Poor Strategery: Elizabeth Warren Tilts at the Misinformation Windmill

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    I really don’t understand this fixation with playing the game of amateur Beltway pundit.

    Beltway pundits who focus on strategery, guys like Chris Cilizza and Mark Halperin are the guys who are mocked and for good reason.

    Why the desire to imitate people who have nothing useful to say?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      And football! Don’t get me started! There are people who watch 6 hours of games on Saturday and then watch 6 hours of games on Sunday! And then, get this, talk about how they are looking forward to Monday Night Football!

      To answer your question, I’ll say what *MY* fixation is.

      I want to make my mental model of the world as close to the world as I can. The only way that I can do this is to look at how things are moving around, say “the thing that will happen next is X!”, and then see what happens and compare it to X.

      If something else, something else *COMPLETELY* happens, then I know that my model was wrong.

      But if I don’t guess that X is going to happen before either X or ~X happens, I can easily see myself falling into the trap of telling myself “Of course that happened. I knew it.”

      When, really, I didn’t even *HAVE* a model of what was going to happen in the first place.

      As for why people mock Cilizza and Halperin, I might ask you to consider that they are mocked for reasons different than “oh, they’re focusing on strategery!”Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        No, I’m pretty sure they are mocked for fixating on strategery.

        For being snide and cynical, for being facile and petty.

        They have no useful insights or ideas. They traffic in the most banal and vapid observations devoid of any sort of grasp of how citizenship in a republican democracy works or why its even important.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          I’m pretty sure they are mocked for fixating on strategery.

          No, I disagree.

          They have no useful insights or ideas. They traffic in the most banal and vapid observations devoid of any sort of grasp of how citizenship in a republican democracy works or why its even important.

          Oh, yeah. You do see why people mock them.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        (And, yeah, there are always Mules jumping into the storyline and so you go from “I think that this attack on Bernie’s alleged sexism will harm Warren in Iowa” to “the presidential candidate who demands that NBA stars take a limousine will surge” in a snap. But people who say “that’s why you shouldn’t even try!” will think that they have a point that the people who say “no, it’s about getting closer, not getting a bullseye” will never, ever concede.)Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      I suspect that the desire is because lots of political junkies are more into the horse race than policy debates. Debating and discussing policy is hard, long, often boring, and commands lots of details. Horse race punditry is easier. Plus for the amount those guys get mocked, they are wealthy and successful

      https://www.cjr.org/the_profile/chris-cillizza-cnn-politics.php

      During the Obama years, I remember seeing a political cartoon where Uncle Sam had an elephant and donkey in headlocks and saying “Now I want you two to stop fighting and start working together” or something close. I imagine that a lot of people see politics this way. There is team America and Democrats and Republicans should work together. The idea that the parties are made of people with radically different visions of what society and policy should look like just washes over people’s head. Maybe some of this is because of Beltway pundits playing BSDI. But I imagine it is because most people are not really political and see ideology as something strange and foreign as a concept.Report

      • Avatar Ozzzy! in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        If the question: Which do you [random voter] dislike more? Horserace stans or Policy wonks? was asked, I’m not sure I could tell you where that poll comes out and certainly couldn’t tell you which answer was better.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      …on a joint blog dedicated to culture and politics? You don’t get that? Have we met?

      I think Andrew makes a pretty solid point citing Iowa polling on issues and questioning the wisdom of introducing an “issue” that doesn’t poll a week prior to the vote. Does it make it better or worse if I as a sales professional agree that this is an amateurish error for (at least) two simple reasons:

      1. In the final (closing) stages, you have to have already identified the key value props important to the client and how you best solve them… and then must emphasize those (and only those).
      2. The time to “change the battlefield” is early and can be a very good tactic; if you do it late, however, it signals you’re losing or lost and almost never works.
      2.a. You still have to identify issues/problems your clients/voters care about.
      2.b. Don’t try to change the battlefield to a feature you don’t have.

      Whomever is advising Warren (I assume she’s being advised), is basically taking her brand and turning it into a parody.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Marchmaine
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        says:

        Are you and I speaking as engaged citizens who are deciding who we should elect to serve our nation as its President?

        Engaged, as in, are you and I active participants with a critical stake on the outcome? Participants with interests and opinions of our own?

