Sunday, February 23, 2020


As Ryan Lizza says, nearly everything you thought you knew about the limitation of Bernie Sanders's popular appeal is wrong:
On Saturday in Nevada, Bernie Sanders laid waste not just to his five main rivals but also to every shard of conventional wisdom about the Democratic presidential primaries....

Sanders wasn’t supposed to be able to break through with black and brown voters.... (Sanders won 27% of African Americans and 53% of Hispanics across the state.) The Sanders movement is supposed to be limited to those crazy college kids who don’t remember socialist as a slur.... (Sanders won every age category in the state except Nevadans over 65, which he ceded to Joe Biden.)

... He was said to have a ceiling of 30% or so. Remarkably, against a much larger field of candidates Sanders is poised to come close to the same level of support as he did in 2016 in a one-on-one race against Hillary Clinton, to whom he lost 47%-53%. (He was at 46% with a quarter of precincts reporting as of this writing.) He was said to be unable to attract anyone outside his core base. But he held his own with moderate voters (22%) and won across every issue area except voters who cared most about foreign policy, who went with Biden.
Many Democratic voters don't see Sanders as electable -- they may be right -- but in Nevada, as The Washington Post noted, they were predictably divided, according to entrance polls:

By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, early entrance polling found more Nevada caucus-goers said they would prefer a candidate who can beat Trump over someone who agrees with them on major issues. But electability-focused voters were deeply divided in their initial support heading into caucus locations, with just under one-quarter supporting Sanders and Biden; about 1 in 6 caucus-goers supporting former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren in the low teens of support.

That is a stark contrast to the one-third of voters who preferred a candidate that agrees with them on major issues; a small majority of this group supported Sanders, while other candidates at most barely broke double digits with this group.
It looks as if Sanders is unstoppable, but if he can be stopped, it will be by one candidate, not three or four splitting the anti-Sanders vote. Maybe Amy Klobuchar (who's at 4.5% right now) will have the good sense to drop out. Pete Buttigieg probably won't -- he was at 15.4%, in third place -- but while he seems to have enough support to be a strong runner-up in several states, he doesn't have enough support to, y'know, win.

And as for Joe Biden, Lizza writes:
Biden did better, though a second place finish twenty points behind Sanders isn’t much to crow about for a former vice president. Still, being on the upswing, however gradual it is, going into South Carolina is essential for Biden. If he is the first candidate to definitively defeat Sanders in a contest, it could resurrect his campaign.
Well, maybe. But he's looked weak in the first three contests. He can't dominate any contest, the way Sanders dominated Nevada, unless Buttigieg and Klobuchar drop out (and maybe not even then). And after South Carolina, there'll be Mike Bloomberg.

That's why it may actually be helpful to the anti-Sanders cause if South Carolina Republicans are successful in their scheme to turn out Republican voters for Sanders in the state's open Democratic primary. Biden's remaining justification for staying in the race is that he can win some states. For months he's been expected to win South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is largely black, though in one recent poll he was tied with Sanders.

Biden will stay in the race if he wins South Carolina, and then he and Bloomberg (and possibly Buttigieg and Klobuchar) will split the anti-Sanders vote on Super Tuesday. But if GOP ratfuckers help Sanders win South Carolina, maybe Biden will have the good sense to drop out. Maybe Buttigieg and Klobuchar will be gone as well. If that happens, it'll be Sanders vs. Bloomberg, one on one.

Otherwise, it's Sanders all the way, and you'd better get used to it.

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Yastreblyansky seems to agree:
There's a lot of talk right now about Sanders inevitably winning the nomination because he seems to have a plurality of the support, somewhere around 30% overall and 15 or 20 points or more over all the other contenders, and I continue to be unclear how that's supposed to work: it looks there's a ceiling around there and a pretty large majority of Democrats would seriously prefer not to vote for him, if they could unite or "gather" around some other figure, which is not looking too good at the moment. Still, there's a similar percentage, maybe not so big, of people who seriously don't want to vote for Biden, and a bigger one of those who would rather not vote for Buttigieg. But hardly anybody is saying they won't vote for Elizabeth Warren. If we had ranked choice voting in the primary, I think she'd very likely win. She's sort of like the inverse of Yogi Berra's comment on the place where nobody ever goes because it's too crowded; everybody loves her but they won't vote for her because she's too unpopular.
Does Sanders really have a ceiling? Would he lose if he weren't facing a divided opposition? One poll says no.

But who would win if voters could choose candidates on ranked-choice ballots, which would allow Sanders haters to rank him last and to upvote candidates other than their favorites (and would allow haters of the other candidates to do the same)? Would Warren really be the first, second, or third choice of most voters, and possibly finish first in a ranked-choice system?

Pollsters should be asking this now.

