Andrew Sullivan on the Democratic candidates

January 19, 2020 • 11:30 am

Andrew Sullivan’s “Intelligencer” column is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly woke New York Magazine. His Friday pieces are usually in three parts, and this week’s (click on screenshot below) is no exception. The three topics are, in order, the progress we’ve made in gay rights and women’s rights, and those who deny it (Sullivan doesn’t mention the demonization of Steve Pinker for his progressivism), the Democratic candidates with Sullivan’s assessment, and a bit of “shade” thrown at Meghan Markle for marrying into the royal family, knowing what she was getting into, and then kvetching about it. (“Sorry, but if you choose to marry into royalty, you have to take the rough with the smooth: The fame and luxury of being a princess comes packaged with bad press, intrusive photographers, and constant public duty. If Meghan didn’t expect this, it’s hard to understand how not.”)

Surprisingly, Andrew, who still calls himself a conservative, seems to favor Bernie above the others, but is down on Warren and Buttigieg (who, like Sullivan, is gay) and has mixed feelings about Biden. But Sullivan is still pledged to vote for the Democrat. Here are his takes on Warren and Sanders:

On Warren:

The Democrat I think is most likely to lose to Trump is Elizabeth Warren. I admire her ambition and grit and aggression, but nominating a woke, preachy Harvard professor plays directly into Trump’s hands. And picking someone who has bent the truth so often about so many things — her ancestry, her commitment to serving a full term as senator, the schools her kids went to, the job her father had (according to her brother), or the time she was “fired” for being pregnant — is an unnecessary burden. The video she produced insisting that she was partly Native American, using genetic markers, should have been a disqualifier by itself. The lack of judgment was staggering.

On Sanders:

. . . Which leaves us with Bernie. I have to say he’s grown on me as a potential Trump-beater. He seems more in command of facts than Biden, more commanding in general than Buttigieg or Klobuchar, and far warmer than Elizabeth Warren. He’s a broken clock, but the message he has already stuck with for decades might be finding its moment. There’s something clarifying about having someone with a consistent perspective on inequality take on a president who has only exacerbated it. He could expose, in a gruff Brooklyn accent, the phony populism, and naked elitism of Trump. He could appeal to the working-class voters the Democrats have lost. He could sincerely point out how Trump has given massive sums of public money to the banks, leaving crumbs for the middle class. And people might believe him.

. . . On two key issues, immigration and identity politics, Bernie has sensibilities and instincts that could neutralize these two strong points for Trump. Sanders has always loathed the idea of open borders and the effect they have on domestic wages, and he doesn’t fit well with the entire woke industry. He still believes in class struggle, not the culture war. But he doesn’t seem to be trying to capitalize on any of that. Take a look at his immigration proposals.They are the most radical I’ve seen: essentially an end to any control of illegal immigration, with enforcement of the law at the border solely for human traffickers and gun smugglers; a moratorium on all deportations; an end to any detention of illegal immigrants; an open-ended amnesty for basically anyone who has gotten here. How you distinguish these policies from the “open borders” Sanders used to oppose is beyond my understanding. I believe that immigration control will matter in this election. The Democrats don’t. That’s their gamble, and Sanders is doubling down on it.


. . . So where am I? Not thrilled, I have to say. Bernie has the edge on energy and populism, but he’s so far to the left the Democrats could end up where the British Labour Party just found itself: gutted. Biden has an advantage because of Obama, his appeal to the midwestern voters (if he wins back Pennsylvania, that would work wonders), and his rapport with African-Americans. But he also seems pretty out of it. The others are longer shots. Bloomberg? The ads are good, but a billionaire who helicopters into a race late isn’t the right messenger in these times.

I guess I’m not that thrilled either; none of the candidates spark me the way Obama did. But, like Sullivan, I’ll vote for whichever Democrat survives the primaries. Since the Washington Post poll shows me as a Left-centrist, I lean away from both Bernie and Warren, but I’d be glad to have either as President, particularly considering the alternative.

h/t: Simon


45 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan on the Democratic candidates

  1. What concerns me about Bernie as the Democratic nominee is that the Republicans will attempt to crucify him as a Marxist, a twin brother of Lenin. Through thousands of commercials, they will focus on his more radical younger days. They will hit on this theme relentlessly.

