US politics ain’t for the faint-of-heart. Signs of desperation are emerging in the Democratic Party as Senator Bernie Sanders surges to the lead after three key polls – and party grandees worry whether mainstream United States is ready to elect a “socialist”.
Then, Republicans fear the US intelligence agencies, labelled “deep state” by President Donald Trump, are interfering in the election campaign. Intelligence officials briefed Congress this week on indications that the Russians are once again dabbling in US politics.
This caught Trump by surprise because his own officials hadn’t briefed him on what the lawmakers would be told – and led to a blitz of weekend TV on the news that maybe, possibly, the intelligence community had passed on the right “nuance”.
On Sunday, Sanders raced home in the Nevada caucus claiming 46% of the vote, trailed by former vice president Joe Biden with 19.7% and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg with 15.%. Senator Elizabeth Warren made only 10.1% and the rest were in single figures.
Michael Bloomberg was not on the ballot and is saving himself for Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states, representing one-third of Americans, will vote for their choice of Democratic candidate.
Trump salivates at the prospect of taking on a Democrat candidate. Bernie Sanders’ stall is based on eliminating private health insurance, making college a taxpayer entitlement, offering free health care to illegal immigrants, hiking taxes on the middle class, banning fracking and placing the government in charge of energy production.
Trump is in India this week, where NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters is also heading. In principle this is hands-across-the-sea diplomacy, broadening, deepening and widening investment, defence, security and trade prospects.
It is entirely possible Trump has more on his mind – the one million or so voters of Indian descent who by and large have voted Democrat but have been emboldened by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s near-annexation of Kashmir.
Democrats confront a conundrum: can Sanders beat Trump in November, given his left-wing policies? If not, then whom?
They have yet to coalesce behind a moderate candidate. It is hard to see Sanders (or Warren, assuming she makes the cut) moderating his stance on the key issue of health care.
Bloomberg supporters are nervous ahead of his next debate. He has no public platform manner and last week was torn to shreds by Warren and Sanders on identity politics and his “frisk and stop” policing in New York which nevertheless reduced the murder toll by 50% in a single year.
Warren lambasted him with the demand: why should two billionaire candidates (Trump and Bloomberg) face off in November?
No matter that both she and Sanders are only millionaires. No matter, either, that neither challenged his avowedly liberal policies.
The campaign to date suggests Sanders is the clear favourite even after only three rounds. Joe Biden inched forward last weekend but this coming week – and Super Tuesday – will be his last chance.
On Super Tuesday Sanders will confront Bloomberg, who has now spent around $US460m in advertising largely in Super Tuesday and swing states. Sanders is doing well on fund-raising for crucial TV and social media advertising but lags far behind Bloomberg who spends his own cash.
The Democrats’ convention will be held in Milwaukee in July. Already there is talk of a contested convention unless either Biden or Bloomberg can head off Sanders. Either way, Sanders has signalled he will turn it into a fight, arguing that only he is the candidate with wide multi ethnic support and deserves the nomination.