by Danny Katch (via Socialist Worker)
THE BIG winners of the dozen Super Tuesday primary contests on March 1 were the two frontrunners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations–but for the Democrats, that meant the status quo triumphed, while for the Republicans, it was more the status what-the-f%$k.
On the Republican side, billionaire reality TV star Donald Trump won most of the primaries and continued to build his early lead in the delegate count for the GOP convention. But his main challengers, Tea Partyier Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, increasingly the anybody-but-Trump consensus candidate for party leaders, both took a state or two to keep their hopes alive.
For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, the anointed candidate of the party establishment, swept to big victories in the Southern-centric Super Tuesday voting, though her democratic socialist challenger Bernie Sanders did well to win four state contests, based once again on support among young voters.
Nevertheless, with victories in Nevada and South Carolina before Super Tuesday, Clinton has regained her status as prohibitive frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, though, there’s much less certainty. Here are some observations on the meaning of the biggest day of elections on the primary calendar.
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Observation No. 1: Donald F@*#ing Trump
You think they’re so dumb
You think they’re so funny
Wait until they got you running
to the night rally
Those lyrics are from an old Elvis Costello song about fascism, and while Trump is less a fascist than a classic American right-wing demagogue, you can’t help but sense an ominous orange shadow drawing down across the country as you watch him blaze through the wreckage of the GOP–formerly the proud first party of American capitalism.
When Marco Rubio–the Florida senator with an incredibly conservative voting record in Congress, who nevertheless can pose as a moderate when compared to Trump and Cruz–freezes up for a moment during a debate, he sinks like a stone in the New Hampshire primary that followed.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump refuses to reject the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on live television–and later lamely claims that his earpiece wasn’t working–and days later, he takes a majority of the contests held on Super Tuesday.
Trump’s confident bigotry against Mexicans and Muslims is giving a boost to racists across the spectrum, from from white supremacist organizations to high school kids chanting “Trump” at basketball games against rival schools with large Latino populations.
But Trump’s appeal clearly goes beyond racism. While many working class and middle class people facing declining living standards are rallying to Bernie Sanders’ call for a “political revolution” against the domination of the 1 Percent, others seem to be in thrall to Trump’s claim that, with him, they can have their very own member of the 1 Percent to dominate on their behalf.
Like Sanders, Trump’s message is that the system is rigged. But he appeals not to the idealistic hope of making a “political revolution”, but to selfishness and cynicism. He’s running to be the con-artist-in-chief, the operator who knows his way around a crooked game. The more Trump lies, the more it feels to his supporters–and to all of us, in a way–that he’s revealing a deeper truth about the whole system.
Not that any of this can be neatly separated from Trump’s racism and scapegoating. The reality TV blowhard is proudly projecting some of the darkest elements of American culture–crude sexism, conspiracy theories, Internet trolling and flat-out cyber-bullying–that have been subtext in Republican politics for years but until now have scurried away from the harsh glare of daylight.
And this billionaire is selling all this filth as righteous anti-establishment anger. Could there be any more telling evidence of the bankruptcy of the two-party system?
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Observation No. 2: Is Trump Actually Going to Win?
Republican Party leaders are aghast at Trump’s rise. Not because they can’t stomach his racism–just two years ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan blamed Black unemployment on a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular…generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work”–but because they fear he can’t be controlled and will destroy the image of the party they run.
Even now, it’s hard to see how the Republican Party establishment could allow such a crackpot and fanatic to win the nomination. It’s hard…but it’s even harder to see how they’re going to stop him, at least based on what we know now.
On the eve of Super Tuesday, Ryan and other Republicans tried to use the David Duke incident to draw a line in the sand to rally the party against Trump. But after years of peddling coded racism–like, for example, phrases such as “a tailspin of culture in our inner cities”–the GOP honchoes are in trouble if they’re counting on principled anti-racism to take down the reality show demagogue.
Republican leaders face a bigger problem, too: They can denounce Trump all they want, but they don’t have a unified candidate to put up against him. Trump has never had the majority support of Republican primary voters–though some polls show him creeping toward 50 percent–but the party has been helplessly split among his rivals.
Ted Cruz won two states on Tuesday–his home state of Texas, no surprise, but also neighboring Oklahoma, which was a minor upset. But Cruz is just as much a self-promoting saboteur as Trump–and possibly even more unpopular than Trump among his colleagues in Congress.
Meanwhile, Marco Rubio managed just one win, his first of the campaign. He’s fought other conventional Republicans like Jeb Bush to become the seeming consensus candidate of Republican Party establishment. Only it seems that the “establishment” has lost its ability to control the right-wing base it let off the leash during the Obama years to obstruct any and all proposals from Democrats, even those that Republicans would have celebrated as their own a few years before.
Trump is still a long way away from locking up enough delegates to claim the nomination. And if the race has been this wild so far, there’s certainly more un-looked-for madness to come.
But it can be said that Trump has overcome each challenge so far from various sections of the political and media establishment, including the latest attempts to maintain a united front against him among Republicans. In the week before Super Tuesday, he picked up endorsements from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Reps. Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, among others. They figure they’re siding with a winner.
