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Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Welcome to Please Not Bernie Week

Feb 25, 2020

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Hello, everyone, and welcome. Well, here we are. There's another Democratic debate tonight -- apparently Mike Bloomberg plans to go nuclear on Bernie Sanders -- and then we roll into the South Carolina primary on Saturday. And then, one week from today, Super Tuesday. Sanders is now the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and if he performs on March 3 they way that polls suggest he will, simple arithmetic dictates that it will be hard for anyone to catch him. So, I guess, welcome to Please Not Bernie Week in this presidential campaign. Oh, and by the way, the coronavirus is starting to look like a pandemic, which is not good. Let's get started.

After this last debate, I am beyond depressed. Democrats are all over the place as unified as ever, not! They seem to be repeating 2016 where the worst is now President. Why can’t these candidates get together, decide who is best to defeat the maniac and bow out? Support one or two.

Campaigns generally continue until they run out of money. There may be dropouts after South Carolina and surely will be some after Super Tuesday. The only two candidates who are certain to have enough money to go on at that point are Sanders and Bloomberg. (Steyer too, I guess, but why?)

Why don't the candidates and the news media tell Americans the truth about the Senate controlling everything. There won't be any healthcare reform, infrastructure bill, climate reform or anything as long as the Senate is in control. I feel as though the public is being misled with all their great ideas that will never happen as long as Mitch McConnell controls the Senate. That's the number one thing that has to change.

I agree we should talk more about the Senate. In fact, I wrote columns begging several of the presidential candidates to run for Senate seats instead. What you say is correct.

There's an awful lot of hand-wringing among the center-left intelligentsia that Bernie is "unelectable" on the theory that his liberal views will turn off moderate voters. Outside of Sunday talk shows and Washington cocktail parties, is there any actual data to support this view? I'd posit that the Obama-Trump voters that turned the 2016 election did not weigh their votes on particular policy positions, but were mostly interested in "somebody new who is not a phony*." Admittedly, I have no polling to support this theory, but I think that it holds up to reality better than the Beltway-consensus ideas of what "moderate" means. *Note: Trump may be a fraud, a liar, a cheat, a creep, or any other number of things, but to the voters that matter he's not a phony. ("He may be a liar, but at least he's authentic.")

I think you're putting your finger on something important. I agree that most voters do not see candidates as precisely placed along some ideological scale. When one pollster asked supporters of Biden (a "moderate") who their second choice was, most of them named Sanders (a "progressive"). They look at other qualities as well.

Your column on the Bernie phenomenon was excellent. Dems must support the winner of the convention. I would appreciate hearing more of your thoughts on the best reasons for supporting the eventual candidate and what a good presidential campaign should look like against Trump. Dem leadership needs all the advice it can get, I would like to see them get this right.

I'm sure I'll write more on the subject! But the bottom line is that I believe Donald Trump is a threat to American democracy and any of the Democratic candidates would be light-years better.

Mr. Robinson, look into your crystal ball and tell me what is your take on how the Coronavirus outbreak might impact the November election (if at all).

I don't know the political impact. I'm more worried about the public health impact. I'm worried.

Hi Gene -- thanks once again for hosting this once a week therapy, er, discussion. Nothing against older white guys since I'm in that group, but I find it very disheartening that it's likely we will have two of them going at each other in the next election, and I really wish Harris, Booker, and Castro had gone much further than they did. Win or lose, any of them against Trump would have been something exciting, but I'm aware of course that for whatever reason they didn't catch on, which is unfortunate. Here's my question -- do you have a sense of who we might see as the VP pick, and if so, can that person energize the race in game changing ways? Recent VP picks have sometimes been disastrous (Palin) but more often than not have no impact one way or the other (Kaine). Is there a sense that it's more important this time around for Trump's challenger, or will it turn out to be a non-factor?

The VP pick is rarely a big factor, except potentially in a negative way (Palin). It may be more important than usual this time, though. If the nominee is Sanders, he might want somebody reassuring to party regulars. If it's Bloomberg, he might want somebody whom progressives like more.

You say we should unite behind Sanders as the presumptive nominee. But what about those of use who truly feel he is NOT the best person to defeat the current occupant of the WH. I really think it's too soon - there are many, many delegates left to divvy up before July. (He has 43 so far. That's it.) Early wins in Iowa/NH do not translate to winning the nomination.

True. As I said, there is plenty of time for twists and turns. I was just pointing out where we are at this point. We'll know more after Super Tuesday, won't we?

Gene, as an independent voter, the one question I feel has not been answered by any of the democratic contenders is the following one: You have won the presidency; however, Congress' makeup remains the same: Democratic majority in the house, Republican majority in the Senate. Therefore, what can you accomplish in that case? How do you plan to accomplish it? Even though such a scenario likely means more gridlock, I ask because I still think this is a very likely outcome of the election in November; and I feel as though no candidate has seriously answered it, especially the leading contenders.

