Updated: Thursday, April 2, 1:06 p.m. ET
This article was updated to include a full transcript of the program
I’m very excited about the launch of the new video interview program I’m hosting, called System Update. The show will air each week on Wednesday on The Intercept’s YouTube channel, and will typically explore one topic in as in-depth and critical manner as possible.
This program was one that we had been developing prior to the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. and Latin America, with the intention to produce two separate shows — one in English for our U.S. audience, the other in Portuguese for our Brazilian audience — in conjunction with a television network in Brazil. With isolation making it impossible to go into a studio, and with people confined to their homes craving original content, we decided to launch a stripped-down version of it to reside for now on YouTube.
For our first episode, we deliberately chose not to focus primarily on the coronavirus pandemic — in part because it is easy for all of us to reach a saturation point and in part because so many other vital topics have been under-discussed as a result of the understandable fixation on the health crisis. This episode instead examines the fallout from Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign: what went wrong, what lessons can be drawn from it for left-wing populism in the U.S. and more broadly in the democratic world, and what does Sanders’s likely loss to Joe Biden say about the possibility for meaningful political change through working within the Democratic Party? I spoke to two guests who were (and are) vocal but critically minded supporters of the Sanders campaign, yet who evaluate these questions from quite different perspectives: the co-host of the great TrueAnon podcast Liz Franczak, and the wildly popular YouTube host Kyle Kulinski.
The 2020 Democratic primary vividly revealed, for those who did not already know, that a huge political and ideological swath of the U.S. citizenry is completely unrepresented — disappeared — by corporate-owned cable news outlets. For that reason — similar to the dynamic that gave birth to The Intercept itself back in 2014 and then its podcasts hosted by Jeremy Scahill and Mehdi Hasan — a rapidly growing ecosystem of independent video programs has emerged on YouTube and in the world of podcasts, devoted to airing views and perspectives not typically heard in other venues. I’m very excited for this show to be part of that community, with very similar goals: being able to dig in-depth into complicated topics unconstrained by the limitations of 7-minute segments jammed between commercials and liberated from the need to adhere to prevailing orthodoxies or appease myopic partisan factions.
You can watch the first episode of System Update on the player below, but we encourage you to subscribe to The Intercept’s YouTube channel to automatically watch each episode as well as other original content we produce. We will soon launch our Portuguese-language show for Brazil but will sometimes feature those shows with English-language subtitles when the topic matter is of interest to an international audience. As we progress, we hope to experiment with other suggestions, including audience participation and live commentary regarding breaking news.
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System Update Episode 1 – The Intermediate Bernie Sanders Autopsy
GLENN GREENWALD: Hey, everyone, welcome to the debut episode of System Update with Glenn Greenwald, a new video program brought to you by The Intercept, devoted to in-depth discussions of political and social issues by airing perspectives and voices and views not typically heard in other venues.
We intend to broadcast this show at least once a week on the Intercept’s YouTube channel. There will be an English-language version of the program, which is this, as well as a Portuguese-language separate version of the program for our Intercept Brasil audience, with occasional crossover with subtitles whenever the topic suggests it makes sense to do so. System Update is actually a show that we had been developing and planning and even beginning to produce prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. The intention was to partner with a Brazilian TV network to broadcast the show both on television as well as online. And obviously our plans were interrupted by quarantine and isolation, but we decided nonetheless to launch a stripped down version of the program because we have a team of, though working remotely, highly adept and skilled and dedicated professionals who are capable of producing a very compelling show.
Obviously, with this pandemic, we all have a lot more time on our hands. And there’s also as well, because of the cancelation of things like sporting events and live TV programs, a demand for fresh new content, and it’s our hope that this program can help fulfill that demand and contribute to what it is that people want and need to hear. For our first program, we deliberately chose not to focus exclusively or even primarily on the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because I think we all reach the saturation point emotionally and psychologically of talking and thinking about this health crisis, but also because there are so many specialists who are providing highly informed and important analyses of every aspect of the pandemic.
We chose instead to focus on a topic that is extremely important but hasn’t really received as much attention as it deserved, which is the effective end of the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating contest and specifically the failure for the second consecutive national election of the Bernie Sanders campaign, despite generating all kinds of successes, the failure to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party, overthrowing the establishment wing of Washington Democrats and ultimately ascending to the White House. And to discuss that failure and the reasons for it, we have two highly interesting guests who come from the topic with very disparate voices.
The first is Kyle Kulinski, who is the host of the wildly popular YouTube program, The Kyle Kulinski Show, also known as Secular Talk, who is a vocal supporter of the Sanders campaign, yet always with a critical eye. And the other guest is Liz Franczak, who is the co-host of a relatively new and incredibly fascinating podcast of which I have become a devoted, even addicted listener, called the TrueAnon podcast, and Liz talks about these events from a somewhat more systemic and analytical framework than Kyle does, whose analysis and critique is very concrete of the Sanders campaign. So I hope you enjoy our first program.
I also hope that you will subscribe to The Intercept’s YouTube channel, which will enable you to regularly watch not just this program, but all of the original content we produce, and to help our program evolve and grow by participating, by offering ideas and suggestions and by sharing it. Thanks very much.
Glenn Greenwald: The 2016 Democratic Party nominating process was an extraordinary event, by every measure. It was for two years prior widely assumed that only one person, the former First Lady, two term New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had any viable chance of becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee. And yet, a then-very obscure and unknown senator from the tiny state of Vermont, not even a Democrat, a lifelong independent, Bernie Sanders, with no apparent framework of support or funding model, fought her all the way to the Democratic Party convention, winning 23 states, 43 percent of the vote and, one could reasonably argue, would have been the party’s nominee had it not been for improper intervention and even cheating on the part of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic establishment. Remember, the improprieties revealed during the course of the campaign forced the resignation of the top five officials of the Democratic National Committee, including the then-chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
So it was an incredibly contested election, way beyond what virtually anybody assumed was possible. And yet the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign was a completely different story in essentially every respect. To begin with, in 2020, Bernie Sanders was not an obscure figure. Quite the contrary, he had virtually universal name recognition. He had built immense popularity within the Democratic Party, had demonstrated that he had the capacity to raise huge amounts of funds through small donors without relying on super PACs or bundlers or corporate donors, and was going to be formidable by every measure. And yet, despite generating some significant successes, including fortifying this funding model of relying on small donors, and creating a movement that gave rise to people like Alexander Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib and others, the 2020 Sanders campaign has to be regarded as a failure when it comes to the ultimate goal, absent some extremely unforeseeable event, of securing the Democratic Party nomination for Bernie Sanders and then ultimately ascending to the White House. And the fact that it was a failure as compared to 2016, and as well in absolute terms, is demonstrated by all kinds of facts, including the fact that there are states that Bernie Sanders won in 2016, such as Minnesota, Michigan and Washington State, that he failed to win in 2020.
And there were troubling signs even early on when it was regarded by many people, including me, as though it looked like Bernie Sanders was consolidating his status as a front-runner, even when he tied in Iowa. That should have been a warning sign, not just because he didn’t win over Pete Buttigieg, despite narrowly losing Iowa in 2016. But so many of the kinds of voters that propelled the Sanders campaign in 2016, such as rural voters, people who don’t really regard themselves as hardcore loyalists of the Democratic Party, voted for Sanders in 2016, yet not in 2020. Pete Buttigieg won many, if not most of those voters, which is what enabled him to compete with Sanders in Iowa. And then even in New Hampshire, which Sanders did win in 2020, he won by a very small margin as compared to 2016 when he blew out Hillary Clinton by 22 points.
Now, it is true that the field was more divided than in 2016. There were five candidates to begin with, three of whom are two of whom dropped out before Iowa. The third, Martin O’Malley, dropped out immediately afterwards. So he was one-on-one with Clinton basically from the beginning, whereas this time through South Carolina, the field was very divided. And so perhaps that’s comparing apples and oranges.
But after Super Tuesday, he was able to run one-on-one against Biden the way he was able to run one-on-one against Clinton in 2016. And if anything, things got worse from there. That was when he lost the state of Washington and the state of Michigan, two states he won in 2016, followed by blowout losses in Florida, Indiana and Arizona.
I think it’s critical not to replicate the pathology of the 2016 Clinton campaign and the 2016 Democrats of blaming everything and everybody else for their loss, and refusing ever to engage in any kind of self-critique or analysis about why this loss happened. It certainly is true that there are villians one can assign blame to. There was still some cheating by the Democratic Party, as evidenced by the fiasco in Iowa, though I think it’s very hard to say that Bernie Sanders didn’t ultimately lose in a fair and democratic race to Joe Biden once the two of them were one on one. So I think it can’t really be claimed that Democratic Party cheating was the primary or even a significant factor.
