Bernie Sanders’ remarks about Fidel Castro on “60 Minutes” Sunday night continued to set off alarms among Florida Democrats on Monday, as worries spread about the presidential front-runner’s views on … Click to Continue »
MSNBC's Chris Matthews apologized Monday to Bernie Sanders for comparing the Democratic senator's win in the Nevada caucus to the Nazi takeover of France. Matthews' self-described “bad” analogy deepened the … Click to Continue »
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed her skepticism about Bernie Sanders but says she will support the Democratic nominee regardless of who it is. Clinton, who beat … Click to Continue »
LAS VEGAS—The phrase Democratic establishment conjures images of something like the Illuminati with the power to determine the outcome of American elections. But so far, the supposedly all-powerful leaders of the party have been about as well organized as The Muppet Show.
Now, with Senator Bernie Sanders’s massive win in Nevada, he’s taken the lead in delegates and may never lose it. Efforts to stop him so far have been ineffective and made the party seem out of touch. This summer, party leaders may be forced to accept the nomination of a man who’s not officially a member of the party, who won’t have won a majority of primary voters, and whose agenda is popular with his progressive base but doesn’t have as much support with Democrats as a whole.
“The Democratic establishment exists, but like the Republican establishment four years ago, it’s a mess, paralyzed by fear and indecision, and it doesn’t know what to do,” says Matt Bennett, a vice president at Third Way, a moderate think tank that proudly considers itself the home of the establishment. He spoke with me about the candidates faced with decisions about dropping out after today. “The fear is that people will move instantly from ‘I’m not ready [to drop out]’ to ‘It’s too late [to win.]’”
“There’s this misconception that somehow there’s this ‘Democratic leadership’ that decides the candidates,” Eleni Kounalakis, California’s lieutenant governor and a former ambassador to Hungary during the Obama administration, as well as a major party donor, told me this afternoon after watching a big caucus site go for Sanders. Kounalakis, who’s a Pete Buttigieg supporter, had just seen another caucus site go for Sanders. “We don’t have a process to stop a candidate. What he’s running into is a ceiling that’s based on public opinion, not about leadership being against him.”
That hasn’t stopped Sanders from using a supposed party effort against him as a main talking point. Yesterday he tweeted: “I’ve got news for the Republican establishment. I’ve got news for the Democratic establishment. They can’t stop us.”
When Sanders started planning for this race two years ago, he told advisers that he believed the 43 percent of the vote he received against Hillary Clinton in 2016 was a starting point, and he would only gain support this time around. He dismissed suggestions that a significant level of his 2016 success had been driven by antipathy toward Clinton.
Emily’s List, the organization devoted to women’s political empowerment, uses two basic criteria for endorsements—being a woman and being pro-abortion-rights. If Senator Amy Klobuchar or Senator Elizabeth Warren were to drop out, Emily’s List would probably endorse the remaining woman almost immediately, the group’s top leaders have been saying privately. But neither is showing any signs of leaving the race, so the group has so far given $250,000 each to the super PACs supporting them. (Neither candidate even had a super PAC until a week ago, and both had spoken out against the very concept, but both have eagerly taken the financial backing they need to stay in the race.)
“Because they’re both running good campaigns, because they both have a credible path, and because they both would be good presidents,” Christina Reynolds, the vice president of communications at Emily’s List, told me, “we got in this week to support them both.”
Yes, only three states—two of them extremely white—have voted, but versions of this conversation are happening among all sorts of Democratic leaders.
So the remaining candidates leave Nevada all believing that they have a legitimate argument for staying in the race. With no one winning enough support to be considered a strong alternative to Sanders, and with expectations of a contested convention setting in, they’re all sticking around and amassing delegates in hopes of getting another shot at the nomination in Milwaukee in July.
Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, who came to Nevada to campaign for Warren, says he’d be fine with a scenario in which Democrats enter the summer without a nominee. “Remember, the full primary process includes the convention,” he told me.
Many experienced Democrats worry not just that the party won’t unite and that Sanders will lose to Trump, but that having a democratic socialist at the top of the ticket will squash their hopes of winning new Senate seats, and perhaps even cost them a few existing ones in states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Some worry that they’ll even lose the House majority. They dread the idea of Trump, already clearly feeling unshackled since his impeachment acquittal, feeling even more empowered by winning reelection.
Sanders and his aides argue that he’s the only one who can bring in new voters and win over disaffected Trump supporters. Sanders is actually the way out of the apocalypse, his supporters say. And to those fretting that this is 2016 all over again—with an iconoclastic outsider seizing control of a party—they point out that Trump carried lots of contested Senate seats with him and helped his party keep the House. They add that Democrats who are holding out on Sanders are disconnected from the direction in which younger and nonwhite voters are moving the party.
A cynical, but perhaps realistic, argument has been embedded in Sanders’s campaign from the start: He’s the most electable because he’ll get all the people who would vote against Trump no matter who the Democratic nominee is. But he’s also the only one who will be able to activate an entirely different faction of voters. This assumes that all those anti-Trump voters will turn out for him. But although right now everyone is talking party unity, the Never Sanders whispers can be heard among people who would have called themselves “good Democrats” in any other cycle.
