In this edition: The pro-Sanders media figures out its next move, the candidates lay out their pandemic-fighting plans, and a new poll in Florida points to how this primary could end.
Live from Washington, with no studio audience, this is The Trailer.
DEARBORN, Mich. — Means TV, a socialist video channel that its creators see as a “Netflix for the left,” started its coverage of the Democratic primary on the day after Super Tuesday. That was the debut of Means Morning News, a show hosted by Washington-based journalists Sam Knight and Sam Sacks.
“We’re not worried, because this is what we’re up against,” said Sacks, before playing a montage of Joe Biden stumbling over his words in debates, speeches and interviews, then an ad that Sen. Bernie Sanders was running against the former vice president in Michigan.
One week later, Biden won Michigan, putting the nomination further out of reach for Sanders. Biden has led one of the quickest turnarounds in the history of presidential primaries. On the left, where a new media had grown up around Sanders and his campaign, the overall mood is shellshock.
The coalition of left-wing groups that backed Sanders is continuing to organize for him, but for similar-minded media outlets, it’s trickier. What seemed just weeks ago like a chance to take over the Democratic Party was looking like yet another defeat, and there was no good plan for what to do next. What had looked days ago like a sprint through four tough primaries looks to have been replaced by “virtual” events and a muted debate, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. That means a pause, at the worst possible time, for the sort of mass campaigning that the Sanders campaign was premised on.
“If Bernie is not able to win, then trying again would be the definition of insanity,” said Nick Hayes, a co-founder of Means of Production and its Means TV project, in an interview after one of Sanders’s final rallies before the primary. “We tried twice. We spent $100 million from the working class to do to this, and the Democratic Party wouldn’t let us win. From here, the options are either that we develop a new, outsider political party, or we focus on down-ballot races.”
Creating a new media, one that will cover the news from a left-wing and anti-capitalist perspective, has been an obsession for Sanders, long before he ever thought of running for president. In 1981, after being elected to the first of four terms as mayor of Burlington, Vt., Sanders told staff that they’d need to “develop our own media” to get a fair shake.
Sanders’s 2020 campaign did so, creating a Twitch.tv channel, a podcast, a newsletter and an unmatched social media presence, fighting back against negative or dismissive coverage. It had company, with socialist magazines like Jacobin and Current Affairs and podcasts like Chapo Trap House gaining vast new audiences and influence. That was in large thanks to the success of Sanders’s first campaign and its revelation that millions of voters under 30 have a positive view of socialists.
The new left media market grew as Sanders’s popularity did. Rising, a morning show on the website of the Hill, has quickly branded itself as a “populist” media outlet, with left-leaning co-host Krystal Ball and right-leaning co-host Saagar Enjeti reporting from a world where Sanders could lose the nomination only if an anti-worker establishment blocked him from it.
“The responsibility is placed solely on the voters to suck it up and vote Joe,” Ball said in her post-Michigan primary commentary this week. “I’m not buying it. If the choice is Donald Trump or Joe Biden, you can mark me down as officially undecided.”
The left’s argument against Biden is twofold: He is wrong on policy, and he can’t win the November election. That first point began with substance, warning that Biden would bring to a general election all of Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities (support for major trade deals, a vote for the Iraq War) with none of her strengths.
In some corners of the left, there are fresh and baseless accusations of a stolen election. Greg Palast, an independent journalist who covers voting and voter fraud, warned Monday that California’s voting system was “stealing hundreds of thousands of votes from Bernie Sanders,” because voters not affiliated with the Democratic Party had to complete an additional step to get a primary ballot, a process that elections officials had been broadcasting to voters for months.
Lee Camp, a comedian and host of the show Redacted Tonight, told viewers of his YouTube channel that the March 3 primary in Massachusetts could have been stolen, because the first wave of exit polling, which is not adjusted for turnout, found Sanders ahead, only for the vote count to favor Biden.
“We need a recount, if not an entirely new election,” Camp said.
