Saturday, February 29, 2020

Who Will/Should Be the Democratic VP Nominee?

With Joe Biden's resounding victory in South Carolina, political observers can spend a few more days pretending like this primary field is anybody's ballgame before Super Tuesday re-confirms that Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic nominee. So in this narrow window of faux-potentiality, why not ask the question: Who will each Democratic contender nominate as their VP? And who should be their nominee?

Bernie Sanders
Who it will be: Elizabeth Warren.
Who it should be: Tammy Baldwin.

The first big point of potential conflict between Sanders and his base will come when he picks a VP nominee, as he'll be under immense pressure to select a "unifying" figure and they'll be on sharp watch for a centrist fifth column. Sanders' uneasy, at best, relationship with the Democratic establishment limits his options -- there are only so many high profile Democrats he trusts, and most of them are simply double-downs on his own electoral profile.

Elizabeth Warren will seem like an appealing option as a "unity" pick -- she's long been floated as a bridge between the establishment and the insurgents anyway, and she's by far the highest-profile party member whose at least arguably ideologically in his corner. Plus, I think Sanders knows that he needs a woman as VP. But as an outreach gesture towards the center of the party Warren (and I say this as someone who voted for her) is about as stingy as Sanders could get. And depending on how long she stays in the race his base is unlikely to forgive her perssssstance. Instead of being a unity candidate, Warren might again be caught in the middle as the worst-of-all-worlds choice.

By contrast, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has sufficient gravitas to be a viable VP pick and has solid progressive bona fides while not being alienating to the center. Most importantly, she's kept a relatively low profile this primary campaign, so nobody on either wing of the party is conditioned to hate her. And the fact that she's from a midwestern swing state that Sanders will target hard is a not-insubstantial bonus.

Joe Biden
Who it will be: Stacey Abrams
Who it should be: Stacey Abrams

Biden announced early on that he wanted Abrams as his VP, and its easy to see why: she's a young, energetic Black woman who has unifying appeal across party constituencies and strong appeal in the areas Democrats are looking to grow in. Abrams herself has largely stayed out of the primary fray, and it's far from clear that Biden is her first choice, but I don't think she would turn him down if he was the nominee.

Mike Bloomberg
Who it will be: Kamala Harris
Who it should be: Lucy McBath

Having been hammered on his record on race, Bloomberg might think that lining up with the most prominent African-American woman in elected office right now might help assuage skittish Black voters going into the general. But Harris never really caught on with the Black community, and if your weakness is on race generally and racial injustice in law enforcement specifically, Kamala "IS A COP" Harris may do less for you than you'd think.

Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) would be a stronger choice. Gun control is Bloomberg's signature issue, and since there's no way for him to run away from it come November, he may as well lean into it, and McBath's personal story (her son died after being shot in an incident of gun violence) is a natural fit. McBath herself already endorsed Bloomberg, and while she's taken flak for allegedly having her endorsement "bought", if Bloomberg's the nominee frankly anyone who he chooses is going to face that accusation -- so it might as well be someone that endorsed him early.

Elizabeth Warren
Who it will be: Julián Castro
Who it should be: Julián Castro

If my Twitter feed reflected real-life, Warren would be the nominee in a landslide, but if my Twitter account reflected real life Castro would have at some point risen above 2% in the polls. In any event, Castro quickly endorsed Warren after he dropped out and they clearly have a good relationship with one another and a mutually-congenial approach to politics. Castro's youthful dynamism pairs well with Warren's wonkishness, and he also benefits from having dropped out early enough to avoid being hated by large numbers of people.

Pete Buttigieg/Amy Klobuchar

To be honest, even for purpose of this exercise I can't imagine them winning, so it's hard to imagine who they'd pick. Cory Booker could be a solid choice for either one -- Klobuchar could use someone to round off her sharper edges and Buttigieg cannot pick a White guy. Booker is a bucket of positive energy and a good team player, and while he doesn't do a ton to appease the Sanders Sib crowd, I can't think of any VP pick that either Klobuchar or (especially) Buttigieg could make that could mend that rift.

I have heard folks suggest, only half-joking, that Klobuchar and Buttigieg jointly would make a decent all-in-on-the-midwest ticket. There's no way that Klobuchar would serve under Mayor Pete, but I can imagine she might be fine with him being her subordinate. Just think of how many opportunities she'd have to throw a stapler at him!