The Sanders campaign is already suspicious of what the party has in store. Nina Turner, a campaign co-chair, expressed skepticism after all the candidates onstage at Wednesday’s debate said they would support whoever the nominee is. “Yeah, that's what they say,” Turner told me, and went on to repeatedly point out that Sanders campaigned for Clinton after losing to her in the 2016 primary race. “Actions speak louder than words,” she said.
Turner said that if Sanders is the nominee, the party will have to support his agenda on health care, economic policy, and more. “If Senator Sanders wins the primary, he did get the majority,” Turner said. What if he doesn’t get a majority? I asked her. She barely paused. “If he gets 40 and somebody else gets 15, he will get the plurality of it. So we’re going to roll.”
That very well may happen, given that most of the other candidates are still spending more time going after one another than Sanders. Former New York Mayor Bloomberg released a memo on Tuesday calling for everyone else to drop out, then, two days later, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg put out a memo calling for Bloomberg to drop out.
“Look, I think everybody is going to have to make a decision for themselves about what’s good for the future of the party,” Howard Wolfson, one of Bloomberg’s top advisers, told me. “And I would strongly argue that a divided party in which you have the moderate lane increasingly congested is not good for the future of this party,” he said. Wolfson didn’t mention that it’s Bloomberg who has so far spent half a billion dollars congesting the moderate lane.
Tom Steyer, another Democratic presidential candidate and billionaire, told me that Bloomberg’s flop in Wednesday’s debate was proof of how fluid the race is.
“Stuff happens, and stuff's going to continue to happen,” Steyer told me. “Are people in it for themselves? Let me be a little more charitable: The people running think that they’re standing for what’s right. And they’re worried that other people, even if they respect them, don’t agree with them and that therefore it could be bad for the country if they’re not the candidate. Is there a selfishness layered on top of that? Probably.”
That is an accusation other campaigns and Democrats would level against Steyer, who is generally treated as an interloper blowing money that he could be spending helping other Democratic efforts. But Steyer has been doing well enough in the polls that many think he could place in the top three in South Carolina. Then again, many thought he’d do that well in Nevada, where he’s projected to finish fifth. Steyer said he’d gladly back down if he thought someone else could take on Trump on the economy and unify the party like he believes he could. He’s doing well among African American voters, he has funded a more significant Super Tuesday operation than most, and he’s got the standing in the polls to show for it. He refuses to be dismissed as the rich guy who should drop out—not while Bloomberg keeps going.
“I don’t even understand that argument. We’ve got people voting for me,” Steyer told me. “I thought that was what we were supposed to be doing.”
If what Steyer and the other candidates are supposed to be doing is beating Bernie Sanders, well, they’re not doing much of that.
Senator Bernie Sanders endured nail-biters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Today, Nevada voters handed him a landslide victory.
Sanders’s dominant victory in the Silver State solidifies his standing as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, giving him and the progressive movement a clear boost as the race heads to more challenging territory in South Carolina and then across the country on March 3—Super Tuesday.
Although Nevada, like the first two Democratic nominating contests, sends relatively few delegates to the party’s national convention this summer, Sanders’s win demonstrated two key things. First, the democratic socialist from Vermont has significantly improved his performance from 2016 among a more diverse primary electorate; just 66 percent of caucus-goers in Nevada were white and more than one-quarter were Latino or black, according to entrance polls. That change could prove crucial as Sanders tries to rack up delegates in huge states like Texas and California on Super Tuesday. Waiting for him in March is former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is hoping that an unprecedented barrage of television ads will drown out his roundly criticized debate debut last week.
Second, while former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg again split the moderate vote, Sanders has—at least for now—consolidated the left wing of the Democratic Party behind him. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s forceful performance in Wednesday’s Las Vegas debate came too late to matter in Nevada, where well over half the caucus electorate—some 75,000 people—had already voted early. Entrance polls did show Warren doing well (though still behind Sanders) among the 15 percent of voters who made their decision in the past few days. She’ll need another strong showing at next week’s debate in South Carolina if she hopes to compete seriously with Sanders there and in many larger states on Super Tuesday.
Biden finished far behind Sanders, clustered with Buttigieg, the billionaire activist Tom Steyer, and Warren. The former vice president is banking on a victory next Saturday in South Carolina to keep his campaign afloat, but that may depend on how much momentum Sanders carries out of Nevada.
If Sanders slightly underperformed expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire—where he still came out with a win and at worst a tie—Nevada illuminated the durability of his support. A fight between his campaign and the leadership of the powerful union of culinary workers over Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal did little to diminish his standing among laborers. He fared well among union members in entrance polls, and he won caucus precincts at major Las Vegas casinos dominated by culinary workers.
