Make a Hard-Nosed Assessment, Adjust Strategy, and Fight
Hot takes on Super Tuesday compiled by Organizing Upgrade
The results on Super Tuesday were not what almost anyone across the political spectrum expected. For backers of Bernie Sanders and other left and progressive activists they have set off a wide-ranging conversation about the balance of forces, the strengths and weaknesses of our efforts so far, and how to move forward. This kind of evaluation is urgent: in the face of a setback most did not expect, it is essential to look our shortcomings square in the face as well as flag the positives we have to build on; to shift our strategies and tactics accordingly, and to gear up quickly to fight harder and smarter in the next round.
To advance this discussion, below are six hot takes on yesterday's results that we have found informative and provocative. We invite readers to share your thoughts. Expect more in-depth pieces over the coming days and weeks as the conversation and the work continue. -the Organizing Upgrade Editors
Six comments on Super Tuesday:
1. The narrative on the Bernie campaign was that a focus on 'new voters' would more than compensate for the relative lack of effort around coalition building and making nice with more traditional Democrats. THIS HAS BEEN PROVEN FALSE. Now what?
2. Biden won in large part because African Americans, the most loyal part of the Democratic electorate, rejected Bernie in favor of Biden. Maybe this was inevitable. But maybe the African American organizers who spent much of 2015 warning Bernie that without serious changes, he would tank in this constituency, and it would cause him to lose. This is very much related to point #2.
3. Bloomberg didn't do that well, despite his massive spending. That's good news; we're seeing the limits of unlimited money in our political system. It's good to recognize that those limits exist, which should fuel more optimism about what's possible even after Citizen's United.
4. It's a tough call, but I'm on the side of those who say, it's fine for Warren to stay in. The data is very mixed about whether or not her leaving would add or subtract delegates to the Bernie/Warren bloc. AND the triumphalist bullying from Bernie folks towards Warren folks is so dumb. There's literally zero upside, and lots of downside. It's middle-school bullying dressed up to look like politics.
5. It is also true, that the failure of the Warren candidacy, her personal failure to be a contender, ought to lead to a critical evaluation by left progressives. She and y'all need to draw lessons that put responsibility where it properly belongs: on her decisions and those of her team, her earliest and most ardent supporters. The voters have spoken, and blaming voters isn't an analysis.
I have ideas about what went wrong, but I'm interested in hearing from those on her side and more invested there.
6. The race is far from over. Bernie can still win. But it won't happen by doubling down on the same strategy; it requires actual changes, from the top on down. Many of those changes will be things suggested by outside critics many months ago, who will be vindicated. The most important changes have to do with the affect of the candidate and his most public supporters.
We need to see bridge building, humility and flexibility. The limits of 'I'm right, I've always been right, and you can trust me to be right as President' have been reached. It might all be true on policy - but it didn't work as politics yesterday.
Libero della Piana:
"Are Black Democratic Voters Conservative or Nah?"
In the wake of Joe Biden’s comeback performance on Super Tuesday, there has been a lot of hand-wringing and amateur analysis from some in the Bernie camp. One of the issues being debated is the overwhelming vote Biden garnered from African American voters, especially across the South.
Some have honestly wondered why Black voters would vote for the centrist and seemingly lackluster former VP over Senator Sanders. Others, especially on Twitter, have been less gracious, calling Blacks “low information voters” and “dupes.” So, are Black voters conservative? Or loyal to the Democratic “establishment?”
It’s a mistake to think of the Black electorate as "loyal" to the Democratic Party. True, Blacks have voted Democratic in Presidential elections in the 85-90% range consistently for decades. But this is a sign of the political clarity of African Americans, not their servility. For African Americans who still consider the legacy of slavery and the very recent fight for voting rights and basic democracy, the fight for democracy and against racism is a laser focus.
African Americans are the most consistently progressive sector of the U.S. electorate. Recent polls show 51% of Americans have a “somewhat” or “very” positive view of socialism, it is 42% of whites and a whopping 81% of Blacks (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/25/stark-partisan-divisions-in-americans-views-of-socialism-capitalism/). Blacks have been a key component of both the big-D and small-d democratic coalitions in this country going back to the New Deal. Black voters anchored the coalitions that brought us the most progressive elected leaders and administrations in modern U.S. history from Maxine Waters to Ron Dellums to Harold Washington to John Conyers to Barbara Lee. So there should be no questioning of Black people’s progressive bona fides.