Friday, February 28, 2020

No News is Good News When It Comes To Polling Jews

There's a new survey out of Jewish voters, and it's chock full of interesting information. The most interesting parts, however, are how normal it is. Every election cycle, it seems, we get a new flurry of psyched-up conservative theorizing insisting that this will be the year that Jews abandon Democrats. And every year, it turns out that Jews still overwhelmingly support Democrats.

And so come 2020, the big news is ... there is no news. Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats. Jews overwhelmingly loathe Trump. While Jews have preferences among the different Democratic candidates, Jews will overwhelmingly back the Democratic nominee no matter who it is. Same as last election. Same as every election.

To go into some more detail:

  • Bernie Sanders is the least popular candidate of the various Democrats running for President. But he's still in net positive territory (+7).
  • Of the other Democrats running, Buttigieg and Klobuchar are the most well liked (+32), followed by Biden (+24), Bloomberg (+19), then Warren (+14).
  • Donald Trump? His approval ratings are a cool -40. 
  • Differences in relative favorability sentiments towards the potential Democratic candidates are not translating into different voting intentions come November. All six Democratic contenders poll roughly the same against Trump, pulling between 65% and 69% of the Jewish vote (Trump's numbers float between 28% and 32%).
At least as far as the general election goes, there is no significant "NeverBernie" movement in the Jewish community to speak of. So yeah, I will screenshot that tweet:

More broadly: I've seen a ton of folks on social media saying things like "Jews don't trust Bernie -- he's only got 11% support in the primary!" These were always misleading and now have been pretty decisively refuted. There's a difference between not being one's top primary choice and being outright mistrusted, let alone being someone who one would vote for Trump over. Jews may not be as keen on Sanders compared to his Democratic competition, but most still like him and we certainly like him a heck of a lot more than Trump.

(As to why Pete Buttigieg is so popular, my hypothesis is that Pete -- whatever else you might say about him -- certainly has serious "such a nice young man!" energy).

Some other high-profile conclusions from the poll are likewise not-news to those in the know. Yes, the vast majority of Jews identify broadly as "pro-Israel". No, this doesn't mean they support the Israeli government uncritically, nor does Israel rank particularly highly as a voting criteria compared to more traditional issues like healthcare or the economy. Again, this is all more-of-the-same behavior from the American Jewish electorate.

So what is at least a little more noteworthy? Well, most Jews feel that both they personally and Jews generally are less safe than they were two years ago. 71% of Jews disapprove of how Donald Trump has handled the issue of "Anti-Semitism/White Nationalism" -- his single worst performance on any issue area -- and 56% say he's at least partially to blame for synagogue shootings. This corresponds to a broader repudiation of Trump in essentially every major domestic policy arena -- his disapprovals are upwards of 60% on issues ranging from taxes to health care to guns to reproductive freedom.

Another point of interest is that President Trump's issue-approvals are strongest (which is distinguishable from "strong") on Israel-related issues. The only two issues where Trump enjoys the approval of a majority of Jews is on "US-Israel relations" (51%) and recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights (52%). Moving the embassy to Jerusalem and "support for Israel annexing the West Bank" generate sharp divisions, with narrow pluralities favoring Trump here too. On annexation, in particular, this is one figure which I was genuinely surprised to see, as this seems to indicate far higher support for annexation in the Jewish community than I'd have predicted. That it's refracted through the lens of "do you approve of Donald Trump's performance on..." is unfortunate and creates a potential for blurring, but nonetheless it is a striking data point worth digging into more.

Nonetheless, even these numbers suggest that near wall-to-wall Jewish identification as "pro-Israel" yields immense diversity in opinions on specific issues. Jews are very much divided on questions like whether the embassy move was a good idea, and that division is one that largely is operating within those of us identifying as pro-Israel. This, too, should not be surprising for those of us in the know.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

When (If Ever) Will the Left Turn on Sanders?

Many folks, myself included, have observed that Bernie Sanders the actual politician often differs quite substantially from Bernie the mythological figure as imagined by some of his more passionate supporters (and detractors). "Socialism" label notwithstanding, Bernie's politics are relatively standard social democratic prescriptions, not far off from New Deal style liberalism. And his route to accomplishing his policy agenda likewise will generally flow through relatively normal democratic (and Democratic) processes.