Nevada is also significant in that it represents the first state where Sanders improved his position from 2016, when he lost the caucus handily to Hillary Clinton. His biggest challenges are yet to come, as Biden tries to regroup in South Carolina, Bloomberg’s billions swamp the airwaves, and the party establishment frets about the prospect of a democrat socialist leading its ticket in the fall. The candidates who largely laid off Sanders in favor of demolishing Bloomberg at last week’s debate might now target him instead. Sanders’s critics will point out that collectively, moderate candidates outpoll the Vermont senator and that he remains unlikely to win a majority of pledged delegates heading into the Democratic convention in Milwaukee.
That may be true. But while the question of whether a candidate as far left as Sanders can defeat Donald Trump and win the presidency remains, it is becoming more and more clear which wing of the Democratic Party is prevailing: In the most diverse contest of the year, the most progressive candidate in the field won his biggest victory yet.
LAS VEGAS—Faced with signs that Bernie Sanders is consolidating his position as the clear front-runner in the Democratic race, the presidential candidates last night chose to focus most of their fire instead at the new guy onstage: Michael Bloomberg.
The withering criticism, especially that from Elizabeth Warren, left Bloomberg visibly staggered at times and reflected an undeniable imperative for his opponents’ campaigns: His unprecedented TV-advertising blitz across the states voting in March threatens to catapult him past all of them as the principal alternative to the Vermont senator, who has taken a solid lead in the latest national polls. But the consistent focus on Bloomberg, especially during the debate’s highly contentious first hour, meant that Sanders was let relatively off the hook.
Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine anything that unfolded on the debate stage will impede Sanders’s march toward an expected victory in Saturday’s caucus here—where Bloomberg won’t even be on the ballot. Appearing on MSNBC after the debate, Joe Biden declared that “Bernie’s going to get vetted in a way he never has been before.” That moment may be coming, but it certainly didn’t arrive last night.
Compared with earlier debates, Sanders did face more questions about his agenda and record from both his rivals and the moderators. Between them, they introduced arguments against Sanders’s candidacy that may resonate more loudly down the road, in particular when they questioned whether his calls for a “political revolution” can build a winning coalition against President Donald Trump.
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made that case most persistently, saying at one point that Democrats risk defeat if they offer voters “a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil.” Even Warren, who has been remarkably reluctant to draw contrasts with Sanders even as he has eclipsed her as the favorite of the party’s most liberal voters, asserted that Democrats “are worried about gambling on a revolution that won’t bring along a majority of this country.”
But compared with the hazing Bloomberg received, Sanders escaped with many fewer bruises and bumps. He was confident and unyielding, if sometimes hectoring, in defending his agenda and ideology, and the focus never stayed on him for long. One of the night’s most telling moments came when the moderators asked Biden if Americans would elect a candidate who identifies as a socialist, as Sanders does, and the former vice president somehow managed to answer the question without ever mentioning (much less challenging) his opponent. “The other five tore each other apart while Bernie skated,” one Democratic pollster, who is not affiliated with any campaign, texted me after the debate.
Bloomberg’s exchanges with Sanders—with Bloomberg insisting that Sanders can’t win and needling him over his ownership of three houses, and Sanders, in turn, denouncing Bloomberg as the embodiment of corruption in the political system—seemed to pulse with the most mutual hostility. But all the candidates pummeled the billionaire, over everything from his treatment of women to his record as mayor and from his prior history of supporting Republicans to his delay in releasing his income-tax returns. At points, Bloomberg was effective in touting his policy plans (especially on climate), but he buckled in defending his record.
As my colleague Russell Berman described, Warren was Bloomberg’s most potent and relentless interrogator. In a lengthy back-and-forth about the nondisclosure agreements signed by women who worked for him, Warren delivered so many blows so fast that a boxing referee might have stopped the fight. He was, at one point, left to sputter in defense that he signed the agreements “probably because some women didn’t like some jokes I told.” It’s a safe bet that Warren and his other opponents won’t let him forget those words.
If Bloomberg’s unsteady performance reverses the gains he’s generated with his spending onslaught—as of Friday, he’d spent $100 million on TV ads in California, Texas, and Florida alone—the turnabout could help any of the other candidates regain ground in the race. But it still leaves them the challenge of slowing Sanders, who has been buoyed by a wave of positive polls since his narrow victory last week in New Hampshire.
Sanders has established himself as the front-runner by posting significant leads among young people and the most liberal voters, a more modest advantage among white voters without a college degree, and a potentially expanding lead with Latinos. (In several polls, Sanders has also reduced, or even eliminated, Biden’s lead with African Americans.) These increases translate to support from, at most, a little more than 30 percent of the Democratic Party so far.
Meanwhile, the constituencies more resistant to Sanders—particularly moderates, older voters, and college-educated white voters—have splintered among the remaining candidates. In a national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll this week, for example, Sanders attracted a higher share of progressives than any other candidate won among moderates; his share among non-college-educated white voters exceeded anyone else’s share of white voters with degrees; and he attracted far more younger people (under age 45) than anyone else drew among older voters. As last night suggested, Sanders’s competitors still seem to be focused more on emerging as the alternative to him than on challenging him directly.
