they could, and lose Wisconsin’s 10, while getting back Pennsylvania and Michigan, that would be enough to remove the vile and corrupt man occupying the White House.
Texas, the top state for California exiles, will probably come up short for Democrats this year, though it’s in play. Democrats have a growing advantage in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, all seeing heavy U-Haul traffic from California.
Polls in Texas show Trump failing to get above 48 percent in matchups with Democrats. And 45 percent of voters wanted to impeach and remove him from office.
Trump treats these fellow citizens as aliens. He’s going out of his way to gut the state’s clean air standards, to turn the Eden of its public lands over to industrial pillagers and to cast its immigrant strivers as criminals. He has done nothing — rebuffing the state’s plea for additional housing vouchers for the poor — to mitigate the homeless crisis. He’d prefer a dystopia on the Pacific, largely because he lost the Golden State by more than four million votes.
And yet Californians, those who still proudly call it home and those who left their hearts there, could be the force that sends him packing.
Friday, February 14, 2020
Bernie Sanders supporters remind me of Virginia Republicans except for the fact that rather being knuckle dragging Neanderthals who relentlessly said (and continue to say) the only way for the Virginia GOP to win is to run "true conservatives" while Sanders' crowd says only running an extreme liberal - a socialist in fact - will lead to a Democrat victory in November 2020. Obviously, the 2019 Virginia elections demonstrated that the far right GOP line of reasoning was false as the GOP ran reactionary candidates and suffered a huge defeat. Similarly, in 2018, outside of liberal strongholds, moderate Democrats fared better than extreme liberals in the 2018 mid-term elections. These objective lessons in reality continue to be lost on both the GOP far right and the Democrat far left. So far, the two Democrat rounds of the 2020 nomination process have similarly shown that the vast majority of voters want a moderate candidate. A column in the Washington Post looks at this reality and suggests that the media claims that the Democrat Party has moved far left is a media trope. Here are column highlights:
For all the thunder on the Bernie Sanders left, the most interesting trend in the Democratic campaign this year may be the reemergence of the moderate wing of the party, led by charismatic new voices: former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
In our barbell view of politics, where all the weight seems to be at the two ends, this reality may be obscured: Far more Americans (42 percent) described themselves as independents than as Democrats (27 percent) or Republicans (30 percent) in the most recent Gallup survey of party affiliation. The percentage of people who see themselves in this broad middle has rarely been higher.
The Iowa caucuses fiasco robbed Buttigieg of the impact of his victory there. But it was a startling performance by a young, relatively inexperienced candidate whose strongest message has been the impracticality of social programs proposed by Sanders and other progressives.
While Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, posted a win Tuesday in New Hampshire, the bigger stories there, arguably, were Buttigieg’s strong second-place showing and Klobuchar’s breakout performance in finishing third. The two moderates together carried 44.2 percent of the vote, compared with Sanders’s 25.8 percent. Even if you add Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 9.2 percent to Sanders’s total, the balance is toward the center, not the left.
The more voters have looked at progressives’ expensive programs, the warier they have become. Warren never recovered from her embrace of compulsory Medicare. Voters see former vice president Joe Biden as a spent force, but they still want a pragmatic candidate who can beat President Trump. That yearning for a strong moderate helped Buttigieg and Klobuchar, but the next beneficiary could be former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg in the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries.
Here’s another theme that’s often overlooked: The 2020 successes of moderate Democrats are a continuation of the 2018 midterm election results. The left wing of the Democratic Party, led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), got the attention then. But it was the centrist candidates who swung Republican districts into the Democratic column and thus delivered the House for Democrats in 2018.
“Moderate” is one of those limp political descriptors, like “centrist” or “bipartisan,” that suggest a soggy lump in the middle. But the campaign proposals from Buttigieg, Klobuchar and even Bloomberg offer significant change — and in achievable ways. They get that the status quo isn’t working for most Americans. Their proposals for dealing with climate change, wealth inequality and health care share a common virtue: They could actually be implemented without busting the budget or further polarizing the country.
Trump seems to think he can win reelection by dividing the country even more savagely. But for a frazzled, fatigued electorate, maybe this is the season for the “fix it” faction that offers realistic plans for solving problems.
The Democrats can blow this election, for sure. Moderates may have the numbers in the aggregate, but aggregates don’t win elections. Sanders has passion, and unless Democrats can coalesce around a pragmatic rival, the Milwaukee convention could be a bloodbath and the November election a blowout for Trump.