Nonetheless, one advantage Bernie has had over his career is that he's seen as ideologically incorruptible. Bernie Sanders is someone who votes his conscience; he doesn't play the games of triangulation and log-rolling that regular politicians do. Some of this is an exaggeration, but some of it is real enough, and it's responsible for at least some of his more passionate base of support which see him as a pure actor among a field of sell-outs.

Of course, there's a reason why he's been able to maintain this pure stance. Since he's rarely been "the decider" or the pivotal vote, there have been very few decisions that fall directly on his head, and so he's rarely been forced to engage in the grubby work of compromise and negotiation that eventually captures any political actor who actually wants to get things done. He can afford to be a purist because others are putting in the hard-rock mining to actually make things happen. Even as he's risen to the position of U.S. Senator, Sanders has largely been able to follow Weber's "politics of conviction".

But as he moves from presidential contender to probable presidential nominee to, perhaps, President of the United States, this is going to become less and less tenable. Eventually, Weber teaches us, any truly empowered political actor will have to abandon the politics of pure conviction. And to the extent some of his wildest supporters have his back primarily because of the perception that he can transcend "regular" politics and maintain the politics of conviction forever, it raises the question: what happens when Sanders, inevitably, has to start playing the game? What happens when he has to actually do things that inevitably will involve compromise, and cooperation, and bargaining with various grubby constituencies beyond the base? What happens when Sanders is actually forced to be the man making the decision, and can't indulge in purity any longer?

The earliest time I can imagine this playing it out is when Sanders is choosing a Vice President. In general -- not always, but in general -- a VP nominee is chosen to shore up support among the wing of the party that did not win the nomination. So Sanders likely will face a lot of pressure to choose someone "establishment" flavored, as a gesture of unity, and will face even more pressure not to choose a loyal Berniecrat, as redundant. But how will Sanders supporters react if he picks, oh, let's say Kamala Harris, as a running mate? Will they be shocked at the betrayal -- the caving in to establishment forces? Or will they be trusting, willing to give him leeway and (finally, albeit one-sidedly) accepting the realities of political maneuvering? Or will he be held innocent, the victim of hostage-taking by a DNC that will do anything and everything to preserve the power of the old guard?

Maybe he can avoid this (maybe he can be pure once again, and select a down-the-line loyalist). But if he becomes President, these issues will only continue and will become harder to avoid. Change will never occur with the immediacy that one would hope, the bills that are passed will never be as clean as they were drawn up in the progressive caucus, administrative appointees won't always give advice or produce studies that say what one wants to hear. And when that happens, what will happen? Will it be assimilated as part of the costs of doing business in the highly complex, modern bureaucratic state? Or will be evidence that Bernie, too, ultimately sold out? Or will it show just how entrenched the deep state is against him -- Sanders did not fail us, he was betrayed from within.

I honestly don't know, and I can see things going any which way. There is, among at least some Sanders supporters, a toxic kool-aid making the rounds where Sanders cannot fail, he can only be failed. This story about Sanders supporters standing outside a Nevada Democratic Party official's house at 11 PM with a bullhorn railing about the inevitable impending corruption in the caucus is disturbing on a host of levels, but let's focus on how the ringleader responded to pleading by the Sanders campaign to knock it off:
“The Sanders campaign is run by the establishment,” she wrote on her Facebook page in response to some critiques of her nighttime demonstrations. “I can care less what Bernie’s staff thinks of me. They aren’t relevant to me or my race. I have seen screenshots of the way they treat Berners and it is absolutely not reflective of Bernie Sanders.”
Now the woman in question, Maria Estrada, is at the fringe of the fringe -- she's a raging antisemite who nonetheless received an Our Revolution endorsement to challenge the (Democratic) California Assembly speaker in 2018 (she's seeking a rematch, but it's unclear whether Our Revolution endorsed her again). But boy howdy is this some cult of personality business. With all due respect to Sanders' campaign staff, there's no reasonable argument that Sanders is more encouraging of ... let's call them "hardball" tactics from the activist base ... than are members of his staff. But no matter:  From Estrada's vantage point, Sanders cannot possibly deviate from the path of the true revolution -- and if he does, then he didn't, he was simply led astray by false prophets and establishment whisperers.