That pressure encouraged a kind of all-against-all quality in the debate. Anyone trying to map the direction of attacks among the candidates would have quickly produced something like a spiral graph. At one point, Warren delivered a rapid-fire denunciation of the health-care plans from Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Sanders. Later, in a tour de force of cutting concision, she encapsulated her differences with Sanders (too revolutionary), Biden and Klobuchar (too clubby with Senate Republicans), and Buttigieg (too cozy with billionaires) in just three sentences.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar, meanwhile, lacerated each other in bitterly personal terms. (“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” she insisted at one point.) There’s an electoral logic to the two targeting each other: In the New Hampshire exit poll, Klobuchar finished first and Buttigieg a close second among both college-educated and older voters. But their animosity seems to extend to a personal distaste that transcends any political logic.
It took the moderators to remind the candidates of the big picture as Sanders establishes some separation from the field. Chuck Todd asked a question that I believe will become a frequent topic of conversation among Democrats in the weeks ahead: Do you believe the party should nominate the candidate who arrives at the July convention with the most delegates, even if no one has the 1,991 delegates required for a first-ballot victory? All the contenders effectively said no, except for Sanders—who insisted that “the will of the people should prevail.”
With those answers, the candidates chasing Sanders pointedly left themselves room to resist his nomination at the convention if he arrives with a plurality, but not a majority, of the delegates. But by and large, they did surprisingly little to reduce the odds that Sanders will, in fact, arrive in Milwaukee with more delegates than anyone else.
LAS VEGAS—Democrats everywhere may start asking the same volatile question after Nevada holds its presidential caucus on Saturday: Can the party deny Bernie Sanders the nomination if he arrives at the Democratic National Convention this summer with a plurality, but not a majority, of the delegates?
That question is becoming more urgent because Nevada, where the candidates will meet tonight for their ninth debate, looks poised to nudge that once-fanciful scenario closer to reality.
Each of the presidential camps believes that Sanders, who placed a close second here in 2016, is positioned to win, a victory that would solidify his standing as the clear leader of the party’s liberal wing and the race’s overall front-runner. But the results are unlikely to eliminate doubts that he can expand his support much beyond the one-fourth to one-third of the party that constitutes his hard-core base. Simultaneously, the Nevada outcome could intensify the muddle in the middle that has prevented any centrist candidate from emerging as the principal alternative to Sanders.
The result: While the past four contested Democratic primaries effectively became a one-on-one contest after the early states, the party this year faces the prospect that as many as six candidates might win at least some delegates on Super Tuesday. That splintered outcome could leave Sanders in a strong position to accumulate the most pledged delegates, but also facing a difficult climb to reach the 1,991 required for a first-ballot nomination victory at the July convention.
“I know a lot of people are saying it’s more likely than not that we will figure this out before the convention,” says Amanda Renteria, the national political director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “But I am at more than 50–50 that we end up with a … brokered convention, or at least we go into the convention with someone who did not get the 1,991 delegates.”
Adds Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic operative who served as a senior strategist for Sanders in 2016: “There’s never been anything like this in modern Democratic Party history.”
A contested convention—which could involve dealmaking among several candidates, back-room negotiations among party leaders, and a bottomless well of media speculation—would be contentious under any circumstances. But Sanders at the center of that maelstrom would make it even more incendiary, given how many of his supporters are predisposed to assume that party leaders are plotting against him.
Already, Sanders and his top aides are unambiguously arguing that the party must nominate whoever arrives in Milwaukee with the most delegates, whether they have amassed a majority or not. “If you go in there with a strong plurality, that person should be the nominee,” Jeff Weaver, a Sanders senior adviser, says flatly. Privately, some Sanders advisers argue that if he finishes the primaries with the most delegates, nominating another candidate would not only doom the Democrats against President Donald Trump in November, but also fracture the party for years.
The race, many Democrats believe, is still most likely to unfold in a manner that avoids a contested convention. Sanders or anyone else could establish a strong-enough position by mid-March to dominate the race’s final stages and accumulate enough delegates to secure the nomination on the first ballot. Even in 1988 and 1992—the past two races that began with a similarly splintered result—a late break toward Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, respectively, allowed each to amass the necessary delegates for a first-ballot majority. And because delegates are not legally bound to vote for their candidate—even on a first ballot—a contender who does not win a majority during the primaries could still cobble together sufficient support for a first-ballot victory by attracting delegates from competitors who drop out of the race along the way.
Still, the circumstances this year are genuinely unique: Long-in-the-making changes to the primary’s structure are intersecting with the near-term limitations displayed by each of this year’s contenders. That’s creating the greatest chance in decades that no one concludes the primaries with enough delegates to lock down the nomination on the first ballot. Not since 1952 have Democrats faced a “brokered” convention that required a second ballot.
The structural changes begin with reforms to party rules over the years that have required states to divide their available delegates among all the candidates who reach a 15 percent voting threshold. Those reforms have eliminated any systems that once provided bonus delegates, and in the process have made it harder for front-runners to pull away from the field.
