Bernie Sanders’ Democratic rivals prepared to unleash a new wave of attacks against the party’s presidential frontrunner in a high-stakes debate on Tuesday, perhaps their final prime-time opportunity to change the direction of the 2020 nomination fight.
With the Nevada caucuses less than a week away, many Democratic candidates are courting voters in state and increasingly targeting their attacks on a new challenger — billionaire Michael Bloomberg — whom they are accusing of buying his way into the election. In the lead-up to Super Tuesday on March 3, when voters in 14 states go to the polls, Bloomberg has spent an unprecedented $417 million of his own $60 billion fortune on advertising. He's also paid meme influencers to share sponsored content on Instagram, and hired thousands of on-the-ground political operatives to work in more than 125 offices around the country. The Washington Post reports several lawsuits have been filed over the years alleging that women were discriminated against at Bloomberg's business-information company, including one case filed by a former employee who blamed Bloomberg for creating a culture of sexual harassment and degradation. But a major investigation in Sunday's New York Times, headlined "In Bloomberg, Liberals See a Wallet Too Big to Offend," lays out how Bloomberg established a foundation for potential critics to stay silent during his presidential bid by making major donations to progressive causes and advocacy groups in dozens of states and cities. The Times estimates Bloomberg has spent at least $10 billion on his charitable and political pursuits related to his political ambitions. We speak with Blake Zeff, a journalist and documentary filmmaker who has covered New York politics and Michael Bloomberg's terms as mayor.
Democratic rivals to Bernie Sanders are preparing to try to knock him off his front-runner perch in a debate Tuesday night before a critical South Carolina primary that could dramatically reshape the race.
In the months preceding the Iowa caucuses, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar lagged behind her competitors. Then she shot to a third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary. Can she establish herself as the choice of moderate Democrats?
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 not a fluke, an error, or an outlier. In poll after poll, the results are clear: Climate change is one of the most important issues in the 2020 presidential election.
A new survey, released today and provided exclusively to The Atlantic, only drives the point home: Climate is the clear number-two issue—second only to health care—for Democrats who live in one of the upcoming primary or caucus states. Among all voters, the warming planet is now one of the most salient issues in American politics. The poll was conducted by Climate Nexus, a nonpartisan nonprofit group, in partnership with researchers at Yale and George Mason University, and included nearly 2,000 registered voters.
Climate change now sits alongside only four other mainstays—health care, the economy and jobs, immigration policy, and Social Security—in its ability to command the electorate’s attention. And for self-described liberal Democrats, climate change is now nationally the most important issue, beating out 28 others, Anthony Leiserowitz, a senior research scientist at Yale, told me.
“This is the first time in American political history where climate change is not just a top-tier issue—it is thetop-tier issue,” said Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which helped conduct the new poll.
Yet while Democrats have grown ever more alarmed by climate change, self-identified Republicans remain largely unmoved. In the poll, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say climate change is one of their top two issues, and they support more aggressive policies. This reflects a deepening divide among Americans: Climate change, Leiserowitz said, “has become more polarized now than any other issue, including abortion.”
The Climate Nexus poll was conducted online from February 6 to February 9, among 1,934 respondents in 26 states. Each of those states—they include Nevada, South Carolina, California, and Texas—will hold a Democratic primary or caucus between now and March 17. Climate Nexus then weighted the responses from each state in line with Census Bureau estimates of local age, gender, race, education, and Hispanic demographics. In addition to the Yale team, Climate Nexus partnered with the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication for the poll.
The poll’s results fit into a remarkably consistent pattern: American voters are taking climate change seriously. Last March, a CNN/Des Moines Register poll found that climate change was a top-two issue for Iowa Democrats. Since then, the same results have kept showing up in opinion surveys, exit polls, and Associated Press vote-cast data, Leiserowitz said.
Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center announced that a majority of Americans now say dealing with climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. Since 2016, that number has increased by 14 percentage points. And in another all-time high, nearly as many Americans (64 percent) now rank protecting the environment as highly as they do strengthening the economy, the Pew report found.
Some of this effect may reflect President Trump’s broad rejection of climate policy and embrace of fossil fuels. It is common for public polling to swing in the opposite direction of the incumbent president’s policy views, a phenomenon that political scientists call “thermostatic public opinion.”
And while the polling shows that concern about climate change is growing, it also reveals that views are divided by party. “Over the past five years, public concern about climate change has soared, particularly among Democrats. It’s also gone up substantially among independents, but it’s stayed relatively flat among Republicans,” Leiserowitz said. Last month, a separate study from the Yale and George Mason University teams found that ideology and partisan affiliation still strongly predict a voter’s views on the climate. While more than 70 percent of Democrats say that global warming is caused by human activities, only a slim majority (51 percent) of moderate Republicans agree, as do only 25 percent of self-described conservative Republicans.
The new poll, which was conducted using different methods, shows some signs of that disconnect. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they were very worried or somewhat worried about climate change, it found—more than those who said the United States is on the wrong track (52 percent) or approved of Donald Trump’s performance as president (45 percent).