It could be the case that the Democratic Party is simply ideologically anathema to the kind of insurgent left wing politics that Bernie Sanders was trying to mount. But I think that it’s very critical at this moment where there’s incredible opportunity in terms of left wing populist politics due to the realignments that we’re seeing all over the democratic world as a result of the blatant failure of neo liberalism, as well as the unraveling of the political order and even the social order due to the coronavirus pandemic, to try and draw lessons from the failure of the Sanders movement and the campaign in 2020 to learn lessons about how the populist left can mount a more successful campaign and a more successful movement, not just in the United States, but throughout the democratic world going forward.
To begin that analysis, to me, the most significant metric of illustrating the failure of the Sanders campaign between 2016 and 2020 was the loss of rural voters and the kinds of voters who don’t identify as hard-core partisans. To underscore that point, there was a headline in the Huffington Post by its political reporter, Kevin Robillard in March headlined, quote, Without Hillary Clinton in the race, Bernie Sanders’ rural edge disappeared. Joe Biden is winning in rural areas where Sanders romped in 2016. And you can go to different states and see evidence of that one after the next. In Michigan, for example, which Sanders won in 2020, he lost virtually every demographic group.
In 2016 in Missouri, where Sanders won the rural vote, he got blown out with a rural vote by Joe Biden. In Idaho, even though it shifted from a caucus to a primary, the same development took place. And then, perhaps most compellingly, in North Carolina in 2016, Bernie Sanders won a huge part of the western region of that state and yet lost most of those precincts. In fact, in 2016 in North Carolina, Sanders won 35 percent of the precincts in North Carolina. In 2020, he won seven percent.
Why did that happen? Why did Bernie Sanders not only fail to expand his 2016 base, but see an erosion of a lot of those voters? Perhaps it’s true that in 2016 a lot of the votes he got were simply votes motivated by a severe animosity that people harbored for Hillary Clinton that they simply don’t have for Joe Biden. It’s also possible, and probably likely, that the consolidation of the entire establishment in a very dramatic way after South Carolina behind Joe Biden convinced lots of voters to vote for Biden in a way that didn’t quite happen in 2016. But it’s very hard to give that most, certainly all, of the blame, given that that’s what establishments do.
For me, there are three major factors that explain why, in my view, at least, Bernie Sanders did worse in 2020 than in 2016, despite massive institutional advantages and name recognition that he didn’t enjoy four years ago. The first is that Sanders has become, despite his independent status, an ingrained part and member of the Democratic Party.
And I think there is an inherent incompatibility between saying that you’re running an insurgent race against the establishment wing of a party in order to bring about a political revolution to have that, on the one hand, be your messaging and then, on the other hand, be too entrenched within that party, too friendly to its leaders and elites to really run the kind of campaign and engage in the kind of rhetoric that an insurgent candidacy requires in order to win.
You can contrast Donald Trump in 2016, who ran as an insurgent against the Republican Party and had not a kind word to say about any Republican elites. Quite the contrary. He was unfettered and unlimited and vicious in his denunciations of them. And even if you don’t believe that Bernie Sanders should have replicated that, I think there’s a very strong case to make that he was far too deferential to the people that he needed to denounce in order to make a convincing case that the Democratic Party needed overthrowing rather than continuation.
There was an article in The New York Times, for example, on March 21st entitled How It All Came Apart for Bernie Sanders, and it quoted numerous Bernie Sanders aides and supporters as saying that he simply prohibited any attacks on Joe Biden that he regarded as being too extreme. It read, quote, “in conversations with associates, both men agreed that it might make sense to criticize Mr. Biden in a sharper way, referring to two of the top Bernie Sanders campaign aides. But they said Mr. Sanders could not be persuaded to do so. He and his wife, Jane Sanders, like the Bidens personally and their word was final.”
In fact, he even went so far in terms of protecting the Bidens that The New York Times reported in this article that a particularly pugnacious campaign aide, David Sirota, had blasted out to the Sanders’ email list a column in The Guardian by the highly respected good governance expert Zephyr Teachout, essentially arguing that Joe Biden was corrupt, and because Bernie Sanders was so offended that someone from his campaign would raise issues of Joe Biden’s corruption, David Sirota, according to the New York Times, was punished for having done that, barred from speaking on behalf of the campaign and barred from traveling with the campaign.
Again, he simply wanted to run against the Democratic establishment as an abstraction, but had one foot outside the party, but one foot for decades in it, and therefore was incapable of mounting the kind of aggressive condemnation of the Democratic Party establishment wing that probably was necessary to convince large numbers of people to abandon it and ignore their leaders’ decrees to vote for Joe Biden and instead vote for him. We caught a glimpse of that in 2016 when early on he exonerated Hillary Clinton in his famous or infamous declaration – the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails – something that obviously Donald Trump would never have done toward one of his opponent’s ethical scandals. And maybe in order to run a successful insurgent campaign from the outside of a party, you need to be willing to much more aggressively and explicitly condemn the corruption and rot at the heart of the party, not just as an abstract idea, but by condemning the leaders of that wing that you’re seeking to overthrow.
A second major factor is one that I think left wing leaders have confronted, but not yet figured out how to navigate, not just in the United States, but across the democratic world, which is: how is it that you successfully reconcile and appease and feed the prongs of the coalition that you need to assemble in order to run a successful insurgent campaign without alienating one or the other?
You can look at those prongs of those constituencies or factions as composed of three different groups. One is the working class that Bernie Sanders spoke very well to, as evidenced by strong rural support in 2016 and not quite as well in 2020. You can look at suburban, affluent liberals — also known as the Elizabeth Warren voters who compose a small part of the party, which is why her campaign was such a failure, but still seven or ten or twelve percent that you’d need if you’re going to mount that kind of a challenge. And then you could say the third group are younger voters who are in large part moved by identity politics or the politics of woke liberalism, which Sanders has always struggled with. He’s been incredibly successful in attracting young voters who care about class issues and has had greater difficulty attracting those kind of voters.
You see the same struggles of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, with Mélenchon in France. There’s really been no populist left-wing leader since Lula da Silva in Brazil who has successfully mounted that kind of a nationwide campaign that brought them to power in a way that adhered and kept those coalitions together. And I think that those coalitions are growing a little bit apart and the challenge becomes even more difficult.
And so you could make the case that by trying harder to, for example, appeal to suburban, affluent liberals who sit in front of MSNBC and watch those shows all day and whose politics are informed by that, Sanders ended up alienating the kind of rural voter or the kind of voters who don’t view Donald Trump as, for example, the root of all evil in a way that caused his campaign to have its base eroded.
If you look at the campaign of Pete Buttigieg, despite all his faults, I think the reason he was able to steal a lot of those rural voters and soft partisans from Sanders in Iowa was because he was out there saying what Sanders wasn’t, which was: Donald Trump is not the root of all evil; The broken political system in the United States didn’t begin on January 20h, 2017; and we cannot be a party devoted to simply restoring the status quo prior to Trump. That was a message that Bernie Sanders was successful in imparting in 2016, that it’s not just Democrats versus Republicans that we need to navigate. And I think he was much less successful in 2020.
And that leads to the third factor, which is I think Sanders became a more conventional Democrat, which is something that you can do if you’re running as the establishment candidate like Joe Biden and something you absolutely cannot do if you’re running as an insurgent, an outsider, a socialist, somebody trying to bring about political revolution.
In 2016, Sanders hyped the fact that he was an independent. He was proud of the fact that he viewed both parties’ establishment wings as corrupted. He constantly spoke about his rejection of bipartisan orthodoxy in a wide array of areas. In 2020, it was a much different story, whether because it was a strategic calculation or because he really believed it, he began sounding like every other Democrat in many respects, when it came to things like how to view the Donald Trump presidency — is it just a symptom of a broken political system, which is true, or is Donald Trump this kind of singular evil where the only goal is to just uproot him and America is restored to its greatness?
He mouthed the party line on Trump, on impeachment, on Russiagate, and sounded very much like an MSNBC Democrat. Not always: there were certainly unique components of the Sanders campaign and especially his politics and his ideology that he maintained that was very anathema to the funding base and the corporatist base of the Democratic Party. But in his rhetoric and in his tactics, he did become more of a conventional Democrat. And I think that alienated a lot of people who had been attracted to him in 2016, who don’t want a conventional Democrat, who were excited about overthrowing the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, and who began to look at Sanders and hear him as more of a standard Democrat, and therefore their enthusiasm for him waned.