Two other structural components are encouraging more candidates to stay in the race longer, thus dispersing delegates across more contenders. Traditionally, candidates who struggle in the early states are driven from the race by a shortage of money and media attention. But the advance of online fundraising, as well as the proliferation of campaign coverage across a wide array of media platforms, mean that both are now much more available even for candidates who perform poorly. Additionally, the campaigns of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and (to a lesser extent) the investor Tom Steyer are demonstrating how wealthy candidates who spend huge sums of their own money, especially on TV advertising, can buy a beachhead in the race that further splits the vote.
The caucus on Saturday seems likely to confirm Sanders’s status as the field’s most formidable contender without answering whether he can expand much beyond his base or elevating one of the other candidates as his principal rival. On the latter front, it seems more likely to cloud than clarify the picture.
Caucuses, which are much more difficult to participate in than primaries, play to Sanders’s greatest strength: his ability to inspire a depth of passionate support that far exceeds that of any of his opponents. That intensity was evident at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas campus yesterday afternoon, when Sanders finished his rally by leading a procession of chanting supporters to a nearby student-union building where they could vote early. Amare Amable, a casino worker who attended the rally, said he did not even seriously consider any of the other contenders before deciding to back Sanders for a second time. “No chance,” he said. “Bernie’s money comes from us and everybody else’s money is coming from rich people.”
But as in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders still faces significant doubts among supporters of the other candidates. While polls show that most Democrats admire Sanders and praise his policy goals, I’ve rarely met anyone at an event for one of his rivals—apart from some at events for Elizabeth Warren—who believes that he can win in November or feels comfortable ideologically with his agenda. “For me, he’s way too far left,” Russ Faulkner, a realtor from Summerlin, Nevada, told me as he waited in line for a Pete Buttigieg event in North Las Vegas yesterday. Angie Clark, a retired financial executive at the same event, was equally dismissive: “I don’t think he’s a Democrat, No. 1. He’s an independent socialist.” If Sanders is the nominee, she said, “I think Trump will be our next president.”
In Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders captured only about a quarter of the vote, and he pushed just past 30 percent in national polls released this week, as well as a Public Policy Institute of California survey in the nation’s largest state. In almost all of these polls, Sanders shows a powerful but limited appeal: He leads big among liberals and young people, and holds more modest advantages among Latinos and white voters without a college degree. But he continues to post much weaker results among moderates and older voters, and he receives only tepid support from college-educated white voters.
Yet to the frustration of party moderates dubious of Sanders, no one candidate is consolidating the constituencies most skeptical of the Vermont senator, which still represent a majority of the party. If anything, Nevada may exacerbate that anxiety. Iowa and New Hampshire raised the prospect that Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar could emerge as a relatively new favorite for the party’s moderate wing. But the Nevada results could expose weaknesses for both of them—particularly their limited appeal to Latinos and African Americans—and instead provide a step toward recovery for Joe Biden. That could leave moderates even more divided heading into South Carolina and the huge rush of primaries that follow in March. And on Super Tuesday, Bloomberg will enter the field as yet another option for voters uneasy about Sanders.
The inability of the center to coalesce around a single alternative raises the odds that Sanders can win more of the upcoming states even if he doesn’t expand his vote beyond the 25 to 33 percent he’s now attracting. But if Sanders doesn’t increase his delegate haul beyond that level, his moderate rivals could still arrive at the convention with more combined delegates than he does, and perhaps an overall majority among them. That could allow Sanders’s opponents to try to reach a deal that anoints someone else as the nominee, even leaving aside the potential effect the 771 “superdelegates” will have when they can begin voting on a second ballot. “He’s still got to get to the threshold in total delegates to receive the nomination,” said a senior official on another campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. “If you’ve got, combined, more delegates than Sanders does, you can always get to the second [ballot] at the convention and consolidate, just like in a caucus.”
The Democratic primary’s dynamics are reminiscent of those during the Republican primary in 2016: a candidate with a strong ideological base marching forward because no single candidate can consolidate the majority of the party initially skeptical of him. The difference is that the Democratic rules make it more difficult for such a candidate to amass a delegate majority.
Democratic voters could still provide a more decisive signal of their intentions than they have so far: Devine notes that stand-alone primaries in Georgia, in late March, and Wisconsin, in early April, could become decisive showdowns if the race finally reduces to two candidates after the rush of states that vote through mid-March. But there are no guarantees that the party interest groups or rank-and-file voters most dubious of Sanders will coalesce enough to create such a clear choice. That could leave Democrats facing excruciating decisions at the convention that could determine whether Donald Trump wins four more years.
It’s Wednesday, February 19. Debate night, Vegas, 9 p.m. ET. See you there.
In today’s newsletter: The behind-the-scenes story of the time Bernie Sanders almost mounted a primary challenge against Barack Obama. Plus: Adam Serwer on the first days of the Trump regime.
« TODAY IN POLITICS »
When Bernie Sanders mounted his Senate run in 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama came to Vermont to campaign for him. (TOBY TALBOT / AP)
That Time Bernie Sanders Almost Primaried Barack Obama
Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, but he’s still a looming presence over the crop of 2020 contenders. Obama is more popular among Democrats than Jesus (yes, really), and every candidate—Bernie Sanders included—has advertised their ties to the former president.