Trump tosses new stink bombs every day. His fans love this carnival of resentment, but polls have shown since the beginning of his presidency that a majority of Americans don’t. Trump World is about raw power, to be sure. But there are some interesting, easily overlooked signs early in this 2020 campaign that maybe the shouters won’t win.
Convincing Sanders' base of this reality may prove as impossible as convincing the GOP far right in Virginia that their extremism is their biggest obstacle to electoral victory.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
As numerous posts have indicated, I have never seen Joe Biden as the Democrats' best bet for defeating Donald Trump in November. Indeed, as noted, he reminds me of Bob Dole who lost badly in his presidential contest. Both men have remarkable resumes and credentials, yet lack that ability to inspire enthusiasm and excitement - something that will be needed to save America from the nightmare of a Trump second term. Bernie Sanders inspires excitement in his cult-like followers but seems to have little ability to push beyond his 25% level of support and inspires dread in the other 75% of Democrats who see his nomination as a guarantee that Trump will be reelected. The seeming beneficiary of this state of play is Michael Bloomberg as noted in a column in the New York Times here and a piece in Politico that looks at Biden's sinking prospects and the beginning of the flight of black supporters from Biden's sinking ship. Here are highlights from Politico:
Moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill have begun to confront a future without Joe Biden — and are scrambling to find a centrist alternative who can topple both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
And a growing number of Capitol Hill Democrats say they’re turning to billionaire Mike Bloomberg, a former New York mayor who became a trusted ally after his personal fortune helped Democrats recapture the House in 2018.
Publicly, moderate Democrats insist there’s plenty of time until Super Tuesday, when Biden or Bloomberg could emerge as the frontrunner. But anxiety is rising on both sides of the Capitol that a Sanders ticket could cost the party not just the race for the White House but also of control of Congress — while exposing raw ideological tensions within the party ahead of November.
The soul-searching within the establishment wing of the Democratic Party comes after Sanders solidified his frontrunner status in Iowa and New Hampshire, which produced a pair of cringeworthy finishes for Biden. The former vice president did so poorly in New Hampshire that he ditched his own election night watch party to head to South Carolina, possibly giving an opening to Bloomberg, who skipped the first four contests.
“I’m feeling a momentum shift to Bloomberg right now,” said Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), who endorsed Biden in the summer and plans to stick with him.
One of the most glaring examples of the change in tide on Capitol Hill is a trio of Bloomberg endorsements from the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday — a not-so-subtle show of force against Biden, who remains the favored candidate among black voters nationally.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the CBC who endorsed Bloomberg on Wednesday, declined to say whether he thinks Sanders could beat Trump and added he would fully support the eventual nominee. But Meeks — who fought Bloomberg over his stop-and-frisk policies as mayor — said the trajectory of the race is what persuaded him to weigh in now.
“There’s a number of [candidates] who are ideologically where I am. But I also had to add to that electability,” Meeks said. “And that’s a tremendous consideration we’ll have to make because you can have the best ideology but if you’re not electable, then where are we? We’ve got to win.”
When asked whether Biden’s faltering was a factor, Meeks didn’t deny it: “To say that it was zero factor would not be the truth,” he said. “It was one of many factors because you’ve got to be able to pull it together, you’ve got to make sure that one has the ability to win.”
Several other CBC members said privately that they expected other black lawmakers who previously supported Biden to soon come out for Bloomberg.
But there are some concerns that Bloomberg, who has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the race so far, remains untested heading into Super Tuesday on March 3: He hasn’t gone head-to-head at a single debate this cycle, though he is expected to qualify for Nevada next week.
Some Democrats also fear a potential drip-drip of controversies, like a 2015 audio tape that surfaced this week on which Bloomberg defends his stop-and-frisk policies in language that have prompted accusations of racism.
For many Democrats, there is a real fear about Biden’s staying power, especially if Senate Republicans make good on their threat to investigate Hunter Biden’s role at a Ukrainian gas company now that Trump’s impeachment trial is over.
Two self-described moderate Democrats did finish strong in Iowa and New Hampshire, led by former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But Democrats said privately they’re desperate for a candidate with the cash and name recognition to beat Trump — something they don’t know if Buttigieg or Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who finished a strong third in New Hampshire, can deliver — without exposing them to ceaseless GOP attacks on socialism.
"There's a lot of people right now on the fence," said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a prominent supporter of Klobuchar. Asked about Klobuchar's surge, Phillips said: "She is being elevated in more and more conversations every day. That said, so is Michael Bloomberg."
