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September 11, 2006

The Warner Bubble

I find all this talk about Mark Warner's acceptability as an alternative to Hillary rather puzzling. After all, as Ryan Sager says, Hillary's weakness lies in the massive gap open on her left. Yet Mark Warner, whom he touts as her primary challenger is, if anything, on her right. He's been basically pro-war, is moderate and incremental on domestic policy, loves to talk about bipartisanship, and blurbs books by pharmaceutical CEOs. He's quite possibly the only guy in the field who lacks the credentials or ability to consolidate on her left. Yet he's routinely talked up as her likeliest challenger, largely on the strength of a party he threw for some bloggers. It's bizarre. And there's just about no evidence to support it.

A glance at the DailyKos Straw Poll shows blog readers prefer Russ Feingold, Wesley Clark, and John Edwards (not to mention Al Gore). And this is before Warner's been defined as anything less pleasant than an electable southerner who throws cool bashes for the netroots. Looks to me like the guy's got nowhere to go but down -- it's hard to believe he'll attract more support as he comes under more scrutiny.

Hillary is, as the emerging CW holds, weak. But she's weak because this isn't a moment that favors moderates who talk a lot about bipartisanship and the "center." If Mark Warner is a good fit for the Democratic base, then Hillary will win the primary. If she's going to lose, then so will Warner. Warner isn't the anti-Hillary, he's the other Hillary.

September 11, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

There's two kinds of people who won't vote for Hillary. First, there are the electability people who think there's too much Hillary-hatred out there for her to win the general election. Warner probably has a lot of appeal to these people, since he has all the southern governor stuff and he could probably deliver Virginia.

Second, there are the liberals who oppose Hillary on the war and have real progressive economic views. Your analysis describes them well and shows why that RCP guy doesn't know what he's talking about.

The first camp is better served by John Edwards, and the second camp is way, way, way better served by Edwards. At this point, I think the most likely way for Warner to win the nomination is just for Hillary not to run, opening up the centrist path.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 11, 2006 8:49:03 AM

I think Neil's analysis is dead on. Sager's post reflects a confusion about Warner: some commentators think he's popular among netroots people because he's been courting them (without much luck) and because Markos has a rather idiosyncratic fondness for him. What's more, Warner is untested on the national level, as is Hillary, as is Feingold, as is Clark, as is Bayh, as are all the candidates except for Edwards, who, having run for vice president, endured a series of charges--ambulence-chaser, pretty boy, etc--and emerged with high approval ratings.People like the guy, a pretty good quality for a politician.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 11, 2006 9:19:35 AM

HRC had a responsibility to address Iraq; Warner didn't. HRC was and remains wrong on Iraq; Warner was silent on it, and is now basically right on it. HRC appears to have sold out her (presumed) deepest convictions on Iraq for idiotic political reasons; Warner doesn't have identifiable convictions. HRC is massively connected to the DLC; Warner less so.

There are lots and lots of reasons to dislike HRC, and to favor Warner over her.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Sep 11, 2006 9:28:31 AM

HRC is massively connected to the DLC; Warner less so.

Given that the DLC is not a powerful institution, I assume these "connections" are important insofar as they point to a certain centrist, incrementalist understanding of policy. And Warner, regardless of his feelings about Ed Kilgore, is the very definition of a centrist incrementalist who soft-pedals social issues and guns and identity politics. I agree that he can differentiate himself from Hillary on Iraq, but I don't see any other space to be the choice of the anti-Hillaries. And I don't see Mark Warner running an anti-war campaign.

I do think it's probably good that no one's noticed yet that John Edwards is the best candidate on the Democratic side. The media does create waves of good and bad coverage, and Edwards has done well to generally avoid those waves. If he can remain a minor player in the time-wasting "who can beat Hillary?" articles until July '07 or so, while building up cash and significant allies in Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina, that's probably just smart politics.

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 11, 2006 9:48:25 AM

...soft-pedals social issues and guns and identity politics...

This isn't the big deal though, and I stated it poorly. Warner is also likely to soft-pedal inequality and economic justice alongside those other issues. I'm with Ezra and Neil - what is there for a lefty to like, other than his general silence on Iraq?