Redacted Tonight is broadcast on RT America, a Russia-funded network that registered as a “foreign agent” under pressure from the Justice Department. As Biden takes friendly fire from the left, his campaign has generally ignored it, while a chorus of liberals on social media warn that criticism that's amplified by RT or suspicious Twitter accounts is effective propaganda designed to hurt Democrats.
Asked what he'd say if critics of Biden were accused of advancing propaganda, Sacks of Mean TV, who worked for RT many years ago, said he'd “probably roll my eyes and say ‘here we go again.’ Talk like that would obscure the real issues with Biden, he argued.
“Joe Biden’s flaws as a candidate have been well known for decades and were frequently raised during the primary even by candidates who later endorsed him,” Sacks said. “If Putin really wants Trump elected, he should be thanking Democrats for nominating such a weak candidate.”
Since the results came in from Michigan, pro-Sanders media has generally taken that tone. This Sunday's debate, which will happen in Washington after worries about the previous setting in Phoenix, is looked at from here as a chance for Sanders to destroy the protective media bubble around Biden.
“If they have the debate, and Joe Biden falls on his face, then Bernie can win Florida, Ohio, Illinois, etc.,” said Cenk Uygur, the founder of the Young Turks, a left-wing news channel, during a recent appearance on “Rising.” (Uygur ran unsuccessfully for Congress this month.) “Biden has the lowest bar in human history. All he needs to do is not collapse in the debate, and people like [House Majority Leader James] Clyburn are worried that he can’t clear that bar,” referring to a call from Clyburn to cancel debates and shut down the rest of the primary.
At the moment, Sanders is still getting plenty of mainstream coverage. Cable news networks cut into programming to cover Biden’s 1 p.m. address on the coronavirus, then cut in again to cover Sanders for a 3 p.m. speech about the pandemic from Burlington. Biden talked largely about the crisis at hand, while Sanders went further, arguing that a Medicare-for-all system and larger welfare state would protect the country against the aftermath of a pandemic.
“The United States is at a severe disadvantage, because, unlike every other major country on Earth, we do not guarantee health care as a human right,” Sanders said. “We need to make sure that in the future after this crisis is behind us, we build a health-care system that makes sure that every person in this country is guaranteed the health care that they need.”
If Sanders does not quickly gain on Biden, that could be one of the last speeches Sanders gets break-in coverage for. It also lined up with what the left media wanted to hear from him, as he tried to do in the “corporate media” what they would do across independent outlets.
“I would like him to focus on building working-class institutions, deeper and more effective than Our Revolution [the nonprofit he launched after 2016] and take a direct role in fronting them and popularizing them,” said Bhkaskar Sunkara, the founder and editor of Jacobin. “Then continue to be a tribune for Medicare-for-all and other key issues as a media figure. He has to really integrate and lead the U.S. left."
“Biden turns his focus from Sanders to Trump — and rebooting his own campaign,” by Matt Viser and Michael Scherer
The post-primary phase of the former vice president's campaign.
“Trump’s re-election chances suddenly look shakier,” by Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin
How two pegs of the 2020 campaign (a great economy, a socialism-versus-freedom choice) got kicked out from under the president.
How the New York congresswoman is playing out the end of the Democratic primary.
“Florida poised to stamp out Sanders campaign,” by Marc Caputo
Why the biggest primary next week will probably put Biden too far ahead to catch.
“For Trump, the coronavirus crisis is all about the numbers — and they don’t look good,” by Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb
A president handling his first real crisis, with an election looming.
Joe Biden's romp across this week's primary states has expanded his lead in the Democratic delegate count. But that count, even in the states that have voted already, is nowhere near finished.
According to Edison Media Research's study of the results so far, Biden has won 786 delegates out of the 1,851 available in the first primaries, and Bernie Sanders has won 645 of them. On paper, that puts Biden at 43 percent of all delegates selected and Sanders at 35 percent, a relatively close margin that Sanders himself referred to in his Tuesday media statement.
