After Super Bloody Tuesday

The Democratic presidential race has changed considerably in the past few days.

It started after Joe Biden’s win in South Carolina Saturday, which prompted Pete Buttigieg (whose last name I now don’t need to learn how to pronounce) to pull out, as reported by Scott Shackford:

Joe Biden’s strong showing in South Carolina’s primary has put an end to Pete Buttigieg’s attempt to offer himself up as a more moderate alternative to the likes of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.).

Tonight the former South Bend, Ind., mayor announced he was suspending his campaign, a day after he came in fourth in South Carolina’s primary, getting fewer votes than Tom Steyer, who dropped out Saturday night.

“Our goal has always been help unify Americans to beat Donald Trump and to win the era for our values,” Buttigieg said in his concession speech Sunday evening. But after acknowledging that his path to victory has narrowed following a poor performance in South Carolina, he announced his own campaign was over. He didn’t throw his support behind a particular candidate, but said he would “do everything in my power to make sure we have a new Democratic president in the White House come January.”

Buttigieg drew remarkable attention for a candidate who had held no previous federal office, was only 38 years old, and a fairly thin political resume. He barely edged out Sanders in Iowa to win the most delegates in that state, but did not fare as well in subsequent races.

Buttigieg is openly gay and married, and the mix of his sexuality and his unwillingness to rush as far to the left as candidates like Sanders and Warren caused friction with other vocal LGBT activists and writers. He inspired a number of think pieces about whether he was “gay enough,” chin-stroking, self-absorbed essays that were barely about Buttigieg at all but really about the person writing it and the gap between the writer’s experiences and Buttigieg’s. The worst vitriol aimed at Buttigieg came not from religious conservatives but from those who were clearly upset that the first major openly gay candidate for president wasn’t some fire-breathing radical looking to smash capitalism and arrest Wall Street. (Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic highlights some of the worst here.)

As for his actual positions, Buttigieg was a mixed bag for those who prioritize liberty. His most admirable position was his call for the decriminalization of all drug possession. He didn’t go as far as calling for full legalization, but his platform was very clear that he opposed incarceration for drug use.

Buttigieg also used his experience as a military veteran, a Navy intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, to call for the removal of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and the ending of our current wars. He called for future Congressional Authorizations for Use of Military Force to come with automatic three-year sunsets.

And he at least acknowledged that too much national debt was a bad thing (though he didn’t really propose how to cut it and had his own plan for massive spending increases), his health care plan didn’t call for forcing everybody to give up private insurance into a nationalized system, and his free college proposal had an income cap for participants. That marked him as a “moderate” in this election, which just shows how much that Overton Window has been shifted among the Democratic electorate.

On the “bad ideas” side, Buttigieg pandered to unions, calling for employees in the gig economy be allowed to unionize, even though such a plan would essentially gut the system, cause labor costs to skyrocket, and make it extremely hard for people to work as freelancers.

If his government spending plans and intervention plans seemed modest, it was only in comparison with the extremely expensive, intrusive proposals from the likes of Warren and Sanders. In reality, Buttigieg was very much a big government, big spending guywho seemed reasonable compared to those who insisted that the government could provide everything to everybody by taxing the rich and attacking Wall Street.

Moments later, or so it seemed, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (whose last name I also need not learn how to pronounce) dropped out, as reported by Eric Boehm:

Sunday night’s rally in the Minneapolis suburbs was supposed to be a warm welcome home for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) ahead of Minnesota’s primary tomorrow.

Instead, crowds of protestors compelled Klobuchar to cancel the event. Less than 24 hours later, her campaign for the presidency is over …

The fact that her campaign comes to an end on the eve of what was supposed to be a home state primary win is somewhat fitting. It was the people who know Klobuchar the best who dealt a final blow to a campaign that was already running out of steam, despite a decent showing in Iowa and a surprising third-place finish in New Hampshire.

Sunday’s protests sought to call attention to Klobuchar’s record on criminal justice issues, including the role she played, as a Hennepin County prosecutor, in the 2003 conviction of Myon Burrell, who was given a life sentence for the killing of an 11-year old girl struck by a stray bullet. Evidence suggests Burrell may have been wrongly convicted, and the case has become a lightning rod for Klobuchar’s critics since she boasted about Burrell’s conviction on the campaign trail.