Whatever else is true, it is really beyond the realm of debate that the Sanders campaign simply failed in multiple critical goals of expanding its base beyond 2016, of energizing young voters to the point where new voters were swarming to the polls in order to elect him. And it’s easy to place the blame on others. And a lot of villains deserve that blame. But it’s critical to dig deep and understand what mistakes the Sanders campaign made, principally in order to avoid those mistakes in the future and to continue to build on the momentum that Bernie Sanders generated for the American left for the first time in many, many years to provide a viable and serious threat to the Democratic wing of the establishment party. The model is there, the foundation is there, but it once again fell short and therefore needs to be regarded as a failure.
Guest: Liz Franczak
Glenn Greenwald: So I’m very excited to have on our debut program Liz Franczak, who is a writer and the co-host of a podcast of which I’ve become such an obsessive fan that you guys might have to take out some kind of restraining order against me, it’s the TrueAnon podcast. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of my quarantine time catching up on old episodes, listening to every new one as soon as it comes out. So I’m really excited to talk to you. Thank you so much for taking the time Liz.
Liz Franczak: Thank you so much for having me. It’s amazing that you’re a fan. Thank you for listening.
Glenn Greenwald: I am a creepy level fan.
Liz Franczak: No!
Glenn Greenwald: So we we decided kind of like in this concerted way not to talk on the first program about the pandemic that has disrupted all of our lives, because I think a lot of us, I know speaking for myself and a lot of people I know, you can reach a saturation point very quickly. And there’s still a lot of things to talk about that are worth talking about, including, I think, the fallout from the 2020 primary and what looks to be like the Democrats being on the verge of nominating the very vibrant and exciting Joe Biden as their presidential candidate.
But before we get into that, let me just ask you, how are you holding up? How are things on your end with all of this apocalyptic climate?
Liz Franczak: I’m okay. It’s definitely up and down. I keep saying that it’s weird, you know, that I’m in the Bay Area.
The atmosphere in the Bay Area is very strange. We’re definitely, you know, I think that the situation in San Francisco is pretty serious as far as like where different hot spots for infection are throughout the country. The situation in the United States, I think is very concerning. But, you know.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, absolutely. So just before we get into what we’re actually gonna talk about, I do just want to recommend the last two episodes of your podcast where I think that you, especially for a younger audience, do a great job of talking about what has I think been neglected, maybe for good reason, but is super important, which is how to cope with kind of the mental health burdens of being locked in your house, of losing your routine, of not being able to be near loved ones, your friends, and how to kind of try and find purpose and some kind of connection even with all of this separation. So I thought it was incredibly thought provoking and unexpectedly kind of apolitical and very humanistic way of talking about this pandemic that I really recommend people listen to – it’s the last couple of episodes.
So Liz, let’s talk about the 2020 primary and the impending Biden nomination and what I think we can adequately describe as the second mildly successful, though, ultimately failed attempt by Bernie Sanders to run an insurgent campaign that’s at least mildly to the left of the orthodoxies of the Democratic Party. So what is your kind of takeaway of the ultimate lack of success of the Bernie Sanders campaign? Is it that the Democratic establishment is so intrinsically corrupt and they cheat so much that no one can win who opposes them? Is it that the Democratic Party electorate is just too conservative for a campaign with this kind of ideology? Or is there something, are there important self-criticisms that the Sanders campaign and its supporters need to engage in in order to figure out how better to do this?
Liz Franczak: I’m going to say D), all of the above. I think that in order to kind of understand – I mean not to quote Hillary Clinton – but to understand what happened, we kind of have to go, like you said, go back to 2016. And, you know, I think what’s been the most concerning part of the whole Biden, you know, election, I don’t know, primary, whatever – his campaign being a success, pretty much – is how much he was able to run on just earned media, right? And there was like, you really start to see the outsized influence of the media apparatus with the Biden campaign, and it’s very, he ran pretty much the same game that Trump did in 2016 with the GOP, which is that no field offices, no organizing. Not a lot of, you know, initially not a lot of money. Trump, you know, actually ran a small donor campaign, which is also been kind of written out of the history books. But it’s important to understand.
And so Biden was able to really just kind of be this manufactured candidate in a way that I don’t think, you know, like left-liberal progressives really saw coming or appreciated. So there’s like that part of the story. And then I think the other you know, a really crucial part of the story is understanding the differences between 2016 and 2020 in terms of the shape of the Democratic Party and also what voters were responding to.
Basically, the 2016 primary electorate, in both the GOP and the DNC were really emerging as a reaction to the status quo in the same way that I think a lot of, you know, in a lot of ways that the Obama, the quote unquote, Obama coalition..
Glenn Greenwald: The 2008 version?
Liz Franczak: Right. Which, you know, just as an aside, like I’m not, I’m not fully convinced that that is actually a thing..
Glenn Greenwald: The Obama coalition?
Liz Franczak: Yeah. Well, I think a lot of ways that what people call the Obama coalition, which, you know, that derives from, you know, the New Deal coalition, right? But that lasted like 12 years, 25 years, like that’s an actual coalition. This lasted four years, because remember, there was a big drop off in 2012, right? And then a continued drop off in 2016 of Obama to Trump voters.
Glenn Greenwald: So you see the success of 2008 Obama not as him constructing this new political force in American politics of African-Americans at high levels of enthusiasm, affluent liberals – now known as the Warren campaign – and then young voters, which, you know, flocked to the Sanders campaign – and nobody’s been able to piece those three components together again. It was just kind of a generalized reaction to anger against the status quo, which Obama, with his outsider status, was able to become a vessel for? And the coalition just sort of ended up almost organically forming around him.
Liz Franczak: Yeah. It basically emerged out of a reaction, I guess, is what I’m saying. And so to kind of consider it a coalition seems misplaced considering it’s so unstable, right?
So you see the same thing emerge in 2016 with Sanders where I think so much of what people were responding to was, you know, their frustrations, again, with the status quo. Because again, you know, and you know I don’t need to tell you this, obviously, but Obama was pretty much just a continuation of the Bush years and in core respects, right?
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, yeah. So Liz, let me ask you that then. And I agree with you. I agree with that completely. I think that the 2008 Obama campaign, the 2016 version of Trump that destroyed the GOP establishment and one candidate after the next supported and propped up by it, and then won in the general election had a lot of obviously complicated factors every election does. But the overwhelming, primary, overriding one was that each of them successfully persuaded enough people that they were the vessel of anti-establishment, anti-elite anger, and ran as outsiders. So if we take that premise that I agree with — and is not just a premise that is shaping American politics, that explains the the enactment of Brexit in 2016 in the UK and then the subsequent ratification of it with Boris Johnson, the rise of a lot of these kind of anti-establishment, far right parties that were never part of the conservative establishment. I definitely think it explains the election in Brazil in 2018 of Jair Bolsonaro, was much more about anti-establishment anger and much less about some kind of an ideological set of beliefs — What went wrong for Bernie in 2020? I mean, did he just not, was he no longer a symbol, a sufficient symbol of anti-status quo or outsider sentiment? Or has that sentiment gone somewhere else?
Liz Franczak: Well, I think that, you know, the liberal left, however, we want to call that, I never know how to like what to call people or what’s appropriate, progressive left, whatever, basically took all the wrong lessons from 2016 and they said, OK, you know, Bernie was speaking to an electorate because of all of these things he was proposing all of these, you know – to a point I’ll get to in a minute – all of these plans, all of these policies like, you know, $15 minimum wage or health care for all or, you know, whatever, whatever.
And in some ways, I think it was I mean, not to get like Freudian, but what they were really saying was this is what I responded to and projecting that onto the electorate, right? And so they basically assumed that there was a movement emerging when, you know, Bernie doesn’t… I guess my whole point in comparing him to Obama is that he doesn’t emerge out of a movement, right? He emerges as a reaction. And so you had a kind of consensus explaining what went wrong for Hillary. And also kind of the you know, where, you know, what Bernie was speaking to that ended up, I think kind of codifying wrong lessons that then kind of propelled us to the moment that we are in now.
Glenn Greenwald: So what do you say? Go ahead, I am very interested in that. So a lot of people, I think, think or assume that Bernie in 2020 was pretty much a comprehensive facsimile of what he was in 2016 just kind of turbocharged, like more money, more name recognition, more organization. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think there’s been changes in his messaging and in his approach. And they might be subtle, but I’m not sure. So what do you see the 2020 version of Bernie as different than the 2016 version of Bernie? And obviously, you know, from what you said and I guess the results kind of which suggests as well, like whatever those changes were, weren’t very good ones. You know, the best you can say about Bernie is that he kind of maintained, and I think even went backwards. So what do you see there?