As FiveThirtyEight notes, the most likely outcome right now is that no candidate will have a majority of pledged delegates going into the convention. I think if Sanders (or another candidate) has a solid lead, most voters will want the nomination to go to the leader. Team Sanders seems to believe that Sanders should win if he has any lead and any percentage of total delegates, even if the percentage is well under 40%. There's really no one outside the current candidate field who could unite most of the factions, except maybe Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey, and they don't want to run.

So let's do some ranked-choice polling -- not just asking first and second choices in caucus-state polling, but asking for a full ranking of the candidates from every respondent. And because future candidate fields will probably be large more often than not, and there are likely to be strong ideological disagreements within the party for the foreseeable future, let's seriously consider ranked-choice voting for future primaries. It's not perfect, but we'll have a clearer sense of who can unite the party.


Every news story about the vetting process for John Bolton's book implies that the vetting is being done by career professionals according to long-established standards. I don't believe it. I believe the career pros may be trying to uphold standards -- but is it even possible that they're not feeling intimidated? Is it conceivable that this president will allow them to exercise independent judgment, even if they conclude that the book is publishable before November?
President Trump has directly weighed in on the White House review of a forthcoming book by his former national security adviser, telling his staff that he views John Bolton as “a traitor,” that everything he uttered to the departed aide about national security is classified and that he will seek to block the book’s publication, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

The president’s private arguments stand in contrast to the point-by-point process used to classify and protect sensitive secrets and appears to differ from the White House’s public posture toward Bolton’s much-anticipated memoir. The National Security Council warned Bolton last month that his draft “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information,” some of it top secret, but pledged to help him revise the manuscript and “move forward as expeditiously as possible.”

“We will do our best to work with you to ensure your client’s ability to tell his story in a manner that protects U.S. national security,” Ellen Knight, senior director of the council’s records office, wrote in a Jan. 23 letter to Bolton’s attorney.

But the president has insisted to aides that Bolton’s account of his work in Trump’s White House, “The Room Where It Happened,” should not see the light of day before the November election....

Trump told national television anchors on Feb. 4 during an off-the-record lunch that material in the book was “highly classified,” according to notes from one participant in the luncheon. He then called him a “traitor.”

“We’re going to try and block the publication of the book,” Trump said, according to the notes. “After I leave office, he can do this. But not in the White House.”
If Trump wins again, that book will never see the light of day, and neither will this one:
Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after a smear campaign by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, has signed a book deal, it was announced Friday.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it had acquired a memoir by Yovanovich....

The book ... is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2021....
If they want the book out, Bolton and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, might have to consider publishing without clearance. It's risky, though. When this has been done in the past, the government responded by seizing the profits and threatening criminal prosecution.
A former Navy SEAL wrote a 2012 book about his role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, triggering a Justice Department criminal investigation into allegations he published classified details of his work and training as a special operator.

In a 2016 settlement, Matt Bissonnette, who wrote “No Easy Day” under the pen name Mark Owen, agreed to turn over to the government all the profits and future royalties stemming from his book — which amounted to at least $6.6 million at the time. As part of the deal, Bissonnette acknowledged he failed to get his manuscript properly cleared by the Pentagon. In exchange, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss any other claims and drop any plans to prosecute him for the release of classified information.
I'm guessing Bolton doesn't need the money, though he wouldn't want to give it up. I'm also guessing that the Trumpers would be more than happy to take his money and prosecute him, while Trump would made Twitter threats (at least) against Simon & Schuster's parent company, ViacomCBS.

If the prospect of Trump going after Bolton this way has you rooting for injuries, imagine how this would go in the case of Yovanovitch, who has less money and fewer powerful friends, and a smaller and thus more vulnerable publisher.

So if you ever want to read either of these books, work hard to elect Sanders/Bloomberg/Biden/Warren, because it won't be possible otherwise.

Friday, February 21, 2020


Over the past few decades, right-wing propagandists have done an excellent job of bamboozling the public by portraying cultural "elitists" as the real overlords in American society, thus permitting actual elitists -- you know, people with money and power -- to escape accountability. If you drive a Prius, shop at Whole Foods, or listen to NPR, if you're supportive of your LGBTQ child, if you'd heard of Parasite before the Oscars (or, Lord help us, had actually seen it), you're an elitist as far as the right is concerned. Billionaires? They're just rugged risk-takers. The real elitists are those snooty liberals with their noses in the air, the ones who look down on real working people -- or did, at least, until those rugged folks got their revenge on Election Day 2016.

But in fact, our side's politicians actually want to improve the lot of working people. Many of our voters are blue-collar workers or far-from-elite white-collar workers. Our inclination to judge people by cultural markers has been greatly exaggerated.

