Friday, February 12, 2016

Looking Forward - Democratic Edition

I watched most of the Democratic debate tonight while typing this out.  Bernie's full-throated calls for universal healthcare and free tuition are bold and clear, but just how much do you have to suspend your disbelief to think those goals are possible in the current United States of America, especially with all the oxygen being consumed on the Republican side demanding the repeal of Obamacare?

Hillary just sounds so much more realistic in pursuit of similar end goals.  The fact that Democratic party voters (at least to date) have rallied so significantly to Bernie's side shows a real frustration among Democrats at the status quo - and Obama's record in particular - that was not obvious to me prior to these first results coming in from Iowa and New Hampshire.

I'll admit it is tempting to look to Bernie as a real opportunity to shake up the American status quo on campaign finance and on inequality.  In that regard, the raw numbers in New Hampshire are pretty astonishing really.  Bernie got 151,584 votes (out of about 250,000) while Trump and Kasich got less combined - 145,315 votes (out of about 280,000).  If you combined the votes (which is not altogether crazy since New Hampshire runs an open primary), you get something like this:

Sanders - 151,584 - 28.6%
Trump - 100,406 - 18.9%
Clinton - 95,252 - 18.0%
Kasich - 44,909 - 8.5%
Cruz - 33,189 - 6.3%
Bush - 31,310 - 6.0%
Rubio - 30,032 - 5.7%

Not sure what that means, but it does put the extent of the support for Sanders in some context.  He is running a classic underdog campaign where the focus is less on specifics, and he has instant credibility as a completely incorruptible, dyed-in-the-wool true believer in an election where that is a (the?) prime asset.      

Still, I continue to have a hard time seeing Bernie's appeal beyond the Democratic party.  The most striking thing listening to the debate is how disconnected it is from the arguments dominating the Republican race.  That alone puts a lot of the aspirational dreams in Bernie's talking points in stark relief.  That gives him an advantage in the debates on domestic policy, where his positions are straightforward and conducive to 90 second answers.  But his struggles on foreign policy are real, and all the more so given it is a true comfort zone for Hillary. 

The exchange where Bernie raised Kissinger to attack Hillary was notable.  Surprised she didn't run further away from him, though she did manage to use it to get in a dig back about how no one knows who Bernie takes his foreign policy advice from.  (I'm sure Hitchens turned in his grave to see Bernie fail to nail Hillary more than he did when she said it is useful to rely on Kissinger's knowledge on China as informing her views in a Democratic debate.)

I expect the debate will be rememembered for the way that Hillary turned the question about leadership into an attack on Sanders for failing to fully support Obama.  Watching Bernie in the split screen showed she clearly struck a major nerve there.  Perfectly timed too, right at the end.  Game on.  It would be surprising to me if Hillary doesn't start to pull away by March. 

But in this election cycle?  Who knows.


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