Liz Franczak: I think that like from what I’ve seen from people as a tendency to kind of blame that on him or his campaign. And I guess what I’m trying to get at is those decisions are basically emerging because of the changes that happened in the Democratic electorate from 2016 to 2020, where, like, we know for a fact. You know, I mean, it’s just this is true. Like, you know, the Dem party has moved right since 2016. You can look at the 2018 midterms as a complete… I mean, you know, it bears out completely where the richest suburbs are where the Democrats are picking up new seats. That’s where they’re flipping new places. They flipped, you know, Virginia legislature with all of Bloomberg’s money, et cetera, et cetera, like they are moving right..
Glenn Greenwald: Bloombergs money, ex-CIA agents, ex-military, entrepreneurs, suburban entrepreneurs, nothing to do with the working class.
Liz Franczak: Exactly. Yeah, everyone makes fun of Schumer saying, you know…
[SCHUMER: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”]
And everyone makes fun of that because it didn’t work for Hillary. But actually, I mean, it is working for the Democratic Party.
And so you had progressives kind of start operating from, well, we can just get these get this electorate, which is like comprehensively moving right, structurally moving right, to somehow, quote unquote, move left. And it didn’t. It’s like, not enough people appreciated, you know, that there are, these are like irreconcilable antagonisms.
And, you know, you can’t. You can’t. You know, Bernie basically had to win back his base, before he could reach out to anyone else in the electorate, and that was a big problem, I think. You know, and I guess that’s what I’m kind of getting out with the like policy and the plan stuff.
I mean, you know, I know that we ascribe that to Warren’s campaign, which, again, was a big problem, I mean, a really big problem for the Sanders campaign, right? But that logic emerges out of the way the left commentariat viewed the successes of the 2016 Sanders campaign, if that makes sense.
Glenn Greenwald: Why, I guess then the two questions for me become, you know, and one of the reasons why I’ve been so vehemently critical of Resistance-ethos politics and the way in which the Democratic Party chose to oppose Trump, because it was so often done from the right. You know, using jingoistic and militaristic scripts, accusing him of insufficient loyalty, resuscitating the Cold War framework and accusing him of being in bed with the Kremlin, like sounding like Bill Buckley or like J. Edgar Hoover or some like, you know, hideous lovechild of the two and constantly accusing their enemies of being in bed with foreign powers.
And never really getting to Trump’s left on anything resembling economic populism, so when you start depicting Trump and his evil not as his kind of right-wing threat, but really as almost like this unpatriotic, you know, opponent to the system, it makes people more conservative in the sense that they want to defend the system, which ultimately is the ethos of conservatism. And then that does make it very difficult for a campaign that is, you know, speaking almost in terms, in a language that the Democratic electorate really doesn’t speak. So does that mean to you that the Democratic Party and its electorate, which is one of the options I gave you on my long menu at the beginning, is just not hospitable any longer to a movement or to a candidate that wants to run on a populist or working class agenda or one that’s anti-militarist or questioning US imperialism. Because the base of the Democratic Party believes in those things.
Liz Franczak: I don’t know. I think that’s a that’s like the one hundred thousand dollar question or whatever the saying is. Like I, it’s so hard because again, over the last four years, like you rightly point out, all that resistance crap, it’s you know, everyone has been basically disciplined into anything, you know, Trump is fascism, therefore, anything outside of Trump is good because it’s not fascism. And it’s been an incredible disciplinary tool. Not just the Dem electorate, but also on the left, you know. And because of that, there has been no counter-narrative that’s been able to emerge to explain what’s going on.
You know, like I’m hesitant to to blame the voters or the electorate, I guess, for that reason, and rather say, OK. You know, I’m of the mind that the DNC, like as a party, is pretty much just like a, you know, a shell. It’s kind of a front now in the same way the GOP is in that, you know, the GOP is just basically, you know, the evangelical groups work as basically like behind the scenes to funnel money into, you know, whatever the GOP decides is its plan. And, you know, there’s different kinds of infighting there.
But the DNC is the same way. And and so it’s hard to understand the kind of ecosystem of, you know, the parties such as it is, you know, without understanding the different organizations and the different, you know, all the different money that is moving around behind the scenes. Like you said at the beginning of our interview, you know, is it just that the DNC is cheating? Is it just, you know, whatever? And it’s like, yeah, OK. But, you know, they do that for a long, you know, all the time.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, that’s never… They’ve been doing that forever and are not going to ever stop. But it’s part of the obstacle to be overcome, right?
Liz Franczak: Yeah, but it’s also like we don’t have a left movement that is comfortable saying ‘Emily’s List or Planned Parenthood are structurally fighting against women’s health care’, right? Because they are. Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List worked very hard to make sure we don’t have Medicare for All. Now, if you want to secure women’s health care in this country, you do it through universal health care.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. So let me ask you about this critique then, because I mean, I think that this does get to the heart of one of the questions in which I’m most interested is: did the Sanders campaign fail – in the sense of not being the nominee – because it made mistakes that either were the byproduct of just strategic mistakes that campaigns make or that Bernie was an imperfect candidate or the wrong candidate or the wrong vehicle for this kind of a movement to emerge, or did it fail because it’s just, it wasn’t a winnable fight, like no matter how perfect the campaign would have been or the candidate would have been, just can’t win this kind of a campaign in the Democratic Party, given all the structural obstacles you describe.
And one of the things I look at is Trump in 2016, which you compared to Biden in ways that I think are valid. But you can also look at what Trump did as being the challenge Bernie failed to do, which was he just battered through the Republican establishment, you know, viciously mocking and condemning and insulting and demeaning one establishment representative after the next, starting with Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio and then finding when they got desperate Ted Cruz until there was no one left standing.
[CLIP: Trump at Primary Debates attacking Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz]
And he successfully channeled this hatred on the part of the Republican voting base toward all these institutions that had long been the Republican establishment, the Chamber of Commerce and like the military industrial complex.
Like there’s no left-wing movement to talk about the Democratic establishment, not as like wayward friends who have just gone a little wrong, who like are kind of imperfect, but as like the enemy that needs to be fought and destroyed, and like Bernie just isn’t that person. And then the question is, I don’t know, is the solution going forward to find that person? I mean, it’s been hard for anyone on the international left in the democratic world to find that right person.
Liz Franczak: Yeah. I mean, I wonder… It’s you know, I think there’s kind of like two prongs there because I think it is true that he ran at least much more vocally against, you know, as he calls it, the establishment, against Hillary, right? I think some of that, I would imagine some of that has to do with his personal feelings about Joe Biden versus his personal feelings about Hillary Clinton.
Glenn Greenwald: As a person? As like a person?
Liz Franczak: Yeah. I mean, I could see that being a factor.
Glenn Greenwald: But like, even with Hillary, you know, that he had that famous line towards the beginning of the campaign, “I’m sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails”‘, like imagine Donald Trump, you know, defending an adversary by dismissing and minimizing this looming FBI criminal investigation on the grounds that it’s irrelevant, right?. So even there his instinct was kind of to say, let’s not get into questions of character or try to demean you. Let’s just have like good faith policy differences as friends and whoever wins, we shake each other’s hands and then we endorse the other one and campaign for the other one as president.
Liz Franczak: Yeah. I mean I think some of that I could ascribe to like, I don’t think they ever even thought they would get as far as they did in 2016. So it really was a campaign about issues in that way perhaps.
But I do think that this time around, you know, again like. It’s funny, I feel like the, again, that this disciplined kind of more conservative Dem electorate, they just wanted someone who could beat Trump. And rather than kind of go with where the voters were on that, the progressive left said, no, we’re gonna make it about issues. And this is the kind of thing that also happened with Corbyn in a lot of ways. And I’m hesitant to make the comparison there because I just think that the situations in the UK and the US are very different. Although I do think that perhaps some of the critiques of Labour, and kind of new tendencies in Labour and like the US progressive left, perhaps there’s something to talk about there.
But putting that aside, like, you know, you start telling people this laundry list of we’re gonna do all these things, we’re gonna do all these things, we gonna do all these things, but the electorate just wanted someone who could beat Trump. So it’s like kind of like a mismatch there. And I think the question is, well, why did that happen? Like, did you want to make it about all these pet issues, which then, by the way, got you in a fight with Elizabeth Warren about who is the most, quote unquote, left with all these laundry list issues which then split your base, by the way, while not letting you get into any of the people that like Pete or Biden really spoke to, which were just like, older, you know, not super, online, not super, you know, politicky voters. Like you weren’t able to basically win over both, you know what I mean?
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. Yeah. But what’s interesting about that is like in 2016. Bernie’s base, contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom, did include a lot of people who are not typical kind of online leftists – like he won huge numbers of rural votes and like people who don’t identify even necessarily as Democrats who are like more independent types, who like the fact that he wasn’t a member of the Democratic Party, that he didn’t sound like a Democrat. And then you go to Iowa and like Pete ends up winning all those you know, most of those rural votes because, you know, I guess one theory is like maybe Bernie in 2020 started sounding more like a standard-issue Democrat.
