Saturday, February 22, 2020

Race for the White House # 60

As the saying goes, "those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." While Donald Trump won the Presidency in 2016, many Americans, including many Democrats fear that Bernie Sanders cannot do so in 2020. Thus, the events that are resulting into him now being a clear frontrunner for his quasi-party's nomination, are leading to some increasing concern.

Four years ago, after Donald Trump started to do better with his base of Republican primary voters than expected, it was agreed that his opposition was too divided and that someone would have to emerge to take him out one on one. That never happened, and even as candidates dropped out, Trump seemed to somehow get stronger. The same now seems to be happening with Bernie Sanders. After "meh-ish" popular vote wins in Iowa and New Hampshire (and narrowly trailing Pete Buttigieg in the very early delegate count) , Sanders has easily won the Nevada Caucuses today and has taken a lead in the delegate count. Winning begets winning.

Next Saturday will be a crucial test in South Carolina If Sanders wins there, which now looks more likely, he will be even harder to stop, at least in a traditional primary sense. Just a few days later is "Super Tuesday" where Sanders seems likely to pick up many delegates. Will it be enough though to clinch it on the first ballot in Milwaukee or might we see a truly contested convention for the first time in America since 1952?

A heavily watched and much dissected debate occurred on Wednesday evening in Las Vegas. At the beginning of the week, it looked like it might be a muddled race for first in Nevada. Sanders escaped from the debate largely unscathed though, including being able to dodge questions about a broken promise of releasing more health records. This allowed him to easily win Nevada today. Instead, the close battle was for a distant second place. Final results are not known, but it looks like former Vice President Joe Biden, whom was once expected himself to be a heavy Nevada favorite seems to be in position for the silver medal in the Silver State. This would easily be Biden's best ever showing as a Presidential candidate going back to the early days of car phones. However, his campaign remains in dire straits as he has indeed continued to underperform. He was viewed as a virtual afterthought in the combative debate this past week and now must simply win South Carolina next Saturday or go home.. for good. Some concerns about opponents might make this slightly more possible, but at this point, I think Sanders is probably going to win South Carolina as well, and that Biden might even finish third. The fact that the Russians are trying to help Sanders win the nomination should be telling. We just formally found out about that yesterday. I cannot say I blame them. However, it does have to be said that Sanders rejected their support in a way that Donald Trump has never publicly done.

To some extent, the fates of both Biden and Sanders in South Carolina will rest upon the showings of the two candidates considered out of the game at this point. If Sanders narrowly loses, any amount of votes for Tulsi Gabbard may make the difference, although she also appears to be the darling of the Ron Paul libertarian wing of the Republican Party. On the other hand, billionaire Tom Steyer has been spending much money and time in South Carolina and winning support for black voters. If he does well enough, that could prove disastorous for Biden.

The battle for the "center lane" between Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg continues to rage. She clearly does not like him, as he managed to get her rattled in the last debate. (If a Boy Scout like Mayor Pete could bring out her temper like that, what would Trump do?) Ironically enough though, the two candidates who hope to see the most growth in support for the center of the party tried to get to each other's left at various points in the debate. It looks like Buttigieg has easily done better than Klobuchar in Nevada, making her strong showing in New Hampshire more of a memory now. He has beaten her in three states in a row. If the same happens in South Carolina, it would likely be time for the Minnesota Senator to accept reality. While Buttigieg has gone from first to second to third in a technical sense in these contests, he has continued to overperform and demonstrate strength. This was the first "diverse" state to vote though and he will need to continue to make inroads with black and Hispanic voters.

While Klobcuhar had beaten Elizabeth Warren by about a 2-1 margin in New Hampshire, Warren has seemingly returned the favor by hitting double digits in Nevada in her fourth place showing. Warren was seen as having a strong debate on Wednesday, particularly for her aggressive attacks on first time debater Mike Bloomberg. Nonetheless, she is not going to do very well in South Carolina. Her campaign which many had written off is still hoping for a comeback. Since it is clear she is never going to take the true believers away from Sanders, she can now hope to be a compromise "anti-Bernie" candidate that the Bernie people are willing to most accept. It will be a tough knot to thread It is unclear where she might win a state, even her own Massachusetts.

And then there is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He did not contest Nevada nor is he South Carolina. He will have to start making a serious show on Super Tuesday to make up for lost time. He certainly has not missed much time over the airwaves across the country and he continues to pour in money to his self-funding campaign in unheard of numbers.

Just about anyone, including the Bloomberg campaign, will admit the debate in Las Vegas did not go well for him. However, I think if that was the worst night he will have, it will be more than survivable. As someone who wants to see him do well in this crazy contest, I am a bit perplexed he was not better prepared for the questions he was certain to get about non-disclosure agreements with women from his lengthy business career or his "stop and frisk" record in successfully reducing crime in his city as Mayor. His answers were just not crisp and many believed the others, especially Warren walked all over him and might have taken him out then and there. I think it would be wise to have significant more patience. It is clear though that Bloomberg held a silent contempt for the other candidates on the stage. I cannot say I blame him. He might be best served to "own" his arrogance instead of trying to out-pander anyone on the left. He needs to declare himself as the only candidate to beat Trump and pivot at every turn to remind Democrats that is all that matters and that they may have to accept him, warts and all. It would also be a good idea for the 78 year old to take a one-term pledge as a candidate. That would have been a good idea months ago for Biden as well.

I could write pages  just about the last debate and how no Democrat should have come away from it feeling good. Thus it was a good night for Donald Trump who continues to make headlines by attempting to exert his power over the Justice Department and the Intelligence Community over a variety of instances. One thing he did this past week was to free disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich from prison. The Chicago Democrat now calls himself a "Trumpocrat" and is talking up his former television reality show "boss"  at every chance he gets. After nearly eight years served out of a 14 year term, Blagojevich continues to deny he did anything wrong as Governor, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Remind you of anyone? Many in Illinois who felt that his sentence was too harsh and were accepting of his sentence being commuted, may want to see him back again behind bars during his current stomach turning public return tour.

So, as it is very clear, nearly allDemocrats, and many Independents, and even some Republicans like me know how important it is to end the Presidency of Trump. Can Bernie Sanders beat him? I continue to be very suspect of that and in fact think he could hurt Democrats up and down the ballot. Of course, the prospect of a Sanders Presidency would also be scary as hell to any freedom loving American.

In last week's debate, the candidates all seemed to be focused on going after Bloomberg and barely touched Sanders. That clearly needs to change in this week's debate, ahead of the South Carolina vote. Buttigieg took on a more aggressive tone in his concession speech tonight in Nevada about Sanders and the danger of nominating him. He pointed out he is the only one to have yet outperformed Sanders anywhere (albeit not in the popular vote) and it reminded me of Ted Cruz talking about his campaign against Trump four years ago.

The others also better get their act together or they will continue to cannibalize themselves and Sanders will divide and conquer the party all the way through the march to Milwaukee. If this continues to happen, the panic will increase dramatically and there will be a need for someone, anyone to stop a potential disaster. That is where Mayor Bloomberg and his bottomless wallet comes into play. For all bad debate debut performance and all his legitimate vulnerabilities aside, he will be the only who might be able to do what nobody else is able to do or willing to do and that is spend  March, April, and beyond, "scorching the Earth" with anti-Sanders ads.


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