The most intense fears are among the 30 Democrats sitting in districts that Trump won in 2016, who fear they can’t compete in 2020 if Sanders becomes the nominee and spurs months of “Medicare for All” attacks from GOP groups in their districts.
Some of the most endangered incumbents, like Rep. Anthony Brindisi of New York, have acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to support Sanders if he does become the nominee, hoping at best that voters split their ticket with Trump in November.
[S]ome Senate Democrats have expressed concern about the effect Sanders could have on Democratic challengers in swing-state races. While Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Wednesday Democrats would coalesce around whoever the nominee is, others are not so sure.
“Sen. Sanders’ argument is that his candidacy will inspire and mobilize a whole new sector of our country that doesn’t typically vote,” added Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden backer.
But Coons argued that he has yet to see evidence of that based on voter turnout in Iowa, which was lower than expected. New Hampshire turnout, however, did set a new record on Tuesday. “He may make it harder rather than easier for us to take back the Senate,” Coons said.
“If Biden announced today that he was going to drop out, you’d have an avalanche of African Americans around the country going to Bloomberg,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who endorsed Biden last September and plans to stick with him.
“It would be foolish for anyone to say what happened in Iowa and New Hampshire is not going to have an impact, it will,” Cleaver said of Biden’s performance in the past 10 days. “There’s no question Nevada is extremely important.”
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Results are still trickling in, but with 93% of the vote in it is possible to pick the winners and the losers in the New Hampshire primary. While Bernie Sanders "won," Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar were not far behind and between them showed that a majority of Democrats want a moderate for the Democrat nominee. Sander - like Trump - seems to have a near fanatical core base beyond which he cannot rise above. The big loser, however, was Joe Biden who landed in 5th place seeming revealing what I have long felt: he simple does not have the spark or generate the enthusiasm needed to run against Trump. Add his constant gaffes, and even if he does better in South Carolina, his campaign looks like it needs to fold its cards and go home. The other big loser was Elizabeth Warren who appears to have hemorrhaged support to Buttigieg and Klobuchar while never making inroads with Sanders' cult followers who do not grasp that winning only 25% of the party does not make Sanders' the choice of the people. A column in the Washington Post lays out a post mortem. Here are highlights:
The New Hampshire primary may very well be remembered for the third- through fifth-place finishers and for how surprisingly close the race between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — the overwhelming favorite who won with 60 percent in 2016 — and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg was. Sanders was leading in the polls, but he nearly fell to the former Midwest mayor less than half his age.
Sanders was projected as the winner, but the margin of his victory was modest (less than 2 percent). As in Iowa, he did not juice the turnout with an influx of new voters as he promised. The youngest voters made up 12 percent on Tuesday compared with 19 percent in 2016. The Democratic establishment has panicked at the prospect of a Sanders win, but he now looks like a vulnerable front-runner, with well over half of his support coming from voters 18 to 29 and more than half coming from “very liberal” voters. If he was looking to expand beyond his traditional base, he did not do it. He actually got a larger share of repeat voters than first-time voters.
With the electorate heavily skewed in favor of electability (60 percent) rather than agreement on the issues, and about half the voters finding Sanders too liberal, there is reason to believe voters have become wary of Sanders as the standard bearer in a must-win election. His base of support seems not to have grown significantly from the start of the race.
Buttigieg, who won the most delegates in Iowa, finished strong in New Hampshire as well, overcoming questions about his experience. Buttigieg did almost as well with younger voters as with older ones, a sign of expanding appeal. His support was rather evenly spread among all education levels. . . . . He has yet to make inroads with African American candidates in other states, but he has grown beyond his initial base (mostly college-educated and older voters).
The shocker was Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who charged past her opponents so quickly the polls never full accounted for her surge. A week ago, no one would have foreseen she would get to almost 20 percent of the vote and a third-place finish. She won voters who wanted to continue President Barack Obama’s policies (Obama’s own vice president came in third in that segment of the electorate), older voters, religious voters and voters for whom the debate was an important factor.
She didn’t focus her campaign on being a female candidate, but rather on being a moderate, a problem-solver and a Midwestern winner. She says, “That’s how I’ve always won. . . . When you are feeling left out, it is not enough [to run on gender].”
She concedes she lost time while tied to her desk during the impeachment trial, noting “I like to talk to people on the ground.” But she used some of that time thinking about the race and solidifying her message. Despite the punditry, she never bought into the idea the party had moved far left.