    Rick Wilson is a former Republican strategist, who often appears on MSNBC. He hates Trump with a passion that no Democrat could surpass. In an interview, he says this about Sanders:

    “He’s 300 years old. He just had a heart attack. He is every cliché ever, in the history of the free shit movement. Republicans will turn Bernie into the worst caricature you’ve ever seen. He is the scary old socialist figure of their nightmares. But in this case, it’s not fake. He’s actually that guy. He’s got an unbelievably thick oppo file. They’re salivating over this guy. I still talk to guys in the mafia, in the Republican mafia. They’re working their hardest to make sure Bernie’s the nominee. They want Bernie to be the nominee. Bernie will lose every single state south of the Mason Dixon Line. No questions asked, including Florida, which you can’t lose Florida.”

    Wilson may be wrong, but I think he may be right. Republicans are very good at demonizing. In 2004 they maliciously destroyed John Kerry’s deserved reputation as a Vietnam War hero. In a close election, enough undecided voters may reject Bernie because of his past.

    1. “Republicans will attempt to crucify him as a Marxist”

      This is true. And the rest of it. But it is also true that Republicans will do the same regardless of who becomes the candidate. It is standard operating procedure for Republican campaigns. They don’t hold back demonizing any opposition.

      1. Of course, the Republicans will attempt to demonize whoever is the nominee. But red baiting has a long history in the U.S. and may be more effective than other attempts at demonizing.

        1. The point is that all Democrats are considered communists when it comes to Republican propaganda. There’s no point in allowing fear of this slur to guide the selection process. If Democrats want to avoid having a candidate being called a communist, they will have no candidate at all.

          1. The pointier point is that Republicans will paint any Democrat in that fashion, with desired effect on their base. But to centrists a Democrat is still ‘one of us’. While a socialist, like Bernie, will be discomfiting to many of the centrists if one makes it a point to point that out over and over.

            1. The people you point at are not centrists, Mark. I do not think there are more than a dozen people who will vote for Trump, who wouldn’t have if a “non-socialist” had been the candidate. “Centrists” aren’t at play here. Unmotivated voters are, IMO.

              (Although at this point I find it hard to imagine there are many people who are in the “not yet motivated to vote at all” camp who could be swayed in any way. But that’s my bias showing.)

      2. If Trump got struck by lightning and magically split into two identical beings except one ran as a Democrat (but otherwise had the exact same policy positions point for point), they’d still trash him as communist.

    2. I agree with GBJames. It doesn’t matter who the candidate is: Trump will find a way of demonising them.

      However, in the case of Sanders, I think this age is a valid criticism. I think he is too old to be President of the United States. The same also applies to Biden and, I think to a lesser extent to Warren.

      Of course, the age criticism also applies to Trump, but it’s quite a long way down the list of reasons why he should not be President.

  2. I personally hope that a more centrist candidate becomes a nominee. Not because that aligns with my own hopes for this country (it doesn’t), but b/c that candidate will do better in the large central states which carry too much weight in the electoral college.

  3. I don’t think either of the progressives has a great chance against Trump; they have a chance, but just that. There’s just too much baggage, and they haven’t yet been on the receiving end of the GOP Op research juggernaut- it will be filled with truths, half-truths, distortions and out-right lies. It will be a relentless barrage. Biden will also have this problem and is already mired in the Barrisma “scandal”. They’ll be asking: “What actually DID happen with his son Hunter, and what mission did Obama actually send him on…” etc. etc. The candidates can’t have anything similar to “Hilary’s emails” and Sanders, Warren and Biden do.

    I like Klobuchar as a more moderate, less baggage laden candidate. Right now my favorite to win Trump would be Yang. I was impressed with how he came across on Bill Maher’s show last Friday. I think he is the opposite of Trump and could trounce him handily. I think Pelosi would kick his ass too, but that ain’t gonna happen.

