Centrist Democrats find themselves in a quandry: the more they attack Bernie Sanders, the more that voters support him. If only there was a solution.
You’re reading this, so you probably follow political punditry. And if you follow political punditry, you’ve been hearing the usual corporate suspects predict that one of two things will happen in this fall’s midterm elections: either the Democrats will win big (win back the Senate), or they’ll win really big (the House too). Outta the way, Congressional Republicans: here comes the Big Blue Wave!
Of course, these are the same clowns who called it big for President Hillary. Yet on and on they yammer, and we have to listen to them since big-money political media won’t hire anyone who has a clue.
Interestingly, there are early warning signs — just as there were throughout the 2016 presidential race — that Democrats may be counting their electoral chickens before they’re aborted.
“The Democratic advantage on the generic congressional ballot, which asks people whether they’ll vote for Democrats or Republicans for Congress, has dwindled since the heart of the tax debate in December,” Nate Cohn reports in The New York Times. “Then, nearly all surveys put Republicans behind by double digits. Now, poll averages put the Democratic lead at only around six or seven percentage points…the last two weeks of polls have gone further than a reversion to the mean. They’re arguably the best two weeks of polls for Republicans since the failure of the Senate health care bill in July. A highly sensitive poll average — like the FiveThirtyEight tracker — might put the Democratic lead down to roughly six points, basically the lowest level since the spring.”
As Cohn notes, there are nine long months to go before November. Things can and will change. Historically, the party in power usually gets “shellacked” during midterm elections. Democrats hope that voters will punish GOP senators and representatives as proxies for their party’s incredibly unpopular standardbearer.
People hate Trump. Yet Democrats have good cause for concern. Americans vote their pocketbooks, and their wallets are feeling better than they have in a long time. Unemployment hasn’t been this low since 9/11 — to the point that employers are complaining about labor shortages. Consumer confidence hasn’t been this high since Bill Clinton was president. Most people don’t own stocks, but the Dow is soaring — and that’s usually better for jobs than the other way around. Fuel prices have been lower. Like it or not (I don’t), the GOP’s tax bill is becoming more popular.
Given what a turd Trump is, you’d think the booming economy might not be enough to keep voters from turning out against incumbent Republicans this fall. But you’d be forgetting the Democratic Party’s inimitable talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Democrats are still hobbled by the same internal divisions that led to Clinton’s defeat. The Bernie progressives have the energy and the momentum but the DNC is still under the Clintonista jackboot. In most Republican districts, the Democratic challenger is a corporate right-winger Bernie’s peeps won’t care enough to drag themselves to the polls on a rainy Tuesday in November. A lot of them (women, people of color) play to identity politics over class-based populism — that was a loser in 2016, and it could easily bomb again this year.
The biggest issue for the Democrats is their lack of issues or, more precisely, their lack of a coherent platform of policies with which to unify scores of local campaigns into a national referendum, as Newt Gingrich did for the GOP with his Contract for America in 1994.
What would the Dems do if they got their sweep? No one knows.
Would they impeach Trump? They’re not saying.
Would they repeal the Trump tax law? Probably not (but they should say they would).
Would Democrats push for a higher minimum wage? A national abortion-rights bill? Cutting back NSA surveillance? Bringing back troops from Afghanistan and Iraq? Closing Gitmo? Probably none of the above — so why would left-of-center voters get excited about more of the same?
Democrats aren’t promising anything. Voters may take them at their word — and let the Republicans keep on keeping on.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
President Trump’s voter-fraud commission made news when states refused to share personal voter data with it. But considering the fact that the U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnout rate among the democracies, maybe we should be more grateful to the few people who sneak into the polls to vote illegally.
You’ve read post-election analysis by the discredited corporate pundits who thought Hillary was a shoo-in. Since I saw Donald Trump’s “upset” coming, my take on what happened and why may be of more interest.
As with any large-scale disaster, the ascent of a spectacularly unqualified buffoon to the most powerful political office on earth came about as the result of numerous system failures and operator errors. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of what went wrong.
System Failures: Problems Hardwired Into the Machine
- Democrats took their progressive base for granted.
Following George McGovern’s landslide loss to Richard Nixon in 1972, the Democrats’ conservative southern wing seized control of the DNC and other leadership apparatus. Center-right Dems won four presidential races with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but at a cost. Election after election, liberals and progressives — the party’s base and thus its greatest potential source of votes, donations and enthusiasm — were taken for granted as the party moved right in search of swing voters. Where else, the Clintonian Brahmins asked smugly, could lefties go? The answer was nowhere: snubbed, unmotivated and disgusted, they stayed home this November.