The stunning collapse of former vice president Joe Biden, who finished fifth and will get no New Hampshire delegates, cannot be underestimated. If moderate voters and African Americans (many of whom are moderate) get the sense he is no longer viable, the floor may drop out from him in Nevada and South Carolina, bringing an end to any hope for victory.
If not for Biden, Warren, who finished under 10 percent and failed to get delegates in her own backyard, would have been the big loser. A campaign that once seemed so promising now will be hard pressed to stay alive until South Carolina. Her refusal to go after Sanders and her effort to adhere to him on Medicare-for-all only to back away may have been her undoing. In a speech to supporters, she seemed to swipe at Sanders when she criticized candidates’ who boo rivals and seem to want to “burn the party down.” Her stress on unifying the party may be overshadowed by both Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who have made this a centerpiece of their message.
The field did narrow, with two candidates dropping out: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who never came on the radar screen for primary voters, and Andrew Yang, the champion of the universal basic income.
Among the most striking aspects of the contest, the vote-share of the moderate candidates’ (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar) came in at more than 50 percent, swamping that of progressives Sanders and Warren, who together accounted for less than 40 percent of the vote. Here is yet another sign that Democrats are giving careful consideration to winning an election, not merely making a statement. That might be the best news of all for Americans angst-ridden about a possible second Trump term.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
As the Democrat circular firing squad continues as results trickle in from New Hampshire, a lengthy piece in The Atlantic looks at the growing toxicity and ruthless nationalism of the right - all exemplified by the Trump?pence regime - and a virtual war on Enlightenment liberal values. Under this warped nationalism which would alarm Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher, human rights are being diminished and the ability to see others as equally human is under relentless attack. Indeed, democratic principles are being eroded with the right pushing for the supremacy of an oligarchy lead by a near autocrat as demonstrated by what is happening in Hungry where the press is being censored and universities are being taken over by the autocrat supporting central government. One can only imagine how eager Trump is to remake America on this pattern, with Congressional Republicans only too happy to rubber stamp the steady erosion of rights so long as they get to remain in office. Here are article highlights:
In an Italian hotel ballroom of spectacular opulence—on red velvet chairs, beneath glittering crystal chandeliers and a stained-glass ceiling—the conservative movement that once inspired people across Europe, built bridges across the Iron Curtain and helped to win the Cold War came, finally, to an end.The occasion was a conference in Rome last week called “God, Honor, Country: President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and the Freedom of Nations.” . . . . . this event was co-organized by Chris DeMuth, a former president of the American Enterprise Institute (in the era when it supported global capitalism and the Iraq War) and John O’Sullivan, a former speechwriter for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. . . . . This was the successor to the National Conservatism Conference held in Washington, D.C., last year.
The purpose, at least at first, seemed a little more mysterious, too. If Reagan and John Paul II were linked by anything, it was a grand, ambitious, and generous idea of Western political civilization, one in which a democratic Europe would be integrated by multiple economic, political, and cultural links, and held together beneath an umbrella of American hegemony. John Paul II wanted Poland to join the European Union . . . . At least when she was still prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was also a proponent of this vision of the West. She was one of the driving forces behind the European single market, the continent-wide free-trade zone that also required a unified regulatory system—the same unified regulatory system that the British have now rejected—and had great faith in the importance of human rights. She said so explicitly: “The state is not, after all, merely a tribe. It is a legal entity,” . . . .
The new national conservatism, at least as articulated in Rome, is very different from Reaganism and Thatcherism. The starting point is that European integration and American hegemony are both evil, and that universal ideals like human rights are a dangerous ideology. These, in fact, are arguments made in Hazony’s book, The Virtue of Nationalism, a work that synthesizes biblical history, the writings of John Locke, and contemporary politics into a caricature of a political philosophy for our times.He also attributes all of the good things about modern civilization to the nation and all of the bad things to what he calls “imperialism.” He puts countries and institutions he likes into the first box, and those he doesn’t like into the second. Thus it emerges that the Nazis, who specifically called themselves nationalists, were not nationalists but imperialists, as is the European Union, an organization created to prevent the resurgence of Nazism. Britain, Spain, and France, despite their long history as empires on land and sea, count as nations.
In this worldview, democracy is of no significance. International treaties and obligations do not matter either, not even if people want them. Although membership in the European Union is voluntary—Brexit has just proved that—and is supported by majorities in most countries, Hazony writes and speaks as if the EU were an occupying power.