This isn't healthy. It would not be healthy if the movement Bernie leads decides he's betrayed it, and it's not healthy if the movement Bernie leads decides every setback is the result of insidious forces corrupting from within.

Bernie Sanders may well make a fine president. It's possible he will be a great president. But he is still going to be a president, within the same system and subject to the same political constraints as have all the occupants of the office before him. Donald Trump may be the president who has most aggressively resisted these strictures, and to the extent he can get away with it it's only because he doesn't care how many people he immiserates and lives he destroys along the way. If your goal is to build rather than destroy, to improve rather than decay, you don't have Trump's luxuries.

Most people who ask a question like "when will the left turn on Sanders" do so, I imagine, with a note of hope in voice -- when will they see the light? (a libertarian friend of my in-laws used to always ask my wife "are the youth turning on Obama yet?", convinced that any day now they'd realize that big government represented a bigger threat to their liberty than losing health insurance coverage). I do not ask this question with hope. I suspect that if the left turns on Sanders, it will be for the worst reasons. Convinced that it is only a failure of will that their dreams haven't yet been realized, they will infer from Sanders inability to the impossible that either he or his team were traitors all along, and that if we only purge enough blasphemers, the inevitable revolution will -- will -- happen. And as ugly as some of their attacks on "the DNC" and "the establishment" and Hillary and Obama and Perez and Wasserman-Schulz and ... (ever onward) have been, the fallout of that reckoning would be terrifying to witness.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The End of the Executive's Advantage

I've noticed something this cycle -- or at least I think I have -- that seems to augur a shift in some old presidential conventional wisdom.

The old CW was that Governors and other executive officials had an advantage running for President over Senators and Representatives, because the latter have a voting record one can inevitably comb through to cherry-pick something that sounds bad or controversial.

But this cycle, it seems that its elements of executive experience -- as a district attorney, attorney general, or mayor -- that has created the greatest points of vulnerability for aspiring Democratic candidates. The most damaging hits on Klobuchar and Harris, for instance, have not been Senate votes but rather conduct done as supervising government attorneys. Bloomberg and Buttigieg, of course, only have executive experience, and their programs and policies as mayor have haunted each of them (but especially Bloomberg) throughout the campaign. The fact that supervising executives can be tagged with buck-stops-here responsibility for the acts of subordinates (and often are legally required to sign off -- however notionally -- on policies that are in practice taken far below their level), makes it easy to find examples of dodgy or abusive behavior across an entire governmental bureaucracy (a legal argument here, a programmatic decision there) and tie them to the executive official.

I'm not entirely sure what is causing this shift. One possibility is that growing polarization means that politicians have largely given up on getting bills passed via compromise. Whereas in the past Senators and Representatives might have been willing to bite the bullet and vote for imperfect bills that muster bipartisan support by having something for everyone to love and to hate, now there is little incentive to ever vote for something that contains politically unpopular elements just to "get something done".

Another possibility is that actions that are especially within the ambit of executive officials -- most notably criminal justice -- have gone from politically "safe" (nobody ever lost an election by being too tough on crime) to politically precarious (we can now totally imagine folks losing election because they were too tough on crime).

Or maybe there is no so such shift and I'm making it up (or maybe it's a shift that exists in the primaries but will fade come the general). But it seems to me that in this primary, at least, we're seeing far fewer shots fired over this vote, and far more fired over that program. And it's maybe no accident that Senators (or, in Biden's case, former Senators) are dominating the remaining Democratic field (while nary a governor is to be seen). The conventional wisdom that voting records will sink long-standing Senators' presidential ambitions is looking pretty frail.

Bots and Nots in the Sanders Sib Community

Twitter protestations notwithstanding, I find it wholly plausible that Russian bots masquerading as Bernie supporters are the culprits behind some of the toxic online abuse that goes out under the pro-Bernie flag.

And contra some, I don't think that this means that the Russians are "backing Sanders" in any meaningful respect. This is a chaos play -- it's a way of sowing division; there's no implied commitment to any underlying policy preference. When Russian trolls simultaneously promoted both pro- and anti-Muslim rights rallies, it was not because they couldn't decide which side of the issue they fell on. The chaos was, and is, the point (although Sanders' backers could stand to reflect as to why his campaign represents such an alluring vector for sowing mistrust).