That's a very good question, and I hope someone asks it at the next debate.

Thanks for taking questions, Gene. I must say, your column goes a long way of quieting down my Bernie angst. I am more in the Buttigieg corner, but I would not think twice about rallying behind Bernie if/when he becomes the nominee. He would be a much better president than Trump, evidently. But still, in your opinion, what should Bernie do (now and upon becoming the nominee) in order to convince more people that he would not be the general election disaster some people make him out to be and that he would not have a negative coattail-effect on House and Senate races?

He can overperform in the coming primaries. Nothing makes you look electable like winning elections.

Do you think Bernie Sanders could win a general election? What do you think are the odds of a brokered convention

I'm trying to figure out what a brokered convention looks like and how we get there. I think you'd have to have no clear leader -- nobody with a big plurality of delegates. So you'd need at least two contenders with roughly equal delegate strength. But who's going to do the brokering? Not the loyal pledged delegates, presumably, so it would be the superdelegates. If they threw their weight behind anyone except the leader, I think things would get real messy, real fast. As for Sanders and the general election, the match-up polls (basically meaningless at this point) show him beating Trump, and a couple of recent ones have him doing even better than Biden. Republicans will try to paint him as the second coming of Lenin. To those who say he's definitively unelectable, I point out how unelectable Donald Trump was.

I'd nominate Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for President. Why, you might reasonably ask? Because the internet tells me he's 6'4" --- i.e., taller that Trump (even with lifts in his shoes), which should drive him crazy!

In a brokered convention, the only way to perhaps find consensus would be to nominate someone universally beloved and respected. Somebody like Michelle Obama. (Who has made clear she has no interest in running for president, so don't get excited.)

What health risks does the US face with POTUS leading our response to the pandemic?

I think Trump's well-known germophobia could actually be a plus, and I have faith in the professionals at the CDC who really know what they're doing. The problem is in between those two poles -- the layers of political appointees who are incompetent, unqualified, or simply missing. I have no faith in this administration's political appointees to do much of anything well.

At the beginning of the primary, I thought it was great we Democrats had so many solid candidates in the race. Now, as a member of the Please Not Bernie camp, I see things differently. I’m afraid none of the other candidates will pull out in time to give a the non-Bernie voters a single candidate to rally around. What do you think?

It's not that simple. If Biden dropped out, some of his support would go to Sanders. The same would happen if Warren dropped out. It's easy to look at the results thus far and conclude there's a Please-Not-Bernie majority in the party, and that might be true. But it also might not be true.

Rahm Emanuel did a pretty persuasive number on Bernie during last night's Late Night with Stephen Colbert.

There's an old saying in politics that you can't beat somebody with nobody. Anti-Bernie Democrats need to support some candidate with the same passion you see at Bernie rallies. 
Who is that going to be?

If Sanders is the Dem nominee, we will have four more years of Trump. Why doesn't someone explain this to him?

You can tell that to Sanders until you're blue in the face. He won't believe you.

I'm dismayed to say the least. Seems like we would be trading one angry old white man for another. And although I'm not a spring chicken I do think Bernie at almost 80 is way, way too old. Where are the best places to research to figure out how he expects to pay for everything?

It is objectively true that we would be trading one angry old white man for another. No question about that. There are others who are not old (Mayor Pete) or male (Warren, Klobuchar), so you can vote for one of them. No one should lose sleep over how Sanders "expects to pay for everything." He doesn't get to appropriate money or raise taxes, Congress does those things.

Are you concerned that Sanders will turn off moderate voters as the nominee? Can he capitalize on gains made by Dems in South??

I think there is legitimate concern that some of the newly elected Democratic members of the House will struggle in their reelection bids if Sanders is at the top of the ticket. To win, keep the House majority and have any chance of taking the Senate, Sanders will have to actually produce the big boost in Democratic turnout he keeps promising. He did unexpectedly and impressively well in Nevada among Latino voters, and maybe he can build on that.

This is the thing about primaries. They say all these mean and awful things about each other and then the general comes along and they love each other again. You don't think any of the non-Biden candidates don't want him as a campaign surrogate in Pennsylvania or some other swing state next fall? It's a part of the primaries I don't like, but it happens i.e. Barack Obama made his central critique over Hillary Rodham Clinton about her judgement on foreign policy and then nominated her to be his administration's Secretary of State.

True. Primaries are divisive because, duh, everyone wants to win. But it will be crucial for the party to come together after the convention. This is no time for resentments and hard feelings. This election is so important.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for participating, 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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