The Gawker Endorsement: None of Them
For the first time in the modern primary era, the New York presidential primary election, happening today, is actually important in the races for both the Republican and Democratic nominations. For the conscientious citizen, this is lousy news. You can no longer engage in the beloved New York tradition of just writing in Howard Stern, confident that your vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
We are sensitive to the terrible burden this places on our readers, and so we have decided to undertake the rare of step of issuing endorsements in both the Republican and Democratic primaries. While our writers are free to support candidates of their choosing, Gawker, which is based in New York, has historically been reluctant to officially endorse particular candidates in local or national elections. (Though we have not avoided endorsements entirely.)
Chances are good that you can’t vote anyway, because you were self-righteous (or ill-informed) enough to register as an independent, or as a member of the Working Families Party. But if you had the foresight to register as a Democrat or Republican, your vote today matters. Please consider our plea to not exercise this terrible power.
Don’t Vote For Donald Trump
Yeah, this one’s a no-brainer, right?
Though you’d be surprised! There are, theoretically, reasons a thinking person might vote for Donald Trump. Trump is actively sabotaging the Republican Party and breaking the conservative movement’s hold on it, two very laudable goals. He is, counterintuitively, the least-conservative Republican in the race, and the most likely to govern as something resembling a moderate. Because he is beholden to none of the traditional ideological stakeholders in the Republican Party, Trump might even be uniquely suited to break the hold the most reactionary elements have over the GOP.
But, you know, there’s also the xenophobic ethnonationalism bordering on support for ethnic cleansing, the shameless embrace of political violence, the unmistakable parallels to the rise of the new European crypto-fascist right, the grotesque sexism, and the unshakable sense that if he had his Vienna sausage fingers on the button the survivors of his presidency would end up living in The Road.
You shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. But you knew that already.
Don’t Vote For Ted Cruz
Again, it may seem like a no-brainer.
There is no good outcome to a Trump versus Cruz fight. Trump is a rabble-rousing racist white populist with no core principles. Cruz is a true-believing extremist. Trump would probably be a horrible president. Cruz would definitely be a horrible president. He’s a right-wing zealot, an evangelical fanatic, and an agent of plutocracy. The scariest thing about Ted Cruz is that he’s apparently smart enough to become hugely successful despite lacking any ability to win allies or even friends. If he was even slightly personable he’d be unstoppable.
However, even a conservative—a rabid conservative—shouldn’t vote for Cruz. He’d be the most conservative candidate since Barry Goldwater, and, barring an extremely unlikely Democratic collapse, he’d lose in a landslide. But while Goldwater’s defeat marked the beginning of the long ascendance of the conservative movement, Cruz’s defeat would look much more like its closing bookend. He would discredit movement conservatism for a generation, and the “moderate” business interests of the party would immediately work to seize control of the GOP from both the insurgent ideologues and the rowdy populists. (This is also sort of the reason to hope that conservatives do vote for Cruz.)
Don’t Vote For John Kasich
This is less of an issue in New York, thanks to our closed primaries, but every ostensible Democrat or liberal who casts a vote for Kasich because they feel some responsibility to help “stop Trump” is doing nothing but making it a bit more likely that our next president will be a very conservative Republican.
The idiotic supporters of Marco Rubio liked to claim that “the media” and liberals enjoyed watching Rubio fail because they were scared of him. Nope. We liked watching Marco Rubio fail because it was very funny to watch his political career end. But as long as I’m speaking both for the left and the press, I’ll be totally honest: Kasich has always been the most plausibly electable candidate in the entire GOP field, and I’m pretty sure he’d beat Hillary Clinton. Hell, I think Romney should have picked him as his running mate in 2012. The worst-case scenario for Democrats is that Kasich emerges from a contested convention with the nomination.
President Kasich would be George W. Bush’s third term, only with a large (and significantly more conservative) Republican Congressional majority baked in. Can you even imagine how much damage he and Paul Ryan could do in one term? Just about every upwardly redistributive policy the American Enterprise Institute can think of would be jammed through before liberals had time to catch their breath.