        Or are we speaking as passive disinterested spectators to some sales and marketing event?

        Are you opining on Elizabeth Warren’s fitness to be President? Or are you opining on her idea’s merit, good or bad?

        Or merely on its ability to persuade some third parties who aren’t present here?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          People should be allowed to think about things differently than you do, Chip.

          Your failure to appreciate heterogeneity in a culture does not behoove you.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          I’m still not getting the meta-criticism. The answer to all the questions are sometimes yes, sometimes no.

          With regards the caucus in Iowa, you and I sitting in CA and VA are not engaging as citizens deciding who we should elect. The people of Iowa are caucusing, and the 16 things that are important to them are the 16 things Candidate Warren should pay her people to find out.

          If she’s trying to persuade Chip in CA with a communications policy that plays well in CA but doesn’t register in IA, then Andrew in WV and March in VA are engaging in politics to wonder what exactly she’s hoping to do. And in that respect we’re absolutely spectators observing how she manages her campaign. An article about campaign Strategery doesn’t seem out of place to me.

          So I see no meta-disconnect, nor a failure of blogging, nor of citizenship.

          We could certainly have an engaged citizen discussion about the Elizabeth Warren platform; the pros/cons, things we’d support, things we’d like to see emphasized, and the things that would drive us away.

          We sorta had those with the Candidate Support posts… though maybe after Iowa and we’re winnowed down to 3-5 with clearer pictures of what each candidate is pitching/pursuing… might be a good thing to have again.

          I suppose its a good question whom we hope to influence with all our scribbling here… goodness knows I can’t get you to ditch the Democrats and become a good Distributist… but then based on all the articles I read by the professional pundits, I’m convinced a few stop by for ideas. But mostly I just come here to see what Liberals think they should think as Engaged Citizens.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Marchmaine
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            says:

            My objection is to the fascination with cleverness and marketing instead of ideas and interests.

            The final collapse of a republic is when the people themselves lose faith in their own power and celebrate dishonesty as cleverness and cynicism as realism.

            In this essay, we are being invited to opine on how Warren’s message will be received by the audience. The essay critiques her performance as a speaker and performer rather than her content.

            It assumes a posture of knowingness and savvy, of being privy to a superior insight into the minds of the people and how best to persuade them. It critiques her sharply for not caring about winning and faults her for focusing on an idea that in the author’s mind, no one cares about.

            This is really an insult to the rest of the American citizens.

            Its saying that we need to be given messages in dazzling theatrical displays of rhetoric or else we will lose interest. And if anyone does lose interest, it is the fault of the speaker’s poor grasp of theater, not the audience for failing to perform their duties as citizens.
            It celebrates the theatrics and shuns the message.

            Back in 1969 Joe MCGinness wrote “The Selling Of The American President” about the marketing effort for the Nixon campaign.
            It was considered shocking and insulting, to assert that political campaigns sold politicians like bars of soap.

            Today, we have the entire Beltway press corps and pundit class celebrating that very fact, admiring the spin doctors and press flacks for their ability to shape and manipulate the people.

            And their vocabulary has become ours; Ordinary citizens go around speaking of “optics” with the smirk of one who knows that Santa isn’t real and the man behind the curtain is a humbug, but smugly satisfied in the knowledge that the rest of the citizenry is unaware of the fact.

            But of course, these are the most gullible marks and rubes, the ones who think they are in on the con. These people want to be ruled, rather than take part in self-governance.

            In every election, every single one, the citizens are tested to see if they are up to the task of governing themselves.

            And honestly I think we are failing.Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Chip Daniels
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              says:

              I see; nothing but elevator videos from here on out. I’m good with that.

              Honestly, you lose me when the criticism of the OP is that “It celebrates the theatrics and shuns the message” when the OP talking about the importance of focusing on the key issues facing Iowa rather than issuing what can only be described as a dazzling display of rhetoric.

              If I were to disagree even more vigorously with the thrust of the above, I’d say that Warren’s new communications policy is solely a dazzling display of rhetoric posing as a serious policy.

