Although the PredictWisebetting aggregator gives him a 16% chance of receiving the Democratic presidential nomination, grumpy grandpa Bernie Sanders ran away with the New Hampshire primary and finished a close second to Clinton in Iowa.
Not to be outdone by the data wonks on the campaign, Sanders ground teams apparently got into the act. With the Nevada caucus coming up later this month, in late January Sanders operatives disguised themselves as union members so as to gain access to employee areas in Las Vegas hotels while trying to gather votes. (The union has been very particular about not endorsing Clinton or Sanders.)
Although there's only been one real Democratic primary (and one funny other thing) so far, Sanders policies have begun subject to new scrutiny by media and commentators.
Writing from his usual spot in the NY Times Paul Krugman questioned the left's reflexive critique of the Affordable Care Act for involving the insurance industry. Krugman also cited health reform advocate Kenneth Thorpe's analysis that Sanders' health policy is twice as expensive as the campaign says it is.
Liberal platforms Salon.com and Slate took Sanders to task for promising to reduce mass incarceration. As Salon's Elias Isquith, among others, observes, this is not because it is ambitious, it is simply not possible. Fewer than 10% of people behind bars are Federal prisoners. Isquith quotes German Lopez:
... [M]ass incarceration is a conscious policy decision largely separated from crime and the economy. So to really significantly cut incarceration, what needs to be done is to pull back on incredibly harsh prison sentences — including, by the way, for violent offenses.
If someone doesn’t get this, he or she won’t understand the root of mass incarceration — and will have an incredibly hard time understanding how to fix it.
"Unlike his promises regarding health insurance and secondary education, then," says Isquith, "Sanders’ promise concerning mass incarceration doesn’t irk because it refuses to grapple with 'political reality.' It irks because it refuses to grapple with reality, period."
Or as Slate's Jamelle Bouie put it Bernie Sanders' "revolution" isn't good enough. He needs an actual plan for change. Bouie goes on to question whether Sanders' can indeed persuade mostly white working class voters with his economic message. Bouie is skeptical:
Underneath this is the common liberal claim that working-class whites are “voting against their interests.” But are they? There’s no doubt that some have channeled their frustration and anxiety into a kind of cultural and symbolic politics. But just as many, perhaps most, are voting on principle. Their disagreement isn’t false consciousness, it’s a statement of sincere belief. They vote Republican because they care about guns and abortion as issues with their own importance (they’re not “clinging” to anything). They don’t want to sacrifice their vision of an ordered society to win economic equality. They want society to reflect their values more than they want particular outcomes.
LGBT activist, rabbi, and Daily Beast's legal affairs and religion columnist, Jay Michaelson, puts it more bluntly. In his February 16 piece titled Dear Bernie Fans, a Vote for Him Is a Vote for Donald Trump, Michaelson writes:
The point of primary elections is not to select a president; it’s to select a candidate. For that reason, “electability” is not just one among many issues: It is the central issue.
— and asserts that he has not seen or heard a "plausible path to victory for Bernie Sanders." Michaelson continues with a frank assessment of Sanders and Clinton's chances in the general election. Granting that Sanders is more liberal than Clinton on "just about every substantive issue," Michaelson describes very clearly how that is a liability in the general election, not a strength. In the context of the general election, Michaelson writes, "the problem isn’t that Clinton isn’t liberal enough; the problem, according to the best data we have, is that she may be too liberal. Every time a Sanders supporter criticizes Clinton for not being progressive enough, to me, that’s a good thing, because she’s still left of center." To prove his point further, Michaelson digs into data showing how far out of sync with the views of a majority of Americans Sanders is. He then lists some of "what a Republican president would mean," and issues the challenge "Show me a Sanders path to victory, or admit that you’re making that choice, and putting the Republican Party in charge of all three branches of government."