You know, like saying Trump is the greatest threat to US democracy. You know, the kind of thing that like gets you all aroused if like you’re a Rachel Maddow viewer, but like, isn’t something that you really believe, if you’re, you know, like a less kind of politically tuned-in partisan who kind of liked Bernie in 2016 because of his idiosyncratic approach and then didn’t like him sounding like that, confining him to that, you know, more caricatured left wing base that he, as you say, he ended up having to share with Warren, so it got even smaller.
And so I guess the question then becomes like, if, you know, if you’re a leftist and you hate the neoliberal order and you see this alternative that you don’t like, which is, you know, economic populism, fused with xenophobic nationalism, which is a very potent combination that’s winning in a lot of places. Like you live in a country where it won and so do I, which are two very different countries, but they have that in common. It’s winning like a lot throughout Western Europe. What is the substantive alternative and then what becomes the tactical alternative? Like, is it just like, let’s wait till, you know, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is like thirty-five and then, you know, she’ll get to like unite the Warren voters and the Sanders voters and a bunch of other people and activate, and kind of like try and put together some kind of Obama coalition or is it just, you know what, the Democratic Party is just shit. It’s like unreformable. We’re not going to vote for it and we’re not going to give our support to it. We’re not going to be bullied into it because of like kids in cages and like whatever phrases they use because Obama put kids in cages and so will Biden. And then just look for some other means of social change.
Liz Franczak: I mean. You know, I, look, I mean, to put my cards on the table like I haven’t voted for a Democrat in over a decade, so it’s not up to me. Like I’m already, you know, I don’t care.
Glenn Greenwald: And that would be true even if you didn’t live in like California, but in like Ohio or some swing state?
Liz Franczak: Yeah, I don’t care. Like, no, I hate them. Like, I, you know, I want to burn the party to the ground and salt the earth so it can never come back. I think it’s an abomination. And I will say, like, you know, being in the Bay Area, like, I’m literally in the like imperial core of the Democratic Party apparatus, being in Silicon Valley and like with all these tech people and all these millionaires around, and it feels impossible. You know, it feels like cyberpunk insane future.
Glenn Greenwald: You live near the woman who gave the 14 and a half million dollars to Elizabeth Warren’s Persist PAC.
Liz Franczak: Exactly. I mean, these people are terrible. These are, like you said, they’re not our problematic friends that we need to, like, kind of sway to our side as if you can. I mean, that’s the thing. You can’t sway capital. Like, it’s just this is an antagonism. You know what I’m saying? So, like, I don’t think the Democratic Party is reformable, like in any way. But I also think that, like. You know, I know we’re not supposed to be talking about Corona, but I think this pandemic really throws a bunch of things like, you know, it’s like the whole world is changing. I mean, I said this on the podcast and I was talking to a friend about this the other night. It’s like, we’re witnessing the complete collapse of free movement in the European Union. Like, I don’t know what that means politically going forward.
Glenn Greenwald: What I also wonder is, well, you know what it’s going to do you. Because one of the things we think we forget about. And I’ve given a lot of thought to this over the last month or so as the social order seems to be in serious jeopardy, like acute immediate jeopardy.
We’ve lived through this like insanely aberrational period of stability and stagnation and satisfaction, like we in the Western world. Where things just kind of plod along because there’s been this propaganda model that’s been fed to people about what they should and shouldn’t value, joined with like a relative prosperity, like, obviously not for most people, but enough that their kids aren’t starving to death and they don’t have their immediate survival threatened. They’re just hanging on enough by a thread to kind of like placate them with enough crumbs.
Now what you’re having is like we’re about to see huge numbers of people dropping dead because they just don’t have access to health care while they watch, you know, extremely rich people hoarding huge amounts of resources who can save their families and themselves, the kind of thing that has always historically led to radical revolutionary change, right? Like it’s going to have to, there can’t be millions of people watching what’s going on with this pandemic and say, yeah, you know, I’m kind of good with like massive income inequality because I think they’ve earned it, right? Like survival is now at stake. And that’s going to start radically altering how we see these things.
Liz Franczak: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if I would say… I’m hesitant to say revolutionary change just because I don’t think there is a revolutionary movement in the West. But like you mentioned, I do think there’s like a counter, or like there’s a right-wing counter-revolutionary movement or what we would call. You know, as I’m watching the news happen, I’m thinking, OK, we’ve got countries closing borders and starting to hoard oil. This is not a good situation, you know, historically. Who wins when that’s happened? That’s not been a good situation, right?
I think my, you know, my big worry is that, you know, I don’t know where the left goes from here because it does seem that, at least, you know, at least in the United States, these sort of more like you said, you know, these kind of conservative revolutionary forces emerging on the right, it’s not necessarily that they have popular legitimacy yet, but there is like a kind of a war going out or starting to emerge about who is going to have popular legitimacy. And I don’t see anyone or any kind of movement emerging. I mean, you know, across the west, out of any kind of left wing, everyone kind of just frozen, which I understand. But again, it’s like because there’s no, the left has no institutions. The left for 30 years has spent all its energy capturing academia and the media, which, by the way, are failing institutions, crumbling institutions. And they have nothing to show for it.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. And in the process has lost any connection with, you know, the vast amounts of mass movement that it would need to tap into in order to succeed.
I mean, in Brazil, you know, I think Brazil has like the last successful leftist leader, who succeeded in doing that, which is Lula da Silva. And he came from, he was a labor leader who like came from, you know, labor organizing and from a family of people who were illiterate until they were 10. He lost a finger in a factory. He was able to successfully, he had nothing to do with academic elites who mocked him, and hated him, and looked down on him. And the more they did it, the more people kind of got driven to his arms much the same way, like Trump’s misspelled tweets do. And I think you’re right. I think until, the left kind of fundamentally goes back to those roots, unfortunately, like the working class is going to continue to go toward the one side that seems to be welcoming of it, which is not the one embracing and hanging out in Silicon Valley and Wall Street speeches and cocktail parties, but is the one talking about, you know, wage stagnation and bringing jobs back from free trade because of the other countries that are stealing it.
Liz Franczak: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think we’re entering into a new era. It feels like. That’s my suspicion. I don’t know what the kind of political landscape is going to look like in three years. I have a suspicion. I mean, I keep calling this like capitalism’s great leap forward, because what I can see happening is, you know, look, look, Michael Roberts, the Marxian economist, is saying that we should expect up to like 50 percent drop loss. That is unprecedented in history, right?
Like it’s a very insane situation we find ourselves in. And it’s not difficult to see how this accelerates a kind of, you know, leap toward the Singaporification of the United States or something like that.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. Or like the world more broadly.
Liz Franczak: Absolutely.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. Well, Liz, you know, I wish we had a lot more time. And I think it’s interesting that we kind of began by vowing that we weren’t going to talk about the pandemic.
Liz Franczak: I know!
Glenn Greenwald: And it ultimately turns out that it’s so transformative on essentially every last level, economically, politically, culturally, socially, that you really can’t meaningfully talk about anything without confronting it. But we’re so close to the beginning and nowhere near the end, that just kind of raises a lot of fascinating questions for which there really aren’t any answers.
But I’m really thrilled that I got to take the time to talk to you for the first time. This is the first time we’ve we’ve gotten to chat. If you don’t yet know TrueAnon podcast, you should immediately go and listen to it as I do a lot. It will teach you and make you think about a lot of things, a lot of different ways. Thank you so much, Liz.
Liz Franczak: Thank you so much.
Glenn Greenwald: All right. Be well.
Liz Franczak: Bye
Guest: Kyle Kulinski
Glenn Greenwald: So I’m delighted to welcome to our debut program, the host of the Kyle Kulinski Show, the wildly popular YouTube program, which for me will always be known as Secular Talk. And Kyle, as well, was a supporter of the Bernie Sanders campaign, though always looking at it with a critical eye and still does, so in a lot of ways is the perfect guest to dissect and analyze what happened. Kyle, I know that time is not really a premium for any of us at this point with self-isolation, quarantine and the like, but I nonetheless really appreciate your taking some to talk to me.
Kyle Kulinski: My pleasure, man. Thanks for having me. I’m honored to be, you know, the the first episode. This is special.
Glenn Greenwald: It is special. So, you know, obviously, we have made a kind of concerted choice to talk about something other than the global pandemic, which is affecting all of our lives in a pretty radical way, in part because I think we all reach a saturation point, and there are other things that I think are worth talking about that kind of provides people a little break from that. But before we get into all of that, the 2020 primary, the Sanders campaign, what lessons can be drawn from that: How are you doing? How are you holding up on your end under these very difficult conditions?