Except now we have Mike Bloomberg in the presidential race -- a guy who really might be called an elitist liberal if he were actually a liberal, and who's now mocking Donald Trump (allegedly a "blue-collar billionaire") for the déclassé way he likes his meat:

Mike Bloomberg is looking beyond the war being waged against him by the Democratic primary field toward general election opponent President Trump, trolling him with billboards where the president himself is campaigning in the West this week.

... the billboards are going up in Phoenix and Las Vegas, where Mr. Trump will be campaigning Friday. The billboards are appearing in high visibility areas near a Trump hotel property on the Vegas Strip, and also along potential motorcade routes where the president may see them as he drives by.

Should Mr. Trump look out the window of the presidential limousine, he could see billboards blaring, "Donald Trump cheats at golf," and "Donald Trump eats burnt steak."
Why bring up the burnt steak? It's just a reminder that some people think there's a "right" way to eat and you, ordinary voter, might not know what it is.

And cheating at golf? Who cares?

Other ads in the series are better. I like the first two below, at least:

Mock the wall because it's his signature policy, and it's a failure. Mock the popular-vote loss because Trump clearly hasn't gotten over it.

It should be easy to mock Trump's failures in business, although no one managed it in 2016. (It's hard to make Trump look like a failure when network television made him look like the ultimate rich guy for fourteen years, an image that's clearly indelible for many Americans.)

It comes off as Bloomberg flaunting his own wealth in a haughty way (as opposed to Trump's phony-populist way). Trump has conned his voters into believing that he's their rich guy, someone who uses his wealth and (alleged) business acumen on their behalf, while Bloomberg is coming off as someone who's more interested in competing with Trump for alpha status than helping ordinary citizens.

So Bloomberg should lose the billboards, or at least stick to the ones that sidestep issues of wealth and taste.


I wrote a post in December titled "No, Trump Won't Skip the Debates," and I stand by every word of it. Trump will debate his Democratic opponent this fall -- I'm certain of it. This New York Times story about Trump's rally last night in Colorado includes several indications of his intent to debate.
“I don’t know if anybody watched last night’s debate,” Mr. Trump said shortly after he took the stage. “It got very big ratings, and you know what? Mini Mike didn’t do very well last night. I was going to send him a note saying, ‘It’s not easy doing what I do, is it?’”
It’s not easy doing what I do -- Bloomberg debated poorly, and that was Trump's comment. This tells me that Trump will debate for the most obvious reason: He thinks he's really good at it.
Mr. Trump spent a substantial amount of time regaling the crowd with stories of his 2016 campaign, calling Dan Scavino — his social media manager and “the most powerful man in politics,” the president said — up to the stage to hand him a stack of news clippings. The president read aloud from them individually, insulting journalists who had declared he had done poorly on the debate stage against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent that year....

“I did great in the debates,” Mr. Trump said. “I became president because of the debates.”
That's not the reason Trump became president, but why would a guy who believes he won as a result of his debate performances refuse to debate this year?
Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son and a campaign surrogate who watched the debate aboard Air Force One with his father, said that Mr. Bloomberg’s performance amounted to a “great night” for his father.

“Bloomberg was the victim of a political homicide and was clearly not prepared for the onslaught coming his way at the debate,” Donald Trump Jr. said in remarks relayed through a spokesman. “If he can’t handle Grandpa Joe or Pocahontas on the debate stage, what makes anyone think he can handle Trump?”
If the president doesn't intend to debate, why is a spokesman for his namesake son -- who's the most politically attuned of the Trump children -- asserting that Bloomberg would lose to Trump in a debate?

And there's this:

REINCE PRIEBUS: I went back and looked at that second debate, the second general debate against Hillary Clinton, the one that turned around the entire 2016 candidacy for Donald Trump. Almost every one of the best lines from that debate President Trump came up with on his own. They weren't actually prepped, even though he was ready for the debate. So debates matter. You have to have natural talent, and Bloomberg doesn't. He doesn't have the talent to stand up against President Trump on a debate stage.
Why would a former Trump staffer, speaking to the most important pro-Trump propaganda organization, say this if Trump is planning to evade debates in the fall?

I know what you'll say. Adderall. Dementia. Scared to debate against [pick your favorite Democratic candidate].

Meanwhile, Trump is now doing lengthy impromptu rallies back-to-back -- last night's rally in Colorado will be followed by another one in Las Vegas tonight. If Trump is afraid to appear in a public forum where he has to speak off the cuff, he's doing a hell of a job of concealing that fear.

Yes, he'll debate. Take that to the bank.

Thursday, February 20, 2020


I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh, but I read the occasional transcript on his website. The headline of this transcribed segment from today's radio show caught my eye.
The Rare Heart and Character of the Donald Trump I Know
"Rare heart and character"? Do tell, Rush.