Indeed, as Reason‘s Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted back in March 2019, Klobuchar is a cop too, just like fellow former candidate Kamala Harris. And while it took a little longer for her record to catch up with her than it did for Sen. Harris (D–Calif.), Klobuchar was ultimately undone by the gap between her record at home and the persona she peddled on the campaign trail. In Iowa and New Hampshire, she was the Midwestern Mom making bad jokes, talking about hot dish, and offering pragmatic alternatives to the pie-in-the-sky promises made by the candidates arrayed to her left. But she could never really escape the gravitational pull of her record as a county prosecutor who protected cops who killed innocent black men, opposed ending the wars on drugs and on sex work, and, as the Burrell case shows, favored harsh sentences even for underage offenders. If you didn’t hear a lot about Klobuchar’s record, that’s only because she was never viewed as a serious enough contender for the other campaigns to spend much time going after her. …

Aside from her strong finish in New Hampshire, the high point of Klobuchar’s campaign was also probably the first time many Americans had met her. At a CNN town hall in February 2019, just after she’d entered the race, Klobuchar stood out for breaking with progressive Democrats on several big issues, like the Green New Deal and free college tuition.

“If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon. “I’ve gotta tell the truth. We have a mountain of debt that the Trump administration keeps making worse and worse, and I don’t want to leave that on the shoulders of these kids too.”

There are no candidates in the Democratic field that can be rightfully considered deficit hawks, but Klobuchar might have been the next closest thing. She actually had a plan to tackle the growing debt—by establishing a dedicated fund to make a down payment on the debt, seeded with $300 billion she’d get by raising the corporate tax rate. And when other candidates promised trillions in new spending, it was often Klobuchar who would question how all that could be paid for.

She memorably clashed with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at a number of debates, culminating in a series of particularly nasty personal attacks on one another in early February. Buttigieg ended his campaign on Sunday night, so Klobuchar can go back to the Senate knowing that she at least outlasted him.

In the end, Klobuchar’s 2020 campaign looks a lot like the underdog effort made by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R–Pa.) in 2012. Though Santorum lasted longer than Klobuchar, both were buoyed by an unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa, and both came across as likeable-if-unlikely alternatives to their heavyweight competitors. Santorum ended his challenge to eventual nominee Mitt Romney on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary, when polls suggested that his home state—which had handed Santorum a historically large landslide defeat for an incumbent senator in 2006—still wasn’t a fan of his.

The biggest surprise was Wednesday, when Michael Bloomberg dropped out, having spent billions of dollars to win one primary — American Samoa.

Jacob Sullum:

“Why don’t they coalesce around me?” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked yesterday before the wildly disappointing Super Tuesday performance that led him to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination today. Bloomberg won the caucuses in American Samoa but fell far short of victory everywhere else after spending half a billion dollars of his own money on a quixotic quest to replace former Vice President Joe Biden as the moderate alternative to an avowed democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.).

Today Bloomberg endorsed Biden in a gracious statement acknowledging that “a viable path to the nomination no longer exists,” calling Biden “the candidate with the best shot” at defeating Donald Trump, and praising “his decency, his honesty, and his commitment to the issues that are so important to our country.” But Bloomberg never would have entered the race last November if he thought Biden was up to the task, and the chutzpah embodied in his strategy of skipping the early contests and debates, flooding the airwaves and internet with ads, and swooping in to rescue a party he joined less than two years ago goes a long way toward explaining why primary voters found him so unappealing.

Anyone who wants to be president almost certainly has an inflated sense of his own competence and wisdom. That is especially true for someone like Bloomberg, a remarkably successful entrepreneur who became the world’s ninth-richest person by providing value to consumers and erroneously thought his skills as a businessman made him especially qualified to boss people around. But good politicians are skilled at concealing their arrogance, recognizing that voters may find it off-putting. Bloomberg has never been good at that.

This is a man who devoted much of his time as mayor to berating poor people for their unhealthy habits, a condescending paternalism epitomized by his extralegal attempt to ban the sale of large sugary beverages. He defended that crusade in embarrassingly grandiose terms: “We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other, to save the lives of ourselves, our families, our friends, and all of the rest of the people that live on God’s planet.” Bloomberg, who called protecting people from their own bad habits “government’s highest duty,” sincerely thought he was saving the world, one slightly smaller soda at a time.

This is a man so convinced that he was uniquely qualified to run New York’s government that he pushed through a legal change allowing him to serve a third term, then backed legislation reimposing the two-term limit. “Bloomberg thinks that being able to serve three terms in office is a good idea—just not for anyone else,” The New York Times noted at the time.