Just about the best thing we can hope for with Kasich is that his rote hawkishness is completely insincere, because otherwise we’ll get sequels both to the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War.
Don’t Vote For Hillary Clinton
A Hillary Clinton presidency would be a disaster. It will be a disaster mainly because our entire political system is a disaster.
This is not particular to her. Clinton’s first term would be, in large part, a continuation of the Obama presidency, featuring similar domestic priorities, appointees, nominees, and arguments. It would also be a continuation of the Democratic Party’s odd semi-decline, which has seen it effectively become a party that is capable only of winning the presidency and, in extraordinarily good years, tenuous control of the Senate. If Clinton represents the Democratic Party establishment, it’s an establishment that is guilty of electoral malpractice on a grand scale. The party is totally unprepared to capitalize on the fact that the Republican presidential nominee is likely to be among the least-liked in modern history: As David Dayen pointed out in The New Republic last month, there will be at least 27 Congressional races this November in which no Democrats will appear on the ballots at all; two of those races are for seats Democrats held prior to the 2010 elections.
None of that is specifically Clinton’s fault, of course, but neither will it be specifically her fault when the feebleness of the Democratic Party and the general brokenness of our entire presidential system causes her first term to be a depressing continuation of the alienating gridlock that has characterized the Tea Party era. Whatever gains the Democrats make in 2016 will likely be wiped out in 2018. Assuming Republicans maintain statehouse control nationwide—a safe enough assumption, considering the fecklessness of the Democratic Party—the 2020 census will lock in a Republican House for another decade.
This is why praise for Clinton’s “realism” is so misguided. Want to talk about what’s realistic? Even the most modest center-left agenda imaginable stands no hope of being enacted legislatively no matter who the next president is. Clinton, for all that her supporters talk of her ability to get things done within the system, will have no magical ability to work with a Republican Congress on anything substantive. If they do find common ground, watch out: When, in the past, the Clintons have reached compromises with Republicans in Congress, those compromises have involved the Clintons supporting conservative policy—from welfare reform to then-Senator Clinton’s odd 2005 decision to co-sponsor a bill that would make flag-burning illegal.
That incident is actually a fine example of how Clinton’s reactionary political instincts have been out-of-date for more than a decade. The flag-burning bill was supposed to be a “compromise” from the conservative priority of a flag-burning Constitutional amendment, which Republicans introduced in every Congress following the 1994 “Republican Revolution.” They haven’t introduced it again since 2006, because even by then it was clearly no longer a wedge issue voters actually cared about.
Those instincts, developed in a very different political climate, are one reason to be wary of Clinton. Another is the regular Clinton habit of surrounding themselves with sycophants, cronies, hacks, and amoral power-seeking leeches. Clinton has, thus far, technically passed the Mark Penn test. But we’ve already heard that Penn has been advising Bill on the side.
Even if Penn, Sydney Blumenthal, and Lanny Davis are too toxic to return to a Clinton White House in major official capacities, there’s little reason to believe that Clinton won’t just fill her administration with spiritual successors to those craven loyalists. (This even before we get to the likely return of economic advisers and appointees in the Rubin/Summers mold, or maybe even just Summers himself.)
And finally we come to foreign policy, an area in which there is actual daylight between Clinton and the man she hopes to replace. Barack Obama seems more skeptical of America’s ability to improve the world through hegemonic displays of force than any president since World War II. Even that skepticism didn’t stop him from from regularly intervening across the world, with very little to show for it but a large death toll and yet more “instability.”
Clinton does not share Obama’s skepticism, at all. She’s always been naturally hawkish, and when the Democratic debates touch on foreign policy, she tends to sound like she’d be right at home on stage with Kasich and Cruz. Her serene self-confidence in her demonstrably poor judgment on matters of war and peace is her most troubling quality.
