For months, the punditry’s core assumption about the Democratic presidential primary has been that Bernie Sanders’ authenticity and unabashedly robust agenda to combat inequality pose serious threats to Hillary Clinton. The underlying idea has been that Clinton’s aura of triangulatory (is that a word?) centrism would cause serious skepticism among liberal Democratic voters, and any Clinton efforts to move to the left would risk seeming inauthentic, unprincipled, and superficial in comparison to Sanders.
Today’s New York Times/CBS News poll seriously undermines this assumption. The poll shows Clinton leading Sanders by 52-33 among Democratic primary voters nationally.
And it also finds that Clinton has effectively tied Sanders or leads him among Democratic voters on the issues that were supposed to give him the advantage:
— Among Democratic voters, a total of 84 percent are either very confident (39) or somewhat confident (45) in Clinton to “make the right decisions about the economy.” For Sanders, the total is 68 percent (32 percent very confident and 36 percent somewhat confident).
— Among Democratic voters, a total of 67 percent are either very confident (25) or somewhat confident (42) in Clinton’s ability to “help reduce the gap between the rich and poor.” For Sanders, the total is 64 percent (30 percent very confident and 34 percent somewhat confident).
— Among Democratic voters, a total of 70 percent are either very confident (30) or somewhat confident (40) in Clinton’s “ability to make the right decisions when it comes to regulating large banks and financial institutions.” For Sanders, the total is 65 percent (29 percent very confident and 36 percent somewhat confident).
— Among Democratic voters, 62 percent say Clinton “could bring about real change in the way things are done in Washington,” while 51 percent say that about Sanders.
That last finding cuts against Sanders’ argument that he is the candidate who is not aligned with the establishment and thus is the one who represents genuine change. Meanwhile, Clinton has rolled out her own plan for regulating Wall Street but has stopped short of calling for the big banks to be broken up. (Paul Krugman has nonetheless argued that she has the better case on Wall Street reform.) And she is expected to roll out a tax plan that does not target the wealthy to the degree Sanders’s plan is expected to. Yet Democratic primary voters trust her marginally more than Sanders on all these questions involving inequality, Wall Street, and the economy.
All this is in spite of the fact that Sanders holds an edge over Clinton on “authenticity.” While only 52 percent of Democratic voters say Clinton “says what she believes,” 62 percent say that about Sanders. Today’s poll raises questions about how much “authenticity” really matters.
The usual caveats: This is only one poll. (Though another recent poll showed similar results.) There are more debates to come, at which Clinton could commit a major error. There could be new revelations about Clinton’s emails. And while Clinton appears to have solidified her lead in Iowa, it remains possible that Sanders could pull off an upset there, which, followed by a Sanders victory in New Hampshire, would seriously shake up the remaining contests. But it’s looking increasingly like Clinton may be on her way to neutralizing the most potent aspects of the Sanders threat.
* REPUBLICANS IN FULL SCALE PANIC ABOUT TRUMP, CARSON: The Post reports on widespread panic in Republican ranks as Donald Trump and Ben Carson continue to show real staying power. GOP consultant Charlie Black explains what might stop Trump:
Black said he was briefed on the findings of two recent private focus groups of Trump supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire that showed these voters knew little about his policy views beyond immigration. “Things like universal health care and other more liberal positions he’s taken in the past will all get out before people vote in New Hampshire,” he said.
Hmmm. Haven’t we been hearing this for months? The clock is ticking, and the voting is fast approaching, guys.
* REPUBLICANS PREPARE ANOTHER ‘CONTRACT WITH AMERICA’: Billy House reports that House conservatives are preparing up a list of demands designed to force House Speaker Paul Ryan to implement their priorities:
Members of the House Freedom Caucus are preparing a “Contract With America II” that would call for House votes in the first 100 days of 2016 on replacing Obamacare, overhauling entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and repealing the estate tax. [It] also calls for legislation to slash government regulations by 20 percent, cut corporate tax rates and expand offshore oil drilling.
This sounds productive. After all, the House hasn’t held enough votes on repealing Obamacare and “overhauling” entitlements (see the Paul Ryan budgets) yet.
* SANDERS MAY GO HARD AT CLINTON AT DEBATE: Bernie Sanders’ advisers tell the New York Times that he will go after Hillary Clinton on Saturday night on a range of issues, but only if he’s asked the right questions to prompt it:
Mr. Sanders believes it is fair game for him to talk at Saturday’s debate about the federal investigation into her use of a private email server as secretary of state, his advisers said. But he plans to discuss the issue only if he is asked about it, the advisers added, a caveat that seemed meant as a signal to the debate moderators, but that also reflected the vise in which Mr. Sanders has put himself by swearing off negative campaigning.
As I’ve noted before, the investigation into matters related to the email arrangement is absolutely fair game. The question is whether Sanders is willing to go beyond what is publicly known about the probe to raise voter doubts about Clinton. I doubt it.
* SANDERS STRUGGLES TO GET TONE RIGHT ON OBAMA: Jennifer Epstein has an interesting look at how Bernie Sanders is trying to figure out how to appeal to Democratic voters while criticizing Obama for not going far enough:
On the campaign trail in recent weeks, Sanders has said that, if elected, his presidency would be a “course correction” from the current administration. He’s been critical of Obama’s positions on a range of issues, including trade and Wall Street. And he taps into a dissatisfied strain on the left, drawing in the people angry that bank executives weren’t jailed, and who wanted a bigger stimulus bill and a single-payer health care system.
One question is whether there are enough Democratic voters who are motivated by this critique — and Sanders’ more robust agenda in general — for him to win. It doesn’t look like it.
* CLINTON HOLDS BIG SUPER-DELEGATE LEAD: The Associated Press reports that the Clinton campaign has already locked up the support of over half the “super-delegates” that will cast votes at the nominating convention. This once again illustrates the degree to which Clinton has locked up the support of Dem party actors and elites who hold hidden sway over the outcome of nomination battles.
* AND THE VIDEO OF THE DAY, TRUMP-VERSUS-CARSON EDITION: ABC News posts video of Donald Trump play-acting Ben Carson’s stabbing incident on stage before an audience of voters. Trump:
“He lunged that knife into the stomach of his friend. But lo and behold, it hit the belt! It hit the belt! And the knife broke. Give me a break. Give me a break. Give me a break….How stupid are the people of Iowa — how stupid are the people of this country — to believe this crap?”
We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a political race in which a candidate attacked a rival by arguing that he didn’t actually try to stab someone and that rival is insisting that, yes, he really did.