The big picture is a bit worse for Sanders. Candidates who have dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden have collected a total of 56 delegates, or 3 percent of the total. More importantly, 317 of the delegates on offer so far have yet to be assigned to either Biden or Sanders. The reason: As usual, it's taking a very long time to count votes in California, Colorado, Utah and Washington.
According to California's secretary of state, there are still 1,645,785 ballots left to count across the state, most but not all in the Democratic primary. Those ballots mostly come from voters who sent them in at the last minute, and provisional voters who showed up and cast ballots that they have to take an extra step to validate.
On election night, Sanders held a decisive lead over Biden, enough for some networks to call the race for the senator from Vermont. The count since then has narrowed Sanders's margin, though not enough to threaten his lead. As of Thursday morning, Sanders held 34.2 percent of the statewide vote, to 27.6 percent for Biden. Sen. Elizabeth Warren had gained in late counts, enough to leap over Mike Bloomberg into third place, but not enough to hit the statewide delegate threshold.
Still, the ongoing count is delaying the final tallying of delegates. In 2016, when there was a comparable pile of late-counted ballots in California, Sanders gained delegates from election night to the end of the canvass. Both Biden and Warren have made gains since last Tuesday. In House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 12th Congressional District, for example, Sanders now has 33 percent of the vote, while both Biden and Warren have 24 percent. If that holds up, just three of the district's seven delegates will go to Sanders, while Biden and Warren will each get two.
This unforgiving math is the reason Sanders's campaign is being covered like it's winding down, and not like it has a chance to reverse trajectory and win. In the headiest days for Sanders, a month ago, his supporters speculated that he could win all 415 of California's delegates, because no other candidate might get above the 15 percent threshold statewide or in congressional districts. That did not happen: Biden is viable statewide and in all 53 districts, while Warren hit viability in at least 11 districts and Bloomberg hit it in 13 of them. Sanders is on track to win 220 of California's delegates, giving him a lead here over Biden but probably one smaller than the 71-delegate margin Biden won in the five March 10 states that have counted votes already: Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and North Dakota.
Florida primary (UNF, 1,339 likely voters)
Joe Biden: 66%
Bernie Sanders: 22%
Tulsi Gabbard: 1%
The reason the next two weeks look so bad for Bernie Sanders is that Florida and Georgia, two delegate powerhouses, have the sort of demographics that have been brutal for his campaign. In UNF's first poll of the primary, taken with early voting still underway, Biden wins white voters by 46 points and leads Sanders among black voters by 50 points — comparable to his performance this week in Missouri.
The real damage to Sanders is being done by Florida's Latino voters, who skew far more conservative than Latino voters in most other states. Biden holds a 37-point lead with Latinos here, a major reversal from the results in Nevada, California and Texas, where strong performances with Latino voters helped Sanders win the first two states and only narrowly lose the second.
Iowa House races (Des Moines Register, 667 likely voters)
1st Congressional District
2nd Congressional District
3rd Congressional District
4th Congressional District
The same poll that found Democrats with a little bit of opportunity in the state's 2020 Senate race came back with great news for Republicans on the House map. In 2016, the Trump campaign carried all four of Iowa's districts; in this first test, conducted before the coronavirus outbreak began dominating the news, voters in each district were open to voting Republican in 2020.
That would mark a complete reversal from 2018, when Democrats held the 2nd District (southeast Iowa), flipped the 1st and 3rd districts (the Des Moines area and southwest Iowa, and northwest Iowa, respectively), and narrowly lost the 4th District to embattled Rep. Steve King. The result in the 2nd District is particularly heartening for Republicans: Longtime Democratic Rep. David Loebsack is retiring this year, and while Democrats recruited their top-choice candidate, former state senator Rita Hart, Republicans recruited strongly there and in every other district they lost two years ago.