Many bad books have had great influence. This one has been very lucky, having appeared just as the word nationalism was adopted by Donald Trump, who finds it a useful way of dressing up a set of foreign and domestic policies that are largely governed by the his whims and dictated by his self-interest. . . . . To put it differently: The arc of history once described by Martin Luther King and Barack Obama is now bending the other way, and a lot of people are leaping aboard.
[O]ther speakers in Rome also reflected an almost paranoid sense of persecution. The idea that “the nation” has been outlawed is clearly something that a certain breed of conservative now genuinely perceives to be true. The American Christian writer Rod Dreher solemnly described a world in which he felt repressed, just as people had been under totalitarian communism. . . . calling on audience members to think of themselves as Christians persecuted for their faith in the past.
What makes this view odder is that it also clashes with political reality. National conservatives cannot simultaneously be helpless victims of a totalitarian culture and also hold enormous political power, which some of them plainly do.
Marion Marechal, the French politician who has dropped the surname Le Pen but still belongs to the family that founded the French party now known as the National Rally, spoke at length.
Marechal, who is sometimes described as a candidate for the French presidency in 2022, made a well-crafted speech that, like Hazony’s, drew a sharp, polarizing contrast between conservatives and enlightenment rational liberals, whom she called “progressives.” The term seemed to include everybody from President Emanuel Macron to French Stalinists. Her words were evocative: “We are trying to connect the past to the future, the nation to the world, the family to the society … We represent realism; they are ideology. We believe in memory; they are amnesia.” But her remarks don’t reflect reality. Macron spoke explicitly and at length about history and memory in Krakow, and has done so on many other occasions too. To Marechal’s fans, that may not matter. Perhaps they feel themselves to be a persecuted minority, and she echoes that view. Perhaps they just prefer to hear about history from someone like her, the spokesman for an ethnic definition of France and Frenchness, instead of Macron.
Some of what Marechal says to the French, and some of what Baudet says to the Dutch, is indisputably true. Economies really have become more global, which makes small communities more vulnerable; older landscapes have been destroyed by modernity; people have drifted away from churches, probably for good; technology is moving very quickly, in ways that frighten people. The argument is over how to address the legitimate fears created by these changes. Among others, the European Union itself has come up with a set of solutions, including the donation of money to culture and architecture and the protection of European agriculture, and thus European landscapes, against competition.
[T]he EU remains the only entity large enough to speak up for Europe on the world stage. The Netherlands alone—even Britain alone—will not be able to do it.
But other possibilities exist too. One can use the electorate’s fears, for example—fan them, exploit them—in order to build a new political movement. And because national conservatism very much wants to be a new political movement, this is a prospect that interests many people.
When the final speaker entered, he won a standing ovation. This was Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, the man whose career probably best illustrates the distance that the conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher has traveled since 1989. Orbán, I realized, was the person that many in the room had really come to hear.
Famously, Orbán has gone one step further than many other European conservatives. For one, he has not been shy about using conspiratorial, sometimes hysterical nationalist language, echoing old anti-Semitic tropes, in order to exploit fear of the outside world. “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us,” he said in 2018.
More important, he has surpassed everyone else in Europe in his willingness to destroy the institutions that create the terrain that make democracy possible. Although conference participants in Rome spoke at length about oppressive left-wing ideology at universities, Hungary is the only European country to have shut down an entire university, to have put academic bodies (the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) under direct government control, and to have removed funding from university departments that the ruling party dislikes for political reasons. Although many said they feel repressed by left-wing media, Hungary is also the only European country that has used a combination of political and financial pressure to put most of the private and public media under ruling-party control too.
Orbán’s destruction of independent press and academia and his slow politicization of the Hungarian courts have served a purpose quite different from lofty ideas about national sovereignty or the beauty of landscapes. These machinations have enabled the prime minister’s family and his inner circle to camouflage the myriad ways in which they use state power to get rich. They have also helped him fiddle with electoral rules, gerrymander districts, and adjust the constitution in order to make sure he doesn’t lose.
His country is the best illustration of what happens when you dismiss universal values, repress journalists and academics who produce facts, undermine courts and the rule of law: When you get rid of all of those things, you are just a few short steps away from corruption and tyranny. This is the real face of the new “nationalism,” however carefully it is hidden behind an intellectual facade or dressed up as the successor of Reagan and John Paul II. You can see why it appeals to men like Netanyahu or Trump.
The world inhabited by Reagan and John Paul II is long past, and no one knows how they would react to so-called cancel culture and Twitter mobs, or the backlash against Western culture on American (but not Hungarian) college campuses, or some of the uglier strains of far-left thinking. But somehow I doubt their response would be the creation of a new, kleptocratic authoritarian right that chips away at the institutions preserving democracy. Nor do I believe they would have wanted to destroy the institutions that have long undergirded the West, as so many of these new “nationalists” want to do.
