Trump Faces Opposition From Left And Right On Transition–Lobbyists, Steve Bannon, & Foreign Policy

trump-transition

Donald Trump has taken many contradictory positions on issues over the years. He would sometimes even do that during the same speech, making it difficult to predict what he will do as president. Until we see his actual actions in the White House, the people he is adding to his administration will be the first clues as to what a Trump administration will be like. So far his actual and rumored choices are receiving considerable opposition.

It was hardly a surprise that Steve Bannon would be included in his administration following his role in the campaign, but disappointing that he has been given a position which is being said to be equal to the Chief of Staff. Elizabeth Warren spoke out against both the large number of lobbyists in the transition team along with the choice of Bannon at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council event:

“I think that the clearest point that comes out of this election is that the American people do not want Wall Street to run their government. They do not want corporate executives to be the ones who are calling the shots in Washington,” Ms. Warren said, to an audience comprised largely of corporate executives.

“What Donald Trump is doing is that he’s putting together a transition team that’s full of lobbyists — the kind of people he actually ran against,” she said.

A half-dozen prominent Washington lobbyists are involved in the transition team, including consultants who represent energy companies and agriculture interests. Other business leaders have been mentioned for prominent posts, including Wall Street executive Anthony Scaramucci, tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel and former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump repeatedly vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., and accused global elites of rigging the economy and the political system.

Ms. Warren also criticized Mr. Trump’s pick of Steve Bannon, an outspoken and controversial media executive, for a top White House job.

“This is a man who says, by his very presence, that this is a White House that will embrace bigotry,” Ms. Warren said…

“I just want to underline something that every one of you know: bigotry is bad for business. Bigotry is not what your employees expect. Bigotry is not what your customers expect,” she said. “And if that’s the direction that this administration goes, that creates a real problem for everyone.”

During the campaign Trump has also made statements which gave the impression that he sided with both opponents of neoconservative interventionism and with hawks. Many neoconservatives sided with the hawkish Clinton while some opponents of interventionism are now disappointed by those being discussed as possible Secretary of StateDavid Weigel reported on the reactions of opponents of interventionism on the right. This includes Rand Paul speaking out against both Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton as Secretary of State:

“It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday morning. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.”

Paul argued that Giuliani and Bolton, the people whose names have circulated most widely, “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Choosing either for a key administration job, he said, would go back on the “America First” foreign policy that helped Trump win the Republican primaries, to the surprise of the Republican Party foreign-policy establishment.

“I’m hoping that if there’s a public discussion of this before it happens, people in the incoming administration realize that regime change made us less safe and the Iraq War made us less safe,” Paul said. “We don’t need, as our chief diplomat, someone whose idea of diplomacy is dropping bombs.”

Other opponents of interventionism on the right have similar concerns:

But the discussion of plum roles for Bolton or Giuliani have given some libertarians and “paleoconservatives” pause. Tuesday morning, at a post-election D.C. conference hosted by the American Conservative magazine, a series of “realist” foreign-policy writers criticized the names floated for Trump’s State Department. Daniel Larison suggested that former senator Jim Webb of Virginia — a Republican-turned-Democrat who weighed a presidential run as an independent after dropping out of the Democratic primaries — would be a fairer choice and that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would be “the less aggressive choice” for the Defense Department.

Civil libertarians on both the right and left also have reasons to be concerned about Trump’s actions regarding civil liberties. I looked at this subject in a post last week.

The Washington Post has reported on other tensions between Republicans and Trump on national security issues.

Clinton Vote Against Banning Carcinogen In Water Might Have Political Repercussions

Flint Water Crisis MSNBC

Hillary Clinton’s environmental record has already been viewed as a problem, with Clinton generally taking conservative positions to protect the business interests she receives money from. She has been trying to capitalize politically on the Flint water situation prior to the Michigan primary. A report from investigative reporters David Sirota and Andrew Perez shows how the situation might turn into a political negative for Clinton.

Sirota and Perez reported on a vote in which Clinton voted against banning a possible carcinogen:

When the Democratic presidential contenders meet on Sunday for their debate in Flint, Michigan — where thousands of residents have been poisoned by polluted water — the candidates’ records on clean water policy are likely to be in the spotlight. Hillary Clinton seems eager for that discussion, recently telling NPR: “The idea that you would have a community in the United States of America of nearly 100,000 people who were drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water infuriates me.”

But despite that rhetoric, the issue of clean water may be politically perilous for the leading Democratic candidate, thanks to her vote against banning a possible carcinogen at the center of one of the largest water pollution scandals in recent history.

Facing reports that a controversial fuel additive was contaminating water supplies across America, Clinton as a senator in 2005 opposed a bipartisan measure to ban the chemical — even though Bill Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency had first proposed such a prohibition. At roughly the same time, one major company producing the chemical also tried to use provisions in a trade deal backed by Hillary Clinton to force local governments in the United States to let it continue selling the toxic compound…

Breaking with then-Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton joined 14 Republicans and 11 Democrats in voting against the measure to phase out MTBE, which passed the Senate by a vote of 70-26. Critics of the amendment to ban MTBE, like New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, chargedit would end up forcing states to use more ethanol.