Don’t Vote For Bernie Sanders
There are plenty of perfectly legitimate political reasons for a left-leaning voter not to support Sanders, of course. He has his unliberal gun record, he voted for the same crime bill the Clintons are now lambasted for passing, and he’s dabbled in anti-immigration rhetoric in the recent past. As president, he may outsource his defense policy-making to the same sorts of “liberal interventionists” who have kept us in constant war even after we elected a president whose popularity was due in part to his opposition to the Iraq invasion. Perhaps his policies, if actually instituted, would actually lead to a tax revolt or mass middle class backlash.
There’s also the fact Bernie Sanders will probably not win the Democratic nomination, barring a completely unforeseeable development—Clinton decides she’s sick of this shit and drops out of the race, basically.
Still, if you find that you are closer to Sanders than to Clinton on most of the issues on which they differ, then by all means vote for him. There’s always a shot, no matter how unlikely it currently seems. But that unlikely Bernie Sanders victory could still end up turning out horribly even for people inclined to support him.
First of all, if Sanders were to win the nomination and then lose the presidency, the Democratic Party establishment would respond with fury. They’d purge leftists, rig the nominating process even further, and do everything they could to eliminate any trace of economic populism from the party’s platform. The next nominee would probably be young, probably a person of color, and—most importantly—they would be deeply allied with the investor class wing of the party. (Cory Booker, in other words, or someone very much like him.) Just as McGovern’s landslide loss led directly to the DLC and the Third Way, so would a Sanders loss lead to the further gentrification of the Democratic Party.
If Sanders did win it all? It could still end up being an unmitigated disaster for the American left, because making him a failed president would be the top priority of the entire American monied elite.
Not to exaggerate Sanders’ radicalism, but the phenomenon of his campaign can be understood as a popular revolt against the dominant ideology of our era, which is (mostly pejoratively) referred to as neoliberalism. That word has a lot of contested meanings, and is too often simply leftist shorthand for “stuff I don’t like,” but it’s still a useful umbrella term for what the Marxist economist Chris Dillow recently described—accurately, I think—as “not so much a coherent intellectual project as a series of opportunistic ad hoc uses of capitalist power.”
Power is the operative word there: The rentiers have pretty much all of it, and they are willing to exercise it to protect their interests.
When the left-wing, anti-austerity Syriza party took power in Greece, that nation’s creditors—the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—effectively blackmailed the entire country into accepting austerity, exercising veto power over democracy itself. A hypothetical Sanders presidency probably wouldn’t face a quashing quite that brutal—or blatant—but Greece shows how few compunctions the investor class has about undermining democracy to ensure the success of its preferred economic arrangements.
Sanders would be an ineffective president not because he lacks “pragmatic” tendencies, but because the system itself would rebel against him. He wouldn’t just face an intransigent Republican-controlled Congress, he’d likely also face an open revolt by the business class element of the Democratic Party—the element that has totally dominated the party since the decline of big labor. If President Sanders tried anything truly radical, he could expect to see skittish “centrist” Democratic senators joining Republicans in blocking his appointees, the Supreme Court blocking his executive actions, and perhaps even the Federal Reserve working to undermine his economic policy. The worst-case scenario? Impeachment, and the foreclosing of any hope of the left building on his presidency to establish true social democracy in America. There’s no reason to believe that Sanders’ “political revolution,” a naive belief in mass electoral action to fix structural problems baked into our political system, would be able to overcome the unprecedented opposition that would arise in response to any attempt to enact his agenda.
All of that assumes President Sanders actually would make good on his promise to attempt to fundamentally remake America, of course. There’s also the chance that he’d just be a mostly conventional Democratic president. If that’s true, what’s worth getting so excited about, exactly?
It would be better, surely, for the left to build on what Sanders accomplishes in defeat, and seriously plot a systematic takeover of the Democratic Party, rather than pin the movement’s hopes on one presidential candidate. Fixating on the presidency might be a waste of activist energy and donor funds, when there are Andrew Cuomos and Rahm Emanuels out there who need defeating first.