Is it time to reconsider Bernie Sanders? Maybe that's not quite right - consider him for the first time?
Many of us have been operating on the assumption that Hillary was inevitable; that the socialist 74 year old junior senator from Vermont was a throw away place holder for Elizabeth Warren who (like Mitt Romney) is probably regretting a decision not to run; that Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 primaries and general election was entirely about him and his campaign, and not about a strong left wing of the Democratic Party; that the Democratic electorate would again want an historic candidate, this time a woman; that the Democratic party machine had the fix in for the Clintons.
Well, Bernie Sanders is no Donald Trump (that's not meant as a compliment or an insult), but there is enough going on to give a brief flight of fancy:
-- Recent polling has Sanders running ahead of Clinton and gaining momentum in Iowa as well as in New Hampshire, and the national gap is down to single digits from 20 points a month ago. As the primary season moves on to South Carolina on February 27 and largely-southern Super-Tuesday on March 1, where African Americans are dominant on the Democratic side, Clinton will have a major advantage, but the earlier victories would guarantee Sanders' survival into mid-March when the campaign becomes national.
-- At this point in 2008 the senator from New York had support of 45% in a crowded field, with an 18 point lead over the junior senator from Illinois - and the active support of a younger and more popular ex president. We all know how that worked out.
-- Money isn't a problem. Success breeds success. Sanders raised $73 million in 2015 compared to Hillary's $112 million, and the gap was closing in the fourth quarter; recent attacks by Hillary's camp have generated a surge in Sanders grass roots donors. These are mostly smaller amounts from a broad group of donors and he doesn't have a well-funded supporting PAC, but the breadth of donors matches that of Obama in 2008. I cannot get to my e-mail without first clicking off a Sanders ad.
-- Hillary has a difficult balancing act on policy - Sanders will own the progressive left; 20% of the (remaining blue dog) Democrats say that they would vote for Trump against her; she cannot alienate the Obama administration; she felt it necessary to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement which she helped to negotiate as Secretary of State; she is vulnerable on healthcare where Sanders is for single payer and she is tied to the unpopular Obamacare; being the largest recipient of financial industry donations, she has no credibility as a controller of Wall Street. Her only advantage with the progressive wing is on gun control where she supports Obama's push for more restrictions, but loses the 20% who would defect to Trump.
-- And then, there's the corruption with its many ugly faces. She met her match with Trump when she opened the door for discussion of Bill Clinton's sexual predations, and her role in attacking the victims. She may not be up to playing three dimensional chess.
-- And the final argument - like the Republican establishment's argument against Trump - the socialist Sanders is not electable. For what it is worth, the current Real Clear Politics averages have Sanders doing about as well as Hillary against the leading Republicans.
You know that the ice is cracking when Joe Biden praises Sanders for his genuineness on the current Democratic theme of "income inequality" and calls Hillary "relatively new" to the subject. Permission to defect from the establishment's choice has been granted, and voice will be given to the lifetime of enemies that Hillary has accumulated. Meanwhile, MoveOn.org's endorsement of Sanders confirms George Soros' support.
It is early. Hillary may be exposed as harmless, like the Wizard of Oz - as she was in 2008 - but the odds are against it. Either of the septuagenarians may have health issues which set off alarm bells. Bill may be a surprisingly good asset or a liability. The millenials who favor Sanders may decide that politics is kind of interesting after all and actually vote. Some 20% of the Democratic convention delegates are party insiders, and Hillary has half of them locked up already. We really just don't know, and in fact we know less about the Democratic nomination than we did a few months ago.
One thing that may change is that the ratings for the Democratic debates on January 17, February 11, and March 9 may reflect the fact that they are actually worth watching. In the meantime, the interested observer might pick up a glowing biography about Sanders in the Huffington Post, or ongoing coverage in Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, or the New Yorker. He is not scheduled to appear on Fox.
This week's video - in case you missed it or want it for your archives - is Nikki Haley's 10 minute response to President Obama's State of the Union speech.
bill bowen - 1/15/2016