When Clinton cast her vote against banning MTBE, she was in the midst of a re-election campaign in which she raised more than $74,000 from the oil and gas industry, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. But her record was not one of unanimous support for that industry…

One Clinton critic says her vote against banning MTBE could be a vulnerability. Last year, Democratic operative Matt Barron cited Clinton’s vote as one of a handful of issues that could cost her in the presidential campaign as she tries to win over voters in rural areas.

Update: In other news about Hillary Clinton today, Jim Webb has stated he will not vote for Clinton in the general election, but leaves upon voting for Trump. (I would expect to see the loss of many Democratic votes if Clinton wins the nomination.

Jim Webb and Gary Johnson Taking Steps Towards Independent Runs For The Presidency

Jim Webb

Jim Webb continues to talk about an independent run for the presidency, and has now hired former Draft Biden finance director Sam Jones to handle fund raising should he decide to run.

It is doubtful that such a third party candidacy will receive any meaningful support nationally, but The Washington Post notes that “polling suggests he could have a significant effect on the race in his home state of Virginia, taking between 13 and 19 percent of the vote from the two major candidates.”

Should Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination there we will have a situation where the Democratic candidate is at least as hawkish, and very likely more hawkish, than the Republican candidate–and we have seen how the Republicans cannot be trusted on foreign policy.

Webb would be preferable to Clinton or any likely Republican candidate on foreign policy, having disagreed with Clinton on her support for both the Iraq war while in the Senate and her push for regime change in Libya as Secretary of State. Both of these policies supported by Clinton have resulted in disasters. While Donald Trump also has a better track record than Clinton regarding regime change, he has far too many other negatives to be seriously considered as commander in chief.

Having Webb in the race could theoretically provide a counter to the likely neocon policies of both Clinton, should she defeat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, and most Republican candidates, Webb is otherwise too conservative to provide a meaningful choice. As any vote for a third party would amount to only a protest vote, other possibilities look far more intriguing. At this time, should I make a protest vote (which is easier not living in a battle ground state), I lean towards Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Gary Johnson, who also ran in 2012, has also announced his candidacy for the Libertarian Party nomination. Considering that Clinton’s record on civil liberties is also extremely conservative, I might also consider him as a protest vote should Clinton win the Democratic nomination. Entrepreneur Austin Petersen and cybersecurity expert John McAfee have also announced candidacies for the Libertarian Party nomination. Jesse Ventura has also expressed interest, which might make the race even more interesting.

Nomination Of Sanders Essential To Prevent Clinton’s Neocon Policies

Sanders On Iraq Vote

While foreign policy has frequently been pushed behind economics in this election, largely due to the emphasis placed on this by her major challenger, Bernie Sanders, foreign policy remains a major reason for opposition to Clinton on the left. Sanders showed the contrast in their views in the last Democratic debate, while the Republicans showed why they cannot be trusted on foreign policy their debate.  In an interview with The Guardian, Sanders  discussed how Clinton’s pursuit of “regime change” in Libya helped rise of Isis:

Speaking to the Guardian in an extensive pre-debate interview, the senator from Vermont criticised Clinton for carelessly fomenting regime change in Libya “without worrying” about the ensuing instability that has helped Islamic State forces take hold in the country.

“Regime change without worrying about what happens the day after you get rid of the dictator does not make a lot of sense,” Sanders said.

“I voted against the war in Iraq … Secretary Clinton voted for that war. She was proud to have been involved in regime change in Libya, with [Muammar] Gaddafi, without worrying, I think, about what happened the day after and the kind of instability and the rise of Isis that we have seen in Libya.”

Foreign policy has recieved far more emphasis in the liberal media compared to the rest of the campaign coverage. I have looked at Hillary Clinton’s neoconservative and hawkish views multiple times.  At Salon, Paul Rosenberg recently described how Clinton has been a neoconservative hawk, concentrating on her mistakes on Iraq and showing how she made similar mistakes in her failed policy in Libya. The foreign policy views she has held in the past should be taken as a warning of what to expect should Clinton be elected. As Secretary of State her more interventionist advice was overruled by more sensible people in the Obama administration. There will be no such restraints on Clinton’s militarism should she be elected.

Rosenberg looked at how Clinton justified the invasion of Iraq in her Senate speech. He discussed how Clinton failed to show understanding of the problems which the war would inevitably result in, including the increase in extremism and terrorism. He next discussed her fundamental errors in repeating the false claims of a threat of WMD in Iraq, first quoting from Clinton:

In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.

Now this much is undisputed.

Rosenberg responded:

We now know unequivocally that Iraq did not rebuild its WMD capacities, as Clinton had claimed. There were already ample reasons to doubt it at the time, so she was clearly lying when she said “this much is undisputed.” But she was also expressing a common elite consensus view. And her stress on elite consensus was another troubling aspect of her speech for us to consider—which we’ll return to below. First, however, we need to focus on Clinton’s claim that Saddam had “given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”

Of course, Saddam, as secular dictator, had no reason at all to behave as Clinton described. He and bin Laden were bitter ideological enemies, and the only thing that could bring them together was necessity and a common enemy they hated and feared more than each other. That would be us. And although both Saddam and bin Laden are dead, their followers have joined together to fight us. That is, in fact, the origin story of ISIS—or at least a crucial part of it, as counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance has explained, talking to William Arkin, for example.

