Feb. 24

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Takeaways from the Nevada Caucuses

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won a commanding victory in Nevada Saturday, and is now the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. He is not in like Flynn quite yet, but the opposition is fragmented, confused, and demoralized. Super Tuesday is a week from tomorrow and if he wins a majority of states and delegates then, he will be in a very strong position to be the nominee.

Here are some takeaways from various media outlets about the Nevada results:

NPR: New York Times: CNN: Associated Press: USA Today: Los Angeles Times: The Hill: Las Vegas Review-Journal:

The big themes are clear:

South Carolina is likely to be somewhat different due to its demographics. If Sanders wins big there, against all expectations, Sanders will be in a commanding position heading into Super Tuesday. If he comes in a poor third or worse, it's going to be a mess until Super Tuesday clears the air. (V)

How Did Sanders Do It?

Which demographic groups supported each candidate? Fortunately, we have the entrance polls to tell us. Here are the results:

Candidate Best group 2nd Best 3rd Best 4th Best 5th Best
Sanders Ages 17-29 Vote-counting skeptics Issues voters Latinos Independents
Biden Blacks Oppose M4A Top issue: foreign policy Seniors Moderates
Buttigieg Top issue: foreign policy Oppose M4A Moderates Whites Late deciders
Warren Late deciders Twitterers Top issue: inequality Strong liberals Ages 30-44
Klobuchar Seniors Oppose M4A Top issue: foreign policy Whites Trump haters

So for example, Sanders got 65% of the kids, 54% of the people who worried their vote wouldn't be counted correctly, 54% of the voters who prioritized a candidate they agree with over one who could beat Donald Trump, 51% of Latinos, and 50% of independents. Joe Biden's best group consisted of black voters. Roughly summarized, young Latinos and independents who care most about the issues voted for Sanders. Black voters and older moderates (and conservatives) who oppose Medicare for All and who care most about foreign policy were in Biden's camp. Pete Buttigieg got 25% of people whose top issue was foreign policy, 23% of those voters who oppose Medicare for All, 19% of moderates, and so on. He also got the whites with the same demographics (besides race) as Biden's supporters. Warren got 30-44 year olds who are liberal and are concerned about inequality. Klobuchar got white seniors who oppose M4A, hate Trump, and care about foreign policy.

Now let us look at which groups were least supportive of each candidate. Here are the results:

Candidate Least supportive 2nd Least 3rd Least 4th Least 5th Least
Sanders Oppose M4A Seniors Top issue: foreign policy Trump haters Moderates
Biden Independents Ages 30-44 Ages 17-29 Issues voters Other races
Buttigieg Blacks Strong liberals Top issue: inequality Vote-counting skeptics Latinos
Warren Top issue: foreign policy Moderates Latinos Ages 17-29 Oppose M4A
Klobuchar Ages 17-29 Blacks Latinos Ages 30-44 Issues voters

Only 9% of people who oppose Medicare for All voted for Sanders. Surprisingly, given that Sanders is 78, only 11% of seniors voted for him. People who cared most about foreign policy didn't vote for him. Significantly, people who are issue-oriented voted for him and people who just want to beat Donald Trump didn't. He has a very ideological base. That is going to spell trouble if the Democrats don't nominate him, because to many of his supporters, Klobuchar or Buttigieg are no better than Trump, given that none of them support Medicare for All. Buttigieg got only 2% of the votes of black folks and only 8% of the votes of liberals. People who care about inequality also aren't on Team Buttigieg. We have seen this before. The former mayor's base is well-off white people. Warren isn't popular with people who oppose Medicare for All, nor young people, Latinos, or moderates. Klobuchar doesn't cut it with young people, minorities, or people who care about the issues. It is now obvious why she and Buttigieg got into a fight in the debate last week: They are fishing in the same voter pool, namely, older white moderates (and conservatives) who just want to beat Trump and don't care so much about specific policy issues. (V)