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 11, 2006 9:52:05 AM

My only point of disagreement with this is that policy preferences aren't the only question here. One of the criticisms of Clinton that runs up and down DailyKos is that she spends too much time seeking out the center. Warner is to her right, but I think there is a sense that his centrism is more authentically his. I can't say for sure whether that's true, but that seems to be the general sentiment. Americans in general and Democrats in particular reward candidates who seem authentic.

Posted by: jhupp | Sep 11, 2006 10:14:18 AM

as are all the candidates except for Edwards, who, having run for vice president, endured a series of charges--ambulence-chaser, pretty boy, etc--and emerged with high approval ratings

Edwards was not the focus of the 2004 campaign. The overwhelming majority of Republican attacks weren't directed at Edwards; they were rightly directed at the top of the ticket, and thus focused on smearing John Kerry as a weakling. That Edwards emerged relatively unscathed doesn't say much at all about his prospects as a presidential candidate, since he wasn't running for president.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, but I'll warm to Edwards when he starts talking about what an Edwards foreign policy would actually look like. I don't mean just pulling out of Iraq; I mean how to approach and deal with the rest of the world. His last prominent attempt at this was a not-that-deft attempt to change the subject ("my foreign policy is actually my domestic policy!"). Considering that Edwards made the wrong choice on launching the current war, he's not filling me with confidence about his abilities in handling the next one here.

Posted by: Christmas | Sep 11, 2006 10:24:05 AM

Warner's appeal is mostly due to the checklist mentality of Democrats-- a governor instead of a legislator, business credentials, southern, could deliver those few critical electoral votes. We (collective we) can't seem to help assessing candidates as resumes instead of leaders, but it's an unfortunate character weakness, because we're unable to resist trying to please others and/or follow a set of undefined and unstated 'rules' that should guarantee us success. Unfortunately, it's like picking a spouse because of earning potential, probable fertility, social currency, and a lack of in-law problems... he or she might look great on paper, but that doesn't matter much when you're actually living with the person.

I'm not saying that we can't or shouldn't address the practical considerations when evaluating candidates (or partners, for that matter), because rational foresight is important when making long-range plans. But making important choices based on how much they're likely to please others (see Kerry, John) isn't going to work, either. People who aren't confident and sure of their own characters can't judge others' characters capably, unfortunately.

Posted by: latts | Sep 11, 2006 10:33:45 AM

His last prominent attempt at this was a not-that-deft attempt to change the subject ("my foreign policy is actually my domestic policy!").

But poverty actually is probably the greatest issue in foreign policy. Poverty is the breeding ground of extremism - not that the terrorists are themselves poor, but the experience of shared identity with the desperately poor is radicalizing. Poverty is killing people at a faster rate than just about anything else in the world. The fact that Edwards is right that poverty is a big deal is not a strike against him.

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 11, 2006 10:38:25 AM

But poverty actually is probably the greatest issue in foreign policy.

DivGuy, Edwards's contention is not that his foreign policy is going to be to fight poverty overseas. His contention is that his foreign policy will be to fight poverty domestically. The former makes sense and should be part of any serious approach to foreign policy; the latter is a craven dodge.

Posted by: Christmas | Sep 11, 2006 10:41:17 AM

I assume these "connections" are important insofar as they point to a certain centrist, incrementalist understanding of policy

I tend to see the DLC as the Dem wing of the Sons of the Dixiecrats, so my primary concern isn't so much that they're centrist (which I am) but that they'll advise Dems to be very publically neutral on some seemingly settled issue like lynching. Gawd knows that they need some way to show that Dems aren't controlled by the Scary Black People, and executing black retards has already been done.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Sep 11, 2006 10:42:37 AM

The following is a very mean and superficial thing to say about Mark Warner. It's true, though.
Nobody with that smile and those teeth will ever get elected president.

Posted by: JMG | Sep 11, 2006 10:44:01 AM

Christmas -

Everything I've heard from Edwards on the confluence of poverty issues and foreign policy has very specifically addressed the topic of global poverty. From his website:

In our world of such wealth and promise, we cannot forget another great challenge: extreme poverty. Close to half the world's population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.00 a day. How do we address this human suffering? How do we win the hearts and minds of young people — the millions struggling here in India and throughout this region? How do we reach them and give them the opportunity to climb out of hopelessness and into a better life?