There is more worth reading on how the invasion of Iraq led to the later threat from ISIS.

Rosenberg next criticized how, “Clinton went on to craft an equally misleading picture of the policy options,” leading to her support for the war. Clinton has called this a mistake, but we saw that as as Secretary of State she had not learned from this mistake:

After all, Clinton herself pushed hard for a similarly flawed regime change strategy in Libya—Conor Friedersdorf even compared her role in Libya to Cheney’s in Iraq. Hyperbolic? Yes. But he did have a point. As summarized by Joel Gillin at the New Republic, she did get carried away with questionable intelligence, over-focused on deposing a long-time U.S. bogeyman, and failed to give sufficient consideration to the depths of difficulties that would follow afterwards. All of which allowed the broader jihadi threat increased opportunity to spread.

In particular, the key claim that something genocidal was about to unfold was entirely unfounded, according to a lengthy review of the Libya intervention at the London Review of Books, which noted that “in retaking the towns that the uprising had briefly wrested from the government’s control, Gaddafi’s forces had committed no massacres at all; the fighting had been bitter and bloody, but there had been nothing remotely resembling the slaughter at Srebrenica, let alone in Rwanda.” Given that Libya had normalized relations with the West in 2003/2004, renouncing its former international outlaw role, including an active WMD program, it was strikingly counterproductive to turn on Gaddafi like that, if you want to coax other “rogue states” into the community of nations.

Rosenberg concluded:

The last 14 years have seen America completely lose track of what its own core ideological strengths are. If “they hate us for our freedoms,” then fine, we’ll get rid of them. That’s been our response in a nutshell. We’ve been taken so far out of touch with our own values that it might seem like a pipe dream to turn the tables on ISIS and exploit their contradictions. But that’s exactly what we need to do. And nothing in Hillary Clinton’s record shows any capacity for engaging ISIS on those terms.

To the contrary, Clinton’s just like Bush and the neocons in fighting the last century’s wars. She’s much smarter about it, in theory at least. But we’re in a whole different ballgame now, and none of our foreign policy elites seem to have a clue about that, despite a growing choru

In a normal election year, Clinton’s failures as Secretary of State would be a major election issue. We are now seeing the same mistakes with Clinton’s views on Syria. However, Clinton benefits from a double standard in which many Democrats feel that it is somehow unfair that Clinton be criticized or held accountable for her views, and the many mistakes which have characterized her career. Some claim that criticism of Clinton is a right wing plot, when they are the ones backing right wing policies in defending Clinton’s record. Criticism of Clinton is written off as Clinton Derangement Syndrome, with the conservative Democrats who make this argument echoing both the words of those who defended George W. Bush with cries of Bush Derangement Syndrome, and as a result pushing for what would amount to a third term for George Bush’s policies (with the ethics of Richard Nixon).

While Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who has a realistic chance of providing an alternative to the neoconservative views of Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidates, another candidate has also criticized Clinton’s foreign policy views. Jim Webb, who has kept open the possibility of a third party run, has criticized Clinton for her “inept leadership” on Libya in a Facebook post found via The Hill:

Our next commander in chief must define a strategic vision for the country and accept accountability for past actions. Hillary Clinton should be called to account for her inept leadership that brought about the chaos in Libya, and the power vacuums that resulted in the rest of the region. She’ll need better answers than the recent nonsensical comment that she advocated taking out Muammar Qadaffi in Libya in order to avert a situation like Syria. The predictable chaos in Libya was bad enough, but it also helped bring about the disaster in Syria. Who is taking her to task for this? http://read.bi/1SbMG7h

She said, “If we had not joined with our European partners and our Arab partners to assist the people in Libya, you would be looking at Syria.” In reality that is what we are looking at. As the Harvard (Kennedy School) Lessons from Libya study of 2013 found, “The biggest misconception about NATO’s intervention is that it saved lives and benefited Libya and its neighbors.” Radical Islamist groups, suppressed under Qaddafi, emerged as the fiercest rebels during the war, highlighted by the September 2012 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues.

Clinton talked at this last DNC debate about her failure as Secretary of State as if she was successful. While she held that office, the U.S. spent about $2 billion backing the Libyan uprising against Qadaffi. The uprising, which was part of the Arab Spring, led directly to Qaddafi being removed from power and killed by rebel forces in 2011. Now some 2,000 ISIS terrorists have established a foothold in Libya. Sophisticated weapons from Qaddafi’s arsenal—including up to 15,000 man-portable, surface-to-air missiles have apparently fallen into the hands of radical Islamists throughout the region. For a Secretary of State (and a Presidential administration) this is foreign policy leadership at its worst.

The first rule of wing-walking (and regime change) is never let go of what you have until you have a firm grasp on where you are going.

Clinton lacks any real grasp of the dangers of interventionism, repeatedly making the same mistake she made in supporting the Iraq war. Her mistakes on policy, including but not limited to foreign policy, are far more important than the mistakes she has made campaigning this year which the media is more likely to discuss.