Never-Trump Republicans Are in Full-Blown Panic Mode

Bernie Sanders' decisive victory in Nevada has caused never-Trump Republicans to hit the panic button. They see and fear a general election between a fascist they cannot abide and a socialist they can't stand. While they surely understand that Sanders' bark is worse than his bite, and know very well that Sanders M4A plan has almost no chance to get the votes of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), let alone any Senate Republicans, they are still very worried that Sanders will be able to carry out some of his program by executive orders. One example is abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). So what's a neverTrumper to do? Write opinion pieces saying: "Democrats, it's now or never." Whether or not you agree with their pieces, they make interesting reading. After all, if the 10% of Republicans who don't support Trump were to vote for Anyone-but-Bernie (D), that person would win in a landslide.

Let's start with Jennifer Rubin, a traditional conservative Republican who loathes Trump so much that she has now gone on record saying she will vote for any Democrat (even Sanders, if he wins the nomination). Here is a rough interpretation of her formula for defeating Sanders in the primaries, phrased as instructions to the candidates.

Rubin is not optimistic that any of them will do as instructed, and thinks the probable consequence will be that Trump beats Sanders in November.

Now we come to Tim Miller, a writer for The Bulwark, a Website founded by never-Trumpers like Charlie Sykes and Bill Kristol. Miller is the voice of experience here. He was Jeb Bush's communications director in 2016 and one of the many Republican insiders who pooh-poohed the rise of Donald Trump until it was too late. Here are his five lessons for the Democrats:

Note that we are not advocating for or against any of these ideas (though we will have a couple of items of our own this week that address some of these questions). We are just pointing out that there are never-Trump Republicans out there and what they are thinking. Draw your own conclusions. (V)

New National Poll Has Sanders on Top

A new CBS News/YouGov national poll has Bernie Sanders comfortably ahead of a fractured field. Here are the results:

Candidate Pct.
Bernie Sanders 28%
Elizabeth Warren 19%
Joe Biden 17%
Michael Bloomberg 13%
Pete Buttigieg 10%
Amy Klobuchar 5%
Tom Steyer 2%
Tulsi Gabbard 1%

The poll was taken after the Nevada debate but before the Nevada caucuses. Sanders' lead is clearly significant here. Also noteworthy is that after her performance in the last debate, Elizabeth Warren is moving up, at least a bit.

The poll also showed that 65% of all registered voters expect Donald Trump to be reelected.

CBS/YouGov also polled South Carolina. There Joe Biden is ahead with 28%, but Sanders has moved up to second place with 23%. Back in the fall, Biden's lead was as much as 28 points.

One South Carolina politician who is clearly worried about Sanders is House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. Yesterday, Clyburn said that if Sanders is the Democratic nominee, the Democrats could lose many of the House seats they won in 2018. Clyburn also said that he would endorse a candidate after tomorrow's debate in Charleston. The smart money is betting that it will not be Sanders. It is almost certain to be Joe Biden, who needs all the help he can get. (V)

Downballot Democrats Move to Distance Themselves from Sanders

When former astronaut Mark Kelly, who is running to unseat Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), was recently asked about his support for Bernie Sanders, the best he could come up with was: "I will ultimately support whoever the nominee is of the Democratic Party." This remark and Bernie Sanders' rise have prompted McSally to start campaigning against Sanders, rather than against Kelly. Many Republicans running for the House, Senate, governorships, and more may take the same tack and ignore their actual opponent and just run against Sanders. Maybe Tip O'Neill was wrong: All politics is national.

Former DCCC Chairman Steve Israel has said: "I can tell you that there are a lot of downballot jitters based on my conversations with my former colleagues." In other words, Democrats are afraid that not only would Sanders lose the race for the White House, but he would give the GOP control of the House and Senate as well. Given that Trump wouldn't have to worry about reelection after 2021, Democrats are scared witless of what he might do given a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. If Democrats lose both chambers, Trump won't even have to worry about investigations and could behave accordingly.