- No safety net for workers displaced by globalization and deindustrialization.
NAFTA wasn’t the beginning; it was the last nail in the coffin of the postwar boom that elevated blue-collar manufacturing jobs to professions paying enough to finance the American Dream. Year after year, millions of workers lost good jobs and were forced to make do with two lousy ones. Inner cities, and not a few suburbs, rotted and died. Neither major party talked about the Making of America Not Great Anymore, much less tried to do anything about it. Trump scored big Rust Belt points merely by acknowledging the long-ignored pain of millions.
- In media coverage of the horse race, some candidates are more equal than others.
If you were designing American democracy from scratch, you’d probably make it a rule that every candidate for office receives the same attention from the media. (France does this.) But we’re light years away from that ideal. Trump received more TV minutes and column-inches than his Republican rivals because he was (a) outrageous and (b) a celebrity. Clinton’s coverage overshadowed Sanders’ because media gatekeepers were (a) enamored of their pre-fab “first woman president follows first black president” narrative and (b) couldn’t imagine that an elderly socialist from Vermont could be a serious contender. Who would be president-elect today had Rand Paul, Carla Fiorina and Bernie Sanders been given a fair chance to make their cases to the voters? Probably not Trump.
Operator Errors: Screw-Ups By Individual Politicians and Organizations
- Hillary’s campaign partied like it was 1996.
Campaigning has changed since the Clintonian heyday of the ’90s, but Hillary’s strategists didn’t get the memo. Trump ad-libbed outrageous vidbytes at his rallies, making them must-see TV and earning billions in free exposure; Hillary stuck to her deadly dull stump speech, doomed to be ignored. While Trump worked Twitter like a tween at 3 am — ensuring that story-hungry editors would see his hilarious rants when they arrived at their desks — it took 12 Clinton staffers to compose a single tweet whose made-by-committee provenance made it dead on arrival. She spent many millions on a repeat loop of anti-Trump TV ads featuring clips everyone had already seen. Considering that she barely survived Bernie Sanders’ primary challenge, it should have been obvious to her team that the Democratic party has moved left (as has the nation). So why did her 2016 campaign follow the old Dick Morris move-right-for-the-general-election model from 1996, moving right in order to “reach out to Republican megadonors“? Meanwhile, Morris himself understood the new reality. “But Trump is doing more than driving populist Democrats into Republican arms,” Morris wrote. “He is separating the establishment left of the Democratic Party from its populist base. His candidacy separates the blue-collar social populists from their partisan moorings even as his economic populism appeals to the Sanders left.” He wrote that in May.
- The DNC ignored polls that showed Bernie was a better candidate than Hillary.
Trump’s “surprise” win wasn’t shocking to people who were paying attention. Throughout the primary and general election, the DNC brushed off head-to-head tracking polls that showed that Hillary Clinton never enjoyed a commanding lead over, and sometimes fell behind, Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, consistently held a double-digit lead, sometimes as high as 20 percent, over Trump. As it turned out, Trump would have lost to Sanders. In a change year when Americans were in the mood for radical populism, Sanders offered all the stuff voters liked about Trump — his anti-free trade message, economic populism, opposition to stupid foreign wars, the fiery, outspoken energy of a loud New Yorker — minus his manic loopiness and offensive comments about women and minorities. Granted, Bernie’s poll numbers would have suffered under an onslaught of ads depicting the Vermont senator as the second coming of Stalin, Soviet May Day parade footage and “The Internationale” playing incessantly. But the Cold War is over. Americans are more afraid of cost-cutting CEOs than commissars.
- Hillary Clinton didn’t appoint Bernie Sanders as vice president, or to a cabinet position.
Democratic voters wanted Hillary — a lifelong right-wing Democrat — to balance the ticket by choosing a progressive running mate like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker or her rival Bernie Sanders. But she never considered any of them, going instead with some guy who’s name I still struggle to remember. Ironically, no one understood the disastrous implications of Hillary’s choice better than right-wing blogger Wayne Allyn Root in The Blaze: ” Hillary desperately needed a shot in the arm; an exciting and edgy vice president by her side…Tim Kaine isn’t just boring… Kaine is an affront to every Bernie Sanders supporter – which happens to be all the youth and energy in the entire Democrat Party.”
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
After an election season in which nothing they predicted came true — their confidence that Donald Trump would never be the Republican nominee comes to mind — you’d think our losing-streak corporate pundits would be reluctant to underestimate Trump’s chance of winning the presidency in November.
Alas, there is no limit to the willfully oblivious hubris of the barking dogs of the political class. Despite last week’s cataclysm the airwaves and opinion pages are still dominated by the smug meme that It Can’t Happen Here.