One Less Challenger For Hillary Clinton, But Two Liberals Continue To Oppose Her

Chafee Drop Out

The number of challengers to Hillary Clinton has fallen even further. After Jim Webb left the race earlier this week, and Joe Biden announced he is not running, Lincoln Chafee has also dropped out. While he never had a chance, it is a shame that he was not able to do more with his campaign themes of prosperity through peace and support for ethics in government, considering how they respond to two of Hillary Clinton’s biggest faults. (Chafee’s support for conversion to the metric system never had a chance in presidential politics.)

The rapid decrease in the number of candidates running has led to calls for Lawrence Lessig to be included in the debates. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has acted to freeze him out, apparently not happy with his reform message, which runs counter to the politics of Schultz and her preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. (Should I have said three in the title of the post?)

Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley remain in the race against front runner Hillary Clinton. Clinton has had a good week politically. She did great at the Benghazi hearings. However, being more sane than a bunch of idiot Republican Congressmen is not sufficient to make someone a good choice to be president. Nor does being a polished debater, while wrong on the issues.

While the attacks re Benghazi are nonsense, Clinton’s hawkish positions on Libya, Syria and Iraq, along with her conservative views on economics and social/cultural issues, continue to make her an unacceptable choice. Hopefully the Benghazi witch hunt comes to an end so we can concentrate on the real reasons Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president, both ethically and on the issues.

It is going to be difficult to keep the Democrats from nominating a Republican-lite candidate such as Hillary Clinton, but upsets have happened many times in past nomination battles, including to Hillary Clinton eight years ago. As I have noted multiple times, the national polls are not at all predictive in a nomination battle. A news report from December 2007 described how Clinton had a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

Stephen Colbert, Larry David, and Bill Maher On Bernie Sanders & The Democratic Race

Larry David Bernie Sanders

With all the tedium of the Benghazi hearings, we can use something more amusing. Here is how a few comedians have recently covered the race, including the first Democratic debate.

Here is Stephen Colbert on the debate, mocking his use of statistics by showing how Bernie Sander would split a check at dinner. Colbert realized that due to Facebook sponsoring the debate, the backdrop will filled with “F CNN.” Noting Sanders’ comments on Hillary Clinton’s email during the debate, Colbert joked, “You know the debate was really uneventful when the banner headline the next day is ‘Elderly Man Not Interested In Email.'”

Here is Saturday Night Live’s take on the Democratic Debate. Larry David received most of the coverage for his amazing impersonation of Bernie Sanders. Alec Baldwin also had a great impersonation of Jim Webb, using his actual positions and showing why it was inevitable that he would drop out of the race. He passed on answering these questions:

“Okay, senator. Sure. You’re the only person here with an A rating from the NRA. Want to tell us why?” His  next question was, “You once said that affirmative action is racist against whites. Explain?”

Bill Maher did a segment showing how the Republicans like Donald Trump hear something totally different when Sanders said something. Watch the video for the full list, with some examples below:

Sanders said, “I supported President Clinton’s effort to deal with ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.”

Republicans  heard, “I will refocus our military on gardening and interpretive dance. We must aspire to the fighting style of the Iraqi Army: tear off your uniforms and run.”

Sanders said:“When I was a young man, I strongly opposed the war in Vietnam.”

Republicans heard, “I would have loved to fight in Vietnam, but for the other side. Not only do I hate our troops, but sometimes I lock John McCain in his office, do a Vietnamese accent and laugh.”

Sanders said that he“has a D-minus voting rating from the NRA.”

Republicans heard, “Rifles are for men with small penises. Every single gun in this country should be confiscated and melted down to make Tony Awards.”

Bill Maher also interviewed Sanders at the start of the show. Video above.

Webb Dropping Out And Considering Futile Independent Bid

Jim Webb has dropped out of the race, leaving the question open as to whether he will run as an independent. He acknowledged that his views “on many issues are not compatible with the power structure and the nominating base of the Democratic Party.” As to whether he will continue to think of himself as a Democrat, he said, “We’ll think about that.”

Webb might see himself as having a chance as an independent, being ideologically between the Democrats and the far right wing Republican candidates, but the system makes it quite difficult for an independent to compete. If Webb thought he did not receive enough attention in last week’s Democratic debate, he will likely receive even less as an independent. The Democrats and Republicans will continue to shut independent candidates out of general election debates, despite fights from the Libertarian and Green parties.

Webb will also have to raise far more money than he has been able to raise so far, having new expenses such as achieving ballot access.Politco described how poor his fund raising has been:

Webb struggled to raise cash against his Democratic opponents and has reported taking in just under $697,000 in his recent filing statement with less than $317,000 on hand — less than Harvard law professor Larry Lessig, who did not qualify for last week’s debate in Las Vegas, an event where Webb felt he did not get enough time to speak. In the same period, Hillary Clinton raised nearly $30 million with $25.7 million on hand.

Sanders raised a comparable amount of money as Clinton in the last quarter, but was able to keep more of this as he did not spend money on lavish fund raisers. Only Lincoln Chafee has raised less.

If Webb is to have any impact as an independent candidate, most likely it would be to affect the outcome in close states. The best case scenario is that, if Virginia is close, he takes more support from the Republican candidate and enables the Democrats to win the state.

It remains unknown whether the number of Democratic candidates will remain the same after this week, with Joe Biden appearing to be planning to announce his candidacy but no official word as to this. The Washington Post inadvertently put out a story  stating that Biden was running and had to retract it.