But Bernie and Barack don’t exactly have the warmest of relationships. Though 44 and front-runner-for-46 have both built large political movements within the Democratic Party, Sanders’s democratic socialism is a whole lot different than Obama’s establishment incrementalism.
But what exactly is the source of the bitterness between the two? My colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere has never-before-reported details on the animosity between them—from the time that Sanders nearly mounted a primary challenge to Obama in 2011, to when the two really butted heads a few years later:
The low point between the two men was a 2013 meeting with other Democratic senators. Obama had just put a chained Consumer Price Index in his budget, a proposal that would cut Social Security benefits by tying them to the rate of inflation. Many Senate Democrats were angry about it. But when they arrived for the meeting, it was Sanders who bubbled up, ripping into Obama for giving in to Republicans and not understanding the impact of the cuts.
“I don’t need a lecture,” Obama told him, according to several senators who attended the meeting.
Obama himself isn’t expected to chime in until the convention this summer. That calculated silence is especially tough for one particular candidate … Obama’s own vice president. Joe Biden’s candidacy is largely predicated on his closeness to Obama, but in 2016, when Biden had pondered running for president, Obama had talked him out of it. What one Obama adviser told the then-veep:
“Do you really want it to end in a hotel room in Des Moines, coming in third to Bernie Sanders?”
« DEBATE REFRESHER »
(PATRICK SEMANSKY / AP)
Six candidates take the stage tonight for the ninth (yes, ninth) Democratic primary debate. Here’s where we left them:
The signs that President Trump feels emboldened after his GOP-led acquittal in the Senate earlier this month. He’s retaliated against impeachment weaknesses, pressured his attorney general on Twitter, and claimed an “absolute right” to determine who the Justice Department prosecutes.
Those are the first steps toward an authoritarian government takeover, Adam Serwer writes:
These recent events are not the only evidence that the United States has entered a process of authoritarianization. Aside from Trump’s claim, effectively uncontested by Senate Republicans, that he can unilaterally direct the Justice Department to prosecute anyone he wants, Trump has asserted blanket authority to block congressional oversight. His office has claimed that he can blithely ignore congressional appropriations as he sees fit. The Republican-controlled Senate has ratified Trump’s authority to interfere in American elections, while helping install judges who understand that their paramount obligation is to shield Trump from accountability.
It’s Tuesday, February 18.In today’s newsletter: Why the coronavirus outbreak could bring out the worst in Trump. Plus: Is Bernie Sanders as polarizing as elite Democrats claim he is?
« TODAY IN POLITICS »
(HAPPY TOGETHER / SHUTTERSTOCK / ARSH RAZIUDDIN / THE ATLANTIC)
The Trump administration isn’t ready for the coronavirus.
The outbreak of COVID-19, as the illness is now called, has thrown the world into panic. But if it spreads across the U.S., it could bring out the worst in President Donald Trump, who on top of a tendency to prefer his own instincts to the advice of experts, is famously a germaphobe.
Empathy may be a casualty of Trump’s own phobias: He is squeamish about contagion. A body man traveling with him would make sure that two implements were always in his possession: a Sharpie for autographs and hand sanitizer for germs, said a former White House official, who like others I talked with for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity. Aides would try to suppress coughs in his presence. If they couldn’t stifle repeated sneezes, Trump might order them to leave his presence. “He never said, ‘Go home.’ He just didn’t want them anywhere near him,” the ex-official told me.
When an Ebola epidemic struck in 2014, Trump was unnerved. For months, he sent dire messages with a common theme: Keep the virus out of the U.S. at all costs.
Would a quarantine of the scale China is implementing now—extended beyond the Wuhan epicenter to more than 50 million elsewhere in China—be possible in the U.S.?
A legal mess would certainly result, Polly Price, a global health professor, writes:
The average American may be surprised to learn who holds the authority to order such public-health measures. Except at the nation’s borders, the federal government, with the expertise of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is not in charge. America’s defense against epidemics is divided among 2,684 state, local, and tribal public-health departments. Each one is responsible for monitoring people within its jurisdiction, imposing isolation or quarantine as needed. CDC officials are “preparing as if [the new coronavirus] is the next pandemic,” but in reality, the laboring oar falls to state and local health departments.
1. “Indeed, given our national faith and trust in a rule of law no one can subvert, it is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un-American.”
Attorney General Barr is placing the president above the law, the former deputy attorney general Donald Ayer, who preceded Barr in the George H. W. Bush administration, writes. His argument comes amid a forceful public letter signed by now more than 2,000 former Department of Justice officials (including Ayer) calling on Barr to resign.
2. “He sparks less opposition—in some cases far less—than his major competitors ... So why all the talk of civil war?”
“Nobody likes” him, Hillary Clinton even declared last month of her 2016 primary rival. But that’s true only among a certain stratum of Democrats, Peter Beinart argues: The Democratic elite are afraid of the party schism that a Bernie Sanders victory could cause, but Democratic voters are far less hesitant about the democratic-socialist candidate. In fact, Sanders may be one of the least polarizing among ordinary voters.