Then what was the motivation for the big Biden vote?
I think our people 1) Would rather face the devil they know. Black voters have few illusions about what Biden might deliver, but they know him. Trust and familiarity go a long way in our communities. Joe Biden has been gaffing it up in Black churches and NAACP meetings -- especially across the South -- for 40 years. Bernie not so much. For many African Americans, specially of a certain age, Bernie’s distant past involvement in the Civil Rights Movement does not resonate as much as Biden’s brand of retail glad handing over the years. 2) Black voters want to defeat the main enemy. I think we fear Trump far more than going back to the neoliberal slog of the Obama years. As disappointing as the Obama Administration may have been in terms of delivering for Black communities, many Black folks also resent the way some on the Left dismiss Obama and his legacy. 3) Yes, Biden’s connection to Obama does not hurt. Obama is still hugely popular to Black people. 4) We tend to take the long view. We know social change is a marathon, not a sprint. I think many Black people are suspicious about those who promise to fix their problems quickly or easily. In the same way Black voters were unsurprised by Trump’s victory in 2016, they are soberly realistic about what it takes to make sweeping change. 5) Many Black voters, particularly primary voters, are mobilized for the election via institutions like churches, unions, community groups and civil rights organizations, many of which back Biden. They are less swayed by campaign surrogates, celebrity endorsements, etc.
It’s no coincidence that since Reagan -- except for Jackson’s runs in 1984 and 1988 -- African American primary voters have consistently voted for the eventual Democratic nominee. We want a winner. Right or wrong, Black voters have made the calculation that Biden has a better chance of beating Trump.
So, to me, it's not about being loyal. It's a strategy. Many Black folks believe that surest way forward is to build the biggest possible unity around a candidate most likely to hold the line against the representatives of the most reactionary and racist force in the country -- which has had a headwind for forty-plus years. You might disagree with the strategy, but please don't make it seem that Black voters are bought or bossed (to reverse Shirley Chisolm’s famous slogan).
Crazy night. Some random observations: Biden's upsets in Minnesota and Massachusetts are surprising but Sanders plus Warren together easily beat Biden in those states.
Sanders is clearly doing well among young voters, first-time voters, Latinx voters, gay voters, and urban voters. Also among people who care strongly about health care and income inequality.
Warren didn’t do well with any group except women with college degrees. She did poorly with men, and especially men without college degrees (they mostly voted for Sanders). She also did terribly among non-white no college degree voters.
It seems *the only* reason people voted for Biden is a belief that he can "unite the country." And perhaps to return to the Obama era.
Exit poll questions are not all asked in every state. But wherever it was asked (CA, NH, NC, VA), a strong majority of those interviewed said college tuition should be free at public colleges.
Most polled said that we should have government-provided health insurance rather than private. And health care is clearly a top issue on many voter's agendas.
53% of California voters, 60% of Maine voters, 50% of NC voters, 47% of TN voters, and 56% of Texas voters said they had a favorable opinion of socialism.
Only voters in Nevada and New Hampshire were asked if they were members of a union household. In both cases, Sanders won among that group.
Most troubling: Sanders wins among "non-white voters" but when you break that down, there is a noticeable divide between Black and Latino voters. (Though in SC and TX where we have data, we see that Black voters under 30 went for Sanders).
Also: voters were asked if they would vote again in November no matter who the nominee is. 12-17% said no (varies by state).
The source for most of this: CNN state exit polls.
A few initial thoughts:
1. After months of division, dysfunction and lousy candidates, the party establishment rapidly got it together with impressive results, boosting Biden and eliminating the other moderate contenders in a matter of two weeks, and seizing the lead. Looks like Obama and Reid played important roles in this. Bernie still has a path to win, but Biden is certainly the frontrunner with momentum and now Bloomberg’s money.
2. Despite all the earlier dysfunction and division, the moderates always had a bigger share of the primary electorate than the progressives; in fact a clear majority pretty much all along. Super Tuesday looks even better for them when we look at the margins by which Biden/Bloomberg beat Sanders/Warren. They did even better than the polls forecast, and it would have been even stronger without vote by mail and early voting in the Western states and elsewhere.
3. The immediate savior of the party establishment has been Black voters, especially older Black voters in the South. Instead of just writing this off to Biden's loyalty to Obama, “Black pessimism,” “Black conservatism” or something else, we should remember that Black people in the South, along with undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, have borne the brunt of Trump, white nationalism, neo-liberalism, etc. and have as much or more to gain or lose in this election than any other group or sector. They vote with serious intent. Many Black voters feel like they must know and trust the candidate, not just the candidate’s positions. Sanders had five years to do this work and did not do a good job; Biden’s been doing it for decades. Moreover, more than any other group, politicians, organizers and radicals of all sorts of stripes target Black people, making big promises, then disappear. What has Sanders, Warren or, for that matter, the vast majority of us leftists and progressives done to win the trust of Black voters? Obviously, not enough. I can already hear the chorus of pundits pitting Blacks against Latinos with virtually no knowledge of either.
4. Older voters beat younger voters yet again, in every demographic group. Would have been true even if there was a bigger turnout from young voters. Youth are a key progressive force; but a youth-centered electoral strategy is a losing strategy.
5. Don't count Bernie out yet, but he'd better finally take more seriously the problem of expanding his base and have some very good luck (major Biden stumbles) as well. We need to hear how the campaign will respond, and not just the same old.
6. And, lest we forget, the left and progressive movements have made tremendous gains since 2015 when we were barely a blip on the screen in U.S. electoral politics yet where practically every establishment Democrat called themself a “progressive.” Our present is difficult but not insurmountable.
The future may be female, but the present is still mired in patriarchy: People in the US are still not ready to elect a woman president. In terms of intellectual competence and practical governing experience, Warren is the most qualified candidate remaining in the field. By all accounts she put together a powerful, well-run campaign. It’s no accident that Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrice Cullors and Alicia Garza both endorsed her.
Yes, Warren made mistakes; I wish that she’d just admitted that her plan for universal healthcare would raise taxes on some middle-income people, even as their overall expenditures would go down. I wish her voice were an octave lower. I wish she were ten years younger. I wish a lot of things, but most of all (in reference to Warren) I wish that I lived in a country where a woman who cares about the lives of women could be elected president.
Meanwhile, the world is literally (see Australia and California) on fire: Despite all the talk about a Green New Deal, and the occasional debate moderator’s question about the climate crisis, the existential threat to the human species seems to barely register for pundits or politicians -- or indeed, voters.
Stating (what I hope is) the obvious: Removing Trump from office is the prime directive this November, closely followed by holding onto the House and flipping whatever seats we can. This means that even if our preferred old white guy isn’t the Democratic party nominee, if we care about left goals and values, we have to do all we can to elect the guy who is.
Sanders is obviously a highly skilled politician who does learn from experience, but surprisingly he's not agile. He keeps repeating his standard stump lines while failing to concretely connect with emerging issues. Which is a pity because his strongest issue is health care and the Coronavirus, unless Trump's miracle comes along, is going to influence everything over the next several months. Today, several huge trade shows were cancelled in Chicago. Is anybody talking about how the Democratic Party is going to hold a convention in Milwaukee in the middle of a pandemic?
Sanders should have been on the Coronavirus issue a week ago, condemning the Trump Administration's incompetence; demanding emergency congressional hearings; advancing legislation for free emergency health care and drugs, paid sick leave, protecting the most vulnerable, and billions for state and local public health; demanding a national mobilization in the event of a pandemic (this country is woefully behind on test kits and testing, protective equipment, hospital beds, ventilators, and trained health care workers).
The vote for Biden today was not just about the Democratic Establishment consolidating behind him or Democratic voters thinking he was the safest bet to beat Trump. It was about an escalation of mass fear (dead people in Washington state and wild stock market gyrations will do that) and Biden (falsely and weirdly) being seen as the avatar of Obama era "competence" and "security." Sanders is going to have to adjust to this reality and get ahead of it.