The time has come for all of us to fight global poverty — together.

Posted by: DivGuy | Sep 11, 2006 10:47:37 AM

Yeah -- I remember the speech I went to when he came to Texas. It was mostly domestic-policy-oriented, as it was 2 months after Katrina. But at the end he veered off into talking about global poverty for a while and I was really happy about that.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 11, 2006 10:54:49 AM

It is by definition illogical and borderline masochistic to choose launch a candidate who lacks national political experience, foreign policy experience and does not evoke passion in 2008.
Edwards has visibility and likeability on his side and Russ Feingold is authentic and passionate. Wes Clark learned much from his first campaign and shows it, has the most foreign policy credibility of any candidate on either side, and can attract both sane Republicans and indepedents if he can get a hearing. He also has a quiet but persuasive passion combined with maturity that comes through and wears well on repeated exposure.
I hope and pray that each of these three get a full and fair hearing from the electocrate beginning early in '08. Based on repeated personal exposure to his character, his intelligence and his mature judgment, I will be with Wes Clark.

Posted by: Richard Holcomb | Sep 11, 2006 11:07:07 AM

"That Edwards emerged relatively unscathed doesn't say much at all about his prospects as a presidential candidate, since he wasn't running for president."

This is silly. Of course, the GOP directed most of its attacks at the top of the ticket. But it also tried to smear Edwards. The point is, the vaunted GOP attack machine dug through Edwards's dirt, such as it is, and he now has disapproval ratings some 20 points lower than both Hillary and Gore. It means a) that people like Edwards b) he has no skeletons in his closet. I'm not suggesting that this means the inevitable attacks on Edwards the presidental candidate would be entirely ineffective; I'm saying that compared to the other candidates he's been tested and vetted. You could argue, I guess, that Hillary has had just as much exposure on the national stage, but the exposure has not been kind to her ratings.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 11, 2006 11:10:03 AM

"That Edwards emerged relatively unscathed doesn't say much at all about his prospects as a presidential candidate, since he wasn't running for president."

This is silly. Of course, the GOP directed most of its attacks at the top of the ticket, but it also tried to smear Edwards and would have destroyed his reputation had it been able to. The point is, the vaunted GOP attack machine dug through Edwards's dirt, such as it is, and he now has disapproval ratings some 20 points lower than both Hillary and Gore. It means a) that people like Edwards b) he has no skeletons in his closet. I'm not suggesting that this means the inevitable attacks on Edwards the presidental candidate would be entirely ineffective; I'm saying that compared to the other candidates he's been tested and vetted. You could argue, I guess, that Hillary has had just as much exposure on the national stage, but the exposure has not been kind to her ratings.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 11, 2006 11:12:20 AM

DivGuy, I'll admit that his website clears up the issue of fighting foreign poverty, which was presented very differently in the last major speech he gave. But I'm still not seeing a coherent foreign policy here. Reading his "get tough on Russia" op-ed with Jack Kemp (!), I have no idea how an Edwards administration would actually prod Russia towards democratic reform, nor do I understand why Edwards assumes that "[a] more democratic Russia would be forcefully engaged in efforts to end Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions - and it would be talking openly about the consequences of Iran's defiance ... It would not play host to Hamas. It would not work to kick the United States out of vital bases in Central Asia. It would not be using energy as political leverage. It would not be supporting autocrats in Belarus or undermining democrats in Georgia and Ukraine."

This strikes me as fantastically naive. Democratic states still operate according to their interests; they don't just align with the interests of the United States because we, too, are a democracy. A democratic Russia would still use energy as political leverage, and it would almost certainly still support autocratic allies and undermine democratic rivals because that's exactly what we do. It's either dishonest or dangerously wrongheaded to pretend otherwise.

Edwards is right that it's better for Russia to be democratic, but not for the reasons he's citing. For that matter, it's better for Palestine to be democratic, even though democracy in Palestine brought Hamas to power - we'd have to deal with the Hamas government just like the terrible bad bad people in Russia.