Kyle Kulinski: You know, I’m good. But, you know, funny enough, I happen to be in an area that’s kind of like a hot zone of the virus. I grew up in New Rochelle, New York, which was where the first case in New York was. I still live in Westchester, which is the same county, but not there. But I live close enough to there where it was like, oh, OK. So this thing is like right on top of me. This is an epidemic. It’s the real thing. And it might be, they should have shut down everything two weeks ago. That’s what I think. It’s the only way to avoid where we are now.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, it is. It’s absolutely the real thing here in Brazil. I would say we’re seven to 10 days behind where the U.S. is, certainly the large metropolitan areas. And yet everyone I know already knows somebody affected by the disease. And the peak is still pretty far away. So obviously, best wishes to everybody in your life who’s who’s affected by it. And as you try and navigate and they try and navigate through all of these restrictions and limitations that were all newly getting accustomed to.
Kyle Kulinski: Thank you man, you too.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. So let’s turn to talking about the 2020 Democratic primary and the Sanders campaign. You were very vocal about your support for the Bernie Sanders campaign. You were one of the original founders of Justice Democrats, which helped to lay the foundation for a lot of the growth that the Sanders movement, borne of the 2016 campaign, grew out of. And I think it’s fair to say that we’re either at the end or certainly very close to the end of the Democratic primary. And it’s far, far, far more likely than not that Bernie Sanders, once again, despite some successes, is not going to be the Democratic nominee. So you can describe the campaign in some ways as having some successes. But the ultimate aim of making him the nominee seems once again to be a failure. And I’d like to start off by asking you why you think that is. What are the principal reasons? Does it have to do with cheating by the Democratic establishment, as I think was certainly true in 2016? Is it the nature of the Democratic Party just isn’t ultimately amenable to an insurgent or socialist style challenge to the establishment? Or did the Sanders campaign make some important mistakes that future insurgent or left-wing candidates ought to learn from and study?
Kyle Kulinski: Well, before I answer that, and that’s a great question, I just want to take a step back and say when I first what I think they did right, because this is a campaign that got closer to the White House and they’re, you know, a genuinely left campaign, certainly the closest in my lifetime. And, you know, you could argue the last one was FDR. So, they have a lot to teach us. And then also, you’re correct in saying they made a lot of mistakes in that, you know, there are many adjustments that can be made, and I’ll get into the adjustments, but first, I just want to say, up until Super Tuesday, their strategy was basically flawless. And I say that because they were winning. They won Iowa…
Glenn Greenwald: So let me let me just let me just interrupt you just for a second there on that premise.
You know, I think after FDR, there were a couple of successful left wing campaigns like the campaign of Henry Wallace and especially Eugene McCarthy in 1968 when he knocked Lyndon Johnson, who was the incumbent president, out of the race by basically winning or getting 40 percent of the vote in New Hampshire through a rising anti-war sentiment, although he ended up not winning and the establishment ended up getting in Hubert Humphrey. So he didn’t win in the ultimate sense there either. But I do wonder whether or not the first several states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada were as successful as they seemed to be at the time. In Iowa, you can call it a first place tie with Buttigieg, he certainly got more votes, but ended up with a few less delegates. But however you want to count it, he it’s kind of an ideal state for Bernie: he was there, you know, since 2016. He seems to have lost a lot of rural support, too, to Buttigieg. And then in New Hampshire, his neighboring state, he won, but by a very slim margin. Certainly Nevada was a blowout. So was that even that in that early stage that people now view as largely successful, really as successful as it should have been, given the massive head start that he had over the other candidates from 2016?
Kyle Kulinski: Well, I would actually say, even given everything you just laid out there, yes. Because, the goal of the campaign, the strategy that they’ve basically admitted at this point was: all right, we have a fractured field, there’s about a thousand candidates running, so what what we’re going to do, what our goal is: to make sure we mobilize our solid 30 percent chunk in every respective state, and that should be enough to get us the nomination. That was the mindset. That was the goal. That was, you know, the way the campaign was structured and what they were aiming for. And I do think that they were successful. You’re correct in pointing out that they you know, they lost quite a bit of rural support, not only in the early, early states, but later on as well. But at least in terms of…
Glenn Greenwald: But why? Why did that happen, though? I mean, that’s a big deal, right? Rural support for Bernie in 2016 was a big base of his success. And one thing you don’t want to do is lose support your second time around. You want to build on that and expand it. So why did he lose rural support to some of the other candidates?
Kyle Kulinski: Well, I think one of the main reasons is that a lot of the support that he was getting in the 2016 primary in those areas was really just an anti-Hillary vote, in that she was the only other, you know, candidate that he was running against. This time he had many, many other candidates to run against. So even the fact that he lost some of that support in the early states, that wasn’t necessarily a red flag for me, because when people have 10 different options and, you know, you still have Bernie at least cobbling together enough to win. To me, there weren’t red flags yet. Now I can get to the red flags, but..
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, OK. Fair enough. I think there’s I think, you know, when you end up winning or almost winning Iowa, win New Hampshire, have a blowout win in Nevada, the first three states, it’s by all metrics a very good start. On top of which, it wasn’t just the results, but the Super Tuesday polling that was showing Bernie, ahead in almost all or most of those critical states, which is what made people view him as the consensus front runner heading into South Carolina, which is when it all kind of began to unravel. So when you talk about red flags and unraveling, what is your analysis of that unraveling?
Kyle Kulinski: Right. So, first of all, I do think that there were some things outside of Bernie and the campaign’s control that ended up being effectively the perfect storm that worked against him. And the thing that I think that they couldn’t do anything to change really was what I call Bloody Monday, which is the establishment coalescing, and that coalescing worked. I mean, you had Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete drop out on the same day, endorse Biden, presumably for, you know, some cabinet position or whatever. You had Beto O’Rourke, he was brought in because the idea was, hey, maybe he’ll help in Texas, and some polls were leaning and Bernie’s direction in Texas. And you had again, Obama apparently facilitated, you know, all of this. And he made the phone calls behind the scenes, which I think is fascinating and says quite a bit about Obama.
And so at the time, like on the day it happened, it was really an open question, how is this going to impact the race, because there were some polls that showed, you know, a plurality of Mayor Pete’s supporters would go to Bernie. And so there was a question maybe this will even help him, but it turned out that that wasn’t true. And the endorsements actually did something. And it gave Joe Biden’s campaign an injection of adrenalin that they definitely needed.
Glenn Greenwald: Right. So, let’s just stop there really quickly. So that idea, right, that the less successful establishment candidates were cajoled, persuaded, coerced, whatever ended up happening, whatever mix there was. And it wasn’t just Pete and Klobuchar, it was also Bloomberg. And then they did the whole series of endorsements that fell after that. That’s kind of the thing that A) establishments do, B) is probably not illegitimate, right? I mean, it’s something that candidates try to do is line up the failed campaigns behind them and C) was pretty predictable, right? It was always probably going to be the case that there was going to be one last establishment candidate standing against Bernie, and Bernie’s ultimate mission, sort of the video game last challenge, was to beat and vanquish that candidate. So all of that, you’re right, while not in Bernie’s control, was probably part of the landscape that could be easily predicted and anticipated.
Kyle Kulinski: I agree with you that it should have been anticipated. I don’t think it was. And what was very apparent to me after that day is that they had absolutely no plan to deal with that. And frankly, they didn’t know what they were doing. And they doubled down on what at that time was the wrong strategy. And then ended up losing.
Glenn Greenwald: So, OK, so let’s focus on that. So what is – once Bernie gets blown out by Biden in South Carolina. But first of all, let’s talk about, before we get to the aftermath of that, South Carolina itself, which is traditionally incredibly important state in the Democratic Party nominating process and in the Republican nominating process, it was highly anticipated that Bernie had problems with African-American voters, especially in the Southern region, and he had four years to fix it. Obviously he didn’t. What went wrong in South Carolina? Was South Carolina, something that he was just inevitably going to lose, or did the campaign start going wrong there?
