Is the Democratic Party Sustainable?

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Democratic Party, Sanders and Clinton

Last week I wrote about the way Democratic Party power brokers and insiders decided that Hillary Clinton would be the Dem nominee several months before the primaries began. No “establishment” Democrats challenged her in the primaries for that reason.

A few days later I got into an online conversation with a Dem apologist, who insisted this was not un-democratic because Clinton was the first choice of “the base.” And how do we know what “the base” wanted months before any votes were cast? Polls, he said. Polls of likely Democratic voters taken early in 2015 made her the heavy favorite for the nomination.

Just as polls taken in 2007 before the primaries started also made Clinton the heavy favorite for the nomination in 2008. Oh, wait …

I believe it has been long established that voter polls taken a great many months before serious campaigning even begins are fairly worthless as predictors of the eventual winner, because people are mostly just reacting to name recognition. Once they actually get a good look at all the candidates they often change their minds.

That’s why I’m not too concerned that polls are showing a tight race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in November. Opinion is going to shift around once we move into general election campaign mode. Clinton has huge advantages in the electoral college map, and most news media will want her to win and will give her sympathetic treatment.

However, it does amuse me that now there is reason to be worried about Clinton’s electability against Trump. Last week David Catanese wrote in U.S. News

Then came Tuesday, when a trio of battleground state general election polls dropped into the inboxes of the political intelligentsia with a disorienting thud. Surprise (!) – the numbers showed that despite all the disunity, resistance and hand-wringing, The Donald was competitive with Clinton. The tales of a great blowout were, in fact, blown out of proportion: Quinnipiac University polling placed Trump essentially tied with Clinton in Florida and Pennsylvania and ahead of her in Ohio. Even critics who quibbled the survey’s sampling could not deny these were single-digit, margin-of-error contests.

The icing on top: Trump begins in a marginally better place than Romney did in 2012. At this same point in the race, the former Massachusetts governor was behind President Barack Obama by 8 points in Pennsylvania; Trump is down just 1 point to Clinton. In Ohio, Obama was ahead of Romney by 1 point; Trump leads Clinton by 4. In Florida, Romney led Obama by 1 point; Trump is down by 1 point.

On Tuesday night, as Trump rolled to easy victories as nominee-to-be in the West Virginia and Nebraska primaries, there was Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old steadfast socialist, scoring another victory against Clinton. The Vermont senator not only won West Virginia – he trampled her in a 15-point rout that marked her biggest drop in support in any state from her 2008 White House bid.

Propelled by rolling cable television coverage – which repeatedly flashed the Quinnipiac numbers on full-screen graphics – and the dizzying Twittersphere – which now had more reason to buzz about Bernie’s staying power – Trump looked like the winner and Clinton, a limp loser.

In the 2008 primaries, when she was running against that black guy, Clinton did very well among white blue-collar men. Now all of a sudden the old Democratic “rust belt” states look vulnerable for Dems, mostly because those white blue-collar men prefer Trump or Sanders. Like this should surprise anybody. But apparently, it did. Abby Phillip writes for the Washington Post that Clinton may have a fight on her hands in what should be reliably “blue” states.

Clinton performed poorly against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in Democratic primaries in this part of the country — partly because of her past support for free-trade agreements and partly because Sanders’s promises to focus on economic issues and income inequality resonated with voters. Those factors could work against her with Trump, who has criticized her positions on trade and has also found deep appeal among the working class.

Oops.

Do you remember all the times we were told that not voting for Clinton was a vote for President Trump? A big part of Clinton’s marketing strategy has been that she was the only Democrat running who could beat Trump. The only Clinton television ads I saw here in New York were basically trying to frighten voters with the Trump boogeyman, so you’d better vote for for Hillary. There’s no way to know, but I strongly suspect that Clinton’s margin of victory in many states (like New York) was made up of people who bought that argument.

I should say, who bought that argument that was unfounded on anything like a factual basis. It’s probably the case that among all the Democrats who might have run had the power brokers told them not to, just about any of them would have been a stronger general election candidate against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton will be. It’s also possible that Bernie Sanders would be a stronger general election candidate against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton will be. Poll data certainly says so, although that’s not necessarily proof of anything this far in advance of the general election.

The moral of this story, seems to me, is that rather than allowing a cadre of elites to decide ahead of time who The People want, maybe it’s better to encourage competition and let The People decide for themselves who they want. You end up with a more marketable product in the end. However, the reaction of the DNC seems to be in the opposite direction — let’s eliminate open primaries! We need to be even more isolated and ideologically inbred than we already are! That’s the ticket!

This is so obviously a “change” election. To run a candidate who represents the past, who promises to be pragmatic and not attempt anything radical, is an obvious misstep. Loyal Democrats will vote for her, but independents have already shown they’d prefer somebody else. And while Clinton currently looks weak against Trump, if the GOP had gotten its act together and nominated a more “establishment” Republican, I doubt she’d have any chance at all. Given a contest of two candidates both promising to not do anything, it would come down to a likeability contest. Cough.