Seemingly, these conservatives learned nothing from the horrors that extreme nationalism and a disregard for human rights wrought on the world in the last century.I don’t see why love of country and love of history would be incompatible with membership in broader Western communities. But in the political world we are now entering, they may soon become so.
Monday, February 10, 2020
With the New Hampshire primary tomorrow, some of the would be Democrat 2020 presidential nominees seem to have forgotten a few basic principals: trashing your opponents (i) it invites return fire from your opponents, and (ii) in the long run likely only helps Donald Trump, a many who poses an existential threat to America and its democracy. Among the worse offenders? Bernie Sanders, of course, followed by his followers who bear a frightening resemblance to Trump's MAGA followers when it comes to blind zealotry (many refused to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and, by default, voted for Trump - four years latter, they seemingly have learned NOTHING). Making matters worse, Sanders is not even a Democrat but rather is feigning to be a Democrat based on what's in it for him. Trump, no doubt is watching and applauding the Democrat's self-inflicted injury. A column in the Washington Post looks at this disturbing phenomenon (a second piece in the New York Times found here does the same). Here are excerpts from the Post:
A few years ago, I was on a research trip to Belarus, a country known as “the last dictatorship in Europe.” The government is led by Alexander Lukashenko, an autocrat who rules by fear, repression and violence. Minsk — the capital and a living urban museum for the Soviet Union — is still crawling with secret police.In the shadow of brutalist Soviet-era buildings, I met with several major figures from the Belarusan opposition. From presidential candidates to activists, they had all correctly identified the problem: Change was impossible until Lukashenko was toppled. So long as he was in charge, all was lost. Nevertheless, every time I mentioned one opposition candidate to another opposition figure, the response was similar: “She’s not part of the real opposition” or “He’s basically the same as Lukashenko.” . . . . When election day rolled around, they would stay home rather than vote for their tarnished second or third choice.
Authoritarian regimes teach a crucial lesson: So long as the opposition attacks itself, the ruler survives. Divide and conquer is an effective strategy for incumbents to remain in power — but it works best if the opposition devours itself first.
The United States is obviously not Belarus. We’re still a democracy. But we are facing an unprecedented challenge to our long-standing institutions. If Democrats don’t learn the right lesson, President Trump will win, too.
Yes, it’s important to get the right candidate — and that candidate needs to be battle-tested in a competitive primary. And in ordinary elections, you should vote for any plausible candidate that most matches your ideological and policy preferences. But the 2020 election is no ordinary contest. It’s an emergency. If you’re being driven off a cliff, you don’t need to find your favorite Formula-1 driver. You just need someone to take the wheel and stop the impending carnage.
Trump’s reelection would constitute an existential threat to our republic. He has already tried — repeatedly — to subvert our free and fair elections. He will do so again. When democracy itself is on the ballot, pro-democracy forces don’t have the luxury of just winning the argument. They have to win the election.
In 2016, Trump took a scorched-earth path to the White House. He understood that he could never win over much of the country. But he could try to torch his opponent so much that millions of voters would see him as the lesser evil, vote third party or stay home. It worked — just barely.
In early 2020, Trump’s approval ratings are underwater in eight crucial swing states: Michigan (minus 12 percent), Pennsylvania (minus 6), Wisconsin (minus 6), Arizona (minus 4), Florida (minus 4), Georgia (minus 5), Iowa (minus 5) and North Carolina (minus 7). He’s barely afloat in Texas. Trump will lose to a highly motivated and unified opposition that nominates a candidate who can win in those crucial states. If Democrats let Trump divide and discourage them — or Democratic voters refuse to be ruthlessly pragmatic in picking a candidate — he will stay in power.
To win, Trump needs Democrats to be complicit. They have to turn on each other. They have to administer endless purity tests. And they have to stay mired in petty spats rather than reminding voters of the felonies, the vulgarities, the racism, the sexism, the endless scandals, and the high crimes and misdemeanors of a wannabe despot. Heading into New Hampshire’s potentially decisive primary, Trump has so far found quite a few willing accomplices.
[I]n a recent Emerson poll, just 53 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters and 50 percent of Andrew Yang supporters said that they would vote for a Democratic nominee who wasn’t their favored choice, compared to 90 percent of Warren supporters, 87 percent of Biden supporters, and 86 percent of Buttigieg supporters. I understand that frustration. But if you don’t like the eventual Democrat at the top of the ticket, at least vote for democracy.
