It is morning in Paris, from where I write, and the middle of the night in the US. I’ve been reading the instant analyses of my favorite political columnists. Before going to bed last night I tweeted a piece by The Daily Beast’s Ana Marie Cox, “President Trump is now a possibility, and it’s terrifying,” in which she observed what had been pretty clear, which is that if Trump were to beat Cruz in Iowa he would necessarily go on to a smashing victory in New Hampshire before heading to South Carolina and other states down that way, where he’d blow everyone else out and ergo be unstoppable. He’d be the GOP nominee and not necessarily a 100% sure loser in November. But as Trump has not only lost Iowa but almost finished third, I won’t yet pronounce him dead—which looks to be conventional wisdom at this hour—but, as they say over here, la baudruche va se dégonfler (translation: the air is going to come out of that overinflated balloon). The cover of today’s NY Daily News nails it.
As for the veritable winner on the GOP side, Marco Rubio, the latest CW has him as the GOP Establishment’s new front-runner, who, in a mano-a-mano race with Ted Cruz, will certainly come out on top and be the party nominee. Just about everyone-Dem and Repub alike—think Rubio would be a formidable candidate against Hillary Clinton and an outright favorite against Bernie Sanders—i.e. that, for Dems, he’s the most dangerous GOPer out there—but I don’t buy it. He may be youthful, glib, a beau gosse, and with a politically sexy ethnic background but he’s a lightweight. In his presumptive area of expertise, foreign policy, I’ve shredded him myself. In a one-on-one debate, Hillary would clean his clock, j’en suis sûr. Mais on n’en est pas là.
As for the Dems, the race is going to be a slog for Hillary but I think she’ll win it. I’m among the legions of Dem voters in the “Like Bernie, voting Hillary” camp, who think Bernie’s candidacy is salutary—with his single-minded focus on the economy and that is tugging Hillary’s rhetoric to the left—but would be nervous about his chances in November. I shudder to think of what the Republican attack machine would do to him—Karl Rove & Co are no doubt salivating at the prospect—but with Bernie not having the Democratic establishment and all of its elected officials behind him nearly to the same extent as would Hillary—Bernie, pour mémoire, is an independent, not a Democrat—a point that Michael Tomasky stressed in a column last week. And, frankly, I just don’t see Bernie in the White House. I can’t see him dealing daily with the Washington establishment—an immovable Rock of Gibraltar—and going toe-to-toe with a GOP-controlled Congress. And I have an equally hard time imagining him in summit meetings with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao (not that he wouldn’t be à l’hauteur but foreign affairs just doesn’t seem to interest him; and I haven’t a clue as to who would constitute his foreign and defense policy team). Bernie may have spent the past twenty-five years in Congress but he’s a marginal figure there. He’s a relative outsider. My personal conviction: If Bernie were elected POTUS—which would not displease me at all, don’t get me wrong—he would accomplish little to nothing of what he’s set out to do. And he’d definitely be a one-term president, on account of age but also as he’d likely find himself in the same position as did Jimmy Carter in 1980.
But it is most unlikely he’ll get that far, as I also don’t see Bernie defeating Hillary, of him repeating Obama’s feat of ’08. Obama initially looked to be a long shot when he entered that race but he already had rock star status in the Democratic party, a slew of endorsements from elected and other party officials, and an army of young volunteers. Bernie also has the young people but doesn’t black voters, who were even more crucial to Obama’s victory. And while Bernie’s economic populism is the right message for this campaign, Obama’s in ’08—of reaching out to Republicans, “Yes We Can,” and all the “hopey-changey stuff” (dixit Sarah Palin)—was crafted to cast a wider net. Also, Obama was the most centrist of the Dem candidates in that campaign and had a clear strategy for winning the nomination, of racking up delegates in caucus states that the Hillary campaign had neglected. Obama’s ’08 campaign was the most perfectly run and executed in American political history. But though he locked up the nomination with the victory in the North Carolina primary, Hillary still ended up winning more primary and caucus votes in the end than he. Again, I don’t see Bernie pulling off what Obama did that year.