The most contested Senate races in the country (other than Alabama, which is a lost cause for the Democrats) are in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina. The leading Democrats in all four races are opposed to Sanders' Medicare for All plan. This could lead to the awkward situation of Senate candidates campaigning on platforms diametrically opposed to the national platform. Under those conditions, would Sanders campaign for these Senate candidates and send money their way? It is hard to tell at this point, although Sanders surely realizes that with a Republican-controlled Senate there is zero chance that any of his big plans will be implemented. Still, if Sanders and Kelly appear together at a town hall and someone asks about Medicare for All, what kind of message will be sent if Sanders says "I am for it" and Kelly says "I am against it." What will voters conclude, other than that Democrats don't know what they want? An additional problem for Senate and House candidates is that if they reject Sanders' plan, his Democratic supporters may not vote for them. It's a tough situation.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that Sanders had the worst standing against Trump among college-educated white women. This is the group that powered the Democrats to pick up 40 seats in the House. If this group is lost, Republicans could win all the marbles. (V)

How Democrats Can Manage a Brokered Convention

If Bernie Sanders gets the most delegates but he doesn't have a majority, the Democrats will have a problem. His supporters think that if he has more voters than anyone else, he should be the nominee. The problem is that this is not what the people running the show think. Heck, even in Louisiana they don't think that. If nobody gets 50% there, there is a runoff election a few weeks later. The Democratic party has clear rules about this situation. Like Louisiana (and most of the South), there is another election. At the convention, they have that, too. It is called the second ballot. The problem for the Sanders supporters is that the automatic delegates (elected party officials like governors, senators, and representatives, who were previously called superdelegates) also get to vote on the second and subsequent ballots. Sanders agreed to these rules a year ago, but many of his supporters say that people whom the voters have elected to high office shouldn't have a say in who their party nominates. Actually, in truth, most of them don't care about the principle at all. If they thought that governors and senators supported Sanders, they would be all for it.

There is a way, however, to deal with the situation of a brokered convention without giving the automatic delegates a vote. That would require a change in the rules at the convention, but the rules committee could do that if it had the votes for it. The solution is ranked-choice voting (also called instant-runoff voting). The way that would work is as follows: Right now Amy Klobuchar has 7 delegates. Probably that is going to be her upper limit. So, after the first ballot, the chair of the convention would say to her delegates: "Your gal put up a great fight, but she didn't make it. Who is your second choice?" Then they could switch to someone else. If no one still had a majority (which is 1,990 or 1,991 delegates, depending on which source you believe), then the delegates for whoever was now lowest would have to switch horses. This process would be repeated until someone had a majority. This would ensure that whomever was nominated had broad support within the party.

The Sanders supporters probably wouldn't like this (or any other scheme that didn't nominate Sanders) but at least it wouldn't involve those hated automatic delegates. Of course, if the shoe is on the other foot, which is still possible, namely that Biden sweeps the South (as did Hillary Clinton in 2016) and comes in with more delegates than Sanders, then the Sanders folks would probably go for this scheme.

Still, it is hard to make the case that having Democrats who have been elected governor, senator, or representative should have no right to have any say at all about what their party does. Taken to the extreme, would one argue that members of Congress shouldn't have the right to vote on laws or appointments because that's the people's job?

It is also worth mentioning that no other democracy has government-run primary elections like those in the U.S. and they function just fine. In most of them, the party leaders pick the candidates. If they pick candidates nobody likes, they lose the election. This gives them an incentive to pick winners. In a few countries, the parties have what might be seen as big caucuses of (dues-paying) members to select the candidates, but that is quite rare. The idea that party leaders shouldn't have any voice at all in who the party's candidates are would be seen as very anti-democratic in much of the world. If you told a European that Republicans were allowed to help choose the Democratic candidate in Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and another dozen states, they would see that as undemocratic in the extreme. But indeed, half the states have open or semi-open primaries, which allow either independents or anyone to vote in any primary. In fact, already this year, some Republicans are calling for Republicans to vote in the Democratic primaries to pick the weakest candidate. (V)