Never mind that half of that It, Trump’s capture of the nomination, has Happened. But this is where Trump’s juggernaut stops, say the center-right prognosticators. Polls show him losing to Hillary Clinton by 14% — er, now it’s 2%. But still.
Trump’s disapproval ratings are as big as his ego. Women hate the guy. So do Latinos; Republicans can’t win without them. Trump, they assure, has a ceiling: 45%. No way no how will more than 45% of Americans vote for him. (Remember when the same folks told us his ceiling was 30% — of Republicans?) He’s a guaranteed loosah.
If Hillary Clinton prevails over Bernie Sanders and the Department of Justice to become the Democratic standard-bearer, she’ll be welcomed as a liberator against Trump, Democratic leaders say. Most GOP insiders say/fear the same thing: she’ll win by a landslide.
I wouldn’t be so sure.
There are plenty of good reasons to believe that Trump will defeat the former secretary of state.
Before we list them, please bear in mind something no one talks about: what an amazing candidate Trump has proven to be. Not only does Trump have no political experience, this is his first run for president, or for any elected office. For a novice to win a major party nomination on his first time out, spending hardly any of his own money, is a triumph, a trifecta without historical precedent. (True, there was Eisenhower. But Ike was the supreme commander of Allied forces during World War II, and president of Columbia University. Those were essentially political positions.) With Trump, we are in uncharted territory. The man is a beast.
Now for the factors that run counter to the widely accepted Hillary-is-a-shoo-in narrative.
First, Hillary is a weak candidate.
Her negatives are nearly as high as Trump’s. A recent poll shows her even or losing against Trump in key battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The liberal base of the Democratic Party, which mostly supports Bernie Sanders, is not at all Ready for Hillary. If the Bernie or Bust movement convinces even a few percentage points worth of Dems to stay home, write in Bernie’s name or vote for Jill Stein, that shortfall of support could be enough to throw the race The Donald’s way. If anything, Hillary is the one with a ceiling: she’s been in public life so long that it’s hard to believe that anyone who doesn’t like her now will find a reason to do so in the next six months. Politically, we’re just getting to know Trump.
Also, Americans’ hardwired historical amnesia is tailor-made for Trump.
His insane pronouncements would sink a conventional candidate. But when his racist or idiotic statements stir controversy, he doesn’t apologize: he denies that he ever said them. Then he doubles down. He constantly contradicts himself, sometimes in the same speech. This drives the media crazy. But it doesn’t touch Teflon Don. Thanks to Ronald Reagan and his ideological progeny, we’re living at a time when we choose our own facts along with our opinions — and no one is held accountable for their broken promises, hypocrisies or flip-flops. The past? Even when it isn’t past, even in real time, the past so doesn’t matter. As a conventional politician, Hillary will be forced to defend herself and her long record in public service from Trump’s attacks. Because he has no such record, and the record he does have is something he’ll just lie about — and voters will be perfectly fine with it — she can’t go after him the same way.
Because GOP campaigning is so much more effective, Democratic presidential candidates need to be at least 10% ahead of Republicans in August in order to win in November. Trump and Clinton are single digits apart, and it’s only May. Just wait until the zillions of GOP attack ads do their thing.
Trump’s Republican Party may not be as unified as they would like. But it will be unified enough to beat Hillary. Because she’s unwilling to make the policy and personnel concessions necessary to bring Sanders’ supporters into her fold — $15/hour minimum wage, offer Sanders veep — she’ll never be able to recover from the bruising primaries. Her party will be the more fractured one.
Trump is also in the unique position of being positioned to attack her from both the left and the right. He’ll go after her as a warmonger and a free trader and fiscally irresponsible and corrupt. As we’ve seen in the primaries, he has an uncanny ability to hone in on his rivals’ Achilles’ heels. Then he kicks them until they fall.
In the end, Hillary’s biggest liability may be overconfidence. She clearly doesn’t think much of Trump’s intellect, his political acumen or his campaign chops. Big mistake. This guy is many things, some of them very bad. But he is not stupid. Donald Trump is one of the most formidable politicians of our lifetimes. He can win.
After having been dismissed and ignored by the media, Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls. He appears to have New Hampshire in the bag. He has a new lead in Iowa. And some national polls show him as a genuine threat to Hillary across the nation. What went wrong, again?
The Republican Party is trying to rein in Donald Trump after his remarks saying that many Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals. They don’t want anyone to think the GOP is a racist party, even though history, and the fact that Trump is now running second in the polls, indicate otherwise.