Kyle Kulinski: Okay. Well, so South Carolina, you know, I was expecting a loss there. I wasn’t expecting you to be as big as it was. The Clyburn endorsement I think certainly helped Joe Biden, in the sense that Jim Clyburn is kind of like an old school political boss who still has sway. And he’s one of the few in the country that really still plays that role. But in my opinion, that was when the unraveling began. And then Super Tuesday was when, you know, the Bernie campaign was really in trouble and here are the things they could have done, in my opinion, that could have given them a better chance. So, first of all, I do think that they need to play the game better. And what I mean by that is they kind of ceded the ground to Joe Biden and the establishment in the sense that they never tried to like match endorsements with endorsements. They never tried to successfully counter these meta media narratives that were really beginning to define the race in a clear way. And, you know, I’ve I’ve spoken about this on my show, but one of the things I think that could have helped blunt that Biden media momentum, which was monumental post South Carolina, was if, like when Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete dropped out and endorsed Biden and everything. If I was on Bernie’s team, I would’ve been doing everything I could behind the scenes to court the likes of Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard and just anybody to have a little asterisks in the conversations that were happening on cable news that were so pro Biden to say, you know, hey, okay, well, Joe Biden got the endorsements of these people and hey, look, Bernie got the endorsements of these people. So we have a narrative that’s not as dominant in one direction, because I do think that that media narrative helped doom Bernie and his campaign. So the first piece of advice would be to play the game better and try to match endorsements with endorsements.
The second thing is, listen, after Super Tuesday and really you could say after South Carolina as well, it was clear that the old strategy of not going hard at Biden, that’s not tenable anymore. Now you’re one on one. And when you’re one on one, you have to make the distinctions and be clear about it. And I think what Bernie always does is he says, hey, I’m better, here are my ideas, this is where he’s wrong on policy. But he actually outright rejected the idea that Zephyr Teachout, one of his surrogates, was pushing out there, which is actually Joe Biden is corrupt. Joe Biden is the swamp. Bernie does spend quite a bit of his time talking not just against the Republican establishment, but the Democratic establishment. But it’s always in, you know, more abstract ways. Once you get into the specifics and the nitty gritty in the nooks and crannies of it, and you say like, you know, Zephyr Teachout did, hey, hear the clear examples of Biden being the swamp, being corrupt, being the establishment that you’re talking about, his family getting rich off of his public profile, the zillion examples of his son Hunter and what’s gone on with him. Like, once you get into the specifics, all the sudden he goes, well, well, well, well, come on now, that’s dirty politics, that’s gutter politics. I want to play like that. I want to be above the fray.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah: “I’m sick and tired of hearing of your damn emails.” It’s that mentality. You think Donald Trump would have created that space for one of his opponents ethical scandals to just be dismissed away that way?
Kyle Kulinski: No way. But beyond that, because I think the problems go deeper than that, though, Glenn, because, yes, I do generally agree that, you know, you needed to be more aggressive. You needed to call him corrupt. You needed to do this after Super Tuesday. But the other thing is the polls completely flipped when it was one on one versus Biden and Bernie, in the sense that Bernie was leading on the issue of electability. And then when it became one on one and after Super Tuesday, the polls immediately flipped. And you had like a 70/30 split where 70 percent of Democratic voters were saying, actually, now Biden is the “more electable candidate”. So what Bernie needed to do, and I didn’t see him do it at all, I just saw him go right back to his old strategy, which worked in the first few states and then stopped working. What he needed to do was not only make the electability argument, which was massively important, but also do it in a way that embodies the spirit of that first point that we just made – that you’re the anti-establishment outsider. And so what I would have done is you should compare Biden to Hillary Clinton and say the words and say it a lot and say: hey, we just ran this experiment in 2016 and your safe, establishment candidate just lost. So do you want to run the experiment again? Do you want to have Hillary Clinton 2.0? Do you want to suffer the same fate? The only way you beat a fake populist on the right, Donald Trump, is with a real populist on the left, me. And what he was unable to do is make that argument in any kind of clear, convincing way that he indeed was the more electable.
Glenn Greenwald: Well, he wasn’t willing to make it at all when he was asked whether he thought Biden could win, he kept emphasizing “I think all of my colleagues on the stage are not only better than Trump, I think they’re all going to beat Trump”. He sounded very much like a standard issue Democrat to me in 2020, much more so than in 2016. But I really question – even if Bernie had run the perfect campaign, whenever that might be, adhering to your vision, or mine, or some Platonic sense of how you do an insurgent campaign – is the Democratic Party, in terms of how it’s funded, the people who constitute its loyal voting base, the people who turn out for primaries, the people they listen to, the politics that they have, is it susceptible to a successful insurgent socialist challenge or is that just not the ideology and politics of the Democratic Party voting base, no matter how great your campaign is? In other words, can a Bernie style campaign ever succeed within the modern day Democratic Party?
Kyle Kulinski: Now, on that front, I have good news. My answer is yes and a resounding yes. Because there’s this final piece of the puzzle that we need to add, which I think explains how he could have threaded that needle. And I agree, it is a very difficult needle to thread. And it is possible that maybe after that Super Tuesday slaughter, there was nothing he could have done.
But what Bernie needed to do is to sell his policy agenda, which polls overwhelmingly popular, like this is why he’s the most-liked politician in the country, and the most liked senator, the polls consistently show that, is because on each individual issue that he talks about, people are with him. So what he needed to do was while he still does his normal stump speech and sells these ideas and pushes these issues, Medicare for all, free college, living wage and the wars, all that stuff, he needed to, I think, proudly embrace the label moderate and centrist. And I think the argument that could have pierced that bubble that you’re talking about now is if Bernie said, listen, all these things I’m talking about, I am the moderate, I am the centrist. My point is the establishment is extreme. They’re extremists. The Iraq war is extreme. The outsourcing deals are extreme, they’re the problem. And I think that if that argument was made consistently enough, it would have effectively given more older voters permission to think in a new way and maybe go vote for Bernie. Because ultimately the reason why he lost this election is older voters came out in droves and those older voters were really driven by one main thing, according to them, which is..
Glenn Greenwald: Which is to beat Trump.
Kyle Kulinski: I want to beat Donald Trump. So that’s why I’m stressing these these final two pieces of the puzzle, which I think were the most important, which could have given Bernie a potential victory. Namely, you have to make the electability argument and make it in a way people understand. Compare Biden to Hillary Clinton. Compare Biden to John Kerry. Say, every time we run the so-called safe choice, it doesn’t work. I’m the actual safe choice. You have to say the word. You have to make it, make sure everybody understands it. And then you also have to make sure that you embrace that label moderate, because people generally view themselves, even though they agree with Bernie on the individual issues, they don’t think of themselves as socialist. They don’t think of themselves as lefties. They’re just normal people who go to work and take care of their families. And if you describe yourself as a moderate while you talk about these policies, that’s the permission that they need. And I’ll say this, Glenn, and you and you referenced this earlier, but, the moment that I knew we were in deep, deep trouble and we were probably going to lose is the day after Super Tuesday when the momentum of the race totally shifted and Bernie took a shellacking. The very next day he’s doing a press conference and he’s asked a question point blank from a reporter softball down the center of the plate.
“Hey, do you think Joe Biden can be Donald Trump?” And he didn’t even hesitate. And he says, yes, I do. And that’s that’s when I knew that that he didn’t understand the momentum shift in the race and he didn’t understand that he was ceding one of the two most important arguments that he needed to make in order to win.
Glenn Greenwald: But this is really ultimately what I think is the lingering question of the now two successful campaigns by a bunch of different metrics in different ways, but ultimately unsuccessful, and the fact that we ended up, first off, Hillary Clinton and now with Joe Biden. In 2016, Trump proved that a significant part of the Republican voting base hates the Republican establishment and hates Republican leadership enough so that if you viciously run against it and not just the people, but the policies — against the Iraq war, against tax cutting taxes for the rich, against corporatism and militarism and all of the orthodoxies that have long defined the Republican Party other than social issues, the one area where Trump kind of affirmed — there’s enough anger, and despite the kind of caricature of the Republican Party voter as being this cult like figure, they’re actually really angry at their leaders and are susceptible to a message that’s very vigorously opposed.
Can somebody run in the Democratic Party, channeling real anger against the Democratic establishment and the Democratic leaders, or are Democratic Party voters simply too happy with, and satisfied with, the way they kind of worship Elizabeth Warren and swoon when she goes on Saturday Night Live, and the way to this day that when Barack Obama posts some kind of a Hallmark tweet, they talk about him with religious-like reverence. Is the Democratic Party electorate simply too admiring of, too attached to, their leadership to be receptive to messaging that says that the party leadership is corrupted and bad?
Kyle Kulinski: No, I think that’s too fatalistic an argument, because when you look at the numbers, young people overwhelmingly came out for Bernie. I’m talking about a split of like 80, 20. And even when you look at when you go to the demographic of 44 and under, he’s still winning with like 70 percent. So, you know, Joe Biden has massive, massive electoral liabilities going into a general election.
Glenn Greenwald: None of which Bernie was willing to talk about.
