Roundtable – State of the Primaries

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links may have been added after the fact. This conversation happened on February 9, 2020.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor
Hello and welcome to another Roundtable, our recurring feature where Torchlight staff gives their perspective on current events. Today we’re discussing the state of the Democratic primary, from the Iowa clustercaucus to Friday’s New Hampshire debate and beyond. We’ll start, debate style, with a broad question that everybody will use to pivot to their stump speech instead of answering. How do you feel about the state of the race and the remaining candidates now that the field finally seems to have narrowed?

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

Iowa was an absolute clusterfuck, and I don’t think anyone can deny it. And since it was clusterfucky, it’s use for anything is nonexistent, because it’s actual number of delegates is small. I think the debate on friday and NH are going to have way more impact because of this

David Spitzley, Senior Contributor
I’ll be honest, I’m kind of pleased at the moment. Buttigieg is not my favorite, but I suspect he’s more likely to fade than Biden would have been if he weren’t already pulling a Marty McFly fade out.

Christo
I think some people are hoping we are seeing Buttigieg’s peak. Frankly, I think the “moderate” field is going to narrow, but who will be out, I don’t know.
dspitzley 9:41 PM

Ann Anderson, Contributing Writer
The field has narrowed, certainly, but there are still plenty of people in the race, and right now I am fine with that. What I don’t like is all the early speculation, as if the outcome of Iowa and New Hampshire are the sole determiners of how this race goes. If I recall correctly, there have been plenty of early primaries in the past that really did not reflect the end result. So, I grow weary of media punditry pretending that the results now give them some kind of accurate crystal ball as to where this all is going. Further, I don’t like how they have used that to shape narratives and thus shape chances for candidates. For example, during the lead up to Iowa they did not want to let go of the “Biden is the clear frontrunner” narrative, then, after the results didn’t look good for Biden, they pivoted hard to Buttigieg and tried to downplay both Sanders and Warren, including fueling scattered narratives that Warren was about to drop out of the race.

David
(Sanders and Warren are combined doing about as well as the B-Boys and Klobuchar as a group, which I think reflects the state of the Democratic Party pretty well.)

Ann
It is harmful in general, and it ends up with the media over-influencing the race, just like they did in 2016. One person I spoke to online pointed out how we should stop with the instant gratification, and just let election results take a few days to be tallied before rushing to declare winners. I find myself perfectly fine with that, but unfortunately, the media is not likely to let that stand.

David

Overall I think that the primary season is still doing more good than harm. I’m a bit concerned that the campaigns will start tearing down the eventual winner (whoever that is), but I think by Super Tuesday the eigenvector is likely to collapse quickly enough to avoid that. But hell, what do I know…

I’m kind of curious to see if Steyer can knife Bloomberg in billionaire-on-billionaire combat.

Christo

Part of the problem, Ann, is that caucuses are utterly terrible. This is as much the fault of the state dem party (and the national one, apparently) as is is the media’s. Now, they have their stupidities, but I think that overall they are doing… well they could be doing worse.

Ann
I certainly won’t contest the role the state and national Democratic party played in Iowa’s caucuses.

David

I wish the DNC would stop obsessing about whether they like various candidates and focus on mobilizing potential voters to support whoever the eventual nominee may be.

Josh

Let’s talk about the debate. Did we learn anything new? Did it shake up the race? Will these debates become more important than before or less, now that voting has begun?

Christo
The debate was probably the best one so far, with the moderators actually doing their jobs, and only one person asking bad questions, and that’s because I prefer direct questions, not “[x] said this thing. You said [notx]. Why is [x] wrong?” Just ask the damn question. As I said I found this debate the best so far. The moderators kept things on track, and the candidates gave pretty substantive answers.

They also went after each other a bit (everyone dunked on Buttigieg a little, some hit Biden some, Sanders got a bit, etc.) The most important thing is they kept stressing how important supporting the eventual nominee was. The biggest moment was possibly Biden giving a shoulder hug to Bernie and javing rapport to Klobuchar, while they all gently dunked on Clinton. (Hillary, for reasons understandable, does not like Bernie)

But yeah, I think Styer is going to go away eventually, hopefully he will still support Dem campaigns. And who the 2 wings decide on will probably take awhile.
That is info we probably won’t get until after NH. If they continue on this trajectory, I think the debates will remain important.

Ann

I can’t really comment on the recent debate, but I imagine as the number of people on the debate stage dwindles, the debates will continue to be important. There can be more time spent with each candidate, and people are going to be paying attention to not just the candidate’s positions, but also how they present and handle themselves. Because underneath it all, a lot of people want reassurances that whoever ends up with the nomination can hold the stage with the reality television president and beat him in the general election.

David

I think one thing that’s been useful in the debates is that they’ve built positive recognition for almost all of the candidates (though Biden is apparently losing ground)

Josh

Personally I find the debates to be frustratingly repetitive at this point, but maybe they’re not really meant to be seen all in a row by one person. We’ve even gotten to the point where Tom Steyer had a line in this one about being sick of the Medicare for All debate. (Hey, he has every right to complain, he bought his ticket.) I’m not sure they do a great job of giving us new information, or even new theater — no big moments have emerged lately that might change anyone’s mind, it feels like. Partly because it seems as though all of the candidates are reluctant to really draw too much of a contrast between each other, especially when they’re in the same lane. The party will eventually decide whether they want to pick a liberal or a moderate Dem, but I don’t know how they’re going to decide which candidate wins out in each of those lanes.

Let’s turn now to Super Tuesday, since that’s the largest X-factor given that the trajectory of the campaign seems relatively predictable through the next states. Who is poised now to take a big lead? What impact do we think Bloomberg will have, and what do we think about his ability to wildly outspend everyone else?

David
God, I hope Bloomberg tanks.

