Einstein may or may not have said that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” – but he should have said that – because it’s useful. Will it come down to Trump versus Sanders in November, a choice between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath? Thomas Friedman put it that way – ignoring the short wooden billionaire, Michael Bloomberg. What about everyone else? Well, they’re leaving or they’ve left. Things are getting simpler.
And they’re getting stranger:
Longtime CNN political analyst Paul Begala predicted on Monday that President Trump is “gonna dump [Vice President] Mike Pence in favor of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley” on July 16 when the Democratic nominee is slated to give his or her acceptance speech.
The former Crossfire co-host “guaranteed” Trump will throw Pence “under the bus” because of his handling of the coronavirus, which the president tapped Pence to lead a task force on last week.
People will die, with Pence in charge, not Trump. Pence will be excoriated, not Trump. Trump will be sad about it all, and then Trump can stick it to the Democrats:
“This is not a prediction. It’s a certainty. On Thursday, July 16 – that’s the date the Democrat gives his or her acceptance address – on that day, to interrupt that narrative, Donald Trump will call a press conference at Mar-a-Lago. He’s going to dump Mike Pence and put Nikki Haley on the ticket to try to get those suburban moms,” Begala predicted during a panel discussion at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C.
“You watch. Guaranteed,” Begala said. “Trump put Pence in charge of coronavirus to throw him under the bus.”
This might be nonsense:
Haley, who was nominated by Trump to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and was confirmed with a 96-4 vote in January 2017, has staunchly denied speculation she could replace Pence on the GOP ticket.
“The vice president and the president are a great ticket together,” Haley told “Fox & Friends” in November. “They’re solid, solid enough that they’re going to win together. There is no truth whatsoever that I would ever in any way look to get that position. I think Mike is great for that job and I think that he’s the right partner for the president.”
“Mike Pence is a great vice president,” Trump said in November, while noting Haley would “absolutely” be involved in his 2020 campaign.
“She is a friend of mine, she endorsed me with the most beautiful endorsement you’ve ever heard. She did a great job at the U.N.,” Trump added of Haley.
Given all that, this might not be nonsense. That kind of talk always seems to precede the pink ship. But it doesn’t matter. The Democrats just made their move:
In a last-minute bid to unite the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg on Monday threw their support behind a presidential campaign rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., giving him an extraordinary boost ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries that promised to test his strength against the liberal front-runner, Senator Bernie Sanders.
And that simplifies matters:
Even by the standards of the tumultuous 2020 campaign, the dual endorsement from Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg – and their joint appearances with Mr. Biden at campaign events in Dallas on Monday night – was remarkable. Rarely, if ever, have opponents joined forces so dramatically, as Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg went from campaigning at full tilt in the South Carolina primary on Saturday to joining on a political rescue mission for a former competitor, Mr. Biden, whom they had once regarded as a spent force.
But they had their reasons:
Ms. Klobuchar, who sought to appeal to the same moderate voters as Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg, and focused her campaign on calling the Democratic Party’s attention to Midwestern states like her native Minnesota, withdrew from the race on Monday afternoon after intensive conversations with her aides following Mr. Biden’s thumping victory in South Carolina.
Rather than delivering a traditional concession speech, Ms. Klobuchar told associates she wanted to leverage her exit to help Mr. Biden and headed directly for the joint rally. Before a roaring crowd in Dallas, she hailed her former rival as a candidate who could “bring our country together” and restore “decency and dignity” to the presidency.
Mr. Buttigieg, for his part, endorsed Mr. Biden at a pre-rally stop on Monday evening; he said Mr. Biden would “restore the soul” of the nation as president. And Mr. Biden offered Mr. Buttigieg the highest compliment in his personal vocabulary, several times likening the young politician to his own son, Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
And that was that. Now it’s Joe against Bernie – leaving Bloomberg to wonder what his half-billion dollars had bought him. The party wanted to stop Bernie, except for that part of the party who would have no one but Bernie, even if the party fell apart. Bloomberg, who had once been a Republican, not that long ago, had nothing to do with any of this, but then all of the push for Biden might be moot:
Mr. Sanders has significant head starts in many of the Super Tuesday states and beyond: His popularity has risen in recent weeks, and so has Democratic voters’ estimation of his electability in a race with President Trump. The Vermont senator has a muscular national grass-roots organization, backed by the most fearsome online fund-raising machine in Democratic politics – one that collected more than $46 million last month, far outdistancing every other candidate in the race.