              But it seems you were moved by it, so if our republic is to fall it will fall between two stools of rhetoric.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    I won’t argue it isn’t happening (Jaybird showed elsewhere that it is exactly what is happening) but likening Warren’s ancestry controversy and the Sanders flap to misinformation campaigns just seems like bullshit. They’re not even close. If the best “attack” on that statement is to say, “YOU BOUGHT INTO A FAMILY STORY THAT PROBABLY WASN’T ALL THAT TRUE AND MAYBE INTENTIONALLY LEVERAGED IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE A FEW TIMES ALONG THE WAY!” then you really have no interest in truth and accuracy.

    This isn’t a defense of Warren, mind you. Just a criticism of bullshit.

    Whether it is a good strategy or not, I’ll leave to those smarter than me to discern.Report

  3. Avatar LTL FTC
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    says:

    Warren has been ruined by her loudest supporters. This has been clear for months. What those supporters care about is that someone who supported Bernie Sanders was mean to them on Twitter in 2016 and they blame Clinton’s loss on their failure to be With Her(TM) and Warren is the new Her.

    Warren’s support extends beyond these people, but they’re driving the campaign now. HeSaidICantWinGate seems to have tanked her polling because to anyone less online than Sady Doyle, it makes her look like a whiner. This latest gambit is more of the same. Outside of her supporters’ world, it’s more important to look ready to take on unfair attacks than creating a system where you can tattle to the principal when someone is being unfair.Report

  4. Avatar Pinky
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    says:

    The point of a primary is to win the general election. I don’t know if that distinction applies in this case, but it’s worth noting in general.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      In the past, the primary was best described as everybody running as fast as they could to the left and then turning around and running as fast as they could to the center.

      This time it doesn’t feel like that?Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        I always found the primaries to be like pro wrestling. All the work you’ve done building your career and your skills doesn’t matter if you can’t create a good character. It doesn’t even matter if your primary persona contradicts an older persona, or even your real personality. But once you make it to the Main Event at Wrestlemania, you get judged on your technical proficiency.

        Candidates position themselves as whatever they think will win them the primary, then they run as fast as they can to the center.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Pinky
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          says:

          I think “running to the center” is why the party establishment will do anything they can to stop Bernie, who is and always will be on the far left. Warren might have much the same problem, though I think her whole leftist persona is a sham, about as authentic as Steve Colbert being an arch conservative.Report

  5. Avatar North
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    says:

    I gotta admit I feel a little let down by Warren. In my happy fantasies Warren would be running a decent but not shining campaign, fighting with crazy uncle Bernie and splitting the lefty wing of the party neatly down the middle. With Warren struggling this badly I am wondering if one of several guard rails against Bernie are wobbling. It is disquieting.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Here’s what got me about Warren. The thing ain’t about the thing.

    The Native American thing? That could easily have been dismissed with a “Hey, I’m from Oklahoma. It was a family story that I believed and, yeah, it was wrong of me to identify as Native American but I believed a family story and I’m not going to apologize for believing my parents!”

    But that’s not how it was dismissed. Wanna go back and see what happened instead? It was this and this.

    The thing I noticed was the evolution of “HA! SHE PROVED IT! IN YOUR FACE!” to “why are we still talking about this?” over the course of 10 hours or so.

    It wasn’t the initial communicated belief in the family story thing that bugged me (hey, I have a Native American ancestor too!). It was the poor judgment in the doubling down and then the poor judgment in releasing the DNA results and then the poor judgment in seeing that doing so would be a win.

    The initial story was just a story. I could see how the folks who use the word “problematic” unironically might say that she was being “problematic” (indeed, Trevor Noah said so) but I don’t see how the original story was *THAT* big of a deal (bigger than a nothingburger, but not by much).

    It was the attitudes toward the not-quite-a-nothingburger that were the turn-off.

    And then when new things come up (e.g., the private school thing, the Bernie thing) I immediately see them through the lens of the Native American thing.

    Now, does this mean that she’d make an awful president? Not at all. I think that the Two-Income Trap Warren would be a decent enough president, all things considered, assuming a president.

    But you have to campaign to become president and, goodness gracious, Warren has done a fairly awful job campaigning. This last-minute pledge to not run on falsehoods doesn’t immediately strike me as a good idea and a good thing for everyone to campaign on. It strikes me as a tactic. A tactic to be picked up when convenient and dropped when inconvenient.

