There's a pattern to the way Hillary Clinton's campaign has discussed Bernie Sanders' leftist politics: long periods of silence punctured by the occasional drive-by when Sanders creeps too close in the polls. Clinton backer Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) first mused in June that Sanders was getting a pass on his socialism from the media, after her Senate colleague's stadium-filling megarallies offered the first hint that he posed a serious threat. Then there was peace again, until January. With the Clinton campaign slipping in Iowa and New Hampshire, McCaskill told the New York Times that Republicans "can't wait to run an ad with a hammer and sickle." Clinton surrogate David Brock warned ominously that Sanders' comments on the capitalist system in the 1980s would doom him in November.
At Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Miami, coming off a stunning loss to Sanders in Michigan, Clinton opened up the research drawer her surrogates had riffled through before. It started when Univision anchor María Elena Salinas asked Sanders to explain how his brand of democratic socialism differed from that practiced in places like Nicaragua and Cuba. Then she played a clip of a press conference Sanders held in 1985, in which he praised Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and suggested the United States had misjudged Fidel Castro. Did he regret it?
Sanders didn't quite answer, but Clinton ran with it. "I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the 'revolution of values' in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves," she said. "I just couldn't disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere."
It was one of Clinton's most direct attacks yet on Sanders' embrace of leftist politics (although, in Sanders' defense, Castro had himself replaced an American-backed regime that oppressed, imprisoned, and tortured people). By the next day, however, she'd dropped the issue. Clinton held her first post-debate rally in Ybor City, Tampa's historic Cuban neighborhood, which would have been an obvious setting to continue this line of criticism. The Cuban independence leader José Martí organized cigar workers there, and the Cuban government still owns a small park celebrating Martí down the street from the venue where Clinton spoke. But Clinton made no mention of Castro or Ortega or socialism or Cuba. She hardly mentioned her opponent at all.
There's a good reason why Clinton's reprisals of Cold War politics don't stick around for long: Voters don't really seem to care about Cold War politics. Castro is not a popular figure, but it's harder to turn him into a bogeyman in a Democratic primary when it was the popular Democratic president who normalized relations with the Castro government (and a president for whom Clinton served as secretary of state). The fights over the Sandinistas in Nicaragua that once tore the left apart are recent history only in the context of geologic time—the young voters Clinton says she's hoping to win over weren't even alive for it, and the median age at a Sanders event in Florida this week hovers around 20. When I asked one young attendee at Clinton's Ybor City event about Sanders and Ortega, she told me she didn't know anything about Ortega and would have to look him up.
The clearest sign of the demise of Cold War politics in Florida, though, came from the party that's historically been most enthusiastic about reprising it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) didn't bring up Castro either at his speech to the largely Cuban American audience in Miami on Wednesday, at a college across the street from a piece of the actual Berlin Wall. And although he and Rubio both trashed President Barack Obama's new diplomatic relationship with Cuba at the final Republican debate before the Florida primary, one candidate held firm in defense of ending the trade embargo: the odds-on favorite to win the state, Donald Trump. "After 50 years, it's enough time, folks," he said, before promising to "make a good deal" with the Cubans. Even the king of bluster thinks the bluster about Castro has run its course. Florida voters appear to agree.
Ted Cruz isn't waiting until next week for the demise of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential campaign. The morning after finishing second to GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump in three states (Mississippi, Michigan, and Hawaii) and winning a fourth (Idaho), Cruz kicked off the next stretch of the campaign with a rally in Rubio's backyard—Miami—and he did not come in peace.
As many political observers have noted, the Texas senator's pivot toward the Sunshine State is apparently motivated by one impulse: to finish off Rubio. Florida is a winner-take-all state, and Cruz is not seen as a strong bet to beat Trump there. Under conventional calculations, there would not be much reason for Cruz to spend time and resources in the state. But Cruz apparently has another goal in mind: to take away votes from Rubio and crush the Florida senator's last-ditch hopes to win his home state and remain a player in the presidential race.
At the rally, Cruz let his opening act handle most of the knife-work. "Floridians are abandoning Marco Rubio," declared Miami-Dade GOP vice chair Manny Roman, a Cuban American who was censured by his local party committee last year for breaking ranks and endorsing Cruz. He rattled off the results of Tuesday's elections and said, "I'm calling on Marco Rubio, especially after last night, to suspend his campaign and endorse Ted Cruz." The crowd roared with delight.
Then it was Cruz's turn. He boasted of his victory in Idaho, and he told the gathering—which included Rubio's base voters (conservative, Hispanic Miami-Dade County Republicans)—that the man whom they had elected senator six years ago was toast. "There are only two candidates this race that have any plausible path of getting to 1,237 [delegates]," Cruz proclaimed. It was a "clear two-man race," he noted, making his now-familiar case that it's time for the party to unify between the one candidate left who can beat Trump. That is, himself: "It's easy to talk about the party coming together, but talk without action, words without action, are empty."
Cruz announced the presence of a special guest: a former Republican presidential candidate with business experience and a long record of talking about foreign policy. No, it wasn't Mitt Romney, but onetime Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Before dropping out of the race, Fiorina once observed that Cruz was someone who "says whatever he needs to say to get elected." But that has since been forgotten. She was greeted warmly by the Cruz supporters. Talking about last week's Virginia primary, Fiorina said, "I saw my own name on the ballot—it was kind of a thrill. But then I checked the box for Ted Cruz."
Miami-Dade Republicans were likely not waiting for Fiorina to endorse a candidate before deciding how to vote. But with Rubio desperately seeking a miracle win in Florida, Cruz, who lags in third in the polls here, seems determined to make certain Rubio loses—even if that means Trump bags all the state's delegates.