Bernie supporters—which include many friends, personal and on social media—will no doubt drop a ton of bricks on my head for this. I’m used to that from lefties. The Hillary-Bernie race will likely start to resemble not 2008 but 1988, when Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition gave Michael Dukakis a serious run for his money, and with the latter only pulling away after the Wisconsin primary in mid-April. Lefties—including numerous friends—all enthusiastically jumped on the Jesse bandwagon (though without the black vote that campaign would have amounted to nothing). Lefties didn’t care about Dukakis during the primary season, though they of course all voted for him in November. But they do care about Hillary right now and they loathe her. The Hillary hate I see every day on social media from lefties has to be as virulent as that on the right. A significant number of progressive Dem voters simply can’t stand her. Personally, I don’t understand it. A lot of it is visceral, i.e. irrational. Hillary is reproached for all sorts of heinous acts and deeds, e.g. voting for the Iraq war (though John Kerry did too, and this wasn’t held against him in ’04, at least not nearly to the same degree), of palling around with Goldman Sachs and other finance capitalists (an inevitability if one is or has been senator from New York), or making shitloads of money on the buckraking circuit (which, alas, is par for the course for all top-tier Democrats). What lefties forget is that Hillary was seen as a progressive when husband Bill ran for president in 1992, and definitely to his left. And this appreciation of her did not change during her eight years as First Lady. The negativity toward her dates from her subsequent eight years as senator, when she took positions that New York politicians tend to take. And, in point of fact, she is not markedly to the right of Bernie on most issues. La preuve: yesterday I took the quiz—well-conceived, IMO—”2016 Presidential Election: How do your beliefs align with the potential candidates?” The result: on the issues, I sided with Bernie 98% and Hillary 96% (details here). If there were a significant difference between the two, it stands to reason that there would have been a wider distance in my scores.
Though I believe that Hillary would be a far stronger general election candidate than Bernie, I am indeed concerned about her high negatives (54% the last time I looked, which was a week ago). People think she’s “untrustworthy,” or just not “likable” (as if “likability” ever swung a presidential election in one direction or another). Looking at her polling history on this parameter, one observes that she was indeed popular—that her positives were higher than her negatives—until the email business broke last March. And one noted a spike in her popularity among Dems after her appearance before House Benghazi committee last October. In view of this history, it stands to reason that she can turn the numbers around in her favor—and that she will if she outlasts Bernie to win the nomination. Lefty haters will necessarily start liking her, cuz what are they gonna do? Sit out the election and watch Rubio win? Or Ted Cruz? Sure.
Here are good instant analyses I read this morning (it is now afternoon here), which say stuff better than I could:
John B. Judis, “Initial reflections: A better night for Republicans,” in TPM.
Josh Marshall, “A win for the GOP,” in TPM.
Ryan Lizza, “The Iowa caucuses and the birth of a new Republican party,” in The New Yorker. Lizza retweeted a most relevant NYer article of his from last September 18th, “Donald Trump may not have a second act.”
Jonathan Chait, “‘If you don’t want Cruz or Trump as the nominee, you better get onboard with Rubio’,” in New York magazine.
Jamelle Bouie, “Democrats won in Iowa: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are energizing the party,” in Slate.
Matthew Yglesias, “The surprising success of Bernie Sanders’s insurgency should be a wake-up call to the Democratic establishment,” in Vox.
Ezra Klein, “Bernie Sanders’s tie should be the biggest story of the Iowa caucuses,” in Vox.
Joan Walsh, “Why Ted Cruz won—and Donald Trump lost,” in The Nation.
Amanda Marcotte (writing during the day yesterday), “Why I’m supporting Clinton over Sanders: Liberals don’t need a ‘savior’, but someone who can actually get things done in Washington,” in Salon.
Heather Digby Parton, “The GOP’s 3-way race from hell: Everything you need to know about last night’s Iowa caucuses,” in Salon.
David Corn, “After Iowa, both parties are facing hostile takeovers,” in Mother Jones.