Author: Charles Pierce
OK,it’s starting to get real on the Democratic side of things.
As the countdown to the caucuses continues, 40 percent of Democrats say they could be persuaded to change their minds about their first choice candidate. Sanders is running strong with young voters and with those who say they plan to attend their first caucus on February 1—the same type of coalition that helped Barack Obama surge to victory over Clinton in Iowa in 2008. Among those younger than 45, Sanders bests Clinton 59 percent to 27 percent. And among those who say they plan to attend their first caucus, he leads 52 percent to 34 percent. Clinton wins with older Democrats (56 percent to 26 percent) and women (49 percent to 32 percent). Both candidates remain popular with Democrats in the state. Eighty-nine percent said they view Sanders favorably, while 86 percent said the same of the former secretary of state.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, polling numbers as they relate to the screwy Iowa caucus system are completely meaningless, since so much depends on your campaign’s ability to get enough white people to the local middle school. But the race has tightened in New Hampshire as well, and that leaves us to ponder what the week of free media is going to be like if Hillary Rodham Clinton, the consensus frontrunner, comes out of the beginning of the actual process at 0-2.
(I think cable news would be rendered a nightmare and/or a bloodbath. But I also think she’s the only candidate alive who could survive those early losses. What she would have to do to survive them—raise even more big money, get physical with the TV ads, move toward a more Bill-type—likely would alienate further the party’s activist base.)
And, if you want some more evidence that it’s getting real on the Democratic side, consider that the Clinton campaign has unlimbered Chelsea Clinton to rip Sanders on health care, and consider that HRC herself has decided to appear on Squint and the Meat Puppet on Friday in what appears to be a desperate attempt to re-establish some Green Room cred. (S. & M.P. are “on the scene” in Iowa, probably because cattle mutilations have fallen off.) The simple fact is that, if HRC has lost her lead at the moment, she has lost it to a superior campaign.
And it’s not as simple as the “populist anger” narrative would have you believe. Sanders has been running a 50-state campaign since before he formally declared his candidacy. He went to South Carolina. He went to Mississippi. He drew large and approving crowds in both places. He has stayed doggedly on message, directly refusing to help the elite political class in its pursuit of shiny objects. He repeatedly has emphasized that the pursuit of his policy goals, which all have to do with breaking the power of impending oligarchy and its threat to self-government, cannot be limited simply to electing him. And that’s where the easy narrative falls apart.
The basic appeal of He, Trump is that he is Donald Trump, and you’re not, and neither are the rest of those losers on stage with him. He’s a down-punching bully basking in the mindless adulation of people looking for someone close at hand to blame for what they believe has gone wrong with their lives and their country. The very strange thing is that Trump asks almost nothing from the people at his rallies except that they love him. He doesn’t appeal to sacrifice or common purpose. All the problems will be solved because he’s Trump and you’re not, and he knows all the Top Men in their fields. But enough about him, let’s talk about you. What do you think of him? He looks at his audience and he sees little more than a faceless mirror. He’s not a democratic politician. He’s freaking Napoleon.
Meanwhile, Sanders punches up at the elites that, frankly, have more power in our politics than he does, or than you do, or than any politician does. He tells his audiences that he can’t do it alone, that the money power has grown too great for any one person to combat. He needs them more than they need him. He is not Napoleon, he is a democratic politician. And that makes all the difference and that’s why the “populist anger” narrative is a shuck. Anyone who says they could vote for either Bernie Sanders or He, Trump has been living for the last nine months with their head in a laundry bag.
The respective appeals of the two men are similar only on the simplest and least consequential levels. On the most profound levels, the two campaigns couldn’t be more different. Bernie Sanders is where he is because the positions and the policies he has been championing all his career have come back somewhat into favor ever since some grifters broke the world economy and then made off with the rubble. That is why he’s different from Donald Trump and that is why Hillary Rodham Clinton is noticing that things in the rear-view window are closer than they appear.