This is a man who in 2001 cheerily admitted that he had smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, then presided over a dramatic surge in arrests of cannabis consumers. Last year Bloomberg called legalizing cannabis “perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve ever done.” Once he decided to run for president, he wanted Democratic voters, three-quarters of whom support legalization, to forget about his record on this issue. “Putting people in jail for marijuana,” he declared, is “really dumb.”

This is a man who either did not know or did not care that the “stop, question, and frisk” program he championed as a way of deterring young black men from carrying guns, which at its peak subjected overwhelmingly innocent people to 685,000 humiliating police encounters in a single year, was blatantly unconstitutional. That program, like Bloomberg’s panoply of paternalistic “public health” prescriptions, reflected his unshakable confidence that he knows what’s best, even when the supposed beneficiaries of his policies vehemently disagree. Bloomberg doggedly defended stop and frisk for years after leaving office, then abruptly reversed his position the week before he officially launched his 2020 presidential campaign, recognizing that the policy was unpopular with today’s Democratic primary voters.

Bloomberg thus began his presidential campaign on a false note, an awkward position for a politician vying to replace a president who can barely open his mouth without prevaricating. He compounded the dishonest tone of his campaign with a Super Bowl ad that was built around a lie about “children” killed by “gun violence.” The ad, which presented Bloomberg as a brave champion of public safety who is not afraid to take on “the gun lobby,” was also misleading in a subtler way. As David Harsanyi noted at National Review, the resources Bloomberg has devoted to promoting new firearm restrictions dwarf what the National Rifle Association spends to resist those policies.

Truth aside, the Super Bowl spot was compelling. But the same could not be said of many other ads that Bloomberg bombarded us with, which Democratic strategist Elizabeth Spiers described as “mediocre messaging at massive scale.” Whenever Bloomberg himself spoke, he came across as wooden and decidedly uncharismatic. While viewers might very well have agreed with his critique of Trump, that did not mean they saw Bloomberg the way he saw himself: as the guy with the best chance of defeating the president. Doubts on that score surely were not assuaged by Bloomberg’s surprisingly inept performance during the first debate in which he participated.

Only yesterday, The New York Times was marveling at Bloomberg’s campaign organization, which hired more than 2,400 people, “opened more than 200 offices from Maine to California,” “blanketed the airwaves with half a billion dollars in ads and paid social media influencers to spread his message,” “deployed new artificial intelligence technology” to “adjust his message in real time as issues like the coronavirus outbreak erupted,” and “tapped into the political networks of mayors in major cities like Houston and Memphis, who helped Mr. Bloomberg fill his rallies with prominent local politicians and pastors.” This sophisticated operation was all the more impressive because it had been set up so quickly: “What other campaigns took more than a year to build, with visits to fish frys in Iowa and cable news studios, the Bloomberg campaign did over the three months from Thanksgiving to Presidents’ Day.”

But the Times also conceded that “there are those who find [Bloomberg] unappealing,” which turned out to be an obstacle that no amount of money could overcome. The most salutary aspect of Bloomberg’s campaign is that it refuted once again the main premise of attempts to protect democracy by restricting speech. Even for a candidate who can far outstrip his competitors’ spending by shelling out less than 1 percent of his personal fortune, money can’t buy you love.

On the one hand, this is a party, the two front runners of which are 1) a doddering old man who clearly is in the process of losing his faculties and 2) a doddering old man who is a stealth communist disguised as a socialist – and they have to choose between them.

No doubt that some voted for Biden because they feared Bernie and many voted for Bernie because they see Biden sliding toward a comfortable divan at the care home — but the problem is that neither of them is good for America.

One major commonality is that their policies are incoherent ramblings of nonsense and impossibility. The former candidate can’t really articulate what he is going to do but knows he will tax the hell out of you to do it and the second wants to make everything free but has no idea how much “free” is going to cost.

The other commonality is that both of the represent some sort of “feel good” progressivism where feelings matter more than facts. It doesn’t matter how much it costs, how much it destroys or how ineffective it is in resolving a particular issue — or whether that issue is even real – it only matters how good we feel to be “doing something”.

That’s just inane, imbecilic and impossible to sustain.

But millions of Democrat primary voters just cast their ballots for that very thing last night — and were enthusiastic in their ignorance — signalling that we have a significant number of people completely detached from reality.

And that’s a problem.

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