    Like a claim to Native American heritage.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Out of curiosity, does Trump calling her Pocahantas make it more or less of a nothingburger? It was going to dog her no matter what.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        At this point, I think it’s a turn-off for swing voters. His ardent followers will still eat it up and his ardent opposition will still see it as evidence of his racism rather than her problematicity (certainly now that she’s apologized for having been problematic) so no change there.

        But the people who could go either way? At this point, it’s spiking the football and that’s kinda crass. So, at this point, it hurts Trump.

        Before she apologized though, it was a solid jab from him that did some mixture of harming her and helping him.

        As far as I can tell.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          I don’t think it’s racism to slam people for their sham personas. Just today (or maybe yesterday) Trump was slaming Da Nang Dick Blumenthal, who charged up a hill under enemy fire twice to save his men, with his guys dying around him as he pulled survivors to safety – except that he was never in Vietnam. If “Pocahontas” is an insult to native Americans, shouldn’t “Da Nang Dick” be an insult to Vietnam veterans? But that doesn’t seem to be how it works.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Sure. And if she called Trump “Rapey McLieFace” we’d hear what a crass woman she is and how inappropriate it is and no one would say, “Hey, Mr. President, do you have a history of raping, lying, and lying about raping?”Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy
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            says:

            Well, let’s agree that your example is over-the-top and try to come up with a good jab that would work, coming out of Warren’s mouth, against Trump.

            Let’s even make it topical.

            “Trump told me, in one of the private meetings that groups of senators have with the President, that a woman was never going to be president. He’s a sexist and I need *YOU* to send me money and vote for me in Iowa to HELP ME PROVE HIM WRONG!”

            Do you think that this would resonate with Democratic primary voters?
            Do you think that Trump would be able to argue against saying this?
            Do you think that Trump supporters would be able to push back effectively against it?

            How do you think news media coverage of it would go?

            For the record, I think that this attack, if made against Trump instead of Bernie, would work pretty well. I think it’d resonate with Primary voters (maybe not in New Hampshire, but in Iowa). I think that Trump wouldn’t be particularly adept in fighting against it. I don’t think Trump supporters would be particularly good at fighting against it (pointing to how they can’t wait to vote for Ivanka, maybe?).

            And I think that it’d make for one hell of a juicy story.

            But that’s just off the top of my head.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      This is an example of what I was getting at in the other thread.
      Your criticism of Warren isn’t for dishonesty.

      You are criticizing her for a lack of cleverness and for an inability to artfully escape from a small lie.

      You completely understand her initial statement as an innocent mistake.
      But then you criticize her harshly for apologizing, and her followers for accepting the apology.

      Then, finally, you criticize her for affirming that she will not tell any more lies!

      You seem to prefer artful lying to clumsy honesty.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        It’s worse than that, Chip. I’m not criticizing her for a lack of cleverness.

        I’m saying that the reason that she hasn’t caught on nationally is a lack of cleverness.

        I’m not criticizing her harshly for apologizing. I’m pointing out that she only apologized after getting a DNA test, yelling “IN YOUR FACE”, spiking the football, and then having the Cherokee Nation send her a letter saying “you’re not a Tribal Member”.

        “Then, finally, you criticize her for affirming that she will not tell any more lies!”

        Allow me to copy and paste what I said:

        “This last-minute pledge to not run on falsehoods doesn’t immediately strike me as a good idea and a good thing for everyone to campaign on. It strikes me as a tactic. A tactic to be picked up when convenient and dropped when inconvenient.”

        I’m not criticizing her for her affirmation. I think that it’d have been a great thing to start with.

        At this stage in the campaign, it strikes me as a tactic. Certainly after the Bernie… erm… “incident”.

        I’m not getting after Warren for dishonesty because THIS IS A POLITICAL CAMPAIGN AND SHE IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT.

        Of course she’s lying.

        The fact that she’s campaigning *POORLY* is, in fact, something that can be looked at and *NOTICED*.

        And the fact that Democratic Partisans are against *NOTICING* reminds the EVER-LIVING-CRAP OUT OF ME OF CLINTON.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Your entire argument boils down to “She handled it clumsily and lost support”.

          Which means logically that if she had handled it exactly the same way, except caught fire and rose to the top of the polls, you would be telling us what a wonderful clever politician she is and how weak the other candidates are.