On the trail
The next big events on the primary calendar are Sunday's debate and the 557-delegate haul available in the March 17 primaries. But 20 more delegates will be selected in the days between then — 13 in the Democrats Abroad primary, and six more in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Together, they represent one of Sanders's best chances this month at scoring clear wins over Biden, even if the prizes are relatively small. The NMI Democratic caucuses will take place Saturday in the World Resort’s Taga Ballroom in Sapian, the biggest city in a territory with fewer than 60,000 citizens. The Sanders campaign is fighting for delegates here, putting Shannon Jackson, who ran the campaign in New Hampshire, on the 33-hour flight to Saipan.
Like the American Samoa contest that went to Bloomberg last week, the NMI caucuses have a tantalizing delegate-to-voter ratio. Four years ago, just 189 Democrats participated in the caucuses and 102 of them backed Clinton. That gave her four delegates to two for Bernie Sanders. She was helped by the endorsement of the territory's congressional delegate, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, who endorsed Joe Biden this week.
The tens of thousands of expats in Democrats Abroad pack a little less punch; in 2016, they cast about 2,600 votes for each delegate they assigned. Their contest began last week, and the deadline to send in ballots was Tuesday. Four years ago, Sanders won this vote by a 38-point landslide over Clinton, netting him five delegates over her, part of a long period where he scored wins in lower-profile contests and cut into her lead.
The 11th Democratic primary debate will be held in Washington, not Phoenix, after concerns about the logistics of the event forced a rethink by the party and its partner, CNN. Univision host Jorge Ramos, who was supposed to be a moderator on Sunday night, will step aside, following the news that he was in contact with someone who was in proximity to a coronavirus patient. (Ramos himself has not tested positive.)
“Out of an abundance of caution and in order to reduce cross-country travel, all parties have decided that the best path forward is to hold Sunday’s debate at CNN’s studio in Washington, D.C., with no live audience,” said the DNC's communications director, Xochitl Hinojosa, in a statement.
The DNC's initial debate rules, set out one year ago, scheduled six debates in 2019, to be held outside of the first four primary states, and six debates in 2020, with one in each of those states. The party and the network had already scaled back the Phoenix debate, canceling media credentials and nixing the audience and spin room for an event that was supposed to unfold downtown.
If not for the coronavirus outbreak, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders would be flying between the four states that vote March 17: Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.
Biden has already scrapped a Florida stop today and is expected to cancel a Chicago stop. The Sanders campaign, which sees (or saw) Arizona and Illinois as its best targets for wins next week, was looking at the possibility of a final Illinois rally, after an event last weekend in Chicago's Grant Park drew out more than 10,000 people.
But it's looking unlikely that Sanders will hold a rally ahead of Sunday's debate, and it's unclear whether the president will stick to his rally schedule, which was set to pick up later in the month.
“Nobody was showing up to their rallies anyway,” President Trump said of the Democrats on Thursday, as global financial markets reeled over the impact of the virus. “My rallies are very big. They're very big rallies. And we'll be making a decision at the appropriate time. The next one is scheduled is for the 25th, and that's in Tampa, but we'll have to see whether or not we do it.”
Democrats running for president largely ignored Trump, except to tell him that he was bungling the crisis. At an afternoon event in Delaware, Biden released his own plan to combat the pandemic, while criticizing the president for scrapping the response network that the Obama-Biden administration created to deal with the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
“Another tax cut to Google or Goldman or millionaires won’t get the job done,” Biden said. “Indiscriminate corporate tax subsidies won’t effectively target those who really need help. We need to place our focus on those who will struggle just to get by.”
Two hours later, in Vermont, Sanders released his own plan, with a greater emphasis on a new plan to restructure the entire health-care system, with universal health insurance that would eliminate disparities in treatment, as well as moratoriums on foreclosures or other economic impacts on workers affected by the aftermath.
The coronavirus is on the scale of “major war,” he said, “and we must act accordingly.”
… three days until the 11th Democratic debate
… five days until Super Tuesday III
… 12 days until the Georgia primary
… 17 days until the Puerto Rico primary