Limbaugh teased his listeners for a while:
... what is ironic about it is that people who only have formed an opinion of Trump based on criticism he gets in the media, when you tell them he has depth of character and heart, you lose ’em. They think the last thing Trump has is character. They think he’s totally devoid. They think he’s brusque and he’s an ogre.
Gosh, I can't imagine how anyone would come to that conclusion.
But when you get to know him personally, and I mean really get to know him, and you encounter the can-do, will-do, there’s no way we can be stopped personality, then you realize how rare it is. If there’s any self-doubt in Donald Trump, he will never portray it, unless he’s joking about something. And even when he’s joking, he’s serious. He is somebody that doesn’t take “no” for an answer, but never manipulates you and never commands and never demands.

You end up doing what he wants even when you think you can’t. But not because you have been intimidated or made afraid. It’s hard to describe....

But I’m still not — I haven’t zeroed in on it, and it would be easy if I could give you some details that I don’t have permission to share yet about that day. But if I were able, you would not have any questions about what I’m talking about. So do your best to believe what I’m telling you here.
"That day" is the day Limbaugh got the Presidential Medal of Freedom on live TV during the State of the Union address. He tells his listeners that he can't reveal the real inside skinny -- but he does go on to recount some of what happened that day:
... Trump is just can-do. He’s positive. He exudes confidence and leadership, has no self-doubt, does not let you have any self-doubt, will not tolerate you thinking you can’t do something if he wants you to do it. I’ll just give you one example, and this is sort of out of context, and it’s not gonna be fully explanatory. But on that day, we had no business being able to make it to Washington on the day of the State of the Union. We didn’t have any clothes.

My transportation was not available. Doctors... I had a crucial surgical procedure at 5 p.m. that day. There was no way. There no way under the sun I had any business being in Washington that night. I tried to tell the president this, and he agreed with me. “Oh, yeah, your health comes first. There’s no question. Look, I’ve cleared you into Reagan National. My guys are gonna meet you. They’re gonna bring you right here to the White House.

“If you need a tailor to fix the jacket, we got somebody here. Don’t worry about it! I understand your health has to come first.” What do you say to that? “I’ve cleared you into Reagan National. My guys are gonna bring you here to the White House. If you need somebody to fix the jacket, no problem. I understand your health comes first. Can’t you just tell the doctors to do part of it, like, right now, and then let you go later this afternoon?”

“Well, it’s not quite that easy.”

“Well, what’s his name?”

“Um...” (chuckling) And I knew nothing about the medal at this time. I knew nothing about it, and it’s one of the reasons he was so insistent. But the point is, in his world, there was no way it wasn’t happening. No matter what was standing in the way, it was going to happen. No matter what the objection was. No matter how sensible the objection was. No matter how sincere it was. No matter what.
So that's Trump's character -- he wants an acquaintance and important political ally to be given a medal on live TV because he believes in feeding his base endless quantities of red meat, as if they won't vote for him again unless they're allowed to consume triple and quadruple portions every day between now and November. This ally has stage-four cancer, for which he's undergoing treatments I'm sure are extremely debilitating. But Trump wants the acquaintance to be a human prop, and he has both government power and personal wealth to make sure that his sick, weakened man complies.

And the acquaintance thinks that's a good thing. He thinks being used as a prop during what is likely to be his final illness is just swell, because he believes in The Cause and he knows this advances it, and also because, being a right-winger, he believes that some people are Masters of the Universe and others are expected to serve them.

So he tells himself that Trump made him choose to do this in the midst of his cancer treatment.
But it ends up happening because you want to do it. (laughing) It’s not because you’ve been demanded. It’s not because you have been ordered.

It’s not because you’ve been intimidated or manipulated to show up. It’s hard to describe. All I can tell you is, there are so few people. I understand he’s got the power of the presidency, but even without that he’s this kind of guy, and it’s rare.
Trump pushes Limbaugh around when he's weak, and Limbaugh likes it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is character, according to Limbaugh.


Late in the debate, after Alberta posted this, Warren did take Bernie Sanders on briefly, but in a debate that will be best remembered for her strong performance, she and others mostly left Sanders alone.

I don't know why the rest of the field (with the occasional exception of Mike Bloomberg) gave Sanders a pass. Do they think all of his supporters are unbudgeable cultists? Exit polls in New Hampshire do show that most Sanders voters chose him well before Primary Day, but 17% of voters who decided on a candidate in the last week voted for him. That was 4% of the primary electorate (25% of voters were late deciders). Not every Sanders voter is a diehard.

It would have been tactically wiser for Warren to attack Sanders, but I think she was operating last night on principle -- she'd decided beforehand that she was going to try to dominate the debate, but her specific line of attack, a critique of Bloomberg's sexism and use of wealth to avoid consequences, seemed heartfelt. (Where's the word "authentic" when you need it?) Bloomberg's sexism and use of financial power to insulate himself from accountability seems to infuriate Warren -- and Joe Biden's follow-up about Bloomberg's option of releasing complainants against his company from non-disclosure agreements suggests that, for all Biden's touchy-feely behavior, he also genuinely cares about mistreatment of women.