Mr. Sanders signaled on Monday that he was ready for a fight against Mr. Biden, and perhaps a long one, if neither man can achieve a decisive early advantage in a nomination fight that still includes Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City. Mr. Sanders’s advisers have long believed that he would have an advantage in a two-person contest against Mr. Biden, because of the strength of Mr. Sanders’s economic platform and message of shaking up the political system.
Face it. Bernie’s got this, and he doesn’t need anyone’s approval:
Mr. Sanders’s supporters are unlikely to be impressed by movement toward Mr. Biden among traditional Democratic power brokers, whom many Sanders voters already regard as having colluded in an unseemly way to block his candidacy in 2016. There is some risk to party leaders that anything perceived as a conspiracy against Mr. Sanders could anger his base and deepen existing fissures on the left.
As news emerged of the shift of centrist support toward Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders projected confidence and defiance, dismissing it as a phenomenon of “establishment politicians” supporting one another. On Twitter, Mr. Sanders posted a video criticizing Mr. Biden for having supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, linking him to unpopular Republicans like former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. And on CNN on Monday night, he assailed Mr. Biden’s record on the Iraq war and Social Security.
“It is no surprise they do not want me to become president,” Mr. Sanders said, referring to his moderate opponents.
So it’s two now – Joe and Bernie – but Joe has friends:
At the end of his own remarks in Dallas, Mr. Biden introduced another surprise guest, Beto O’Rourke, the former presidential candidate. Bounding to the stage, Mr. O’Rourke delivered an energetic endorsement.
There were a few signs of frustration from Mr. Sanders’s camp, most significantly when Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader from Nevada, issued an endorsement of Mr. Biden. The announcement prompted a tart reaction from Faiz Shakir, Mr. Sanders’s campaign manager and a former aide to Mr. Reid, who tweeted that it was “disappointing.”
“I’ll forever have respect and love for Senator Reid,” Mr. Shakir said. “But I’m old enough to remember when he thought Biden’s ideas were worthy of being put in a fireplace.”
And so it was onward to the attack:
Mr. Sanders forcibly went after Mr. Biden at a rally in St. Paul, Minn., on Monday night, vigorously attacking him for his record on trade, the Iraq war, Social Security and bankruptcy.
“He’s just wrong on the issues,” Mr. Sanders said, even as he tried to quiet boos from the crowd. “He’s just wrong with regard to his vision for the future.”
Mr. Sanders reserved his most pointed attack for Mr. Biden’s record on trade, an issue that is especially resonant in the Midwest.
“Does anybody think that Joe can go to Michigan or Wisconsin or Indiana or Minnesota, and say ‘Vote for me, I voted for those terrible trade agreements’?” Mr. Sanders said. “I don’t think so.”
The audience loves this, but Max Boot goes the other way:
Plenty of polling shows that Sanders would perform worse than other Democrats with swing voters in November even before President Trump dumps hundreds of millions of dollars of negative ads on his head. But I readily concede that I could be wrong about his election prospects. I misjudged Trump’s electability in 2016, and I might be misjudging Sanders’s today. I was right, however, that Trump would turn out to be an awful president – and I am convinced that Sanders would be awful, too.
Part of the problem is Sanders’s hectoring personality. He is a closed-minded ideologue who shows little willingness to compromise and little ability to bring people together. He prefers denouncing those who disagree with him as sellouts rather than trying to persuade them. That helps to explain why in 29 years in Congress he has been the lead sponsor of only three bills that became law – and two of those were to name post offices.
From my perspective, Sanders’s inability to get results is actually a blessing because his agenda is so extreme, but he could easily borrow Trump’s tactic of trying to enact his proposals by executive order.