3. “If past is prologue, Trump will say absolutely anything necessary to attract and maintain support, including patent untruths …. How can Democrats run against a candidate who will simply deny his unpopular positions and make up nonexistent accomplishments?”
The real electability challenge for the 2020 Democratic nominee is their ability to run against a president “seemingly prepared, and empowered, to lie and cheat his way to reelection,” Sarada Peri, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, argues. So what can the candidates going toe-to-toe with Trump do?
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(LEON NEAL / GETTY / KATIE MARTIN / THE ATLANTIC)
The New Cold War
If the Trump administration is truly going all-in on competition with Beijing, it’s not clear that Trump himself is fully on board. Nor, it’s now clear, are several of America’s closest friends. Uri Friedman writes:
In the contest between the United States and China over who gets to shape the world in the coming century, America seems to be playing to win. But it’s running into a big problem. Despite the global network of alliances Washington has built up, it’s been unable to convince those allies to hop aboard the “great-power-competition” express and leave China behind.
Bernie Sanders wasn’t physically at a Las Vegas town hall on Thursday hosted by a Latino civil-rights group, but the enthusiasm for his campaign was still apparent. While three of his rivals—former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; and the businessman Tom Steyer—were there in person and got warm receptions, the largely Latino crowd broke out in chants of “Bernie, Bernie” when the senator from Vermont appeared on a live-stream.
Even though the Democratic primary kicked off with contests in two of the whitest states in the country, Bernie Sanders is already winning big with Latino voters. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders claimed an overwhelming victory with Latinos—a validation of his playbook of mobilizing Latino voters that will now face its biggest test yet in Nevada, which is nearly 30 percent Latino and holds its caucus on Saturday. Though other candidates could still chip away at his advantage, Sanders’s success so far sends a clear sign to the rest of his field: His focus on Latino voters is paying off, and they have a daunting amount of work to do to catch up.
While overall turnout in the Iowa caucus was similar to that of 2016, Matt Barreto, the co-founder of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, told me he estimates that Latino turnout at least doubled from four years ago, and that these voters broke sharply for Sanders. He won 51 percent of votes in the state’s 30 precincts with the most Latino voters, and in the 12 Latino-majority precincts, he won 66 percent of caucus-goers, according to an analysis by LPPI.
In New Hampshire, Sanders similarly blew away his opponents with Latino voters. An exit poll by NBC shows that Sanders won 39 percent of those voters in the state’s primary on Tuesday—about 20 percentage points more than any other candidate.
Neither of the two early states have particularly large Latino populations, but in Iowa, which is around 6 percent Latino, the Sanders campaign spent months circulating flyers to Latino voters, partnering with local Latino groups, and recruiting Latino canvassers and staff—a strategy that he has also deployed in Nevada, where a recent poll shows him as the clear front-runner. Sanders’s track record in Iowa and New Hampshire bodes well for his chances with Latino voters in the state—but this time around, he faces more competition.
One potential point of weakness for Sanders emerged this week, when the state’s powerful Culinary Union, whose members are overwhelmingly Latino, criticized the senator for his Medicare for All plan. Several candidates—such as Buttigieg and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, pounced to try to win the group’s support. (On Thursday, the union declined to endorse a candidate.)
As the Democratic contenders descend on Nevada ahead of the caucus, all of them are frantically seeking to woo Latino voters. But Nevada presents challenges for Sanders’s rivals—among Latinos, the senator’s campaign is already light-years ahead of them, says Domingo Garcia, the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country’s largest Latino civil-rights group.
Warren doesn’t have high name recognition with Latino voters, Garcia and others told me, and the departures of black and Latina staffers in Nevada have elevated concerns that her campaign is not connecting with Latinos there. Meanwhile, Buttigieg and Klobuchar—who have relatively little nonwhite support nationally—have sought to mobilize support from Latino voters ahead of the caucus, but they still have small outfits in the state. Both candidates recently sat down with the Spanish-language news network Telemundo in Nevada; Buttigieg spoke in Spanish.
Sanders’s campaign insists that the senator will prevail with Nevada’s Latino voters because his operation dwarfs that of his rivals. Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser to Sanders, told me that more than 200 staffers, including 76 Latino staffers, are deployed across the state at 11 field offices.
“There’s one thing you cannot get back in campaigns, and that is time,” Rocha said. “But like most campaigns have done historically with Latino outreach, with just days left before the caucus, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg go up [with ads] on Spanish TV.” (The Sanders campaign started advertising on Spanish-language television last month.)
Any last-minute outreach to Latinos in Nevada could be too little, too late, Clarissa Martínez de Castro, the deputy director of policy and advocacy at the nonpartisan civil-rights group Unidos US, told me.
“You’ve got to build that relationship, right?” Martínez de Castro said. “No waiting for the last minute—I don’t think that’s the strategy that candidates use with voters that they really are trying to win, so they should not use it with Latino voters either.”
Sanders’s advantage with Latino voters means he could be poised for a big caucus night, but how he ultimately performs could have implications beyond Nevada, too: The state’s demographics make it a bellwether for Latino-heavy states like California and Texas, which vote on Super Tuesday, in early March.