Update: The answer to this came on Wednesday with Joe Biden announcing he is not running. More on this later.

Bernie Sanders Again Shows That The Pundits Are Wrong–Improving In The Polls After First Debate

CNN Debate Sanders Clinton

The pundits who have been downplaying Bernie Sanders’ campaign form the start declared that Hillary Clinton was the winner of the first Democratic debate, despite the focus groups who considered Sanders to be the winner. As usually occurs, polls showed that after the fact the majority went with the pundits as to the winner (with many probably not having seen the debate). However the pundits did not predict what has actually happened. Voters are telling pollsters that Clinton won, but an increasing number want Sanders to win the nomination.

CNN reports Hillary Clinton wins debate, but Bernie Sanders rises:

With the first Democratic debate in the books, a new CNN/ORC poll finds most who watched think Hillary Clinton had the best performance of the night, but her strong showing hasn’t boosted her standing in the race for the party’s nomination…

Compared with pre-debate polling, Sanders’ support is up five points since mid-September, but no other candidate showed significant change.

Gravis Marketing similarly found that a majority thought Clinton won the debate, but also that Sanders pulled within eight points of Clinton nationally–overall a favorable outcome for Sanders. Clinton is welcome to accumulate debate points if Sanders is picking up voters.

One item of concern was that the Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll did show Clinton pulling even with Sanders in New Hampshire, but now the Franklin Pierce-Herald poll shows Sanders maintaining his lead:

Sanders holds a 38-30 percent lead over Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary state, while Biden draws 19 percent in the poll of 403 likely Democratic primary voters conducted immediately after last week’s debate.

Sanders’ 8-point lead is essentially unchanged from the 44-37 percent advantage the Vermont senator held in a stunning Franklin Pierce-Herald poll in August — the first to show the former Secretary of State behind in New Hampshire.

The new poll also has Sanders holding an even bigger 10-point lead over Clinton if Biden isn’t in the presidential field.

The results suggest Clinton will have a tough time overcoming the deficit, as more than half of notoriously finicky Granite State voters now say they have made up their minds.

Seven in 10 Sanders supporters say they’ve made a “firm choice” to vote for him, a 26 percent increase from the last Franklin Pierce-Herald poll in August. And 62 percent of Clinton backers now report they’re firmly in her column, compared to just 40 percent in August.

This does show that the pundits who claimed that Clinton was once again unbeatable after the first debate got it wrong. Beyond that, I wouldn’t believe any predictions that the polls today will accurately predict what will happen when people turn out to vote. If you need an example of that, check out this report  from December 2007 describing how Clinton has a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

Polls in a primary battle mean very little, and a single debate will not decide the nomination. Nothing is even close to getting settled until people start to vote, and ignore those pundits who tell you otherwise. A lead in the national polls is especially meaningless as these often change dramatically afte the results of the first contests are known. Strong performances by Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire can totally redefine the race.

The pundits also said after the debate that Clinton’s performance meant that Joe Biden was not going to enter the race. That argument never made much sense. Biden had said his decision was based upon personal matters. Even if he was watching the debate to decide, a strong debate performance by Hillary Clinton would not suddenly erase Clinton’s major flaws and weaknesses. If she could beat the other candidates in the debate, that might even be seen by Biden as meaning there is room in the race for him to challenge her.

Despite all the predicti0ns from pundits that the debate would keep Joe Biden out, the headlines on Monday were full of predictions that Biden might be announcing that he is running imminently. Whether or not he runs, the debate did not settle the matter.

The pundits are probably right about one thing–Jim Webb has no chance at winning the Democratic nomination. Now there is speculation that he might be planning to run as an independent. If he does, I’m not sure if he will take more votes from Democrats or Republicans, and if he can pick up enough votes to matter. Maybe he has a shot at receiving some votes, however few, if he is seen as a rational Republican, in contrast to those who are currently running.

The Democratic Debate: Clinton Wins On Style And Gets Support Of Pundits; Sanders Wins On The Issues And Wins The Focus Groups

CNN Democratic Debate

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders each entered the first Democratic debate with different goals, and both accomplished them. Clinton was more polished, with both more debating experience, and having prepared in a conventional manner. She was also better at evading questions she did not want to answer. She won the chattering class. The same journalists who have underestimated Sanders from the start, and have not taken his campaign seriously, say that Clinton won.

Sanders won on the issues, and did what he intended to enhance his campaign. Sanders won the focus groups. He gained 35,163 followers on Twitter, compared to 13,252 for Clinton. Although unscientific and of questionable meaning, he won the online polls by large margins. Alternet summarized:

Bernie Sanders by all objective measures won the debate. Hands down. I don’t say this as a personal analysis of the debate – the very idea of “winning” a debate is silly to me. I say this because based on the only objective metrics we have, online polls and focus groups, he did win.  And it’s not even close.

Sanders won the CNN focus group, the Fusion focus group, and the Fox News focus group – in the latter, he even converted several Hillary supporters. He won the Slate online poll, the CNN/Time online poll, 9News ColoradoThe Street online poll, Fox5 poll, the conservative Drudge online poll and the liberal Daily Kos online poll. There wasn’t, to this writer’s knowledge, a poll he didn’t win by at least an 18 point margin.  But you wouldn’t know this from reading the establishment press. The New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN, Politico, Slate, New York Magazine, and Vox all of which unanimously say Hillary Clinton cleaned house.