I don't agree with this. To save his campaign, Biden needed to dominate last night. He was better than usual, but Warren was the strongest debater by far. If Biden could cut into Sanders's front-runner status in Nevada, it would create an opening for Warren as well. Maybe moderate voters came away from the debate believing that Biden is a better bet than those two squabbling kids, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, but Biden still operated in Warren's shadow last night. (Maybe we can hope that the moderates will give Warren a second look.)

Did Warren destroy Bloomberg's candidacy?

Nahhh. He's not dead. Sad to say, but Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times is probably right:
But it is not clear how, or even if, his performance might affect his prospects. Mr. Bloomberg is offering audiences an unsentimental bargain, in some ways, pitched less at the heart than the gut. These are extraordinary times, the argument goes, requiring extraordinary interventions — up to and including an ultrarich, party-switching Manhattanite hard-wired to replace another.

Voters do not need to fall in love, Mr. Bloomberg’s allies say. They need only to fall on the right side of the question underpinning his campaign: Can anyone else really be trusted to take down the president? And if not, then why not default to the man with the biggest budget for political weaponry?

“Mike Will Get It Done,” read the signs at his events. The means are generally left unsaid.
How long do memories of debate performances last? Amy Klobuchar seemed to benefit from a strong performance just before the New Hampshire primary -- but is she sustaining the momentum? Bloomberg had a terrible debate last night, but he's not on the ballot in Nevada or South Carolina, and he'll spend tens of millions of dollars on ads between now and Super Tuesday (March 3), when he'll actually be on ballots for the first time. There won't be another debate until March 15.* So I expect him to survive (and do a lot more debate prep).

And yes, I wish Democrats had directed more attacks at Trump last night. If the parties were reversed, that's what Republicans would have done. But it's easier if you're a Republican -- there isn't a wide range of opinions on the right, so GOP debaters are free to attack Democrats. The Democratic Party represents an electorate with a broader range of opinions. It tries to speak to moderates, liberals, and Sandersite progressives. There was intraparty fighting last night because Democrats genuinely disagree on stuff, and they care about those disagreements.

Warren didn't fight with Sanders because she agrees with him on many issues. She fought with Bloomberg because his sexism and cavalier use of wealth galls her. Maybe Democrats' biggest problem right now is sincerity.

*UPDATE: sorry, I was wrong -- there'll be a debate in South Carolina on Tuesday. I wonder if Bloomberg will show up.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020


The president likes to make fun of Mike Bloomberg's height.

It appears he's gotten into Bloomberg's head.

I'm a short guy, and this isn't how I would have handled Trump's insults. I would have sent out a spokesperson to say, "In fact, Mayor Bloomberg will be standing on a box -- a box containing every document Donald Trump has personally read since becoming president. We all know what a great reader the president is."

At which point, my spokesperson would produce a box approximately this size.

The spokesperson would add, "We printed the documents in large type so we could fill the box."

That's how I'd handle this.


This is the best news I've read in a while:
... Americans’ interest in voting is growing faster in large cities dominated by Democrats than in conservative rural areas, according to an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos national opinion polls.

... The advantage in urban political engagement extends deep into the most competitive battleground states that Trump won by razor-thin margins four years ago, the data shows.

In large urban areas of the upper Midwest, a region that includes swing states Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, the number of people who said they were “certain” to vote in the upcoming presidential election rose by 10 percentage points to 67% compared with survey responses from 2015.

In smaller upper Midwest communities, the number of people similarly dedicated to voting rose by only about 1 point to 60% in that same four-year period.

Overall, the number of “certain” voters rose by 7 percentage points nationally from 2015 to 2019. It increased by more than that in the largest metropolitan areas, rising by 9 points in communities with between 1 million and 5 million people and 8 points in metros with at least 5 million people.

Smaller and rural communities lagged behind. The number of “certain” voters rose by 5 points in sparsely populated, Republican-dominated “non-metro” areas.

...“Democrats are very angry,” said Nicholas Valentino, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, who reviewed some of the poll findings for Reuters.
If this holds until November, Democrats rather than Republicans could overperform relative to poll results in 2020.

But will it hold? The Reuters story notes that there was strong Republican turnout in New Hampshire earlier this month, even though Trump's win by a landslide was inevitable, while Democratic turnout didn't exactly break records. But, of course, New Hampshire doesn't have any metropolitan areas with more than a million people, unless you count the ones that extend into Massachusetts.

I think non-white turnout will be extremely high. I'm hoping Republican voters spend the next several months in an information bubble in which Trump and Fox News are blasting out only the polls that show Trump leading. I hope complacency takes over and Trump-backing infrequent voters never show up. I hope the Trump campaign wastes so much effort on trying to win over unlikely states such as New Mexico (where an Emerson poll last month showed Bernie Sanders with an 18-point lead over Trump) that Wisconsin and other close ones slip away.

