Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lincoln Chafee Will Not Be Our Next President

A late comment on the Dem debate.

Let's start with the dynamics of the race. Hillary came in as the overwhelming fave to win this. Even Bernie's summer momentum hasn't amounted to a real challenge. He's leading in NH, but this is basically meaningless. New England is much like a single state (call it Red Soxia), and if he couldn't get a lead in neighboring NH, his campaign would be over. He still trails in other early primary states and by a huge amount nationally. Debates are one of those moments when a challenger can shift the dynamics of the race and make his candidacy suddenly seem plausible. (With the GOP's relentless attacks and the media fascinated with her troubles, this was a dangerous moment for the front runner.) So the question going in was whether Sanders could begin to look like a credible threat to win the nomination.

Viewed through that lens, it was a huge win for Hillary. After weeks of questioning her campaign, of trying to think of a Sanders candidacy as plausible, seeing them on the stage for five minutes restored the original dynamic. She was sharp and focused, as charismatic and warm as she ever gets, and she looked like the only candidate (Dem or GOP) who could actually be cast in the role of President.
O'Malley has anti-charisma and Chafee came off like the hapless Bobby Newport from Parks and Rec. Webb's a perfect candidate for 1988. (Though even then his contempt for actually campaigning would have doomed him.)

So that leaves Bernie: could he come out and look like a plausible major party candidate? With apologies to all the Bernie-ites out there: no, he could not. He did exactly the opposite, coming out with a performance that in tone and word said, 'I will win or lose as an uncompromising progressive.' It's exactly why people love Bernie, and it's why he won't win. People were joking before the debate that this would be a test to see if he could use his "inside voice." He did not. He didn't moderate his language toward business, provoking one of the most fascinating exchanges I've witnessed as the candidates discussed whether they were capitalists. (Bernie: no, basically I'm not.)

Other issues. He doesn't care about a lot of issues and was (literally) distracted talking about foreign policy. He's sideways with the Dem electorate on guns. I think the biggest problem is that is affect, both in his barking Brooklyn voice and relentless attacks on monied interests, will wig out the average (read: disengaged and low-information) voter. Since we liberals love this kind of rhetoric, we're drawn to Bernie. Average Dems will use their gut feelings to assess Bernie (since they won't have the info to assess his policies) and conclude he's a wild-eyed crazy man.

Bernie won't instantly collapse in the polls, and he will continue to drive Hillary in the progressive/populist direction. But he will not be the candidate. That was the takeaway from last night's debate: barring some shocking new scandal, Hillary's going to sail to the nomination. And debates will help her.

My guess is that she did so well last night that Biden will scrap his flirtation with a run. She's running as Obama's heir, and she's doing too well to give him an opening.

Updates. Chafee and Webb out, Biden not running. And then there were two. Oh wait, O'Malley's still in it. And then there were two.

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