Sanders went into the debate with an unconventional preparation as I discussed last week. Sanders did not go into the debate memorizing zingers or planning to try to take down Hillary Clinton. He used the debate to get access to potential voters who were not aware of him, and succeeded. This is also seen in the number of Google searches for him. To some degree this could be the novelty factor, from people who already knew about Clinton but not Sanders, but the large number of people expressing interest is bound to translate into some new supporters.

While Clinton did receive far more favorable reviews from the mainstream media, there are exceptions. Philip Bump at The Washington Post did point out how Sanders was the candidate breaking through. The Chicago Tribune considered Sanders to be the winner. Russell Berman at The Atlantic  argued that Sanders might receive a bigger bounce from the debate than Clinton. As might be expected, many blogs on the left also felt that Sanders won the debate.

With his lack of conventional debate preparation, there were areas in which Sanders could have explained himself better, along with other points where Sanders clearly won on the issues.  He should have been  prepared for a question based upon the recent Meet the Press interview. I recently discussed why the Democratic Socialist label is not hurting Bernie Sanders. Despite the labels he prefers, Sanders seeks to reform capitalism, not eliminate it. It is notable that he did point out his support for small and medium sized business:

SANDERS: I think everybody is in agreement that we are a great entrepreneurial nation. We have got to encourage that. Of course, we have to support small and medium-sized businesses.

But you can have all of the growth that you want and it doesn’t mean anything if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. So what we need to do is support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy, but we have to make sure that every family in this country gets a fair shake…

Sanders could have also done a better job on guns, but he did note his D- lifetime rating from the NRA (with Sanders also receiving an F at  least once).

Let’s begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating (ph) from the NRA. Let’s also understand that back in 1988 when I first ran for the United States Congress, way back then, I told the gun owners of the state of Vermont and I told the people of the state of Vermont, a state which has virtually no gun control, that I supported a ban on assault weapons. And over the years, I have strongly avoided instant background checks, doing away with this terrible gun show loophole. And I think we’ve got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.

Also I believe, and I’ve fought for, to understand that there are thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but can’t get the healthcare that they need, the mental healthcare, because they don’t have insurance or they’re too poor. I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately

While some Democrats will attack his record, I believe that Sanders’ approach of considering both the need for gun control and the rights of hunters to be a stronger position for a general election. Sanders would also be in a stronger position than Clinton to bring both sides to the table to work on sensible gun legislation.

Sanders was more prepared for the questions about Black Lives Matter. Note that Sanders repeated the phrase, but Clinton did not. Sanders wins a point over Clinton in his support for expanding Social Security. In contrast to the Republicans, it was good to see a political party which faced reality on climate change, but there are also aspects of Clinton’s environmental record which could have been challenged.

Sanders was right in arguing that war should only be considered as a last resort. Clinton was unable to defend her mistakes on Libya or Syria, but her opponents could also have done a better job of criticizing her on these. Perhaps it would have been different if Joe Biden was there, considering how he spent four years opposing Clinton’s hawkish views. Sanders was also far better than Clinton when discussing civil liberties, including his opposition to NSA surveillance, and marijuana laws, including opposition to the drug war. Despite calling himself a Democratic Socialist, in many ways Sanders is the most libertarian candidate running from either party (at least for us left-libertarians who concentrate on civil liberties as opposed to greater freedom for giant corporations).

Clinton was right in saying that the economy does better when a Democrat is in office. It was clear that any of the participants in last night’s debate would have been better than the Republicans running. She was knocked for her flip-flopping on the issues. Factcheck.org exposed her for trying to throw her previous statements on TPP down the memory hole:

Clinton revised her earlier position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries, claiming that she merely said she “hoped” it would be a “gold standard.” But her earlier support was more unequivocal.

The topic arose when debate moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton if some of her recent position changes were tied to political expediency, and he specifically referenced Clinton’s recent decision to oppose the TPP.

“You supported his trade deal dozens of times. You even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it,” Cooper said. “Will you say anything to get elected?”

Clinton said that over the course of her career, her values and principles have remained consistent, though some positions have evolved as she “absorb[s] new information.”

“You know, take the trade deal,” Clinton said. “I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans. And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, ‘this will help raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

But Clinton didn’t add the “hoped it would be” qualifier when she made the initial comment about the TPP in 2012.

“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” Clinton remarked in Adelaide, Australia, on Nov. 15, 2012. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Two days later, in Singapore, Clinton again sang the praises of the TPP.

“The so-called TPP will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region,” Clinton said. “It will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment. Better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others too often in the past excluded from the formal economy will help build Asia’s middle class and rebalance the global economy.”

The same article also noted that Clinton has repeated some of the same lies she told in the past about the email scandal which have been debunked in the past by fact checkers,

When asked about her unusual email arrangement as secretary of state, Clinton said, “What I did was allowed by the State Department.” That’s not the full story.

Clinton conducted government business exclusively using a personal email account (hdr22@clintonemail.com), and those emails were stored on a private server.