Those worries matched a growing desire for stronger climate policy, the poll found. Among all voters, seven out of 10 said the government should do more about climate change. Fifty-nine percent of respondents went further, saying they would strongly or moderately support a Green New Deal. Only 25 percent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat opposed such an aggressive measure.
More moderate policies were more popular. Nearly three-quarters of all voters said they wanted a candidate who would set stronger pollution standards, and 70 percent said they wanted the next president to strengthen federal fuel-economy standards. (As I reported earlier this month, the Trump administration has fought for years to weaken the fuel-economy rules.) And nearly four in five voters, from all parties, support providing “assistance, job training, or guaranteed wages” to workers from the oil, gas, and coal industries who have lost their jobs.
Not every climate policy commanded a majority. Roughly the same percentage of voters (42 percent) support opening up new federal lands for oil and gas drilling as oppose it (41 percent), the poll found. Every Democratic presidential candidate, from Amy Klobuchar to Bernie Sanders, has said they oppose such an expansion.
Perhaps the most intriguing finding: Large majorities of voters want most future energy infrastructure to come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. More than 70 percent of voters said that they would support requiring 100 percent of electricity in their state to come from wind and solar plants by the year 2050. Most respondents said such a policy would boost the economy, lower electricity costs, and help rural and farming communities in their state. Most also said it would have either a positive effect, or no effect at all, on workers’ wages and the unemployment rate. It’s a commonplace in climate politics that Americans love solar and wind energy, but this has not, so far, translated into market power for the technologies.
The poll also asked about a series of head-to-head matchups between Donald Trump and one of the Democratic candidates.
Michael Bloomberg fared the best here: 47 percent of respondents supported the former mayor, 40 percent supported Trump, and 13 percent said they weren’t sure.
In the Sanders-Trump matchup, 47 percent supported Sanders. But fewer voters (11 percent) were unsure in this scenario; 43 percent supported Trump.
In the Buttigieg-Trump matchup, 45 percent supported Buttigieg, 41 percent supported Trump, and 14 percent of respondents said they weren’t sure.
Joe Biden did nearly as well as Buttigieg, winning 45 percent to Trump’s 42 percent. Elizabeth Warren tied Trump in the head-to-head matchup, and Klobuchar lost by one point. In every case, the number of undecided voters was larger than the winner’s margin.
The full list of states polled for the survey were—take a deep breath—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
It’s not as if candidates are ignorant of this shift in voter priorities. Every Democratic candidate has announced a climate plan and talks about it on the stump. (Even Trump alluded to a tree-planting plan in his State of the Union address.) In televised debates, such as the one earlier this week in Nevada, Democratic candidates hurried to bring up climate change before any questions about it were asked. The discussion hasn’t always been satisfying, Leiserowitz admitted, but “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re all elbowing each other to talk about it,” he said. “There’s a climate vote for the first time.”
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.
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.
Eric Lach writes about the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, a powerful service-industry union in Nevada, and its influence in the context of the Nevada Presidential primary caucuses, particularly with regard to Bernie Sanders and Medicare for All.
In a widely criticized monologue Monday, Limbaugh, who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Trump, also floated a debunked fringe theory linking the virus to Chinese biological weapons research and attacked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Late-night hosts discussed cable news pundits’ freakout over Sanders’ win in the Nevada caucus, and Trump’s visit to India
Since Senator Bernie Sanders handily won the Democratic Nevada caucuses with 46.8% of the vote, “pundits across cable news have been freaking out about Bernie’s rise,” said Seth Meyers on Late Night. It’s an ongoing trend – looking back on Sanders’ popular vote wins in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary, “the story wasn’t that he was winning, but that if you use pundit math, he was actually losing,” said Meyers before turning to clips in which cable news pundits declared Amy Klobuchar’s third-place finish in New Hampshire or Pete Buttigieg’s close second in Iowa as the “real” story.
Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders were prime targets during Wednesday's debate in Las Vegas as candidates picked on policy and personality differences. President Trump joined the fracas through tweets. Super Tuesday contests are less than two weeks away.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders emerges from his commanding victory in last weekend's Nevada caucuses, the Democratic establishment and the party's sizable moderate wing are increasingly anxious over his steady march to the presidential nomination -- yet they lack any sort of cohesive plan to stop him.
Masha Gessen writes about Bernie Sanders’s comments about socialism and totalitarianism in Cuba and China in a “60 Minutes” interview and a CNN town hall, respectively, and what they illustrate about the Democratic front-runner’s ideology.
Sanders should capitalize on the fervor of his base, including many young Jewish voters, to win the Democratic nomination, and block an authoritarian racist like Bloomberg. That’s not blackmail, it’s principled, hardball politics
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.
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.
Surging front-runner Bernie Sanders will be in the hot seat at the Democratic debate in South Carolina on Tuesday, when his six presidential rivals try to derail his growing momentum before the next big round of nominating contests.