    Of course, I’ll vote for any Democrat that gets the nomination.

  4. Shame on all of you who will vote for whomever the DNC tells you to vote for

    The “Primaries” are just the point where the DNC decides who is best for THEM, it doesn’t nominate the peoples choice, it chooses for the people.

    Bernie is the only one not taking money from corporate interests, he is the only one who has the peoples best interests at heart and has fought for those people his entire life

    If the DNC doesn’t nominate Bernie then you will be giving trump another 4 years

    We are wise enough now to not let anyone tell us how to vote or who to vote for, and the oligarchy is scared, scared of Bernie and the changes he will bring so they are doing anything and everything to get anyone but him elected and all of you who will vote for who they tell you to vote for are going to be the death of this country.

    1. Shame on you for sermonizing. You show remarkable little respect for the intelligence of the rest of us who might not agree with you.

      1. I agree with GB James; you’re not persuading anybody by sermonizing. This sentence is offensive to me and to the readers:

        “Shame on all of you who will vote for whomever the DNC tells you to vote for”

        Knock it off. We are (generally) civil to each other here. Read the Roolz.

        Oh, and it’s the voters who decides who wins the primaries, not the DNC.

    2. I find you comment incomprehensible. Sanders has been in every debate. As far as I know, he will be in every primary. So, just how does the DNC pick the candidate? With you attitude Trump will be the only winner. I hope you are not the ideologue who revels in defeat, but feels confident that in the next election the “people” will come to their senses and vote for the only candidate who really supports their interests. The ideologue is a bitter, uncompromising person, disdainful of the hallmark of a democratic system – compromise, always wondering why things go wrong.

    3. The “Primaries” are just the point where the DNC decides who is best for THEM, it doesn’t nominate the peoples choice, it chooses for the people.

      Forgive me as a foreigner not proficient in the ways of the US political system, but I thought that anybody could register as a Democrat and vote for a candidate in the primaries. That suggests to me that the primaries are where the people tell the DNC who the presidential candidate is.

      The progressives of the Democratic Party are not as popular amongst the general populace as they think they are. This is the real reason why Sanders did not get the nomination in 2016. It’s why Sanders probably would have lost to Trump and it’s why the Republicans want him to win the nomination in 2020 (see Historian’s comment above).

      If the DNC doesn’t nominate Bernie then you will be giving trump another 4 years

      I think the reverse is true. If Sanders is nominated, Trump will have an easy ride to four more years.

      the oligarchy is scared, scared of Bernie

      The Democratic oligarchy might be, but the Republican oligarchy is not. What does that tell you?

      Anyway, whoever gets the Dem nomination, whether Sanders, Biden or Meglos the Cactus*, everybody who understands what a disaster Trump is must vote for them.

      *Meglos the Cactus was a pot plant (a cactus, in fact) that stood for and won the election for the student president of one of the colleges at my University. Meglos’s tenure was short because he(?) failed to survive a vote of no confidence on the grounds of not fulfilling his(?) duties on account of being a plant.

      1. Meglos and its people should have launched a discrimination case citing speciesism and ableism.

        Meglos was probably all a cactus could do, to the best of its ability.

    4. “If the DNC doesn’t nominate Bernie then you will be giving trump another 4 years”

      Alarmist and preposterous. You obviously don’t understand the irrational phobia American voters have around the issue of socialism/communism. Sanders is impeded with years worth of opposition research- Trump and the GOP will destroy him as a “commie”. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sanders, but he’s blood in the water for Trump and the GOP.

      The person who beats Trump has the least amount of ammo to give him. This would be someone like Yang, Klobuchar or even Steyer.

      1. I think the populace is roughly evenly divided, and turnout will decide the winner. Unfortunately this doesn’t help think about the best nominee. Sanders will motivate his voters but also will motivate the Republicans. Unless the Republicans believe their own propoganda and think that there is no way Bernie could win. Then they might get lazy and stay at home. If the Democrats nominate an unexiting candidate, like they did last time, many Dems will stay home and Trump will get 4 more years.