Kyle Kulinski: Well, you’re right. And he needed to make those arguments. But I think my point of hope is it looks like, oh, my God, maybe this is a mound that will never be able to climb. But, guys, we were all so close and with minor tweaks, it’s possible we could have gotten there if Bernie only lost older voters 60/40. It’s possible that he could’ve won if we never had Bloody Monday. Bernie could have gotten a plurality and won.
So I don’t buy the idea that, you know, the hatred towards elites is only something alive and well among the Republican base and Republican voters and not something alive and well among the Democratic base and Democratic voters. I actually think that we’re right there and it was just a couple of very crazy errors.
Glenn Greenwald: But Kyle, I think those are all valid points. But then if you accept that premise, namely that it is possible to win in the Democratic party nominating process by running an insurgent campaign of the ideas Bernie has, and you also acknowledge the indisputable premise that Bernie had four years to campaign. He had all the money in the world that you could have needed. He had a very developed organization on the ground in the key states. And yet he didn’t do it. You make a very compelling case that it’s actually possible, which is to win. On some level, you have to lay the blame for that at the door of the Sanders campaign. Is that a fair conclusion from the premises you’re embracing?
Kyle Kulinski: Absolutely. No, I’m not trying to take away any of the responsibility from them.
Glenn Greenwald: No, I know you’re not.
Kyle Kulinski: In fact, my argument is very clearly that had they adjusted post-Super Tuesday in a couple very clear ways, it’s very possible Bernie Sanders could’ve won or at least been a hell of a lot more competitive coming down the stretch here.
So I really think that all it came down to, Glenn, was, they didn’t at all convince the older electorate of Bernie’s electability. And Bernie was still out there using the language of political revolution, democratic socialism, as opposed to saying, “You know what? I’m actually a moderate. That’s what I am. And I’m embracing that label because these things I’m fighting for are actually very moderate. And when you look at the rest of the developed world, they virtually all have them”. So I think that with those tweaks, you know, he could’ve won.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, not that you necessarily want to copy Donald Trump, but he did put together a pretty impressive winning formula of something that nobody thought was possible.
I mean, you can go back and look at Ross Douthat, who I think is one of the smarter Republican leaning pundits who, you know, has that famous, now notorious tweet, saying ‘aren’t we can all feel stupid when Marco Rubio wins every primary’.
You know, Trump overcame huge odds to win the Republican nomination with tons of money and Republican establishment power against him. And he did it by going full fledged, in full force, unrestrained attacks on the people in the establishment against whom he was running. And I think that when you mix messages and you say on the one hand, I’m running against this evil thing called the Democratic establishment, that I don’t want you to pay attention to or to follow any longer because it’s not any good for you. And then on the other hand, constantly call the people who lead it, your friends, and refuse to criticize them in anything other than very muted tones. I think it becomes very difficult to lodge people away and to get them to think that all the leaders that they respect and trust and love are telling them that Joe Biden is a good leader and that he’s electable. How do you get them to change their minds and not believe that? You’ve got to be very aggressive in making the case, and I think Bernie’s attachment to those human beings, if not the institution, the establishment itself, which he was willing to criticize, made it almost impossible for him to message in the way that you were suggesting he should have.
Kyle Kulinski: Well, yeah. And let’s also be clear that if Trump had lost, I think it’s very likely he just would have not endorsed whoever won. And he would’ve been totally fine with just walking away from that political world and having all the, you know, babbling idiots hate him.
He would’ve been fine with it because he’s so he’s a very petty man. And when he feels slighted, he’s like, okay, we’ll forget you. So if he lost…
Glenn Greenwald: Whereas now it’s just a matter of time as we wait for Bernie to unveil his Biden endorsement.
Kyle Kulinski: That’s right. And I do think that, you know, that will frustrate somebody like me, because I look at Joe Biden in a very similar way to how I looked at Hillary Clinton, basically anathema to everything, I believe. So, you know, on the one hand, I’ll be mad at that. But on the other hand, you know, I think that he genuinely views Trump as such a greater evil, that he’s like, I got to do what I got to do. So he’s a more serious person in a way. But I think that seriousness kind of led to the contradiction that you’re alluding to there, which is I’m going to do all the anti-establishment rhetoric, but then at the same time, call Joe, my friend. And at the same time refuse to say he’s unelectable.
And then the final piece of the puzzle, Glenn, that we haven’t touched on yet, or at least in any detail, is I really do think the media bears a lot of responsibility for how this unfolded, because I think that that, you know, that media orgy of Biden’s support post Super Tuesday or you know, or I should say the night before Super Tuesday, the day before Super Tuesday, I think that that really did help shape the race, and they really have nothing. There’s very few pro Bernie voices who are staples on these networks. And, you know, I actually felt like in some ways this election was a race between new media and old media. Old media supporting every candidate. But Bernie, new media supporting Bernie. And it just you know, people like me just aren’t big enough yet to control the narrative. We only respond to the narrative. The Intercept does wonderful work. But again, you guys are still also more responding to the narrative than controlling the narrative.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, but I think that it’s important that if you want to launch what you might want to call a political revolution or an insurgency campaign or take down an establishment, you have to be cognizant of what those obstacles and barriers are. And the reason they’re the establishment is because they have institutional control over the most potent airwaves and flows of money. That’s part of the challenge is to figure out how to subvert that. Again, that is something that Trump was able to do in 2016, although he got a lot of help from networks in a way that Bernie never did. But I think what one of the things I guess, you know, one of — and we need to sort of end it here — but one of the things that I hope will happen, and I think Bernie supporters and the campaign are entitled to some space and some time, given that the campaign’s not even technically over yet – it might be by the time this comes out, but at least as of now, Bernie’s saying he’s reassessing and focusing on the pandemic – is to avoid the mistake of the Hillary Clinton campaign and all those, you know, kind of oozing rotten to DC operatives who, in the wake of their loss, blamed everybody but themselves and never engaged in any self-critique. I think it is going to be important for anybody who wants to undermine and subvert and destroy the Democratic establishment to use these two races, not to just voice grievances, because the grievances, while valid, are part of the landscape and aren’t going anywhere. But to understand what went wrong with an eye toward figuring out how to do it better next time to avoid these shortfalls.
Kyle Kulinski: Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I would just add on top of that that I know myself and many people who are in a, you know, similar mindset have a similar ideology. We’re feeling rather Joker-fied right now. And, you know, we’re, we’re looking to burn it all down and cause some trouble. And I know that there are many, many people, myself included, you know, in 2016. I made the argument that, listen, I’m in New York, it’s a safe state, I’m not going to vote for Hillary in the general election because I don’t have to. But I also had the massive caveat. Listen, if I was in a swing state, I’d probably suck it up and vote for her, because I think Trump is a greater evil. I’m at the point now where you’re not going to get any caveats out of me. I’m done. I’m not playing this game anymore of lesser-evilism. I’m not going to be a team player or whatever. So, you know, they’re going to, I hope that the establishment political forces understand that we’re actually a force to be reckoned with. The, you know, the anti-establishment left, if you will. And there’s no amount of shaming or calling us names or screaming at us to fall in line, that’s going to get them the political outcomes that they want. And I can’t wait to hold up and show in their face the you know, the exit poll results on how many young voters went for Bernie and then tell them to go cry about it when they fail to do proper outreach to those young people.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, there was a great Lawrence O’Donnell clip that I think Jimmy Dore found, or at least I saw it there first from, you know, 15 years ago, well before his multi-million dollar year Comcast contract to do DNC propaganda on MSNBC, in which he was basically saying that, you know, the problem with the left is that the Democratic Party knows that no matter what it does, no matter how indifferent or how abusive or contemptuous it openly is towards the left, at the end of the day, the left is always going to give their votes to the Democratic Party because they have no place to go. And until the left learns that unconditional support means that you have no leverage, which means you’re going to be ignored, the left will continue to be ignored and have no power. And the only way to put a stop to that is to make it clear that they’re not going to get your support unless they do what it is that you want. That’s just basic negotiating. And I think you’re right that the time has come for people who do not regard the Democratic establishment as wayward friends that need to be just kind of moderately reformed, but as the enemy that needs to be overcome and destroyed, that continuing to lend them unconditional support only entrenches and furthers and worsens the problem.
Kyle Kulinski: Totally agree.
Glenn Greenwald: All right, Kyle, well, once again, thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
Your show has become an incredible success and rightfully so. You know that I’ve been a big fan for a long time. Whoever isn’t familiar with it should watch it.
It’s the Kyle Kulinski show or Secular Talk on YouTube. It has an immense audience, incredible amounts of influence, and finally, the media is catching up to that fact. So I really am appreciative of your coming on our first show. Thanks so much, Kyle.
Kyle Kulinski: Thank you, Glenn. I’ve always been a fan of your work as well, and I appreciate those kind words.
Glenn Greenwald: All right. Appreciate it.