It’s time to play my role in Super Tuesday. I’ve joked that in November I’d vote for a ham sandwich over Donald Trump. Any of the remaining candidates could do a better job than the incumbent. Nevertheless, I have twisted and turned. I used to scoff at voters who were still undecided days before an election. No more.
I have concluded my vote must be strategic, following my head more than my heart. For long, Joe Biden has seemed a comfortable compromise between heart and head. His long record of personal decency, governing experience, serious foreign policy chops, and international respect seemed to be the best chance of defeating Donald Trump. His much larger-than-expected success in South Carolina means for now he’s not far behind Sanders in total delegates. But can he quickly get a needed bump, amp up his campaign organization and at least stay competitive with Sanders on Super Tuesday and beyond? Or will he stumble again, not successfully reorganize his campaign and fail to go the distance.
Biden’s debate performances, his often discursive word salad answers combined with awkward speech patterns (yes, I know about and admire the challenges this lifelong stutterer has faced down), have been disappointing. Biden’s age, I fear, has clearly taken its toll. He has, however, done better in town hall discussions, been somewhat more accessible to the press and thankfully walked back his inaccurate recollection of having being arrested in South Africa. Polls in battleground states show him the strongest of the challengers against Trump. I don’t know if his blowout performance in South Carolina means that the nomination is now a two-person race or just another sign that, given party rules, we’re inexorably headed toward at least a second ballot convention, with Sanders clearly in the lead, super delegates in play and Trump tweeting his ecstatic delight at the ensuing blood bath.
All along, I’ve liked Amy Klobuchar for her record of legislative accomplishment, her pragmatic approach to policy, her success in red districts, and her gumption. But her campaign appears to be going nowhere. While I might have supported her enthusiastically in the earliest contests, she has failed to gain traction. I fear a vote for her is wasted, though she could be a solid choice for vice president.
From the time he ran unsuccessfully for DNC chairman in 2017, I’ve thought Pete Buttigieg a wonderful addition to the scene. He promises a brilliant future. He is bright, articulate, unifying, reasonable, enlightened, and, although quite young and lacking large organization executive experience, could, if elected, appoint experienced people of competence and character, something the incumbent has failed to do in nearly every instance. He wouldn’t be a bad fallback choice if we had ranked voting, and I would love to see him go head to head with fellow Hoosier Mike Pence. His poor showing in South Carolina signals something more than just Black resistance to his performance as mayor; it raises the specter of a Bradley effect at play here, this time dealing with sexual orientation.
In earlier blogs, I’ve made clear my reaction to self-styled democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, notable more for his angry and impassioned speechifying and fringe political views than any legislative achievement. His breathtakingly expensive proposals – including eliminating private health insurance, guaranteeing federal jobs, decriminalizing immigration violations and providing tuition-free college education without means testing- are all general election non-starters. He claims his goal is to have the US become a social welfare state akin to the Scandinavian countries, but Nordic leaders insist that their systems are not at all what Sanders describes. They complain Sander’s vision sounds like a naïve 1960s graduate school student’s bull session, embracing Cuba more than Denmark.
There’s too much of a down-side risk with Sanders against Trump. There is a horseshoe theory of politics that holds that extreme left and extreme right are closer than thought and Sanders could get some support from alienated Trump voters. But to win, Sanders would also need millions of traditionally non-voting young people at a rate far exceeding the Black voting increase for Obama.
I’m not reassured by some current polls showing he could defeat the President, who has yet to unleash attacks on Sanders. Instead, Trump has encouraged Republicans in cross-over states to vote for Sanders, whom he doubtless believes he can most easily trounce in the general election. Instead, Sanders could cost the Presidency and down-ballot offices as well.
Elizabeth Warren may be the brightest of the bunch, but her candidacy reminds me of the issues campaigns of other serious and thoughtful losers like Gary Hart, Bruce Babbitt and Bill Bradley. Despite her stellar performance in the pre-Nevada debate, eviscerating Mike Bloomberg, she’s woefully low on cash. Her candidacy has been sinking. I believe the fatal flaw was her squirrely approach to Medicare for All, which ended up alienating all different sides. Yesterday’s WBUR poll, conducted by MassInc’s polling group, shows her behind Bernie Sanders by eight points 17% to Sanders’ 25% here in Massachusetts, her home state. That’s well outside the 4.9% margin of error. Part of me wants to jump in and defend her from the embarrassment of losing her home state, especially to Sanders, but, I don’t know what the strategic benefit is, other than keeping Sanders from running up more delegates here.
Yesterday’s South Carolina results appear to have upended Michael Bloomberg’s rationale that, with Biden irreparably weak, only he can stop Sanders and beat Trump. Bloomberg turned in an appalling performance in the first debate, improved modestly in the second debate, did a good Town Hall on CNN earlier this week, and has done some excellent interviews in Texas and elsewhere. He has significant flaws, from a prickly and uncharismatic personality to having embraced a stop-and-frisk program that grossly violated civil liberties in New York, supported some despicable candidates and been soft on China for flagrant abuses. He has a history of speaking to and about women in the workplace that might have been shrugged off a generation ago but won’t work today. But, even on these matters he’s still light years better than Trump. Bloomberg has successfully run huge operations, from New York State – with accomplishments in education, job creation and housing – to his mega-company. Through his philanthropic activities, including $9.5 billion in donations, he has been a national leader on gun safety, climate change and health. Like Trump, he is a street fighter and could beat him at his own game. Unlike the President, he’s earned his wealth legitimately.
Still, there remains something unseemly about a multi-billionare buying himself a Presidential election, even in a good cause. Were he to be the nominee, many of Bernie’s zealous supporters and others may stay home in November. Despite Bloomberg’s lavish advertising, he is still behind his Democratic rivals in battleground states that may decide the election. In 2016, fighting Hillary Clinton, Trump effectively weaponized George Soros into highly audible “dog whistle” anti- Semitic attacks. Imagine what Trump’s minions will do when the candidate himself is a short, Jewish billionaire! How much money will be needed to combat that? Wouldn’t Bloomberg’s wealth now be better spent supporting another candidate (Biden) and on holding the House, winning back the Senate and capturing state houses, which will control the next Congressional redistricting.
So, where does this leave me and my gnashing teeth? Voting for Biden, while perhaps wishing Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown had not been talked out of running. But that boat has sailed. I invite you, dear readers, to share how you are making your decisions for Super Tuesday.
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