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Observation No. 3: Hillary Clinton Takes Control
Bernie Sanders has roughly the same amount of support among Democratic voters as Donald Trump has among Republicans. The difference is that Sanders is running for the presidential nomination in a party whose establishment is united behind his opponent.
While Republicans like Christie and Sessions are defying party leaders to hop aboard the Trump bandwagon, it’s striking that Sanders has been able to attract huge crowds andraise astonishing amounts of money from small donations–while getting virtually no support from any notable Democrats.
Just four members of Congress have endorsed Sanders. None of his fellow senators have, nor any nationally prominent liberals like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
In recent weeks, the Sanders campaign made a big deal about getting the support of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a diehard Islamophobe. The Clinton campaign calmly responded with the endorsement of the 26-member Hispanic Caucus.
Not only is there more unity within the Democratic Party for its preferred candidate–there’s more unity between that candidate and her leading rival. While Trump has systematically bullied Republican rivals like Jeb Bush and Ben Carson into irrelevance,Sanders has failed to really go after Clinton–not just because he’s averse to running a negative campaign, but because he is committed, as he frequently tells his audiences, to keeping the party united to prepare for the coming general election.
Of course, one big reason why Sanders has done well is the discontent with Clinton among Democrats, but the vast majority of those same supporters are likely to transfer their support to Clinton–especially if Trump does end up winning on the GOP side. But the months and years to come will only exaggerate the doubts and questions.
Sanders is far from done as a primary candidate. He has states that are much more favorable to him coming up, both in the next few weeks, and later on. But the long odds he has faced since coming into the primaries with the entire party establishment against him have only gotten longer.
In any case, it’s striking that in an election year when both parties have been rocked by class anger and anti-establishment campaigns, the Democrats look much more likely to come out the other side intact, if not strengthened.
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Observation No. 4: Why Is Clinton Doing So Well with Black Voters?
To many people of all races, it doesn’t seem right: Hillary Clinton is deeply implicated–through her husband Bill’s presidency, and in her own right–in the construction of the mass incarceration system that Michelle Alexander famously calls The New Jim Crow.
Yet Clinton is getting support from African Americans in the primaries at levels that approach Barack Obama’s margins in 2008–with well over 70 percent support from African Americans in many states, and ranging as high as 90 percent.
The most common explanations in the media range from illogical (African Americans are turned off by Bernie Sanders’ campaign theme of promoting economic equality) to painfully condescending (Black people just love the Clintons!)
It also doesn’t seem likely that most Black voters have been blown off their feet by Clinton’s discovery of the radical term “intersectionality”–though many are likely more impressed with her many recent public appearances with the mothers of police murder victims Sandra Bland and Eric Garner.
There has been no shortage of speculative opinion pieces about why Sanders’ populist themes don’t connect with Black voters. But journalists who have actually talked to Black voters found that many like Sanders’ message, but feel that Clinton is the safer choice–both as a known quantity and as a candidate against the hostile Republicans.
It’s worth noting how far to the left Clinton has shifted–rhetorically–to win this level of Black support. Contrast Hillary Clinton campaigning with family members of police violence to her husband Bill leaving the primary campaign trail in 1992 to travel to Arkansas to witness the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a developmentally disabled Black man.
We should also keep in mind that Sanders won 43 percent of the vote among African American voters under 30 in South Carolina–and that he is supported by prominent left-wing Black leaders like Cornel West, Ben Jealous and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
And, of course, there is the continued dynamic of Black activists challenging Clinton–most recently, when Ashley Williams unfurled a banner during a South Carolina fundraiser that brought national attention to an infamous 1996 speech in favor of her husband’s crime bill, in which Clinton talked about “super-predators” who have to be “brought to heel.”
Sanders hasn’t helped his cause by failing to make the fight against racism a central campaign theme the way he talks about taking on Wall Street. That’s a point that Coates noted when contrasting Sanders’ claim that it was “unrealistic” and “divisive” to fight for reparations for slavery–as if the same couldn’t be said about his calls for a “political revolution.”
But even if Sanders were stronger in focusing on anti-racism, the African American vote in predominantly Southern Super Tuesday states probably still would have gone for Clinton. That’s a sign of the distance a candidate like Sanders will need to go to win the trust of Blacks–and of the enduring hold of the Democratic Party machine, especially its African American leaders, in delivering the vote for a candidate who has no justifiable claim to their support.
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Observation No. 5: Take a Deep Breath, There’s More to Come
The nomination battles aren’t over in either party. Clinton may have returned to the status of prohibitive frontrunner, but Sanders has continued to gain ground in national opinion polls–and on the other side, who knows what Republicans are going to do about Trump?
More importantly, it’s a good time for the left to remind itself that history isn’t ultimately made by who wins elections, even the ones for the White House, but by the level of popular struggle in society. As the people’s historian Howard Zinn famously put it, “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but who is ‘sitting in.'”
We can learn something from the details of Election 2016, but there’s a bigger forest that shouldn’t be forgotten for the trees. It is a polarized picture: a dramatic increase in right-wing populism, strongly tinged by racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hatred, on the one hand–alongside the rise of left-wing populism that Bernie Sanders has done us the favor of labeling as socialism.
The task of revolutionaries during this election season, but also beyond, is to help the rising left fight the rising right, but also fight within the new left to sharpen its ideas and create a strong socialist pole.