I mean. Steyer bought his way in to an extent, too, but at least he’s going full class traitor. Bloomberg feels like one of the bug-in-a-human suit aliens from Men In Black trying to sneak in.

Ann

Given what I said earlier, it would be hypocritical of me to speculate on who will win big on Super Tuesday based off of only Iowa results, New Hampshire guesses, and polling that keeps shifting. As for Bloomberg, he’s done better than I expected so far. He has pledged to continue to run ads for whoever gets the nomination, even if that’s not him, and I would rather he do that than run himself. I have found his ads that have been forced down my throat so far to actually be far more effective on conveying the idea that Trump must be defeated than anything Steyer did in his ads in the prior years.

I think Bloomberg’s focus on that would let whoever gets the nomination the ability to focus more on what the Democrat candidate has to offer, while at the same time there being a reminder that regardless of what people may think of that candidate, Trump cannot be allowed to win a second term for the country’s sake.

David
You have a good point about Bloomberg’s ads. If he’s really serious about supporting the eventual nominee, cool, though I am very curious what Warren and Sanders would think of that if they were the nominees.

Ann
Excellent question.

Josh

I find that I’m most curious who Bloomberg is going to siphon votes from more, the moderates or the liberals. Probably the moderates, given his big negatives on race and other issues?

Ann

Also a good question.

Josh

But I’ve always felt Bloomberg is a politician without much of a constituency, residing at that kind of social liberal, economically conservative nexus that nobody outside of like, the people who actually work at the NYT shares.

David

It’s funny because it’s true…

Josh

So to me this is going to be a disturbing test to see how much of the American public can simply be bought.

Christo

I think we need to see how the next 3 do before we can call Super Tuesday. The race doesn’t really have any momentum at the moment, because Iowa was a caucus, and therefore idiotic, just like every year, only this time it was so bad that that was the story. So NH is now basically going to be the first race. Bernie is beloved there, Warren is the same media market (I don’t know whether that will matter much, but it might), I don’t know if the media talking up Klobuchar is actually gaining, or that’s just media anecdotes. We’ll find out.

SC is also going to be key, because if Biden does poorly there, if the other candidates can siphon off some of the minority vote, he is absolutely done. If Biden takes most of that, he will be the strong frontrunner. The week before that is the Nevada caucus, and although the rules are changed enough that it is kind of an instant runoff primary kinda thing, everyone is going to be watching if they fall on their ass as well. I can see the contours before Super Tuesday going a couple of different ways, but time is growing short.

Josh

Let’s go ahead and move to final thoughts, and to make things interesting, I’d like everybody to pick a different candidate and talk about their status and strategy going forward toward Super Tuesday. What advice would you give the candidate?

Ann

No fair. I didn’t know I’d have to turn in homework for this Roundtable…

In all seriousness though, since I assumed the rest of you will pick the major candidates, like Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren, etc., and I cannot be bothered to assess Biden, I guess I’ll take Klobuchar. I don’t really follow her closely but have been surprised by the support for her that I have seen. She has the moderate from the middle of the country who also happens to be female (which I guess in the absence of people of color is, at least, something) appeal. I don’t know that she has a chance. I don’t know how much she will eat into Biden or Buttigieg’s thunder. But I have run into comments from some folks, particularly women, who seem to like her more and more, especially as the field and the debate stage have shrunk.

Klobuchar, for all the publicity about how she allegedly treats her staff, presents well to white voters, at least. She also represents an option to Biden and Buttigieg that right now is coming off a bit less smarmy or pat. She needs to keep putting her mix of some personability and some practicality out there more if she wants to keep taking bites out of the others’ support. She probably doesn’t have much of a chance in the long run, but with people like Harris out of the race, she is snatching up some support that might have gone to the others. So at the very least, she is a spoiler, at least for moderates, to be courted. 

David

I wish I had advice for Yang. I think he’s done a real service for the American public by both voicing common fears for the future and promoting an undeservedly obscure policy proposal that I think will gain ground over the next decade.

Ultimately I think he needs to move past his occasional exhortations to kumbaya and weigh in in support of the left flank candidates . Who’s more likely to support UBI: Sanders or Biden? Warren or Buttigieg?

Christo

I mean, besides jokey stuff like “just drop out and support real candidates and issues” to the billionaires, I have advice for Buttigieg. His problem is obviously his appeal to minorities, which is effectively none. To be clear, I am about as white as he is, so this is from a similar perspective, but he needs to show that he is willing and able to listen to them. He is by all accounts a smart dude, but his arrogance in an arena he knows absolutely nothing about is absolutely not helpful. He needs to acknowledge why he has low support, and what he plans to change, and how he regrets how he screwed up. Now, to be clear, there is not a lot of time left. I don’t know if he can turn that around. This is something he should have started on and done months ago. At this point, his nothing approval rating is part of his narrative.

Bill Clinton, his personal awfulness aside, was able to show that compassion. “I feel your pain” was a low key slogan of his. He was able to show a connection with those that suffered and those that did not grow up privileged, to the point where he was ironically (and this moniker has not aged well, for a variety of obvious reasons) “the first Black President”. Obama was also clear about his experiences growing up without advantages that a lot have, overcoming them to the massive success that he is and deserves. Buttigieg needs to show that he understands that, while he has succeeded, he knows what it’s like to suffer, to grow up afraid and insecure of personal safety. His ability to pass is one reason why oppression via sexuality and oppression via race are not the same, and his efforts thus far to make that connection on that front have been tone deaf. I am not trying to make light of our oppression of the LGBT community that is ongoing and pernicious. His success is an indication that we have made great progress in that arena, but we have far to go. But if Pete Buttigieg wants to be president (and he very, very, clearly does), he needs a better message, and he needs it weeks ago.

Josh

 

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