        1. If the Democrats nominate an unexiting candidate, like they did last time, many Dems will stay home and Trump will get 4 more years.

          Strongly disagree. I can practically guarantee there will be very high (record high) turnout on both sides. Trump is a different kind of candidate.

    5. The shame should go to anyone who would vote for Donald Trump over anyone the Democrats could nominate.

      If Bernie wins the most delegates during the primaries, he’ll be the Democratic nominee, the DNC’s preferences be damned.

  5. Choices are all pretty unappealing. Don’t see that any of them are qualified and gave any chance of brung elected. Not a good time for the country. I don’t see how it has held together this long.

  6. Andrew Yang seems to be best qualified as a president out of the choices and also best positioned to beat Trump. Much of the media, for reasons unclear, are trying hard to ignore him and limit his visibility.

  7. I feel compelled to defend New York against the charge of being regressive left. Yeah, their political writers are liberal to radical, but if they address culture at all, it is usually balanced. Andrew Sullivan really is no outlier.

    1. I think you’re right. Jonathan Chait is the magazine’s other star political columnist, and he’s left of center without being radical. He was also one of the first to criticize woke culture, back in the Obama era.

    2. Have a look at the last page of the magazine, which rates things ideologically on a two-axis scale. That tells you all you need to know.

      I read the magazine for a year and finally got sick of it. Yes, they do have some writers who aren’t uber-woke, but the whole slant of the rag is woke.

  8. I think in politics, the other guy’s opinions on various candidates don’t really help much. We either agree with them or don’t but no progress is made. The primaries will come and go and then we will see. Instead of worrying about who would be bad and who would be a worse candidate against the monster Trump, how about telling whoever the candidate is, how to win. The consensus is, we will vote for whoever the candidate is, right. So now let’s tell that person how to win not waste time saying what we don’t like about a candidate.

    Whether they throw him out of office or not, Trump is the bad guy here. We spent the first two plus years of his office learning about all the Russian help that got him elected and he has so far escaped paying for that. Don’t let anyone forget that. And now we have the Ukraine event and impeachment trial. Win or loose we can’t let anyone forget this one. His defense says it’s just a partisan and reckless obsession of the democrats. Wrong. He needs to go because he is a threat to the nation’s security. All the witnesses and documentation shows his effort to trade $400 million of U.S. aid and a white house meeting for politically motivated investigations. He obstructed congress by defying subpoenas for documents and people to testify.

    You could have the best candidate in the world to run against Trump and it doesn’t matter if you let him continue to cheat and rig the system so he wins. Try to work on that part of the future.

  9. To be fair to Meghan, I’m sure Meghan knew what she was getting into when she chose to join the Royal Family but underestimated how hard it would be to cope with it. I can imagine it sounds fine going in but the reality is just crazy and hard to get away from. It makes me thankful for my relative anonymity.

  10. I think Bernie’s biggest albatross is his calling himself a socialist. Sure, he prefixes it with “democratic” but that’s easily ignored. Trump and his cronies will turn him into a communist boogie man, something they are really good at. Socialism scares more people than it attracts, IMHO.

    1. I am thoroughly depressed by the whole thing, where a good candidate could lose the election because of a smear campaign based on a stupid, misunderstood and untrue criterion.

  11. In my comment #2, I was careful to opine that the Republicans would attempt to tar Bernie as a Marxist. I did not use the word “socialist” because as Axios points out that within the U.S. there is a growing discontent with capitalism and that socialist ideas, or at least a watered down version of them, are growing in support. It notes that “a Harris poll for ‘Axios on HBO’ finds that socialism is gaining popularity: Four in 10 Americans — and 55% of women between 18 and 54 — say they would prefer to live in a socialist country over a capitalist one.” It goes on: “When Americans say they want to live in a socialist country, they don’t mean they want to live in a Marxist command economy. Rather, they mean that they want universal health care, tuition-free education, and a decent day’s wage for a decent day’s work.”