Sadly, I remain convinced that Sanders cannot win. He should not even be running as a Democrat. Likewise, some others languishing in the polls and the Iowa vote need to stop the attacks on those who might be able to defeat Trump.We have to keep laser-focused on the big picture: Donald Trump is an unprecedented threat to the republic. Democrats need to lay out a strong and positive vision that contrasts with Trump’s divisiveness and chaos. In the meantime, they cannot afford to blow up their opponents’ blemishes into disqualifying disasters. Democratic voters need to pick someone who can win and then unify behind that person. Unless that happens, we all lose.
Think you have privacy? Think again. In early January I received an email from Google that laid out everywhere I had been in 2019, covering almost 23,000 miles and three different countries, not to mention several different states and numerous cities. Then, early this month I received something similar for the month of January, 2020. Did I ask for this? No. Did I know my phone apps were tracking my every move? No. But what is more frightening is the the federal government is buying this information without your knowledge. Do you really want the goons of the Trump/Pence regime knowing your every move? Most of us have nothing to hide, but this level of surveillance is scary and should not be happening as a column in the Washington Post notes. Here are column highlights:
AMERICANS HAVE lately been learning that the apps they use to check whether they need an umbrella, or follow their favorite sports team, or hurl one animated animal at another for points are sucking up their location data and selling it. Now it turns out that it’s not only advertising companies and other private entities who end up buying this information en masse from brokers. The U.S. government is doing it, too.The Wall Street Journal wrote last week that federal agencies have purchased access to a virtual trove that charts the movements of millions of citizens’ cellphones from a company called Venntel. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its components are reportedly harnessing this data for immigration enforcement: searching for activity in unexpected places to pin down smuggling rings, or detecting individuals who may have entered the country illegally.
Customs and Border Protection says it accesses only small quantities of the data on a case-by-case basis rather than examining the entire cache in bulk, and that the data is anonymized. But anonymity is a laughable concept when every individual’s day can be turned into a traveling dot that follows a path only they take. A New York Times investigation in 2018 revealed how simple it is to connect a dot to the person it represents — whether that person is a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory or an undocumented mother recently arrived from Mexico.
Authorities may hope to preempt some concerns about civil liberties by alleging they’re training their eyes only on suspected non-citizens, but it’s impossible to avoid roping in citizens, too, when information is requisitioned at so massive a volume. It’s also impossible not to imagine what else, and who else, officials might seek to track, once they’ve come up with the legal rationale for doing so. Americans shouldn’t have to rely on the good graces of the bureaucracy to protect them from overreach.
The rationale for warrantless surveillance in this case sidesteps Fourth Amendment law — or tries to. The Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the government couldn’t subpoena geographic data directly from cellphone companies without going through the courts, precisely because of that data’s “depth, breadth, and comprehensive reach.” So the government started buying the exact same data from brokers on the open market instead, arguing that the purchases were fair game because any old company could make them.
This strategy is awfully cynical. Congress has failed to pass a comprehensive privacy statute that shields people from having their every move logged in a database such as the one in question today. Now, this lack of privacy from corporate actors has become an excuse for government to bypass the right to privacy from the state that the Constitution is supposed to enshrine. DHS insists this is legal. But should it be?
Sunday, February 09, 2020
Being the first in breaking barriers in any category can be difficult and leave one fighting stereotypes that others will force upon you even though you do not see them as defining you. Being one of the few, if not the first, openly gay attorney in the area where I live fifteen plus years ago was difficult and not something I really chose - I was forced from a firm for being gay as part of a law firm merger and then found myself more or less radioactive because I was gay when I tried to find a position with a new corporate law firm. Ultimately, I had to launch my own firm and bide my time until minds changed in the region. My rescuers, if you will, were largely members of the Hindu community who looked to my legal knowledge and my ability to take care of their legal needs rather define me by my sexual orientation (I was perhaps aided by the fact that the same elements in the region who hate gays also were and still are no fiends to Hindus).
