2016 Democrats, Debates, New York, Strategy, Uncategorized

Brooklyn Debate Prep: Bernie’s Moment

April 14, 2016

Is Bernie clutch? Hillary’s recent commentary about how he’s holding up under the New York spotlight aside, he’s not a choker. But is he clutch?

He hasn’t blown a debate the way Marco Rubio did. Any campaign errors were structural, like not doing enough organizing in mid-2015, or trying to make all his Senate votes.

He’s struggled to connect with many African American voters, but it’s not like he participated in a questionable skit with Bill DeBlasio or had his spouse get into an extended argument with black protestors.

Sanders won most of the states he was supposed to win and lost most of the states he was supposed to lose. Michigan was a great save, but he got swept on March 15. Any time a loss would have destroyed his limited path (New Hampshire, Wisconsin, etc.), he’s won. Every time a victory would put pressure on Hillary (Nevada, Illinois, Arizona), he’s lost.

New York is part of both categories. Bernie absolutely needs this one. He may say he just needs to do “well” in New York, Pennsylvania and California. This is only accurate if “well” means more votes than Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, a loss would put big pressure on Hillary.

It’s the most meaningful individual Democratic contest since Nevada. Bernie didn’t close there. Whether it was ground game, respective performances in the MSNBC town hall, Hillary’s in with Harry Reid and various unions, Sanders had her on the ropes and whiffed.

Again, not a choke. He wasn’t ahead. He just couldn’t close after pulling even. As a result of previous missed opportunities, this is his last opportunity. The closest poll has Hillary ahead by 10. He has five days before the vote, and is spending two of them in transit to or at the Vatican.

Without an indictment, no New York, no path. None. He must win. Bernie is way, way, way behind with super delegates. He might not be able to catch up in earned delegates, even if he sweeps all of the remaining contests. But if Hillary loses 90-95% of the final 30 primaries, you can’t nominate her. Even if she actually got more popular votes, which is also possible even if he almost wins out.

Even if the polls are wrong and the race is closer than it looks, Hillary is still ahead. It’s a closed primary. There are plenty of non-white voters. Clinton is pretending she’s running for senator or governor, and did actually represent the state. These reasons are why she’s favored, and why a victory would make such a difference.

They’ve participated in several debates by now. As a duo, never mind the time they invited Lincoln Chafee or those couple other episodes before the O’Malley guy realized nobody cared about him. Bernie has done fairly well but hasn’t landed any serious blows against his opponent.

There was a debate right before the Michigan primary. He did well, but few observers thought it was an overly remarkable performance. Perhaps he did extremely well, but the polls were so bad for the whole run that we can’t tell if the debate caused a late move, or if the numbers were misleading us the whole time.

Depending on what happened there, he either needs his best debate performance or his best debate performance by a mile. There are two ways to get there. By trying to push Hillary into a mistake, or by attempting to maximize his own appeal.

I’d strongly recommend he stick to trying to look good. Hillary is comfortable in debates and very disciplined. Most of the verbal mistakes he can push her into would make nice GOP attack ads, but won’t necessarily help him win New York. She knows who her key constituents are and will stay inside the lines.

The question is if she tries to play it safe, or tries to break Bernie. He needs to prepare for both. If Hillary tries to play the gender card, he needs to do his version of Ronald Reagan telling Jimmy Carter “there you go again.”

He’s making a big push on his opposition to fracking. It neatly ties together several favorite issues. Bernie can mention how Hillary’s PAC sweeps up money from oil and gas companies. He can mention the recent leak in the Keystone pipeline and Hillary taking a full presidential term to decide she’s against Keystone XL. It’s a neat package.

Then we’ve got his standby and a go to attack based on polling too. Those pesky transcripts from the $225,000 speeches to Goldman Sachs. The catch is Bernie hasn’t released most of his personal tax info. He says his wife is in charge and she’s spent most of the past few weeks on the road with him.

If at all possible, he needs to pledge to have some huge amount of years worth out by x date, ideally a soon date. He can then mention his combined earnings over the past three decades are less than the Clintons made in 2014 (or whatever similarly jarring number is accurate.) If he plays it right and keeps his cool, the issue is a bit of a trap for her.

His absolute best issue is the $15 minimum wage, which recently passed in both California and New York. It’s the most tangible evidence of a policy Sanders advocated that Clinton said was unattainable. That’s his open and his close.

He can say “It’s one thing to set your sights lower and consign yourself to what you think right wing Republicans can go along with if that’s truly the very best you can achieve. It’s depressing, demoralizing, and otherwise discouraging, but if she’s really right, better to give up now than get disappointed forever.”

“But she’s not right. She was wrong about $15, wrong about Iraq. Wrong about super predators, wrong about Libya. Secretary Clinton was wrong in the 1990s, wrong in the 2000s, is wrong today.”

“She’s experienced, smart, capable, and dedicated. She might have the best resume of any Democratic candidate since James Buchanan in 1856. At a crucial time in our nation’s history, Democrats chose an experienced candidate with the full support of the party establishment. He didn’t want to rock the boat, didn’t want to rally the populace to change the terms of the debate.”

“I’m no Abe Lincoln, though we did hang out a bit when I was a young adult. Nominating Secretary Clinton won’t push us into a Civil War, though you never know with Donald Trump. But the difference between Lincoln and Buchanan shows why judgment is more important than resume. Mine has proven correct more often than the Secretary’s.”

I don’t expect Bernie to say any/most of the above. To begin with he rarely speaks in the first person and I went multiple paragraphs without talking about a rigged system or billionaires. Much as I appreciate his relative modesty and ability to stay on point, if he wants to close the deal, he needs to show slightly more range. This isn’t exactly selling out.

Most importantly, he’s gone further than establishment Democrats would prefer in making his case and contrasting with his opponents. If he’s going to go past the point of comfort, he might as well have something to show for it. If emails and the Clinton Foundation are off limits, he needs to at least strongly and clearly question her judgment.

You might think James Buchanan is going back a decade or fourteen too far, but if he’s going to refer to Henry Kissinger on a regular basis, might as well go all the way back in time. His average supporter wasn’t born last time Kissinger was in an administration. At least 18-year-olds have all heard of Lincoln.

Bernie has gone farther than all but his most devoted fans could have believed a year ago. But to turn this into real drama, he needs to find another level. Can he?

 

 

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