A few days ago David Atkins wrote at Washington Monthly that the Democratic Party elites (including news media elites) have now decided voters aren’t really angry about economic unfairness after all.

There is a growing amount of contrarian analysis these days suggesting that Americans really aren’t so angry about the economy after all, that what appears to be economic populism is really just a cover for racism, sexism or other cultural issues, and that ultimately the only thing the majority of voters really want is a stable technocrat who will keep the good times rolling while fixing some social issues….

…In most cases, these writers are trying to use broad quantitative data about economic satisfaction to explain away what seems to be obvious on its face, which is that Sanders and Trump are both running economic populist campaigns that have resonated deeply with large and different sections of the electorate. The corollary to this argument is that it’s not economics but raw racism that is driving Trump’s success, and that Sanders’ success is a factor less of economic anger than some combination of sexism and cult of personality.

I think that most Clinton supporters sincerely believe this. They believe they can ignore Sanders’s popularity because it’s just sexism, or a fad. They don’t have to listen to what his supporters actually are saying (although, to be honest, a lot of them aren’t saying it very well) because they’ll get over it once Hillary Clinton is president and they see how awesome she is.

To believe these things, of course, you would have to assume that voters aren’t actually being inspired by the rhetoric and policy positions of Sanders and Trump but by other factors they’re subtly tapping into. You would have to ignore most of the actual reasons given in interviews and focus groups by Sanders and Trump voters for why they support their candidates. You would have to ignore what they actually say in media comments sections and at various political forums.

You would, in essence, have to ignore all the qualitative data in front of you showing what people say in their own words, in favor of polling data about their generic feelings about the economy or their own current personal economic situation.

So, basically, opposition to Clinton / support for Trump is being attributed to bigotry, and all the other reasons are being swept under a big, expensive rug, as far as the elites are concerned.

I still (although sadly) expect Clinton to be the nominee, and I still expect her to win. As I said, her advantages will be that (a) Trump is an odious oaf, and (b) most news media will prefer her to him and will treat her sympathetically. Women and minorities will turn out to vote down Trump in epic numbers.

But the question I initially asked is, is the Democratic Party sustainable? How long can it continue to be this oblivious to reality and still function?

I have more to say on this, but will continue later …

Update: See also This is one weak nominee: Hillary Clinton’s problem isn’t Bernie Sanders. It’s Hillary Clinton

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Porlock Junior  •  May 14, 2016 @3:44 pm

    That’s a good analysis in the Salon article you added.

    There’s one point that seems to have been overlooked (or maybe I read too hastily and overlooked it): Who says that continuing the campaign will weaken the candidate in the general election?

    Well, the guy he quotes, Michael Cohen, says so, or takes it as too obvious to argue for. So do nearly all the Clinton fans. I say “nearly” because I don’t want to demonize them or assume there aren’t a bunch of people who have made reasoned, informed decisions to support her but don’t follow the whole party line. (Clinton herself is not going there, and her present concentration on Trump says something about the widespread fear that she’s being deprived of time to get into the goddam MONTHS of campaign time after the conventions.)

    Alas, these reasoning and informed people seem entirely absent from her campaign. Remember what poor advice she got in 2008? Remember all the crap she listened to, then and since, from Lanny Davis and all? As David Niose shows, the Democrats now head into the real election with weaknesses (serious or not, YMMV) from the way that the DxC (for various 1 or 2 letter values of x) are well stocked, or stacked, from her faction.

    The Demos also start with a big advantage (h/t to the Wall Street Journal for the facts): if each of the states that has voted D in all the past 6 presidential years does a repeat, the candidate starts with a really good position. Lotta big states there. How many more electoral votes are needed for an Electoral College majority?

    What would you guess? How about 28? Yes. Pick that up from some swing states; or just carry Florida. Hail to the Chief.

    But she (as I assume) has problems getting there. Carry West Virginia? Not bloody likely. How many others?

    The real master of this situation, who will determine the fate of the fricking world: Not so much Trump as the little group who advise Clinton. The choice is theirs , to work thard for support from the Democratic segment of the party, or not.

    I need to go draw happy faces for a while.

    I look forward to seeing the winner of the nomination standing in front of the convention with her (or his) former rival, both declaring that the Democrats offer the only escape from the monstrous regiment of Trump. (*) Alas, I would not currently give even money for this happening.

    (*) Apologies to any who recognize the title of a monstrous anti-feminist tract by John Knox. But I like the phrase which BTW is about governance, not a military unit.

  2. Porlock Junior  •  May 14, 2016 @3:48 pm

    Gosh darn it, I didn’t delete the paragraph, the final one, that I meant to. Along with its footnotes. And without an edit facility, it’s stuck there.

  3. maha  •  May 14, 2016 @3:58 pm

    Porlock — the paragraph beginning “I look forward to seeing …”? I can delete it for you.

  4. c u n d gulag  •  May 14, 2016 @4:07 pm

    i disagree about one thing – the MSM HATES Hillary, and will undermine her, the way they did Gore and Kerry.
    They will jump on any and every gaff.
    FSM forbid she gives a ‘Dean scream!’
    tRUMP will be allowed plenty of space to bellow stupid and bigoted shit. If she makes any sngle error, it’ll make Dean’s scream seem like a fart in a hurricane.

