December 27, 2018


Inside Bernie-world's war on Beto O'Rourke: As the Texas congressman's star rises, Sanders supporters turn up the heat: "Reading Karl Marx is cool. Doing a livestream while you're doing your laundry is a gimmick." (Jonathan Allen and Alex Seitz-Wald, 12/23/18, NBC News)

The main line of attack against O'Rourke is that he isn't progressive enough -- that he's been too close to Republicans in Congress, too close to corporate donors and not willing enough to use his star power to help fellow Democrats -- and it is being pushed almost exclusively by Sanders supporters online and in print.

It's been the first flashpoint in what promises to be a politically bloody primary -- one that has drawn responses from foot soldiers in the Obama and Clinton wings of the party -- as Democrats begin to focus on who has the best chance to deny President Donald Trump a second term in the Oval Office.

Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and 2016 Sanders supporter who is now running for public advocate in New York City, said liberal activists mostly kept quiet about their concerns over O'Rourke's record, including the backing he got from the centrist Blue Dog Democrats, before he lost a Texas Senate race to Republican Ted Cruz in November.

"They sucked it up while he was running" because they wanted him to win, Konst said. "But now it's a different story."

The biggest difference may be that O'Rourke is now a threat to Sanders in the 2020 primary. Though neither man has announced whether he will run, O'Rourke captured the hearts and dollars of veteran Democratic activists, donors of all ages and millennial political newcomers across Texas and the nation in his Senate run.

"I think this week can be understood as a kind of turning point, where -- for the first time really -- millions of Americans are seeing pieces that look underneath the superficial gloss of projections onto Beto," said Norman Solomon, who was a delegate for Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

"What we're seeing is someone who's a big step up for red-state Texas statewide and actually a big step down for where the majority of Democrats are nationwide. ... If we buy the Beto package, we're gonna have buyer's remorse later on."

[O]'Rourke's ability to connect with younger and progressive white voters -- Sanders' source of strength in his losing 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton -- puts him in direct competition with the Vermont senator.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Dec. 19 showed that 57 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 34 have a favorable view of Sanders, while his unfavorable ratings are higher than his favorables with voters 35 and older.

Twenty-five percent of millennials view O'Rourke favorably and 15 percent view him unfavorably, with 59 percent telling Quinnipiac they haven't heard enough about him to know how they feel.

And while the vast majority of Democrats have an opinion about Sanders, that's not true of O'Rourke yet, with 51 percent reporting they don't have enough information to form an opinion.

That explains the rush to define him in negative terms.

He'd have beaten Ted Cruz if he had run as the moderate he is.

Radical Centrists Will Decide the Democratic Primary: As a scrum of candidates battles for the leftist vote, a dark horse could win the nomination simply by standing out from the crowd. (STEVEN TELES, December 27, 2018New Republic)

Around this time four years ago, before the presidential primaries had begun, the most plausible Republican candidates seemed to be reading from more or less the same script. There were differences, to be sure, between Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush, but for the most part, they offered a mixture of social conservatism, budgetary austerity, and neoconservative foreign policy. Even as the field dwindled, Cruz, Rubio, and the supposedly moderate John Kasich--the last mainstream candidates left standing--all supported slashing Social Security and Medicare to make room for large income tax reductions. They were cut from recognizable GOP cloth, if tailored to slightly different tastes.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, was different, and not just in the color of his hair and the length of his ties. While all the other Republicans were converging around the policy positions of Paul Ryan, Trump identified a section of potential GOP voters who were being overlooked. It was to them that he directed his startlingly new positions on trade, immigration, foreign policy, and entitlements; for them that he promised to protect Medicare and Social Security; and for them, that he proposed a noninterventionist, what's-in-it-for-us foreign policy, and pledged to end free trade agreements. 

The majority of GOP voters--as much as 60 percent--didn't particularly like these positions. (And GOP funders, especially those in the Koch network, saw his policy positions as an outright repudiation of their core ideological commitments.) The ordinary Republican candidates--the 16 not named Donald Trump--knew as much. But in fighting for the "normal" 60 percent of the Republican electorate, they ensured their own defeat. In Illinois, the three conventional Republicans (Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich) took 59 percent of the vote, but because it was split three ways, not one was able to top Trump's 39 percent. The same thing happened in North Carolina, where voters gave the orthodox candidates 58 percent, and Trump took the state with 40. The strategy may not have been intentional, but it turned out to be foolproof: Carve out a distinct political ideology that appeals to a solid minority of primary voters, and let the rest of the candidates vie for, and consequently split, the rest of the vote. 

More than a dozen candidates may run for the Democratic nomination in 2020: governors from the Plains states, senators from the coasts, billionaire entrepreneurs. But the most serious so far--Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders--run the risk of falling into the same trap as the main Republicans did in 2015.

Leaving Nikki to occupy the Center.

Posted by at December 27, 2018 8:20 AM