We might not get all these breaks. But it's just possible that our voters will be the ones undercounted by the pollsters this time.


According to a recent Gallup poll, more than half of Americans won't vote for a socialist for president.
Less than half of Americans, 45%, say they would vote for a socialist for president, while 53% say they would not.
And yet Bernie Sanders leads Donald Trump by 4.6 head to head in the Real Clear Politics average. Do voters simply not know that Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist? Will they instantly abandon him when they find out?

One progressive organization attempted to measure this.
Data for Progress used the Lucid survey sampling platform to test three different versions of a Sanders and Trump polling matchup question. The survey was in the field from January 9 to January 19 of 2020 and ran these three polls:

* No information: “If the 2020 U.S. Presidential election was held today, who would you vote for if the candidates were Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?”

* Partisan cues: “If the 2020 U.S. Presidential election was held today, who would you vote for if the candidates were Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump?”

* Socialists and billionaires: “If the 2020 U.S. Presidential election was held today, who would you vote for if the candidates were Democrat Bernie Sanders, who wants to tax the billionaire class to help the working class and Republican Donald Trump, who says Sanders is a socialist who supports a government takeover of healthcare and open borders?”

In all three versions, Bernie beats Trump, albeit by slightly different margins. Sanders does best in the version of the question that provides no information at all. Giving the candidates their partisan labels [de]creases Sanders’s lead somewhat, and giving the hypothetical messages leaves Sanders with a lead that’s somewhere in between the two other scenarios.

The three poll questions aren't exactly analogous -- the version that introduces Sanders's socialism also introduces his campaign arguments (though it also introduces what we assume would be Trump's arguments against Sanders). But with that caveat, note that Sanders does just fine even when respondents are told he's a socialist.

In fact, he does better than when he's identified as a Democrat. The difference is slight and possibly insignificant -- but in a moment when the widely disliked Trump is the embodiment of the Republican Party (along with the widely disliked Mitch McConnell), the Democratic brand should be on the ascent. Yet Trump does best when the race is defined as a Democrat versus a Republican.

I believe that far too many Americans, including Trump-averse moderates in the heartland, have internalized the negative view of the Democratic Party relentlessly promoted by the right-wing media and Republican politicians. Democrats themselves have never offered the slightest pushback to this campaign of demonization, so it's a wonder the party ever wins elections outside blue strongholds.

So it's not surprising that the primary race seems to be coming down to a progressive who's never been a registered Democrat and a former Republican who registered as a Democrat only in the past couple of years. Republicans hate our party, and many of our voters think they have a point.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Here are responses to today's pardon spree from President Trump:

But when has Trump ever bothered to "lay the groundwork" for more outrageous conduct in the future? Trump just does things, and dares us to object, or to stop him.

I think Ioffe is right about owning the libs -- everything Republicans do is, at least in part, intended to own the libs. But I think the Daily Beast's Justin Baragona and Asawin Suebsaeng have the simplest explanation:
Trump Grants Clemency to Another Round of Crooks He Saw on Fox News

President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted clemency to 11 people, including several convicted felons who are either Fox News regulars or have been championed by the president’s favorite cable-news network.

Among those granted pardons or sentence commutations were former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempting to sell former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat; former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was sentenced to four years in 2010 for tax fraud and lying to the feds; and Michael Milken, the “junk-bonds king” whose early-'90s insider-trading conviction made him a poster boy of white-collar crime.

Unsurprisingly, a key influence that led to Trump’s decision, particularly as it related to Blagojevich, was Fox News. The same could partly be said of the decision on Kerik, a frequent Fox News guest whose pardon was backed by several of the network’s stars; Milken, whose pardon was supported by Fox Business Network host and Trump loyalist Maria Bartiromo; and Angela Stanton, an occasional pro-Trump TV pundit whose pardon was pushed by frequent Fox News guest and evangelical leader Alveda King.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump made the Fox News connection abundantly clear, telling reporters that he decided to commute the rest of Blagojevich’s sentence because he’d seen the ex-governor’s wife Patti Blagojevich pleading her husband’s case on Fox.

“I watched his wife on television,” Trump declared....
After Trump's acquittal in the impeachment trial, he should be unleashed -- seriously, what is preventing him from pardoning all the people cited by Steve Benen, and doing it right now? Would there be angry editorials? Open letters of protest signed by retired Justice Department officials? Expressions of deep concern from Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski?

His poll numbers wouldn't go down -- he's never been popular, but nothing makes his approval rating drop significantly, and it never declines for very long. He'd still be competitive in head-to-head polling with the top Democrats running against him, though he'd probably a few points behind -- but he probably doesn't need to win the popular vote to win the election. So why the hesitancy?

