Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: We’re on a freight train headed to Super Tuesday

Feb 18, 2020

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. Take a deep breath. Yes, this campaign is exhausting, and it's just getting started. According to the NPR poll released today, Bernie Sanders is now the national leader -- followed by Michael Bloomberg in second. Bloomberg now qualifies for tomorrow night's debate, but he's not running in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday (which maybe Bernie will win, but maybe not). Bloomberg will also be in next week's debate in South Carolina, but he's not running in my home state's primary either. We're on a freight train headed to Super Tuesday, two weeks from today, and what happens between now and then is really anybody's guess. My column today implores the Democratic candidates to find a way to compete without tearing one another to shreds. President Trump can't beat a united Democratic Party in the fall, but he can beat a pile of shreds. Let's get started.

To undo the lies and divisiveness of this President requires that we elect a successor who values the Rule of Law and has a decent character. But what about the undoing of the damage to the civil service, the intelligence community, meaningful regulation, and the courts? If we have a new President with a GOP Senate, how do we address these without resorting to the same tactics that Trump has used that further polarization?

I think the next president can use executive power to repair the civil service and the intel community. Meaningful regulation and the courts are a different story. Democrats indeed need to take the Senate and keep the House.

What's the chance Trump pardons Stone, Flynn & Manafort after the election this November?

I think the only question is whether he waits until after the election or gets impatient and does it before.

Let's say that the president is seeking to strongly influence/bully the DOJ into doing his bidding on multiple fronts. When complaints start coming in that he is affecting the DOJ independence with this influence, wouldn't it be a good move to have Barr start publicly complaining about it so that he and president appear not to be in cahoots?

I can't tell you what's inside Barr's head. I can tell you, though, that he faced real outrage within the Justice Department. It's not implausible that he felt he needed to say something or lose all credibility with his agency.

How can Bernie and Warren better sell Medicare for All to voters? E.g., I keep waiting for them to give real-life examples comparing actual annual dollars, soup to nuts, paid currently with a private insurance company vs. projected actual dollars paid through M4A.

A new study by Yale researchers, published in the eminent journal The Lancet, estimates that the overall savings from Medicare for All would be around $450 billion a year. That's savings, not added cost. The problem is that this would mean totally restructuring the health care system, which would involve disruption. And people would pay more in taxes -- though they would save a greater amount by not having to pay premiums, co-pays, deductibles, prescription drug costs. I agree that the best way to sell this idea would be to give a concrete example of what, say, families making $50,000, $75,000 and $100,000 are paying now and would pay under M4A.

I'm happy to agree that Democrats shouldn't fight each other. But how do you say, for example, "Pete doesn't have enough experience" or "Bernie can't win over independents" or "Elizabeth's ideas are too expensive" or "Joe is old and out of touch" or "We can't choose Mike without undercutting our party's argument that we urgently need campaign finance reform" without it sounding like an attack?

You can say all of those things. What you can't say, in my opinion, is that those failings are disqualifying. You can say "I would be a better president" without saying "He or she is incapable of being president."

Has Michael Bloomberg revealed his tax returns? Has he announced how he would divest himself of conflicts of interest re his business empire? Or are we looking at Trump multiplied at least twenty fold?

I'm guessing that maybe someone will ask him these questions at tomorrow's debate.

Wouldn’t a better strategy for all of the candidates be, particularly in light of the polls, “ Any of the candidates can beat Trump; here’s why I think I am the best suited and qualified to lead the country for the next 4 years.” That way, voters won’t freak out if “their candidate” isn’t nominated, and voters will be less likely to stay away from the polls because they think the dem candidate isn’t likely to win anyway. Also, the message becomes a positive one, which I think voters are crying to hear.

I agree. Make Trump the biggest issue.

Dear Gene, Why is it that some in the press now see the race for the Democratic presidential nomination as a fight exclusively between Bernie and Bloomberg. The former is not even a Democrat, while the latter has been a registered Democrat for about 10 mins. And Bernie has only 21 delegates, while Bloomberg has NONE. PLEASE!!! This race is far from over. Let the process work, even if that means Dems go to the convention in the summer with no one having secured enough delegates to win the nomination.

At present, it looks quite possible -- even likely -- that no one will have a majority of delegates heading into the convention in Milwaukee. But some candidates will have more, some less. These first primaries matter. And Super Tuesday matters a lot.

How much of this is the Democrats sorting out who will represent them vs a circular firing squad? This election will be knock down drag out, might as well have any/all issue out in the open now, as opposed once the candidate is selected. What are your thoughts? Thanks

It's good and necessary to have weaknesses aired and vulnerabilities probed. That said, I do think tone is an issue. It's possible, for example, to criticize and disagree with Bernie's call for Medicare for All without using GOP talking points that are tendentious and misleading -- and without pretending that such a program would have a prayer of being implemented as long as Republicans hold at least 41 seats in the Senate.

