Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wow, Bernie! Wow!

I was going to let Monday's post stand as my presidential primary analysis for the year, but since Bernie Sanders pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history in Michigan, I reckoned I'd write down a few fairly random thoughts on what happened last night, and where things might go from here:

1. Turnout in Michigan college towns was enormous -- College students are overwhelmingly pro-Bernie. They know they're getting the generational shaft on higher education costs and Hillary hasn't been convincing on that point. Bernie's point is really clear: public colleges and universities should once again be tuition-free.

2. Free-trade agreements -- This issue really resonates within the Democratic Party base in Michigan because of the auto industry and manufacturing. Everybody trusts Bernie more on that front. Hillary sometimes articulates a more nuanced policy approach involving overall trade quantities, services, intellectual property, and the impact of automation. She's right in many ways about that. But what voters in the Rust Belt see is that Ross Perot guaranteed "a big sucking sound" from NAFTA twenty years ago, and industrial employment has sucked ever since. Then they look at Bernie and he says, "No." A clear "No" feels a lot better than four paragraphs of nuance.

3. Enthusiasm gap -- This one is a biggie. Few people that I've spoken to are genuinely enthused for Hillary. Yes, the party structure jumped on board early for a variety of reasons, but most of them seemed enthused about the possibility of a Democrat winning in November and finding a niche in her administration, not about Hillary herself. Every pro-Hillary item I saw on Facebook the last couple of weeks came from one of my friends from Democratic Party politics. Most of the pro-Bernie items came from my friends through work, rugby, community events, etc.

I have talked to a few excited Hillary supporters, so there are exceptions. But for every person I've found eager to cast a Hillary vote, I've probably talked to two dozen genuinely enthused Bernie voters. Hillary still isn't a natural campaigner. She's better at it technically than she was in 2008, but let's face it, the campaign trail is painful for her and it shows. That dampens enthusiasm. Bernie is a much stronger campaigner. You don't go to Congress for 30 years as an independent Socialist candidate without crushing the campaign trail. Vermont didn't have a liberal reputation before Bernie came along.

   3A. Example of enthusiasm -- As a true undecided coming into this weekend, I went looking for both Bernie and Hillary rallies or speeches, so that I could get a look at both of them in person. The Bernie event was easy as pie to find and attend. Hillary was spending her time in various meetings and closed-attendance fundraisers. Darned if I could find a single in-person event for her or Bill that I could attend, and I looked. Could she have packed thousands of people into a rally, as Bernie did in several places in Michigan over the last week of the election? Maybe. I don't know if her campaign even tried.

  3B. Cross-over voters -- Since most potential Hillary voters weren't all that enthused, many of them did cross over and cast a Kasich vote as an anti-Trump measure. Hell, I might've done it myself if I wouldn't have had to take a Republican ballot on the record to do so. It wasn't a huge number, but it was probably a few percentage points. Since Bernie only won by 1.5% that might've been enough to tilt the final decision.

   3C. The precedent --  In a lot of ways this thing reminds me of 2004, when the Democratic Party establishment decided from the outset that John Kerry was their man and set out to shove him down the throats of Democratic primary voters, despite a lot of evidence that he's not a great campaigner, either. That bit us all in the ass in November '04.

4. The polls -- Most of the polls were at least two weeks old, and the most up-to-date one stopped sampling on Sunday before the debate. Earlier in the day Tuesday Nate Silver did say that he had a gut feeling that Bernie would beat his polling in Michigan, and he had a couple of pretty good reasons. But he's always been clear on the notion that forecasters should trust the data and the polls, not gut feelings. Yesterday was the exceptional case in which what our eyes told us mattered more than the data.

5. The African-American vote -- Bernie did a lot better with African Americans in Michigan than he's done with southern blacks. He only lost that demographic group by 2:1 in Michigan instead of by the 4:1 and 5:1 margins Clinton has racked up in the South. Theories aplenty are being sown today for why that is, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the industrial free-trade message and perhaps the damage done to Michigan by the Wall Street meltdown in '08. I heard a commentator on CNN last night say that northern blacks lost a lot more wealth via the collapse of home-prices in '08 and '09 than southern blacks. If true, that would definitely fit well in that theory.

Those issues resonated with whites in Michigan. There's no reason to think they didn't resonate equally strongly with blacks, too. It might also mean that Bernie will not get crushed by the urban black vote in places like Illinois and Ohio next week.

6. Despite today's media narrative touting Bernie's triumphant Tuesday -- and the media is biased in favor of keeping a horse race alive above all else -- Hillary still netted more delegates yesterday because she crushed Bernie in Mississippi. She's going to be the nominee. The math is just a compelling for her over Bernie as it was for Obama over Hillary in 2008. But keeping Bernie in the race is forcing her to continue to improve as a candidate and also giving her more of a free-media platform. In much the same way that the long primary against Hillary helped Obama in '08, this primary might ultimately help Hillary in November.

And frankly, if it does turn out that she can't beat a 74-year-old Jewish socialist from Vermont in the primary, she has no business being the nominee.

7. All-in-all, I'm pretty happy today. -- I put off the day on which I have to vote for Hillary Clinton until November -- and yes, I'm still pissed about her Iraq War vote! -- and I got to cast a vote for Bernie, which is something I've wanted to do for 30 years. (Since I grew up in Eastern New York near the Vermont border, Bernie's a longtime known quantity for me, and I've always appreciated having his voice out there.)

As for the rest of it in Michigan?

Once every four years these presidential primaries blow through here for a couple weeks. All the locals get excited, and it serves as a nice fund-raising and organizational platform for the state Dems. Then after the votes are counted we all sing "Kumbaya" and shift our focus on the various state primaries coming up in August.

It was fun while it lasted, but the circus has now packed up the tents and left town.  All that's left is sweeping up the empty popcorn boxes and taking down the posters.

Maybe the circus will come back this Fall if Michigan looks close. And if Trump is ultimately the GOP's nominee, a circus atmosphere is guaranteed for one and all.**

We shall see.

**"We're going to have a magnificent circus! There'll be gold-plated monkeys swinging from the trapeze and beautiful diamond-encrusted shoes on every clown! We're getting rid of the tattered old popcorn vendors, too! I don't want to say they weren't good, but did you ever look at one of them? They were losers! We'll have fully trained supermodels feeding Trump(TM) Caviar to everybody! And instead of bleachers you'll all be sitting in exclusive leather-covered Trump(TM) Lounge Chairs. I guarantee you've never see such a fabulous circus! ...."

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