For that matter, why doesn't he do even more shocking things? Why hasn't he ordered critics poisoned? There's nothing he could do that would diminish his standing in the eyes of his worshipful fans, and nothing that would lead to even a mild rebuke that could survive both houses of Congress. What's restraining him?

Partly it's his narrow focus -- he doesn't know history, so he lacks the imagination to see himself as a true dictator with unlimited power. The world of his imaginings is circumscribed by what he sees on his favorite news channel, where he's treated like the rest of the audience, helpless exurb-dwellers made to fear and hate enemies who are said to have cheated their way to power (Democrats, Hollywood stars, George Soros).

Beyond that, I think he prefers to think of the world as a place with rules that he -- to his own great delight -- gets away with breaking. It's as if he can't imagine creating a new world with no rules other than his own decrees; it's as if he'd rather cheat the system than destroy it.

Somewhere there are young right-wing megalomaniacs who know precisely what they'd do with the power Trump has now. One of them will probably have his job in the near future. We have it bad now, but it could be even worse.


I told you Sunday that if Mike Bloomberg is the Democratic presidential nominee, he'll be attacked from the left by the Trump campaign. You can get a hint of what's coming from the current front page of the Trump-aligned Breitbart:

Yes, Breitbart -- the site that used to have a "black crime" story tag...

... is going woke on Bloomberg, favorably quoting a black critic of the Young Men's Initiative, a program Bloomberg championed as mayor of New York.
Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg once claimed during a television appearance that an “enormous cohort” of young black and Latino males “don’t know how to behave in the workplace.”

Bloomberg, who at the time was in his final term as mayor of New York City, made the remarks at the launch of his multimillion dollar Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) in August 2011....

Bloomberg’s remarks ... struck many, especially within New York City’s African American community, as insensitive and bled over into YMI’s public perception. The Village Voice, a prominent New York City tabloid, mocked the initiative as “the white mayor’s burden,” while questioning its feasibility.

Michael Meyers, the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, was even more direct, claiming the program was paternalistic and perpetrated problematic stereotypes of young black men.

Meyers wrote for the Huffington Post shortly after the initiative launched:
I am opposed to this Young Men’s scheme because the black and Latino community is dis-served by good-intentioned paternalism — such strategies … are doomed to fail because they are trying to sell hope through charity and group blame.
If this really is a two-candidate nominating contest -- Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders -- I'll remind you that while Sanders might struggle to fight off attacks on his championing of democratic socialism, Bloomberg is just as likely to be pummeled on his well-documented racist and sexist words and deeds.

Maybe it won't matter. Maybe he just has too much money for this to hurt him. But he's vulnerable, and the right is shameless.

Monday, February 17, 2020


There are tens of thousands of coronavirus cases now, and Senator Tom Cotton has some thoughts about that.
Speaking on Fox News, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, raised the possibility that the virus had originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak.

“We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there,” the senator said, “but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all.”

He's not the only right-winger talking like this:
The idea of the coronavirus as an escaped weapon has been carried through international news outlets like the British tabloid The Daily Mail and The Washington Times, which suggested that the virus was being developed as part of China’s biowarfare program.

Last month, [Steve] Bannon invited Bill Gertz, a Washington Times reporter, to be a guest on the inaugural episode of his radio show “War Room: Pandemic,” a spinoff of his “War Room: Impeachment,” which defended Mr. Trump during the Senate impeachment trial.

“Bill Gertz had an amazing piece in The Washington Times about the biological labs that happen to be in Wuhan,” Mr. Bannon said on his Jan. 25 show. Mr. Gertz appeared on another show several days later to continue putting forward the bioweapons theory.

Fox News has also dabbled in the theory, in one article drawing a connection between a 1980s thriller by Dean Koontz that “predicted coronavirus.” The book is about a Chinese military lab that creates a biological weapon.
We're told that Cotton walked back his speculation:
After receiving criticism for lending credence to what has been largely considered a fringe theory, the senator took to Twitter to say that he did not necessarily think the virus was an “engineered bioweapon.”

But of Cotton's "four hypotheses," three presuppose that the virus came from a lab.

Meanwhile, NPR interviewed Dr. Ian Lipkin. He's a Columbia University epidemiologist who's been investigating the virus and recently returned from Wuhan. He is unequivocal about this theory:

DR. LIPKIN: We think the outbreak originated in wildlife. All the sequencing assays that we've built, the genetic studies, indicate that it probably came from a bat, and likely through some sort of intermediate host, probably a small mammal. This is what's happened with SARS, and we think something similar happened here. But we don't know precisely how it moved from bats into humans.

... we've been trying to convince people to shut down these wild animal markets for a very long time. There are so many diseases, not just this one, but Ebola, MERS, a number of other viral infections, which originate in wildlife. What happens in these markets is you get an exchange of viruses between wildlife and domestic animals, and sometimes directly from wildlife to people, and that's where many of these emerging infections arise.

