The Case for Trying to Stop Sanders


As articulated by Mayor Pete:

Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.

I believe we can defeat Trump and deliver for the American people by empowering the American people to make their own health care choices.

Senator Sanders believes in taking away that choice — kicking people off their private plans and replacing it with a public plan, whether they want it or not.

I believe that we can bring an end to corporate recklessness and bring balance to our economy by empowering workers, raising wages, and insisting that those who gain the most must contribute the most.

Senator Sanders sees capitalism as the root of all evil. He’d go beyond reform and reorder the economy in ways most Democrats — let alone most Americans — don’t support.

I believe we need to defeat Trump and turn the page on this era in our politics by establishing a tone of belonging, bringing an end to the viciousness and the bullying that is tearing apart the country.

Senator Sanders’ revolution has the tenor of combat, division and polarization, a vision where whoever wins the day, nothing will change the toxic tone of our politics.

I believe the only way to truly deliver any of the progressive changes we care about is to be a nominee who actually gives a damn about the effect you are having, from the top of the ticket, on those crucial, front-line House and Senate Democrats running to win, who we need to win, to make sure our agenda is more than just words on a page.

Senator Sanders, on the other hand, is ignoring, dismissing, or even attacking the very Democrats we absolutely must send to Capitol Hill in order to keep Nancy Pelosi as speaker, in order to support judges who respect privacy and democracy, and in order to send Mitch McConnell into retirement. Let’s listen to what those voices are telling us!

That is the choice before us. We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory. We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new, broad, bighearted American coalition.

A Bug or a Feature?

feature not bug

On Iowa caucus night, Mayor Pete seized the spotlight and declared victory while the results were still out. This put some noises out of joint. “He had no evidence,” the complained. In fact, though, he did have evidence: his own internal numbers—which turned out to be correct.

“He’s brash and aggressive!” they howled. Well, yes he is that very thing. But he manages to be aggressive while coming across as a nice guy. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is no mean feat. Normally, the nice guys are not brash and aggressive, while the brash and aggressive aren’t nice guys at all.

Don’t you look forward to someone who can unman Trump as skillfully as Joni Ernst castrates hogs—and do it with a smile on his face?

In any potential candidate, brashness and aggressiveness, appropriately managed and presented, are essential features. They are not a bug. They are a feature.

Now, this evening, we learn that apart from being too brash and too aggressive, Pete’s behavior exemplified white male privilege. Supporters of Warren and Klobuchar are saying that, if Pocahontas or Amy had declared victory prematurely, they couldn’t have gotten away with it because they are women. No, Pocahontas or Amy could not gotten away with a premature declaration of victory because the actual results showed them anything but victorious.

The New Hampshire Polls

I make no predictions, but the latest polls are showing essentially the same result as Iowa: Crazy Bernie and Mayor Pete with around a quarter of the vote, Pocahontas in a fairly distant third place, and Sleepy Joe in a world of hurt.


Nice uptick in Canadian readers. So here’s some night music for. our friends north of the border:


Vox Populi Iowae: Charisma, Anyone?

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 6.07.40 AM

Finally, the returns from Iowa are almost complete, and the Washington Post nicely lays them out for you. Lots of information here, but I want to focus on the above graph.

It turns out that, when given a binary choice, only 61 percent of Iowa caucus goers picked “rather nominate a candidate who can beat Donald Trump” rather than the single alternative, “rather nominate a candidate who agrees with you on major issues.”

Let’s look at the preferences of the 61 percent who placed highest value on electability. Within that group, one of the insurgent candidates, Crazy Bernie, garnered the support of only 15 percent of the population—a huge difference from his 36 percent share among voters who cared most about issues. Conclusion: the good people of Iowa are really skeptical that Crazy Bernie could be elected.

What about Pocahontas? Among the electability-concerned 61 percent population, Warren got only 16 percent (only a tiny difference from the 17 percent of the issue-concerned voters who favored Warren). Conclusion: the good people of Iowa are very skeptical about Pocahontas’s electability and  they are not too keen on her, on the issues, either.

Like Sanders, there was a whopping big difference in Biden’s support among the issues-concerned voters, where he had five percent support, and among the electability-concerned set, where his support jumped almost five times, to 23 percent.

However, among the electability-minded, Biden still came in second to Buttigieg, who garnered 24 percent support, the largest figure for any candidate.

Why Do Iowans Think Buttigieg is More Electable than Biden?

For sure, it isn’t because of the national polling data.

And, for sure, it isn’t because of Buttigieg’s resume.

Part of it likely has to do with Ukraine.

But my instinct tells me it’s mainly because Iowans don’t think an insurgent is electable, and they don’t think a generic, well-spoken, presentable Democratic politician is electable.

I think it’s because the Iowa voters’ guts tell them that we need Something Else.

Charisma, anyone?

And, right now, Mayor Pete is the only seemingly viable Something Else on offer.


For a more comprehensive perspective, check out William Saletan, How Pete Won: His success in Iowa is a template for victory in November.