Now that the race has moved beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, every candidate is rushing to court Latino voters. But in Nevada, Sanders’s operation will be tough to beat.
Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg on Monday clashed with front-runner Bernie Sanders over vandalism at Bloomberg's Chicago office and their gun control stances, while centrist rival Pete Buttigieg was heckled at a labor march.
Bernie Sanders' convincing win in the Nevada caucuses signaled his campaign is gathering strength and reaching voters who had previously eluded him, putting him on a path – for now – toward the Democratic presidential nomination.
U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Monday proposed spending $1.5 trillion over 10 years to create a universal child care and early education system, to be funded by taxing the wealthiest Americans.
As Bernie Sanders looked to cement his front-runner status in the U.S. Democratic presidential race after his dominant win in Nevada, his rivals sought in rallies on Sunday to blunt his momentum ahead of 15 nominating contests in the next 10 days.
Marianne Williamson, who made an unsuccessful bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has thrown her support behind former rival Bernie Sanders, appearing at a rally in Texas with the progressive senator.
President Donald Trump on Sunday accused Representative Adam Schiff of leaking classified information on Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. election to hurt Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders.
In the days leading up to Saturday's Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada, Bernie Sanders withstood one attack after another over his Medicare for All plan – both from his rivals and the state's powerful hotel and casino workers' union.
Bernie Sanders strengthened his front-runner position for the Democratic presidential nomination with a decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, while Joe Biden was on track for a second-place finish that would give his struggling campaign new hope.
Donald Trump has told reporters Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is the 2020 rival he fears the most during his tour of India, which began with the president receiving a bear hug from Narendra Modi and a lavish welcome from the locals.
In the aftermath of Bernie Sanders’ victory in Nevada and as the South Carolina primary looms, the Democratic party establishment continues to grapple with the increasing likelihood that the Vermont senator, a self-proclaimed socialist, will be its nominee for president.
The same pundits who helped elect Trump now claim Bernie Sanders is a murderous totalitarian. Have they no shame?
The world has gotten weird, so it is natural to turn to the news to explain to us what is going on. But what is going on in the pages of the newspapers and in the studios of the 24-hour news networks is sometimes as confusing as the news they are reporting.
Bernie Sanders has celebrated a huge win at the caucuses in Nevada, putting him clearly in front of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination a week before the South Carolina primary and then Super Tuesday on 3 March, when 14 states will vote.
Sanders, who had already moved on to San Antonio Texas, celebrated a win that 'brought together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition' after winning in Nevada, a state that is nearly 30% Latino, 10% black and has a rapidly growing Asian American community
No other Democrats can beat him at this point. Sill, the liberal establishment is still struggling to come to terms with Sanders’ inevitable nomination
It was a landslide. Bernie Sanders had been expected to win the Nevada caucuses, but not like this. With just 4% of the vote in, news organizations called the race for Sanders, since his margin of victory was so large. Sanders has now won the popular vote in all of the first three states, and is currently leading in the polls almost everywhere else in the country. He was already the favorite to take the nomination before the Nevada contest, with Democratic party insiders worrying he was “unstoppable.” His campaign will only grow more powerful now.
Importantly, Sanders’ Nevada victory definitively disproved one of the most enduring myths about his campaign: that it could attract left-leaning young white people, but was incapable of drawing in a diverse coalition. In fact, voters of color were a primary source of Sanders’ strength in Nevada; he received the majority of Latino votes. Entrance polls showed Sanders winning “men and women, whites and Latinos, voters 17-29, 30-44 and 45-65, those with college degrees and those without, liberal Democrats (by a lot) and moderate/conservatives (narrowly), union and non-union households.” The poisonous concept of the white “Bernie Bro” as the “typical” Sanders supporter should be dead.
A burn-it-down candidate is topping a splintered field of more moderate contenders and setting the party’s establishment wing on edge.It’s how Donald Trump began his unlikely march to the Republican nomination in 2016. And four years later, it’s how Senator Bernie Sanders has cemented himself as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.The Vermont senator won his second straight contest on Saturday with a convincing victory in Nevada, the first racially diverse state on the primary…
Bernie Sanders scored a resounding victory in Nevada’s presidential caucuses on Saturday, cementing his status as the Democrats’ national front-runner amid escalating tensions over whether he’s too liberal to defeat US President Donald Trump.While Sanders scored a strong victory, a cluster of candidates was fighting for a distant second place - and any momentum that may come with it heading into next-up South Carolina and then Super Tuesday on March 3. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth…
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, like most other Cuban immigrants, has little love for communist leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, and the authoritarian regime they imposed on the Latin American island since 1959.
So when Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders went on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes defending comments he made in the 80s supporting Cuba, it ruffled Acevedo's feathers.
John Cassidy writes about Bernie Sanders’s resounding victory in the Nevada Democratic primary caucuses, which has left the Nevada senator a firm favorite to win the Democratic Presidential nomination.
John Cassidy on three polls that project Bernie Sanders with a significant lead over his Democratic primary rivals Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and others in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, March 3rd.