          Which is the basis of my criticism.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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            says:

            It depends.

            When she was busy getting a DNA test, yelling “IN YOUR FACE”, spiking the football, and then having the Cherokee Nation send her a letter saying “you’re not a Tribal Member”, was I saying “well, gee… this could go either way…” or was I saying “it seems to me that she shot herself in the foot” to people who went from arguing that this was a win on her part to people, 12 hours later, wondering aloud why we were still discussing this?

            Because, if I was, I could see how I could see this as part of a narrative rather than as an isolated incident, trapped in amber, without context to any other act.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              And given that I sort of said “she shot herself in the foot”, if she had caught fire and was doing well, I could easily see myself saying “holy crap, she’s doing a lot better than I thought she’d be doing! She really recovered from shooting herself in the foot!”

              Without being dishonest.

              How’s this? If she comes in 2nd or 1st in Iowa, I will say “holy cow, she really exceeded my expectations!”

              Would that be okay?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Again, your argument is “whoever wins support is a clever politician”.

                Which is true, just a banal observation.

                Which is my criticism of the Beltway Pundit type of commentary which poses as a deep serious analysis but ultimately is as banal as “The team that puts more points on the board almost always wins”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                No, not exactly, (though it’s not much less banal than that).

                My argument is that when she shot herself in the foot, then she shot herself in the foot.

                Now that she shot herself in the foot, she’s limping.

                (There are a couple of other related, trivial, arguments. She should have known that pulling the trigger like that when the gun was pointed at her foot that that would have resulted in shooting herself in the foot. Also, shooting yourself in the foot is bad. Additionally, shooting yourself in the foot is avoidable.)

                You’d think that this would be a trivial observation but you wouldn’t believe the pushback I’m getting.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Given how Bernie is surging, and given that he currently beats Trump even when people are told he is a Socialist, it would stand to reason then, that the Socialism label is a clever winning move in America now.

                Is this how the logic works?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                er, well. The “label” for Warren isn’t “socialist”, it’s “pandering”, it’s “inept”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                There are many different explanations for Bernie’s surge.

                Yours, indeed, is one. Though I’d rephrase “that the Socialism label is a clever winning move in America now” to “that the Socialism label is a clever winning move in the Democratic party now”.

                I’d wait until his election to make the statement about “America”.

                Here’s a take I saw the other day that I enjoyed (and also provides an alternate explanation):

                Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                So the analysis here is that if Bernie wins, he is a strong candidate and Socialism is a winning message.
                If he loses, he is a weak candidate and socialism is a losing message.

                And we won’t know until the votes are in?

                Do you still wonder why I consider the pundit game an exercise in vapid nonsense?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                At this point, I don’t know whether Sanders wins. (He could! He flips Michigan and Pennsylvania back!)

                The question is whether other states flip to Republican if Sanders wins and I’m not prepared to think about that quite yet. (Maybe after Super Tuesday.)

                But if someone looking at the situation right now said “Bernie is a strong candidate and his version of Socialism is a winning message” and Bernie goes on to win, I’d say that the person who observed that was observing something real. (Or could have been. I guess. If they say they dreamed it, that’d go in a different category than if they said that they saw speeches and saw how people responded and watched the polls and such.)Report

          • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Chip Daniels
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            says:

            Which means logically that if she had handled it exactly the same way, except caught fire and rose to the top of the polls, you would be telling us what a wonderful clever politician she is and how weak the other candidates are.

            Do you even politics, bro? This is a game that moves as you play.

            No one said this would be easy, no one said it would be fun.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
            Ignored
            says:

            Your entire argument boils down to “She handled it clumsily and lost support”.

            I know it pains you to consider this but maybe what we want in a President is someone who doesn’t handle things clumsily and lose support.Report

  7. Avatar CJColucci
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    says:

    While I would crawl naked over broken glass to vote for either of them over Trump, I’ve never thought that either Sanders or Warren would be particularly good at the job of Presidenting, and would be more useful where they are. That said, they, particularly Warren, would put good people in the right spots and let them do their jobs honestly, and the things they want to do that I disagree with aren’t going to happen, so I can live with what I perceive to be their shortcomings as administrators or wielders of executive power.Report

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