Everyone keeps saying that that SC is the firewall that will decide the remaining candidates ship will sink or swim. Why aren't other cities/states that have a large populus of black/brown/other people given that same attention--i.e PA (even though trump won PA) Phila, Pitts, Harris, are the large areas that have over 50% minority residency. GA (even though trump won)--You have several counties in GA that minorities could out-vote whites if they all voted (Atlanta, Richmond, DeKalb). There are many areas that these candidates need to be more familiar with other than SC, AZ, NV. There are areas in TX, and different parts of CA, NC, etc.... We all don't live in SC.

Look, the primary calendar is arbitrary and unfair. It needs to be changed. And I say that against self-interest, as a native South Carolinian. At least the Nevada caucuses and S.C. primary are more real-world than Iowa and New Hampshire.

Obama appears to be promoting Bloomberg on a 2/17/2020 TV ad. Do you understand the reasoning for Obama's support? Please explain.

Obama hasn't endorsed anyone and isn't promoting anyone. Bloomberg is using footage of Obama saying nice things about him, which is fair game. 

Hi Gene -- thanks for your most recent very depressing but also very true column, which every candidate and every voter who has had it with Trump and the Republicans must read. Is it too late for a do-over? As in, if there's anyone who either didn't get in before (Sherrod Brown?) or wants to try again (Booker? Harris?), the grace period is now open. (I'm speaking rhetorically, of course). But seriously, any of these folks (save Bernie, who I have nothing against but would be a disaster against Trump) should be taking it in a walk. But instead it looks like we're going to go with the person with the least chance to win, which is utterly maddening. Is there any way out?

Campaigns generally end when they run out of money. That's what happened to Harris, Booker and the others. I take issue with one thing you say, though, which is that Bernie Sanders is "the person with the least chance to win." That may indeed be true. But it's not what the match-up polls say. I'm trying to be humble, this time around, about asserting that I know what's possible and what's not. I'm old enough to recall when it seemed obvious that Donald Trump was the worst nominee the GOP could possibly have picked and surely was going to suffer a historic defeat.

I want to preface the question with the knowledge that I am a young university student and a Bernie supporter. Doesn’t it seem disingenuous that Bernie claims not to take money from Super PACs? It is to my knowledge that no candidate receives money from PACs directly, as they are independent expenditures. That being said, the sheer amount of money being thrown around in this election is ridiculous and is set to outpace the 2016 race. Is this par for the course, or do you believe that this is a new norm?

I fear this is the new normal. This Supreme Court seems unlikely to approve of any but the most modest attempts at campaign finance reform. And when you see what unlimited spending has done for Bloomberg's poll numbers, you have to expect that others will follow his example. 

Have any of the candidates explained in any compelling detail how, as POTUS, they plan to actually govern if the GOP retains the Senate--you know, if judicial nominations are stonewalled, electoral and regulatory reform and tax legislation are stymied, etc? What would four years of deadlock look like?

They should all be asked this question in the coming debates. Biden seems to believe Republicans are going to have some sort of epiphany and renounce extreme partisanship. I doubt it.

Who's next? Bernie Madoff?

Close. Turns out that next up was Bernie Kerik. And Rod Blagojevich gets his sentence commuted. A good day for crooks and liars!

I am scared Bernie will get the nomination due to the split of the moderates. How does Bernie beat Trump? Which states does he carry that Hillary could not?

His campaign believes he would carry the "Rust Belt" states that Clinton was supposed to win. There is evidence that he has some appeal to Obama-Trump voters in those states. But is it enough appeal?

I think everyone saying Bloomberg would be no better than Trump should remember Bush v. Gore. The sainted Nader told everybody there was no daylight between the two but I don't think you'd find many now that agree.

An election involves making a choice. And it's rarely true that the choices are equally good or equally bad.

Prognostications before Super Tuesday--especially in this cycle--seem like a fool's errand, but the left wing does seem to be coalescing around Bernie and centrists around Mike. Do you see a Bernie v. Bloomie battle shaping up post-March 3? And if so, how can that not get ugly?

This is definitely one possibility, and maybe it would get ugly. But let's take this one step at a time. So far we've only heard from voters in two states. Voters in the rest might offer some surprises.

Joe Biden is younger than both Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg, and only 3½ years older than Trump.

Everything is relative.

I still feel that Joe Biden is the only Democrat that would beat trump. Some people are saying that Biden will not make it. What is your feeling on this?

I think Biden need to win in South Carolina to keep his campaign viable. If he loses there, I think his contributions will likely dry up.

I posted last week in a panic, opining how badly the impeachment backfired on the Dems. I'm feeling better now. For impeachment itself, do you think it has lost the power it once had? I believe that a future president of either party can now say "Make my day" when threatened with impeachment (within reason of course, and assuming their party controls the Senate).

No, I don't. I don't think any future president will want to be impeached. I know the current president hates bearing that indelible stain. And I believe the net political effect -- which wasn't the point -- is to damage Trump's chance of reelection.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for dropping by, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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