But the agenda is the problem:
Senator Sanders calls his agenda “democratic socialism.” It can be summed up as: Free stuff for everyone!
Sanders’s signature issue is Medicare-for-all: He would abolish private health insurance and provide everyone a federal plan that would cover just about everything (including dental, hearing, vision, prescription drugs and long-term care) without any premiums, deductibles or co-pays. This is far more generous than other wealthy countries, which typically have stingier state-provided health plans supplemented by private insurance.
But wait. Sanders is just getting started. He also promises to offer free public-college tuition for all; to cancel student debt and medical debt; provide high-speed Internet for all; build 10 million “affordable housing units”; expand Social Security; offer all families “free, high-quality child care and prekindergarten”; guarantee federally funded family and medical leave; rebuild the nation’s infrastructure; and provide a federal job to everyone who wants one.
As if that weren’t ambitious enough, Sanders advocates a Green New Deal. His goal is the complete decarbonization of transportation and electricity by 2030 and of the whole economy by 2050. He somehow proposes to achieve this hugely ambitious objective even while phasing out nuclear plants and natural-gas plants – the two main sources of low-emission power today. This makes no sense but is typical of Sanders’s radical, unrealistic, ruinous agenda.
This goes on for a few more paragraphs of the usual critique of Sanders and comes down to this:
Sanders claims to be a Scandinavian-style socialist, but the Scandinavian countries are far more fiscally responsible. He is really a Santa-style socialist offering goodies to everyone whether they’ve been naughty or nice. His generosity with other people’s money would risk a debt crisis and endanger our prosperity. Please, Democrats, don’t give him the chance to wreck either your election prospects or our economy.
Everyone says that, and E. J. Dionne says this:
Former vice president Joe Biden’s sweeping victory in South Carolina turned him into the only viable alternative to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination, but there may also be a more subtle force at work in the primaries of Super Tuesday: the coronavirus and the fears it has inspired.
If a majority of Democrats was intent on the question of who can beat President Trump even before the virus’s outbreak, Trump’s partisan, divisive and fact-denying response to the crisis underscored just how dangerous it would be to keep him in office for four more years.
This could push primary voters even harder to consider the question of who they trust most to wield power in the Oval Office…
Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg tried to capitalize on this feeling with an ad in which he talked about the threat of the virus in a setting that made it look as though he was already president. But Biden hopes that he will be the main beneficiary of the public’s uneasiness because it will reinforce his underlying appeal to the value of experience, the virtues of safety and the need to restore stability in governance.
Bernie Sanders does not embody those standards, but he’s ahead. How can this be? The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa explain that:
About 17,000 people packed into a concert and sports arena at the center of this port city [Tacoma, Washington], pulsating with excitement and anger. They were there to see Bernie Sanders, whose rebellious presidential campaign has been bringing people in by the thousands for months.
Onstage, a city council member gave a speech urging a “powerful socialist movement to end all capitalist oppression.” An actor accused the news media of slanted coverage. In the crowd, one Sanders supporter hoisted a sign that read: “Obi-Wan Bernobi – He’s our only hope.” Another wore a jumpsuit festooned with pictures of Sanders. A third screamed the names of large corporations and declared, “You’re next!”
A few days later, thousands gathered at the convention center in Las Vegas to express their ardor for President Trump, waving signs, snapping photos and pumping their fists passionately as he took the stage. In return, he expressed his devotion to the Americans who helped elect him in 2016, the ones he claimed everyone else had forgotten.
“With your help,” Trump told them, “we’re going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats.” He called the crowd “amazing people” and declared, “Under my administration, we’re finally taking care of our own citizens first.”
What? These two are the same guy:
Four years after Trump seized control of the Republican Party with a right-wing populist movement, a new populist crusade has risen on the left, fueled similarly by grievance and anxiety and powered by Sanders’s remarkable drive to dispatch Trump from the White House.
Each is powered by a disdain for elites they perceive as having flourished while other Americans suffered, a rejection of the establishment and the figures that have controlled it, and a contempt for the institutions that over the decades have blunted, as they see it, the success of efforts like theirs.