    Hillary, like Bill in the 90’s. did well in Appalachia in 2008 – your old turf, maha.
    But this year, after working as SoS for four years for that Kenyan SocialiFasciCommuniHeatheAtheiGodlesMusliN*gger Tyrant and pussy, she’ll have a hard time in those states.
    Also, she’s for renewable energy sources, which offends the few remaining union coal minors, and their long unemployed brethren.

    tRUMP is the most dangerously ignorant, stupid, and bigoted major party candidate in our history!
    He makes George W. Bush seem like a Rhodes Scholar, Einstein, and Albert Schweitzer!!!

    If he’s elected, the world’s other nuclear countries may decide to nuke us, before this ignorant and insecure “MORAN” wakes up in a snit one mornng, and feels like Russia, China, or some tiny country disrespected him!
    The whole world will need to avoid any ‘small hands = tiny dick’ jokes!

    Hillary will be under a microscope.
    tRUMP should be under colonoscope, and restrained in Hannibal Lecter gear.

    Hillary had better not blow it!
    The MSM will be watching and listening, and willing to make her tiniest gaff into the greatest fustercluck of a comment, that’ll make Gerald Ford’s gaff about Poland in his debate with Carter, seem like a sportscaster being off on the score by a point, in a blow-out win!

  5. maha  •  May 14, 2016 @4:19 pm

    // the MSM HATES Hillary, and will undermine her, the way they did Gore and Kerry.// They hate Trump even more, though. And right now they’re off their game.

  6. csm  •  May 14, 2016 @4:50 pm

    The general election should be the dems race to lose, given the demographics of the electorate and Trump as the opponent. I read earlier that Sheldon Adelson has thrown in with Trump to the tune of $100 million, because he thinks he’d be better for Israel. But the idea of Trump in control of the most powerful nuclear arsenal should be far more scarier than what could happen as a result of the Iran deal. This is but one example why Trump should be a bridge to far for most voters.

    This is but another symptom of the disarray and craziness of the right. Dems should be going for broke, and yet “leadership” foists on the party probably the weakest, most compromised, lackadaisical candidate they can find. Sure, Clinton has name recognition and her election would be an historical event that most of us could be proud of. But she’s one general election “scandal” away from disaster. And yes, the media isn’t crazy about Trump/”John Miller” but the temptation to trash a Clinton plumbing the depths of another phony scandal is still in their blood.

    My lament is this: why couldn’t the dems have just played this primary straight, let there be open competition, and if as the Hillary supporters insist, she is the “best” candidate (read: the only one who can beat the GOP, is “real” democrat/progressive and not a “socialist, and all the other stuff we hear ad nauseum) then she would have come out on top and in a much stronger position than she is now. My biggest fear is that too much of her support, particularly from the black community, is based in name recognition and not much else. This is not to say that Hillary would not make a good executive, but she has to win first. I really hope she does.

  7. maha  •  May 14, 2016 @5:08 pm

    “I read earlier that Sheldon Adelson has thrown in with Trump to the tune of $100 million, because he thinks he’d be better for Israel.” This tells me Sheldon Adelson is an idiot, even within the parameters of his own myopic views. Clinton has more or less promised to let Netanyahu dictate U.S. Middle East policies. There’s no telling what Trump would do.

  8. Joel Dan Walls  •  May 14, 2016 @10:26 pm

    Geez Louise. I know people–friends, relatives, neighbors–who are firm Clinton supporters, and I have not heard a single one of them say that opposition to Clinton is simply about misogyny.

  9. maha  •  May 14, 2016 @10:46 pm

    Joel Dan Walls — Your sample is too small. You should try social media.

  10. Joel Dan Walls  •  May 16, 2016 @4:49 pm

    Not sure of your point. You can always find a Clinton supporter making that claim. And reading social media provides no more of a statistically significant sample than just talking to people I meet in the flesh. I’m sure I can go online and find someone claiming that opposition to Sanders is simply about anti-Semitism, too.

  11. maha  •  May 16, 2016 @8:07 pm

    JDW — I have a few thousand friends/followers here and there, so my social media outreach takes in a wide group of people, many of whom are political activists. And I haven’t yet seen anyone say that opposition to Sanders is simply about antisemitism. So my point stands.

  12. Swami  •  May 16, 2016 @9:39 pm

    I have a few thousand friends/followers here

    Yeah, and some of “us” are absolutely brilliant! Wise well beyond our years.

  13. maha  •  May 17, 2016 @2:43 pm

    //Yeah, and some of “us” are absolutely brilliant! //

    Bleep, yeah. I get smarter readers than anybody else. 🙂

  14. c u n d gulag  •  May 17, 2016 @3:16 pm

    Including me?

  15. maha  •  May 17, 2016 @8:43 pm

    gulag — you are BRILLIANT. In a gulag kind of way. 🙂

  16. c u n d gulag  •  May 17, 2016 @11:29 pm

    I’ll take that as a back-handed compliment, then..
    😡😉😈



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