    All this means is that many Americans, probably most Democrats, are growing dissatisfied with a system that has primarily helped the wealthy. Despite a soaring stock market (which can crash at any time), low unemployment, and a modest increase in real wages, non-rich Americans are being crushed by student debt, health care costs, and housing costs. Sanders has tapped into this. This is why Republicans will portray him, should he get the nomination, as a fanatical Marxist. If he is the nominee, how successful this effort turns out could determine the election. The reality of his proposals, as unattainable as they be, are ones that a sizeable number of Americans are in sympathy with, at least in theory.

    1. Good information. Don’t know about most out there but for me, if you just drive around and know the city you live in, there are really nice areas and there are a lot of not so nice areas. In these larger not so good neighborhoods the people are just getting by. The numbers of people in this condition is not getting smaller. And full employment does not mean good employment.

    2. I find Yang’s take on socialism interesting and feel it’s a more modern direction. I think it may be too early for this thinking just yet but think things will trend towards ideas like universal income in the future, as automation increases. We are increasingly in a world with an abundance of material resources and increasing ability of machines of various types to do traditionally human work. At some point it seems that our traditional economic systems won’t make sense and it will make more sense to just give things – at least some things – away for free.

  12. and a bit of “shade” thrown at Meghan Markle for marrying into the royal family, knowing what she was getting into

    How could she could possibly have known what she was getting into? She’s the first biracial royal.

    1. Meghan could never have predicted the narrative Britain’s vile tabloids would construct, of good English Kate (Middleton) versus nasty bad Meghan. They lambast Meghan in lurid headlines for doing exactly the same thing Kate got praise for: eg eating avocados and touching her pregnancy bump. No wonder Meghan and Harry want to put the Atlantic between them and the result: racism-by-any-other-name.

      1. Yeah in America we see those British tabloids from afar as a kookie and ridiculous, almost charming cultural oddity, but to be immersed in it and unable to escape or fight back must be quite a burden, especially given the racial (or “exotic DNA”) aspect.

  13. As Cato the Elder was wont to end every speech with Carthago delenda est, we responsible citizens of the US of A must never lose sight that all that really matters is that Trumpism be defeated.

      1. Google translate tells me it’s
        Nisi Quis Podex
        (although I coached it a bit regarding Trump’s cognomen at the end). 🙂

  14. Yes, but a lot of Democrats have bought into the Woke’s racial/sexual casteing system whereby status is firmly determined by race (White & Jewish vs the ‘Peoples of Color’) and sexual orientation (Cis-Males vs Cis-Females & ‘Spin the wheel and come up with a gender.’)

    Perhaps more disturbingly is the trend towards believing that in sexual assault trials the burden of proof should be reversed (e.g. guilt until proven innocent) or simply replaced with something where the ‘trial’ simply determines the punishment of the ‘Perp’ because whatever the ‘Survivor’ stated is true, no matter what.

  15. “If Meghan didn’t expect this, it’s hard to understand how not.”)She isn’t a Royal. She’s a plebian like the rest of us who have no idea what the Royals do. I understood they have public & private duties, didn’t understand, like Meghan, I’m presuming, that it was 24/7 for the most part.

  16. Hmmmm… I have grown to admire some of Sullivan’s writing thanks to this blog. But the Warren/Sanders comments reek of double standard – very disappointing. This: “The video she produced insisting that she was partly Native American, using genetic markers, should have been a disqualifier by itself.” Disqualifier?? And what of her telling of not being rehired while being visibly pregnant? “Preachy/woke.” What the heck is Sanders if not that?
    On top of that, virtually no thoughtful commentary on their actual policy positions.

    Puts a pretty big ding in my view of Sullivan, sorry to say.

  17. “If Meghan didn’t expect this, it’s hard to understand how not.” (1) She didn’t marry the heir, just the spare; (2) our American view of the Royals is dignity, always dignity (stodgy); and (3) she fell in love (with a nice guy) and Love Conquers All. Diana knew what she was getting into, but even she was overcome by the voracious monster the media had become. Time was that a stern word from the Home Office would quash bad press, but no longer. Add the internet and social media as they now stand and no, no one could possibly expect this.

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