And they’re not alone in this:
Trump’s and Sanders’s movements reflect a broader shift across Western democracies toward a politics rooted in passionate emotion and grievance — one that has pushed the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom from little-regarded sideshow to official British policy under the aegis of a prime minister whose public appeal is similar to Trump’s. In Germany, a far-right movement has gained influence in government.
Meanwhile, left-wing populism and self-described democratic socialists are gaining power throughout Europe and the Americas, at times replacing an older guard of liberals who embraced globalization.
“Populism is the future of American politics,” said Stephen K. Bannon, a former top Trump adviser who labored for years to connect Trumpism to global ultraconservative populism. “The question is whether it’s right or left – the deconstruction of the administrative state or democratic socialism.”
If so, they are the same guy:
For Sanders, whose movement is based in economic inequality, the culprits are the financial elite, billionaires and chief executives who have succeeded while workers have either been laid off or watched their wages stagnate in an economy where costs are otherwise rising. His events are infused with laments of shell-shocked Americans who talk of their struggles to keep up.
The tenets of the Sanders platform follow suit: enacting a Medicare-for-all government health-care system, steep new taxes on “the billionaire class,” free college for all Americans and sharp cutbacks in U.S. military interventions overseas – a fundamental expansion of the role of government in the United States.
For Trump, whose movement is based on cultural resentments and who has been accused by critics of stoking white nationalism, the culprits have been immigrants, women and others seen as displacing those who traditionally benefited from the economy’s boom times, a group mostly white and male that reflects the president’s most avid backers. His supporters speak of their dislocation as job losses have mounted in the upper Midwest and their fear of crime at the hands of the undocumented, even when statistics suggest that those concerns are unfounded.
Trump’s solutions have focused on reversing decades of cultural change, including his efforts to ban Muslims from entering the country, build a border wall and pass restrictive immigration policies, and curb the environmental protections that have grown for the past half-century – a vast downsizing of the role of the federal government.
But at the center of all this there is the fact that they are both rebels:
At the Tacoma rally on Feb. 17, Sanders’s enemies were Republicans, Wall Street and most audibly, the top brass of the party Sanders is seeking to lead as a candidate for president.
“The Democratic establishment is getting nervous!” Sanders bellowed after listing other adversaries he said were fretting over his rise. The crowd roared louder than ever, as if the home team just scored a game-winning touchdown. “You know what? They should be getting nervous.”
His devotees share his contempt for the Democratic Party. Misty Lopez showed up four hours early to snag a first-row seat at Sanders’s rally. The 42-year-old nurse was eager for an “extreme makeover” in the United States that she felt only Sanders could deliver – if top Democrats didn’t thwart him first.
“It’s nice to be surrounded by people with your same values for a little while,” Lopez said.
Yes, the cult will always welcome you, but Sanders does know better in this case:
In recent days, Sanders has dropped his usual taunt from his stump speech and instead decries the “establishment” more generally – a sign of what some top aides say is his new focus on Democratic unity, following early wins that have vaulted him into the top position.
And he really isn’t Trump after all:
“Sanders and Trump have both cultivated cults of personality around themselves with a fanatic base of supporters. Both are angry old white guys who you either love or hate. There’s no in between,” said Dan Eberhart, a prominent Trump donor. “Americans love entertainment. And that’s what Trump and Bernie deliver.”
But many Sanders supporters reject comparisons with Trump and cast the president as a “fake” populist who uses the mantle to cover up his support for the interests of corporate donors and GOP leaders. They also say Sanders, with his calls for justice, is the opposite of Trump on matters of race, immigration and climate change.
Indeed, the racially charged atmosphere of Trump rallies is absent from Sanders’s events. Nor has Sanders called for violence against protesters and reporters, as Trump has.
“If Bernie got on that stage and talked about murdering families, committing war crimes, punching people in the face, I would leave,” said Lopez, the nurse.
Still, this simplifies matters. The primary field is narrowing. Everything is narrowing. Options are limited now. Biden may fade again. Bloomberg is beside the point. It will be a choice between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, with no other options. But it will be a choice. And who knows which America will choose?