I've yet to get an impression of Edwards as having a fully-formed and coherent foreign policy, to the extent that I understand what principles he's operating under and what he'd do in a given situation. How would Edwards have dealt with this summer's Israel-Lebanon War? I know what Bush did, and I know what I wish my president had done instead, but Edwards reads as a complete blank here.

Posted by: Christmas | Sep 11, 2006 11:14:12 AM

Once again, it appears we might have to make some sacrifices between the type of candidate we want--a very liberal person versus a moderately liberal person--to win. If that's the case, then so be it. I know I am going to get a lot of crap for saying that, but we really cannot afford another eight years of a presidency like that of Bush.

That said, maybe it's because I haven't been keeping up, but has Warner given specific views on much? It doesn't seem like he has, so while he certainly fits the profile of a moderate, he could be a lot more liberal than we can imagine. (This would, naturally, include both what he has said and done in the past and what he says he will do in the future.)

Posted by: Brian | Sep 11, 2006 5:22:38 PM

I find two and half things odd in this post. The first is that you seem to think it's strange Warner doesn't have higher poll numbers on Kos, while at the same time admitting Warner is an unknown quantity to most, so of course he's going on have lower numbers. And the "half odd" thing related to that is why you'd put much stock in Kos poll numbers as a sign of '08 candidate strength - at this point I'm presuming most would put more weight on building an organization and money as signs of one's ability to win 16 months from now.

The second odd thing in the post is that you seem to be defining the race in a peculiar way. I don't think there's a lot of support in the voting behavior lit, or for that matter looking back at the '04 race, that people clearly put presidential candidates in a primary in one clear-cut ideological box (on a unidimensional issue plane) and then vote according to that placement. A lot of things go into the choices voters make, and a lot of candidates aren't so easily defined.

As to Warner, he's to Hillary's left on the war (and happily he has no Senate vote he'd have to explain), and his stump speech is very much about economic growth and the middle class. It's not something that's clearly left or right. And it's got touches to it that make him strong in ways that wouldn't be easily categorized (like his concern for the prospects of the youth of rural America).

Warner might have weaknesses, but I don't think they are the ones you mention.

Posted by: Armand | Sep 11, 2006 7:38:00 PM

So far, I've seen the guys at Kos pimp Russ, and then Ezra -- who I agree with 90% of the time -- take a minor shot at Warner. Here is the key: It doesn't matter if Warner is technically to the right of HRC. All that matters is the perception of what or who he is, and at this early point, the perception is that he is a Souther, moderate, popular governor; much like Bill.

A second thing: We Dems must come to accept a hard truth, and that truth is that the independent 30% of the population is who elects candidates. Turnout is an issue, but the solid base is going to get out once the mud starts flinging. You win by convincing a majority of that 30+% that your candidate is the best for the job. Since Jimmy Carter's 4 year stint, independents have not voted for someone that was perceived to be "too liberal." Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Gore (Bush), Bush. All seen as moderate leaning conservative. The facts are irrelevant -- perception is all that matters. Point being, the only way we win in 2008 is by nominating someone [Clark, Warner, Bayh (?)] who can appeal to the moderate wing. I like Edwards, but he is damaged goods.

Posted by: Blue | Sep 11, 2006 11:49:09 PM

You're not accounting for campaign talent, and merely looking at positioning.

Warner is supremely talented. You'll see; this is why he will win.

Posted by: Thunderclap James | Sep 12, 2006 3:25:45 PM

Damaged goods with a sky-high favorability rating, then, Blue. And that's the kind of goods I'll buy.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 12, 2006 3:59:17 PM

The failure of this analysis and of the Democratic Party is to assume that the goal is to choose a nominee. Sure, if that's your calculation, there is room to the left of Hillary.

But if the goal is to finally win some elections, there isn't a lot of room to the left of Hillary.

Like most Americans, I don't want to suffer under more GOP administration, but the Democratic party needs to offer a viable option.

Posted by: pilgrim | Sep 13, 2006 11:58:05 AM

Clinton isn't weak because she has problems with the left. She's weak because she's not as electable as the ideal Democratic candidate. Warner is. Simple as that.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Sep 13, 2006 1:25:17 PM

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