Caucus States Aren't the Only Ones with Complicated Rules

Iowa and Nevada took nearly forever to figure out the delegate counts (actually, Nevada is still counting), but primary states may not be much better. Actually, counting the votes in a statewide primary is pretty easy. It's the delegate count that is complicated, due to the fact that the Democrats have micromanaged the rules—and that they change them every 4 years. Take North Carolina as a case study. After California and Texas, it has the largest number of delegates at stake on Super Tuesday (122). Here is how they are chosen:

Thirty-eight delegates are chosen statewide and 72 are chosen in the state's 13 congressional districts. The statewide delegates are allocated proportionally, based on the statewide vote for all candidates hitting the 15% threshold. That is pretty simple. Each congressional district is a separate race, also with a 15% cutoff. However, not all districts are equal. Districts that produced more votes for the Democrats in 2016 get more delegates. For example, the Triangle-based 4th district has nine delegates, whereas the Republican 13th district in the Piedmont has just 3. So a candidate who does well in Mecklenburg or Wake County will get more delegates than one who scores in Rowan or Alamance County.

Another complication is that seven of the 15 candidates on the ballot have already dropped out. Votes for them will count, making it harder for other candidates to hit the mark of 15% of the total of all votes cast.

Now we get to the actual delegate selection. They will be chosen at the district conventions on April 25 and the state convention on June 6. Can anyone be a delegate? Fortunately, the Democrats have rules about that. They require 44% of the delegates to be black, 9% to be Latino, and 1.6% to be Native American. In addition, 32% must be under 36 and 7% must be over 65. Half must be men and half must be women. Actually trying to fill out the delegate slate could be like trying to solve a multidimensional jigsaw puzzle. Maybe enough black folks will show up at the conventions to meet the quotas, but if they are too young or too old they might not make the cut. What if only male Native Americans show up but there aren't enough women in the delegation, so they can't pick any of them? It could get really tricky.

Finally, the state also gets 12 automatic delegates, who are basically free agents if there are second and subsequent ballots at the Democratic convention. (V)

National Security Adviser: Russians Aren't Trying to Help Trump

It is becoming clear why Donald Trump is firing competent people in charge of various departments and agencies and replacing them with toadies. He wants them to make public pronouncements that help him. Case in point: NSA Robert O'Brien told ABC News yesterday: "I haven't seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected." Having a high-ranking national security official pooh-pooh well-sourced stories that the Russkies are working for Team Trump is music to Trump's ears, so naturally he wants more such officials. On the show, ABC's George Stephanopoulos pressed O'Brien and asked if Shelby Pierson, the official who said the Russians are already at work helping Trump, was lying. He avoided answering the question and said that he had not seen any such information. Of course, maybe when it was offered to him, he decided not to read it. Normally, an NSA would be more than a little bit curious about a story alleging that a hostile foreign power was already interfering with U.S. elections.

On the subject of whether the Russians were also trying to help Bernie Sanders, O'Brien said he was not surprised. Note that he didn't say "I am outraged." It's not quite the same thing. To his credit, Sanders denounced Vladimir Putin as an autocratic thug and said he does not want Putin's help, rejecting it in the strongest possible terms. Trump has not said anything even remotely similar.

Trump's response to the whole matter was to blame House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for leaking the information, in order to hurt Sanders. Schiff responded by saying that, once again, Trump is betraying America. (V)

Steyer Will Be on Stage Tomorrow

Any Democrat who wants to take potshots at billionaires at tomorrow's debate in Charleston will have a choice as there will be two of them out there, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. Steyer didn't qualify for the Nevada debate, but a new CBS/YouGov poll of South Carolina puts Steyer at 18% in the Palmetto State, which allows him to make the cut. He has bet the farm on South Carolina, campaigning intensively there for weeks. The other six candidates on stage will be the same ones who were invited to the Nevada debate. (V)

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