To use a historical analogy, Rubio is Mufasa, desperately clinging to the edge of a cliff to escape the unexpected stampede of wildebeests. And Cruz flew all the way down to Florida…to push him off.
On the campaign trail, Sen. Bernie Sanders often mentions his work as a civil rights activist in the early 1960s, when he was a campus organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). As a leader of the University of Chicago chapter, he led sit-ins to protest racial discrimination at university-owned properties and picketed a Howard Johnson's restaurant.
Now we know a little bit more. L.E.J. Rachell, a researcher with the CORE Project, which is dedicated to collecting and preserving the records of CORE, recently uploaded four documents offering more details about Sanders' involvement with the group. During this period in 1961, UChicago's CORE chapter was sending white and black volunteers to university-owned housing facilities in the neighborhood to determine if the school was honoring its anti-discrimination policy.
The most interesting of the CORE Project documents is a testimonial written by Sanders himself. In it, he details a "test" he conducted of a hotel just off campus. He visited to see if it would rent a room to his older brother, Larry, and the clerk assured him that they would. When UChicago CORE finished its testing, the results were clear—rooms that were available to white students were not available to black students. The next year they launched a series of sit-ins to force the university's hand.
Take a look:
The CORE Project
Here's a testimonial from Wallace Murphy, an African American man who visited the university realty offices to inquire about an apartment rental one week before Sanders' drop-in:
Tim Murphy and Jeremy SchulmanMar. 3, 2016 2:25 PM
On Thursday, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney trashed his party's 2016 front-runner, Donald Trump, as a phony and con artist who is leading the GOP to electoral disaster. And sure, there's some truth to that. But the two formerly pro-choice Northeast Republican businessmen have more in common than they'd like to acknowledge—from their records on immigration to their favorite sport(s) stars to their choice of profanity. Okay, maybe not the last one.
See if you can tell them apart:
Photo credits: Trump: Allen Eyestone/Zuma; Romney: Eric Draper/Zuma
For months, Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has counted on a big performance on Super Tuesday, when delegates were up for grabs in 11 nominating contests. After it racked up a big win in New Hampshire and came away with virtual ties in Iowa and Nevada—and lost disastrously in South Carolina—the senator from Vermont was quick to point out that on March 1, voters "will pick 10 times more pledged delegates on one day than were selected in the four early states so far in this campaign." And on March 1, his campaign got shellacked.
In five Southern states, where African American voters made up a large portion of the electorate, Hillary Clinton left Sanders in the dust. Three days after conceding the South Carolina primary by 48 points, he lost by overwhelming margins in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas. In Texas, where the majority of Democrats are nonwhite and 252 delegates were at stake, he lost by more than 30 points. Sanders banked heavily on strong performances in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, and Oklahoma, and he was counting on winning at least three of them. (He'd left South Carolina behind last week to campaign with Iron Range workers in Bob Dylan's hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.) He did win three, along with his home state of Vermont, where just 26 delegates were at stake. But a loss in Massachusetts was a setback, and the enormous margins down South set him way back in the delegate count.
Tuesday's results put Sanders in a difficult position as the campaign shifts into high gear this month, because they challenge the underlying theory of how he can win. The premise of his underdog campaign was that he could score a few early victories and build momentum for states down the road. Once voters in those states saw he was the real deal, the thinking went, they'd give his candidacy a second look. Those early victories were essential to expanding his coalition and, to a lesser degree, to convincing at-large superdelegates to join his side. To put it bluntly: If Sanders can't win a white liberal state like Massachusetts, there aren't too many other states he can.
Things will get worse for Sanders before they get better. Because of the way the primary map is drawn, Clinton's best states—basically, Southern states with high African American populations—will all have voted by the middle of March.After Kansas, Nebraska, and Louisiana vote on Saturday (where the prospects are good, good, and very bad for Sanders, respectively),he'll hit a brutal two-week stretch in which 980 delegates will be awarded in Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Clinton is the clear favorite in almost all of those states.
But while Tuesday's performance might usher in the chorus of Clinton allies calling on him to drop out (as if they needed the excuse), Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, pledged that the campaign would push on to the convention. And he has the means to fight on if he wants. Money, the perennial candidate killer, is not an issue—at least not for now. Sanders raised an absurd $42 million in February—$6 million of it on the Monday after the South Carolina blowout. Because he relies so heavily on small-dollar donors who haven't hit the $2,700limit, he can in theory keep circling back for more money to buy ads and build organizations in every state that comes up. And if he can roll with the punches, he just might make it to the sweet spot of the schedule, a four-week, 15-state stretch that represents his last best shot to turn things around, starting with Idaho, Utah, and Arizona on March 22. If he can't reel off a winning streak then, it'll be over quick.
Sanders seems determined to push forward, but he has given little indication he'll try to replicate the kind of scorched-earth approach his opponent employed against Sen. Barack Obama eight years ago, or that the Republican field is currently employing against Donald Trump. He's not running again in four years, when he'll be 78; he's not angling for a spot on the ticket; and he's made clear he plans to support whomever the Democrats nominate.
Moments after he lost in South Carolina last Saturday, his campaign blasted out yet another fundraising email, this time with a message from the candidate. "When I first decided to run for president," he wrote, "my greatest fear was that if I were to run a poor campaign or did not do well, that it would be a setback not just for me, but for the ideas driving our campaign." It was a glossier version of what he'd told a reporter last March, months before he ever entered the race—that "if I do it, it has to be done well, and that's not just for my ego." He's done all of that and accomplished a great deal, but the math is looking pretty grim.