I say all of this because I get where Pete Buttigieg is coming from when he downplays that he is gay - much to the outrage of radical gays - and wants voters instead to focus on his intelligence and reasoned, analytical approach to issues. Sadly, he faces an uphill task with black voters who, despite protestations to the contrary in survey after survey tend to be prove to be more homophobic than whites (I have black gay friends who continue to live largely in the closet for constant fear or rejection by their homophobic churches and families). A piece in Politico looks at Buttigieg's balancing act and reluctance at being a barrier breaker. Here are excerpts:
[T]he moment when the candidate and his husband knew that Pete had made history was on Tuesday. They were together backstage at an early evening event in Laconia, N.H. Buttigieg was waiting to go on stage when the Iowa Democratic Party released the bulk of the caucus results, which now show Buttigieg with a one-delegate lead over Bernie Sanders.
“I remember him saying,” Buttigieg told me, “just to stop and think about what this would mean to so many kids that are peeking out of the closet door.”
This was not a story that Buttigieg offered up, but one I had to coax out of him. He likes to say that he’s “not running to be the gay president of the United States,” but rather “to be a president for everybody.” Several packed days on the campaign trail in New Hampshire have featured only a few moments when the history-making nature of his Iowa victory has shone through, most notably when he choked up during a town hall on CNN discussing how his candidacy might affect “a kid somewhere in a community wondering if he belongs or she belongs.”
But for the most part, the historical impact of a gay man winning Iowa has been something that has been thrust upon Buttigieg — by the media, by proud gay activists, by Chasten in that moment backstage — rather than something that he has boasted about.
In recent years there have been vastly different approaches to identity politics in the Democratic Party. Some candidates, like Barack Obama in 2008, have played down their race or gender or sexual orientation, knowing the media and voters who cared about it would play it up. Others have run definitionally as rooted in a specific minority community. The pattern has been that the first to have a realistic shot at breaking a barrier is more circumspect.
Buttigieg is in the complicated space of being a barrier breaker: He’s willing to celebrate and ruminate on the history when pressed, but being defined as a gay candidate is not part of his strategy to win.
When I first asked him if he’d thought much about it, he pivoted to familiar talking points about the race. “No, not really,” he said. “You know, we're very focused on the road ahead now and we’re in New Hampshire, it's a state that thinks for itself and doesn't want to be told what to do by Iowa or anyone else. So really we’ve just been keeping our heads down.”
Almost nobody predicted that Buttigieg would win Iowa. He was a distant third in polling averages and the conventional wisdom held that other campaigns, like Elizabeth Warren’s, had superior organizations. In hindsight perhaps it’s on the nose that the McKinsey guy would be the one to master caucus math. His campaign has frequently been compared to Obama’s and he relied on some of the same advisers who steered Obama’s caucus win with a relentless focus on unity and shared values, a gauzy concept that is often mocked by Buttigieg’s online detractors.
“Honestly,” he said, “I think it was mainly the vision that we're putting forward: this idea that we need to turn the page, that the answers are gonna come from outside Washington, that we needed to reach out to everybody who will have to be part of that majority that will defeat Donald Trump, in rural areas, suburban areas, urban areas, and calling everybody into that vision.
[E]ven if he wins here, Buttigieg is unlikely to be rewarded with the quick consolidation of his party around him in the same way that Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 — two campaigns that knocked out their opponents by winning Iowa and New Hampshire — did. Those candidates had little to prove among non-white constituencies, but Buttigieg still faces deep skepticism.
If he makes the turn into South Carolina with a pair of victories, or strong showings, he will be facing an unprecedented situation in which the early — overwhelmingly white — states picked the Democratic candidate who is the least popular among black voters, the most important demographic in the primaries.
Joe Biden, who is relying on limping into South Carolina with support from black voters intact, has been pillorying Buttigieg over his record on race. Buttigieg said he had a simple message to overcome the doubts, one that will be buoyed by the results in Iowa and (perhaps) New Hampshire by then: a relentless focus on electability.
“When I'm thinking about black voters in South Carolina,” he said, “I think a lot of that too is about wanting to know that we're putting together a campaign that can win. Nobody's feeling the pain of living under this president more than Americans of color. So many voters I talk to make clear that their top priority is defeating Donald Trump, and I think we have to demonstrate that.
Buttigieg’s rise is absurdly improbable. He has proven a lot of skeptics wrong and his theory of completely changing the psychology of voters in South Carolina by winning Iowa and New Hampshire can’t be dismissed. “We're now in the process of show versus tell,” he said.
At an event late in the day Saturday in Manchester, I ran into Andy Frank, one of Buttigieg’s fellow students at Harvard who was a year behind him (class of 2005). Frank had been in Iowa as an organizer for his old friend and saw the Buttigieg machine spring into action on caucus day and master the convoluted process.
“He always does his homework, Frank said. “He breaks down a problem and solves it.”