Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sanders Whiffed

A lot of Democrats are looking for a candidate who can stand toe-to-toe against Donald Trump; a candidate who not only can take Trump's slings and arrows but also be the aggressive "tough guy." (It's cliche day at the blog.)

Prior to Tuesday's debate in Des Moines, I believed the Democrats might be on the precipice of finding that man- and that it would be a man. Bernie Sanders has shown flashes of impatience at a "corporate" media more interested in profits or horse races than in substance.  And as the candidate whose supporters are most hostile toward the mainstream media, he faced the least risk in making that argument.

Moreover, he had the issue- the kerfuffle with Elizabeth Warren over a November, 2018 meeting, which probably pertained merely to a differing interpretation of a statement that he has a better chance of winning over an electorate which still views being female as disqualifying for a President.

However, he didn't seize the opportunity. Abby Phillip asked "Sen. Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?" Sanders responded "well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it. And I don't want to waste a whole lot of time on this because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want."

There is no "maybe" about it. Much of the media- CNN and MSNBC, as I have observed, and probably Trump News Network- have played this to the hilt (cliche day, remember?).  It has nothing to do with policy, what the individual would do as President. Further, what transpired in a private meeting cannot be definitively determined.

Left, right, and center, voters distrust the media, and Sanders could have turned it on here. Instead, he foolishly pivoted to

Anybody knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.

Go to YouTube today. There's a video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States. In 2015, I deferred, in fact, to Sen. Warren. There was a movement to draft Sen. Warren to run for president. And you know what, I said — stayed back. Sen. Warren decided not to run, and I then — I did run afterwards.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States? And let me be very clear. If any of the women on this stage or any of the men on this stage win the nomination, I hope that's not the case, I hope it's me.

Hillary Clinton also lost a winnable election, one which Bernie Sanders likely believes he would have won, and which was lost in part because of attitudes toward women.  Yet his argument here boils down to "of course, there is no problem with female candidates. Hillary Clinton did so well."

If Sanders had stressed criticism of the media, he would have played on his turf, making a charge every other Democrat is unwilling or unable to make. Instead, he decided to play on the turf of Elizabeth Warren (and of Amy Klobuchar).

That was, on this question, a fatal error because it allowed Senator Warren to transfer seamlessly to

 .... Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised, and it's time for us to attack it head-on.

And I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people's winning record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump?

Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections.

This, of course, was met by approving laughter and Warren added "the only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women."

This, in turn, was meant by predictable applause, followed by the inclusive "Amy and me," which appeared generous toward a rival. A moment later, Warren continued

And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me.

And here's what I know. The real danger that we face as Democrats is picking a candidate who can't pull our party together or someone who takes for granted big parts of the Democratic constituency.

We need a candidate who will excite all parts of the Democratic Party, bring everyone in and give everyone a Democrat to believe in. That's my plan and that is why I'm going to win.

That was a strong finish and Sanders should have left it at that. However, he couldn't resist self-inflicted damage and a moment later this transpired:

SANDERS: Well, just to set the record straight, I defeated an incumbent Republican running for Congress.


SANDERS: Nineteen-ninety.

That's how I won, beat a republican congressman.


Number two...

WARREN: Thirty years ago.

SANDERS: ... of course, I don't think there's any debate up here...

WARREN: Wasn't it 30 years ago?

SANDERS: I beat an incumbent Republican congressman.

WARREN: And I said I was the only one who's beaten an incumbent Republican in 30 years.


SANDERS: Well, 30 years ago is 1990, as a matter of fact.

That's not a good look, not a strong look, but at least the look of someone who, inexplicably, did not seem to have anticipated that the matter would be raised. However, at least he then noted "But I don't know that that's the major issue of the day." (Actually, it was the major issue but most definitively should not have been.)

The back-and-forth will not be determinative, nor should it be.  It's not health care, foreign policy, education, privatization of the economy, or any policy. But at least for a few moments, Democratic primary voters saw a candidate who does not understand that 30 years is a long time, and one who does; one who was not prepared, and one who was; one who was passive, and one who is active, engaged, and goes for the jugular.

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