Greetings to yesterday’s readers from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Jordan, Kenya, India, Mauritius, Peru, and the United States. Readers in the US were most numerous, but Kenya placed a strong second. So, let’s all enjoy some music.

Lookin’ Crispy


Yesterday’s Bret Stephens/Gail Collins “Conversation” features this exchange:

Bret: Does this mean Biden’s toast?

Gail: Well, he certainly looks crispy.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bruenig lets us know that The Center Cannot Hold: Bernie Sanders’s strong showing in Iowa is a turning point in the battle between the party’s establishment and left wing:

It is fair to conclude that the Democratic Party’s center is panicking, and it is now fair to conclude that it has good cause: With 62 percent of Iowa caucus results in, Mr. Sanders leads the popular vote, with 26.3 percent. He trails former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., in state delegates by a slim margin. But with Mr. Buttigieg struggling in primary polls in New Hampshire and Nevada, it seems unlikely his campaign has the kind of momentum that could lead to the nomination. Thus, the greater Iowa upset is that heir apparent Vice President Joe Biden is a distant fourth. With Mr. Biden’s front-runner status compromised, Mr. Sanders emerges from Iowa as a formidable candidate — without establishment imprimatur. …

Mr. Sanders’s radicalism … is troubling to establishment Democrats for a variety of reasons, from worries about his strength against President Trump in the general election to a desire to find a candidate who can unite the party. Both of those concerns seem surmountable to me. But the one unsurmountable establishment fear surrounding a Sanders win is something more like naked self-interest, and its attachment to power.

All this, of course, is premature. As of this writing we have only 71 percent of the Iowa results and zero percent of the New Hampshire results. But, as someone once said, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.


Ms. Bruenig’s account is not only premature, it’s incomplete in a very important respect: it fails to consider the mediocre turnout in Iowa. It doesn’t focus on the fact that Sanders garnered only 24.4 percent of the caucus goers in the first round and only 26.2 percent in the second round.

And here’s another thing. If Sanders is going to catch fire, then he’s going to have to persuade all of the folks who cotton to Pocahontas to move over to his column, so that all of the strong progressives are united. Did anything like that happen in Iowa? No, siree, it did not. Warren garnered 18.7 percent of the caucus goers on the first round, and gained another 1.9 percent in the second round. (Bernie also showed that he is the second choice of some voters, receiving an extra 1.9 percent in the second round of voting. Not exactly a blowout, is it?)

What those things tell me is that Iowa Democrats are pretty damn tepid in their desire for democratic socialism. For that, I neither applaud them nor condemn them, at least in this post. To me, it’s just a fact.

As to New Hampshire, we will see what we shall see.

And, by the way, if Iowa Democrats are not exactly hopping up and down for democratic socialism, you can imagine how the Iowa Republicans and independents are feeling.


If they want to coalesce around Biden to ward off Sanders, the establishment has a problema grande: You Can’t Beat Something with Nothing.

In Iowa, as of this writing, Biden started out with 14.7 percent in the first round. And when his supporters saw this miserable result, he lost a fair number of them in the second round, settling at fourth place, with 13.2 percent—just a hair better than Amy Klobuchar.

We have been told repeatedly—and I believe it—that the very foremost thing on the Iowa Democrats’ collective mind was trying to figure out which candidate is strongest against Donald Trump. If they thought that person needed to be a fairly generic Democratic politician with generic centrist views and a respectable political resume, they had several names from which to choose: Biden, Klobuchar, Bennet, and Patrick. Collectively, on the second round of voting, these fine people received 25.6 percent of the vote.

Now, folks, I am not a weatherman but I can tell you which way the wind is blowing: just as the Iowa Democrats are mighty tepid about democratic socialism, so also are they very lukewarm about conventional generic Democratic politicians with passable political resumes and centrist views. And when I say “tepid” and “lukewarm,” I mean they exhibit a healthy skepticism about the ability of either type of candidate—even a successful former vice-president—to defeat Donald Trump.

Now I, for one, do not share their views, but that’s what the folks in Iowa pretty clearly think. And they may well be right, and I may well be wrong.


With only the thinnest of political resumes, Mayor Pete, who is neither a socialist nor a conventional generic politician, came in second on the first round of voting and then increased his margin by 3.8 percent—by far the largest second round increase of any candidate. He also finished in second place in the second round, but only one percent behind Bernie. Mayor Pete’s results far exceeded expectations.

So, think a moment. What do Mayor Pete and Barack Obama have in common?

  1. Both are young whippersnappers who came into the presidential contest with thin political resumes.
  2. Both are members of persecuted minorities.
  3. Both are smart as a whip.
  4. Both are highly articulate and show great capacity to think on their feet and argue persuasively.

Bloomberg or Buttigieg

Inasmuch as you can’t beat something with nothing, it looks to me as if the Democratic establishment is going to have to choose to coalesce around either Bloomberg or Buttigieg.