The one thing I want to say very clearly is that we've examined the possibility that some have suggested, that this virus might have originated in a biocontainment lab or might be some sort of biologically defined weapon, and there's no evidence for that whatsoever. This is a classic example of a zoonosis -- something that starts in wildlife and unfortunately makes its way into people.
Here's a 2010 New York Times profile of Dr. Lipkin, published under the headline "A Man From Whom Viruses Can’t Hide." I think I trust his assessment more than that of Senator Cotton or Steve Bannon.


President Trump's campaign persuaded him to make an appearance at the Daytona 500 yesterday. Trump was the race's grand marshal -- an honor bestowed in recent years on such luminaries as ... um, Owen Wilson, James Franco, and Nicolas Cage.

Trump's presence annoyed some fans.
Many complained of the long lines, delays, and other aspects exacerbated by Trump's attendance.

"We would like a refund," one first time attendee said according to ABC News. "My feet are sore. I've been standing in that line for three hours. I paid $100 to stand in line for three hours, and that's not a good thing. We got water, but there's no place to go to the bathroom. It's definitely very unorganized."

"This is really ridiculous," another added. "All the people pay for this thing and it's holding them up. We paid extra to get in here and we're not getting to enjoy it."
But coverage in the right-wing press would put North Korean propaganda to shame. Here's a post at PJ Media:
NASCAR fans got the show of the century on Sunday at the Daytona 500 when the grand marshal of the event, President Donald J. Trump, made his entrance by buzzing the Daytona International Speedway in Air Force One—only 800 feet off the racetrack. Announcers called it "one of the most incredible things" ever seen....

"I've been to a lot of Daytona 500s, but never have I felt [this] excitement and energy...we've got the president landing right now!" said one of the announcers. No president has ever been the grand marshal of the Daytona 500. Look at this photo!

This photo, we now know, wasn't of Trump's plane -- it's President George W. Bush's plane when he appeared at Daytona in 2004.
President Donald Trump's campaign manager ... Brad Parscale tweeted the 2004 photo, which shows Air Force One rising above packed stands at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, and wrote, ".@realDonaldTrump won the #Daytona500 before the race even started."

The tweet stayed online for about three hours, drawing at least 6,700 retweets and 23,000 likes before it was deleted. Users identifying themselves as Trump supporters replied with messages like "Amazing shot wow" and "WOW WHAT A SHOT!!!!!!!!!"

But the photo was taken by photographer Jonathan Ferrey on February 15, 2004, after Bush's visit to the racetrack, as Air Force One took off from the adjacent Daytona Beach International Airport.
Trump hates the Bush family. Does he know that his campaign manger tweeted a photo of W's plane and said it was Trump's? Does he realize that this flyover bears a strong resemblance to W's "Mission Accomplished" photo op in 2013? Is he aware that the Daytona Speedway has a strong connection to the Bush family? Three Bushes have appeared there, at either the Daytona 500 or the Pepsi 400, as the Orlando Sentinel reported in 2000.
The third political figure in the famed Bush family will take his seat in the pace car at this year's Pepsi 400 NASCAR race July 1.

Presidential candidate and two-term Texas Gov. George W. Bush will give the "start your engines" command and then lead the pack of drivers in a lap around the Daytona International Speedway's tri-oval track, speedway spokeswoman Kathy Catron said.

"He's the last on our list of Bushes," Catron said Friday. "We'd already had President George Bush here as grand marshal in 1992 and Gov. Jeb Bush here in 1998."

The senior Bush also served as honorary starter for the Daytona 500 in February 1983 when he was vice president.
Poopy Bush was also the grand marshal at the Daytona 500 in 1978, when he was CIA director (and planning a presidential run in 1980).

More gush from PJ Media:
There were rumors all week that the president would also take a lap in The Beast [Trump's presidential limousine] before the race. Shortly after the AF1 flyover, he did just that....

But he didn't just want to drive around the track—the president paced the field ahead of the competitors too.

(Is that really awesome? They're driving at what appears to be normal speed. What am I missing?)

Trump made a speech. He said, "Gentlemen, start your engines." He claimed he wanted to "get in the race if possible." (He didn't.)
America's most popular sport just had an epic day!
Is NASCAR really "America's most popular sport"? Attendance at NASCAR races has been declining for years, as Sports Illustrated noted in 2019.
Last Sunday’s Food Series 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) drew just 38,000 fans (track seats 162,000) and Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway didn’t fare any better; no more than 40% of the venue’s 51,000 seats were occupied.... Gate attendance has been a problem for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series all season. The Daytona 500 was the only race among the first 9 to sell-out.
And even for the Daytona 500, TV attendance has been dropping.

And after all that Trump strutting, the race was rained out and will have to be concluded today.