Obama is a Uniquely Lazy, Ignorant, Weird President Who Has Done More to Undermine Faith in American Democracy Than We Could Have Imagined In Our Worst Nightmare
Obama will go down in history as a unique president. Because he’s black*, obviously.
Also because he’s a uniquely weird guy: a politician who knows nothing about politics — and doesn’t seem interested in figuring it out. Even while his presidency is in crisis, he’s so obliviously impassively oblivious you have to wonder if he’s living in the same dimension as the rest of us.
Officially (Dow Jones Industrial Average, rich people’s incomes, the fake unemployment and inflation figures issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the economy is recovering. Officially, the wars are ending. (“On the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan, not so much.) Yet Obama’s approval ratings are plunging, even lower than other recent two-term presidents at the same point in time — including the vile, insipid, illegitimate usurper Bush.
No wonder: Obama’s messaging is lousy. John McCain, a zillion years older than the president he lost to and operating with a brain damaged under torture, can see it — so why can’t Obama?
That’s what McCain was wondering aloud after a panel convened to advise Obama about the NSA issued its report: “Most presidents would have now given a speech and said, ‘OK, here’s what the recommendations are; here’s what I think we ought to do.’ Instead, it just came out.” Like a wet turd. “There’s not a translation of facts and events to remedies that the president supports.” How hard is it to tell the panel to submit their ideas to him first so he can repackage the ones he agrees with as his own? That’s Management 101.
Obama is ignorant. Doesn’t have a clue what his minions are up to. Which is bad. Obama’s ignorance is devastating because he lets us know that he doesn’t know. Reagan only read single-page memos, and though Americans suspected he was daft, they didn’t know. It makes a difference.
Chiming in from the even-a-right-winger-who-loved-Bush-can-be-right-twice-a-year corner of The Washington Post op-ed page, Charles Krauthammer marvels: “With alarming regularity, [Obama] professes obliviousness to the workings of his own government. He claims, for example, to have known nothing about the IRS targeting scandal, the AP phone records scandal, the NSA tapping of Angela Merkel. And had not a clue that the centerpiece of his signature legislative achievement — the online Obamacare exchange, three years in the making — would fail catastrophically upon launch. Or that Obamacare would cause millions of Americans to lose their private health plans.”
Dude went to Columbia and Harvard. He seems smart. What’s wrong with him? Is he — as his former colleagues at the University of Chicago, who noticed that he never published — lazy? He’s certainly a far cry from the LBJ who, according to his biographer Robert Caro, routinely burned the midnight oil committing every sentence of every bill, ever, to memory.
Obviously, a president who finds time to watch sports, play golf and kick off for vacations for weeks at a time — while the global economy is melting down — hell, while his signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare has all but completely imploded — is lazy as all get up. Still, there’s nothing new about presidential sloth. Reagan, Clinton and Bush all worked less than the average minimum-wage worker whose misery they were steadfastly ignoring.
Obama is unique, though. It goes beyond laziness. He doesn’t follow tried and true practices of presidential governance that have served his predecessors for more than two centuries. Intentional? Who knows? It seems more than likely that (and this is so outlandish that I’ve literally waited years to write these words) he is so ignorant of history that he doesn’t know why and how previous presidents have failed and succeeded. Because, let’s face it, if this is three-dimensional chess, he’s down three queens.
The most blinding example of Obama’s ignorance of/unwillingness to/disdain for the act of governing/politicking is what I call Governus Interruptus — delivering a major speech on a problem, then failing to follow up with a policy initiative (a bill, say).
“President Obama’s speeches…are often thoughtful, nuanced, highly evocative, and exceptionally well-delivered — and worse than inconsequential,” Amitai Etzioni writes in The Atlantic. “They raise expectations — a world without nukes! Ending global warming! Finally curbing gun violence! — but are not followed by much of anything. These barren speeches are one reason the public, and especially the young, are becoming disaffected from politics, bad news for any democracy.”
Speaking of LBJ: When he announced “a national war on poverty” with one objective — “total victory” — to lift up the people “who have not shared in the abundance which has been granted to most of us, and on whom the gates of opportunity have been closed” — he didn’t leave it at that. Food stamps, Head Start and other anti-poverty programs followed…laws that began as bills. Bills drafted by the White House and proposed to Congress, which the president strong-armed into passing.
Where is Obama’s nuclear disarmament bill? Why hasn’t he convened a global summit to address the environmental emergency, with the U.S. leading the way with dramatic initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases? Where is his gun control proposal?
Obama jawboned his way into the White House. Evidently Obama hasn’t read enough to know that talking isn’t governing.
Either that, or he doesn’t care.
(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL