From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Trump Unbound, Bernie Surges, Hard Road Ahead
Date February 18, 2020 1:00 AM
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[Iowa and New Hampshire were big wins for Bernie, but in neither
state did his vote total reach 30%. Bernie will have to substantially
expand his base if he is going to capture the nomination, not to
mention succeed in beating Trump in November. ]
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TRUMP UNBOUND, BERNIE SURGES, HARD ROAD AHEAD  
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Max Elbaum
February 13, 2020
Organizing Upgrade
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_ Iowa and New Hampshire were big wins for Bernie, but in neither
state did his vote total reach 30%. Bernie will have to substantially
expand his base if he is going to capture the nomination, not to
mention succeed in beating Trump in November. _

, Tabor-Roeder/Flickr

 

_This is the third installment of Organizing Upgrade’s new 2020
election column “This is Not a Drill”.
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Donald Trump’s post-acquittal, gangster-style revenge campaign
underscores the dangers from a President who can act with impunity and
the high stakes in next November’s balloting. At the same time,
Bernie Sanders’ momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire brings
us closer to the goal of having a progressive candidate and message
shape the 2020 campaign against Trump’s racist, authoritarian bloc.

The Senate vote to acquit in its no-witnesses sham trial indicates
there is no line the President can cross that the GOP will not accept.
The emboldened President’s State of the Union speech was one long,
lie-filled promise that it would be aggression on all fronts going
forward:

_“Trump unapologetically aligned himself with the war-mongering
militaristic policies that one expects in fascist societies. His most
fascistic statements centered around celebrating Immigration and
Customs Enforcement officers, conflating undocumented immigrants with
“criminals,” and describing sanctuary cities as a threat to
American security and safety… [the speech] reeked with the
mobilizing passions of fascism…” – Henry Giroux writing in
Truthout
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White House actions sent the same message. In rapid succession the
administration added six countries, including Nigeria, Africa’s most
populous nation, to its anti-Muslim travel ban and announced an end to
the ban on use of cluster bombs and anti-personnel land mines. Trump
declared his intention to veto any bills limiting his authority to
take military action against Iran. Construction began on a section of
Trump’s Wall within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an
environmentally sensitive area that is also sacred
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to the Tohono O’odham Nation. And on February 10, Trump submitted a
budget for the next fiscal year
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that substantially increases spending for the military, immigration
enforcement and building the Wall; extends provisions of his 2017
subsidize-the-1% tax cut, and proposes deep cuts in Medicare, Social
Security and environmental protection and eliminating federally
subsidized student loans.

“A PARTY OF THUGS”

Simultaneously, Trump has launched a campaign of retaliation and
demonization against impeachment witnesses and others who have opposed
him. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and
even his non-involved twin brother were removed from their posts.
Trump called Sen. Mitt Romney a “pompous ass” for voting to
convict him; his son Donald Jr. called Romney a “pussy.” Matt
Schlapp, chair of the Conservative Political Action Conference, warned
that Sen. Mitt Romney “may not be physically safe” at this
year’s gathering, prompting Joan Walsh to write in the Nation that
Schlapp signified the “transformation of the GOP into a party of
thugs
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Proving Walsh’s point, Trump as Mafia Don tweeted that legal
proceedings against convicted “made man” Roger Stone were unfair
and immediately (and mysteriously!) top Justice Department officials
over-ruled their own prosecutors and reduced the sentence they were
recommending to the Court. A new degree of lawlessness is thus added
to the authoritarian impulse and deep-seated racism that lies at the
core of Trumpism. Trump is taking it on the road, basking in crowd
chants of “lock her up” in New Hampshire (this time directed at
Nancy Pelosi) and claiming once again that any election he loses is
only because “lots of illegals are voting.” Buoyed by fawning
sycophancy from the Trump Loyalty Cult (a.k.a. GOP Senators and
Representatives) the President is starting the next phase of his
re-election campaign with highest approval rating of his presidency
(43.7%
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unlimited campaign war chest, and a right-wing disinformation machine
that locks his base into a fact-free zone. Trump is unbound and more
dangerous than ever.

FEELING THE BERN

At the other end of the country’s political polarization, the big
news coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire is the continuing surge of
support for Sen. Bernie Sanders. Already gaining in the polls as
February rolled in, Bernie got the most votes in both the first and
second round of the Iowa balloting while the chaos in tabulating and
reporting the results demonstrated the incompetence (many believe
worse) of the Democratic Party establishment that Bernie is
campaigning against. Add the impressive nature of Bernie’s “ground
game” and the breadth of his grassroots fundraising operation and
the post-Iowa momentum was mainly his. (The Iowa chaos is also a vivid
reminder that this small, overwhelmingly white state is
unrepresentative of the Democratic electorate and doesn’t deserve
the outsize role in presidential campaigns that comes from placing it
first.)

Bernie’s win in New Hampshire boosted him further. Nationwide polls
after New Hampshire are not yet available, but as of voting day Nate
Silver’s 538 compilation showed Bernie taking the lead with 22.3%,
2% ahead of Biden and 9% in front of Michael Bloomberg who has pushed
Elizabeth Warren out of third place. The 538 blog now gives Bernie a
37% chance
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of winning a majority of pledged delegates; no other candidate comes
close.

The race now heads to South Carolina, Nevada and Super Tuesday, where
numerous southern States and California have large African American
and Latinx populations. Buttigieg has very little support among voters
of color and Biden’s appeal has been substantially diminished by his
weak showing in the first two primaries. Overall the
Biden-Buttigieg-Klobuchar-Bloomberg “center lane” is badly divided
and Elizabeth Warren has faded.

Bernie is the front runner! It’s a moment to savor—but not one to
rest.

CAN BERNIE EXPAND HIS BASE?

Iowa and New Hampshire were big wins for Bernie, but in neither state
did his vote total reach 30%. Though he now leads in nationwide
polling, his number there is not even 25%. Bernie will have to
substantially expand his base if he is going to capture the
nomination, not to mention succeed in beating Trump in November.

Accomplishing this is doable but it will not be easy. Bernie will need
to do more than make gains at Elizabeth Warren’s expense and inspire
many who have not voted in the past to rally to his campaign. He needs
to make serious inroads into the constituencies that voted for
candidates on the other side of the progressive-“moderate” divide.
In Iowa, in New Hampshire and in nationwide polling, support for the
“center lane” candidates registers over 50% and exceeds support
for Bernie and Warren combined.

Many of the program planks that are the basis for the passion of
Bernie’s core base are not (yet?) popular among “centrist”
voters. For instance, though Medicare for All has become far more
popular (thanks to often left-led effective grassroots campaigns as
well as Bernie’s efforts), only a minority of Democratic voters
currently back Bernie’s stance of eliminating private insurance
altogether.

And then there is the “electability” conundrum. Establishment
pundits keep using this term in gatekeeper fashion, hoping to
disqualify candidates who seriously challenge the status quo by fiat.
But there is a reality beneath the manipulative punditry: a huge
proportion of the constituencies who do or might vote for a Democrat
in November put beating Trump at or near the top of their priority
list. Everyone is aware that Trump will slime whoever he is running
against. But a significant number fear that the GOP’s red-baiting,
“don’t let the government take away your health care,” mud and
other smears will stick to Bernie more than they would to others. And
increasing reports that the strategists in Trump’s camp think Bernie
is the weakest of their possible opponents are reinforcing those
fears.

NAVIGATING A TOUGH ROAD

So far Bernie is doing just about everything right in navigating this
minefield. Of course he has shortcomings; despite the quality of his
racial justice program he still can’t seem to talk off the cuff
about race in a convincing way. But his consistent message about the
99% vs. the 1% resonates with many beyond his core base. His message
that change will come from “us” not “him” fosters deeper
political involvement among those attracted to his campaign, And while
he makes his case that he is the best candidate to beat Trump, he
refuses to burn bridges with rival contenders and consistently calls
for unity against “the most dangerous president in history”
(that’s his trademark description
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of Trump) no matter who gets the nomination.

This is the overall package that not only catapulted Bernie to front
runner status but gives him the best chance to win the nomination or,
failing that, to maximize the leverage of progressives within the 2020
anti-Trump coalition and build the left over the long term.

Because of this, Bernie’s stance has put the Democratic Party
Establishment between a rock and a hard place.

That the “centrists” want to prevent Bernie from winning the
nomination is a given. But Trump’s demonizing of even the most
conservative Democrats and the very real threat that a thoroughly
Trumpified Justice Department would prosecute some of them for
“crimes” (remember J. Edgar Hoover’s blackmail of the
Kennedy’s?) are a world apart from Nixon’s courting of
establishment Democrats who didn’t like George McGovern in 1972. So
whether they will go all out against Bernie (and sit out the general
election if they fail) or accept a Bernie nomination and work to beat
Trump is not yet decided. The most likely scenario is a sorting out
process where some go one way and some go the other – and the
combination of what carrots and sticks the left puts before them can
make a difference.

The impulse among some Democratic heavyweights to organize “Stop
Bernie” movement has already been reported
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But knowledge that they need Bernie voters in the fall to have any
chance of beating Trump with another candidate, on top of worries that
such a crusade would only backfire, so far have stayed their hand.
Meanwhile, a wing of the establishment seems to be signaling that they
will prioritize beating Trump over putting all their eggs in any stop
Bernie effort. (Part of their calculation is that there will not be
even close to enough “Berniecrats” in Congress to give Sanders
complete control of the post-2020 agenda.) A number of top Democratic
Party operatives and elected officials have joined with SEIU, several
other important unions, Indivisible and Color of Change to launch
Organizing Together 2020
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and immediately throw resources into an anti-Trump effort in six key
battleground states.

Even some Never-Trump Republicans have decided they will back Bernie
if it comes down to it: Conservative Joe Walsh after ending his
primary challenge to Trump is now promoting a pledge to support
whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be while stating “I’d
rather have a socialist in the White House
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than Donald Trump.”

With unexpected things like that happening every day, beating Trump
– and doing so in a way that gives partisans of social justice,
peace and a livable planet greater strength to engage.

_Max Elbaum has been active in peace, anti-racist and radical
movements since the 1960s. He is an editor of Organizing Upgrade and
the author of Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin,
Mao and Che (Verso Books, Third Edition, 2018). _

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