As we have written before, the State Department and the Clinton campaign have cited a National Archives and Records Administration rule issued in 2009 that said federal agencies that allow the use of personal emails must preserve them “in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.” So personal emails were allowed.

But federal rules also required Clinton to preserve her work emails “at the end of the Secretary’s tenure or sooner if necessary.” She did not turn over copies of her emails to the State Department until Dec. 5, 2014 — nearly two years after she left office on Feb. 1, 2013.

Also, whether the State Department allowed it or not, Clinton’s decision “to conduct all e-mail correspondence through a private e-mail network, using a non-.gov address, is inconsistent with long-established policies and practices under the Federal Records Act and NARA regulations governing all federal agencies,” according to congressional testimony of Jason R. Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives, who is now a lawyer at Drinker Biddle.

Sanders’ biggest error was to present statistics for underemployment when making statements about unemployment, and got the ranking of the United States in income inequality wrong.

Sanders did provide an unexpected lifeline to Clinton when the email scandal came up, objecting to discussing this instead of the issues. It makes sense that he would not want to include this in his campaign, especially at a Democratic debate in front of partisan Democrats invited by the DNC. Besides, if Sanders had his way, he would talk about nothing other than income inequality and related economic matters throughout the debate, and the campaign. It is also unnecessary for Sanders to discuss this when there are still around thirty-six FOIA suits in progress along with the Justice Department investigation. If this was a debate in the general election, the Republicans could have raised a lot of valid points against Clinton, and this time would not have had to make things up as with Benghazi. As The Washington Post noted, the email scandal is not a problem which is going away. Sanders can sit back and let it all play out.

While both Clinton and Sanders could claim victories in this debate, the night did not go as well for the other candidates. I thought Martin O’Malley often did a fine job, including setting Clinton straight on economic policy at one point, but so far there are no signs he is receiving credit for this.  He has shown he could make a fine cabinet member, but it is hard to see him becoming a viable candidate for the nomination this year.

I give Lincoln Chafee credit for taking on Clinton over both her support for the Iraq war and over ethics. While he has no chance at becoming president, probably not now or ever, I do hope he remains around in politics, and perhaps in the next administration, to provide a conscience. Unfortunately he will be most remembered for being unprepared for his first vote as a Senator. Jim Webb blew any chance of using this debate to improve his campaign, and probably will only be remembered for having said he killed somebody.

Donald Trump also tried to get in on the action by live-blogging the debate, but he seemed totally over his head when issues came up. Once again, the Democrats showed they were far superior to the Republican candidates.

 

Heading Into Debates, Sanders Taking On The DNC & Hillary Clinton

CNN Democratic Debate

The decision of Debbie Wasserman Schultz to limit Democratic debates to give an advantage to Hillary Clinton continues to create controversy:

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said she was disinvited from the first Democratic presidential primary debate in Nevada after she appeared on television and called for more face-offs.

Ms. Gabbard confirmed on Sunday that her chief of staff received a message last Tuesday from the chief of staff to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the national committee, about her attendance at the debate. A day earlier, Ms. Gabbard had appeared on MSNBC and said there should be an increase beyond the current six sanctioned debates.

The Sanders campaign responded by offering to have Gabbard come to the debates as their guest:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), the Democratic National Committee vice chair who said she was disinvited to the first Democratic debate, might wind up attending the Tuesday night event as a guest of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said Monday on CNN’s “New Day” that Gabbard could use a ticket from the Vermont senator’s campaign…

“If she needs a ticket, have her give me a call,” Weaver said, adding, “I think we have a couple; we can give her one.”

Weaver’s comments came after Gabbard said she was disinvited to the debate  in Las Vegas after calling for more Democratic debates.

“It’s very dangerous when we have people in positions of leadership who use their power to try to quiet those who disagree with them,” Gabbard told The New York Times

Sanders’s campaign has joined calls for more opportunities to debate, while former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has accused party officials of limiting the schedule to help front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“We would love to have debates: The more debates, the better,” Weaver said Monday on CNN. “It’s healthy for the Democratic Party to have more debates.”

I’ve previously noted how Bernie Sanders is preparing for the debates in an unconventional manner. The Guardian predicts how Sanders will challenge Clinton in the debates:

Although they have decided against the kind of formal dress rehearsals favoured by Clinton and other presidential debate participants, Sanders aides have been working hard on how to counter Clinton’s recent shift to the left on a number of issues that would once have been easy targets.

The most dramatic of these came less than a week before the debate, when Clinton announced an about-turn on free trade and adopted much of the same opposition to Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) deal that has made Sanders popular among progressive Democrats and trade unions.

But aides insist he will not “impugn terrible motives” for such changes, preferring to welcome a convert and merely point out that the policy reversal would have been more useful while Congress was still voting on authorising the trade negotiations.

“Bernie is not going to become a hitman,” said Devine, who helped run the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry and has been leading the Sanders debate prep alongside campaign manager Jeff Weaver.

“He is not going to go out there and start attacking. It’s against everything he believes in and stands for when it comes to campaign politics,” added Devine.

“Having said that, he will point out the differences, whether it’s past policies like the decision to invade Iraq or present differences, like their plans for college [fees].”

Sanders rehearsed a similar argument about Clinton’s late opposition to the Keystone oil pipeline extension during his latest television interviews on Sunday.