However. Being a Democrat who is under the age of 35, I know plenty of Bernie Sanders supporters. The majority of them are normal, pleasant people who are supporting their preferred candidate in normal, pleasant ways.

But I've certainly seen a contingent -- not a majority, but a vocal one -- of the Sanders supporters I know who do endorse or at least excuse the sort of abusive behavior and toxic conspiracy-mongering that Sanders himself has long repudiated. I know this culture is real, and not just a case of bots, because I see people who I know are real partake in it.

The recent story of the Bernie Sanders staffer whose private Twitter account was brimming with vicious, brutal, often misogynistic attacks on rival candidates provides a case in point. This was disgusting behavior, and the Sanders campaign to its credit immediately canned the staffer once it went public.

But many of Bernie's supporters, instead of taking the easy route of "wow, this was terrible stuff -- I'm glad he was fired!", instead elected to pile on the reporter for covering the story at all. The preferred objection -- and I saw this from multiple people who I know are real flesh-and-blood humans -- is that because the account was a private one, the staffer's remarks could not be harassment.

There are, to be sure, indications in the article that the staffer also might have been anonymously responsible for other instances of insults and invective that were made through public channels. But leave that aside. The "it's not harassment if it's a private channel" would be a pedantic objection under the best of circumstances -- yes, it's true that Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren themselves weren't in a position to see the tweets, but nobody is under any illusions as to how "private" messages of abuse circulated to campaign backers the vast majority of whose accounts are not private contributes to a culture of abuse and maltreatment.

It is normal, and not strange, for internet harassment campaigns to begin with and by nurtured by conversations on sites and fora where the vast majority of posts are not intended to be and likely never will be seen by the putative target. The reason that these conversations on reddit or 4chan or wherever nonetheless matter isn't because the objects of their hatred could theoretically read them. It's because of what they precipitate out -- "private" conversations where edgelording and abuse and brinksmanship are encouraged and cheered on become the fermentation ground from which the "public" harassment springs. Eventually, someone takes it both seriously and literally.

And even if none of that were the case, the apologia still boils down to "he was only privately spreading misogynistic abuse (to 4,000 of his closest friends)." Is that really the hill people want to die on?

It was frankly shocking how many real-life people I know who, when confronted with objectively atrocious, grotesque, hateful behavior by a Sanders staffer, responded by trying to pooh-pooh the importance of the issue because technically it wasn't "harassment". On that note, while the article juxtaposes the staffer's behavior with Sanders' condemnation of online harassment and clearly considers the two to be part of the same family (which they are), it generally describes the posts as "toxic" or "abuse". The second paragraph is indicative:
But the private Twitter account of a newly promoted campaign staffer indicates that despite his condemnation of online harassment, at least some of the Vermont senator’s most toxic support is coming from inside the house.
Perhaps it is fair to say that the article is implying that the staffer's behavior is also harassment. But the nitpicking effort to reframe the issue as about the technical distinction between "harassment" versus purely private abuse -- as if that debate, even if it were resolved against the reporter, would reveal the greater evil here -- was terrible, if illustrating, to witness. It reflects not just the abusive culture itself, but the wider circle wherein the abuse is apologized for, denied, minimized, or viewed as a smear -- a form of toxicity that, if not as visceral as the direct offenders, nonetheless is a necessary auxiliary to it.

Not every Sanders supporter is a "Sanders Sib". The vast majority are normal, reasonable people who support Sanders in normal, reasonable ways. But the fact of the matter is that -- augmented by bots or not -- the cadre that has earned the Sanders Sib label has largely come by its toxic reputation honestly. They're not being framed. They're not being held to unreasonable standards. They have their reputation because of what they -- flesh and blood humans -- do, and tolerate, and excuse. I know it's not bots, because I've seen it from people who I know in real life.

It won't stop me from voting for Sanders if he is the nominee in November (among other reasons, even if I didn't care about substantive policy at all and my criteria for voting was solely "which candidate has the most toxic base of internet support", Sanders still would be orders of magnitude better than Trump). But I'm not going to pretend like reality isn't there.