“From day one, I opposed the Keystone pipeline because I believe that if you’re serious about climate change, you don’t encourage the excavation and transportation of very dirty oil,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press.

“People will have to contrast my consistency and my willingness to stand up to Wall Street and corporations, big corporations, with the secretary,” he said.

But advisers said such unwillingness to play hardball does not mean the Vermont senator will not defend himself if he is attacked for being too extreme or leftwing, as has happened in his previous election campaigns.

Bill Curry, a  former White House counselor to President Bill Clinton, looked ahead to the debate, including Sanders’ strengths and Clinton’s weaknesses:

As Trump points out, debates are free advertising. Democrats could use some. The contrast with the Republicans might have helped. Trump’s made them so rabid Democrats could have scored points just by being polite. Debates could have helped Clinton by reminding voters there’s more to her than the email scandal. And they’d have gotten her outdoors. If she had her druthers, she’d never leave her comfort zone. It’s one reason Bernie Sanders could cut her lead from 60 to 16 points. By limiting debate Schultz is enabling Clinton, not helping her.

All of which raises the stakes Tuesday night. What Bernie Sanders has done is all the more remarkable for his having done it without benefit of a primetime debate and despite a virtual media blackout imposed by a know-it-all press. In 2008 Obama drew crowds half the size Sanders pulls and got written up like the Beatles at Shea Stadium. The press believes only in polls and money. In September 2007 Clinton led the young, charismatic Obama by 14 points after debating him every other week for six months. She still led by 8 in national polls the night he ran her over in Iowa. On the eve of their first debate she leads Sanders, a disheveled, 74-year-old socialist from Vermont, by 16 points. Last week Sanders’ finance report showed over a million small donors, better than Obama’s record 2008 pace. More impressive to the press, he pulled even with Hillary in total money raised. This week it began giving him some of the coverage he deserved all along.

In a primary, packed stadiums and an army of volunteers and small-dollar donors mean more than polls and Super PACs. Some say Sanders has hit his ceiling but he hasn’t even had a chance to reach his audience. Tuesday will be the first long look many centrist Democrats have had at him and the first time anyone has examined him side by side with Clinton. If he picks up as many points for his performance as Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio did for theirs, it will be an earthquake…

He went on to discuss Clinton’s need to be more honest and transparent, among other problems:

This is her problem; misunderstanding many of the issues she studies so hard. She can’t speak with conviction of the evils of globalization, she spent years cheering it on and doesn’t really get what’s wrong with it. She can’t get too worked up about pay to play politics; she perfected it and still deems it the best way to win elections. After four years as Secretary of State she still doesn’t see the folly of exporting democracy by force of arms, or that our safety lies in the rule of law.

Clinton has reversed herself on two huge issues: the Keystone pipeline and the Trans Pacific Partnership. She’ll get less credit than she’d like and fume about how hard it is to satisfy liberals. But in making each switch she looked and sounded as if she were moving pawns on a chess board. She announced the Keystone decision in a blog that provided almost no rationale; the line the “SNL” writers gave her was stronger than anything she said about it in real life. Her TPP interview makes clear her commitment there is provisional. (She hasn’t seen the text) She speaks of jobs and currency but not a word on the issue many progressives find most galling, the ceding to corporate interests of the prerogatives of democracy. Nothing she’s ever said in public suggests she’s given that much thought…

Hillary’s recent epiphanies attest to just how much Sanders has moved the debate. If the TPP dies he more than anyone will deserve the credit. Trump has shown that a rich celebrity can succeed in politics without buying very many TV ads. Bernie’s proving that anyone can. In 2008 Obama built the biggest grass movement in the history of politics, but once he won he took it private. Bernie’s movement is built for his supporters and built to last.

Bernie’s miles ahead of Hillary on the issues that count the most but there are two things he still needs to do. The first is to speak more to the problem of public corruption and inefficiency. On most issues most voters are Democrats, yet Republicans run two of the three branches of the federal government and stand a very good chance of perfecting their monopoly in 2016. Voters want to know that the party of government is ready to fix the government.

Looking briefly at the other candidates, if Martin O’Malley is to have any hope of being taken seriously as a candidate, he will need a huge from the debates. The Washington Post gives an example of how poorly his campaign is doing:

Martin O’Malley, who is hoping to jumpstart his presidential campaign with a strong debate performance here Tuesday, continues to get little love from his home state of Maryland.

The former governor is backed by just 4 percent of voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents in a potential presidential primary matchup in the state, a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds.

The Washington Post  sees Jim Webb as a possible wild card.

Lawrence Lessig, who was blocked from being in the debates by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has threated to run as a third party candidate due to the unfair treatment:

“Trump said he would stay in the party, and refuse to run as an independent, as long as the Republicans treated him fairly,” said Lessig. “I’m beginning to have a sense of what he was talking about. If the party won’t allow me to run as a Democrat, that creates a lot of pressure to think about a different way of running that would allow me to make this case to the American people. I’ve received as lot of advice and suggestions from people as to how to spread this message. When I first got into this, I frankly didn’t expect that this would be an issue, but it’s something I increasingly have to think about.”

Lessig had previously ruled out a third party run, prior to the DNC’s actions to keep him out of the debates.

An updated version has been posted at The Moderate Voice