Reporter's Notebook

Hillary vs. Bernie
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A reader debate over the leading Democratic candidates of the 2016 presidential primary.

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Evan Vucci / Reuters

A reader keeps the debate going:

For me the only question of any import is which candidate is more likely to win the general election. If the Republicans win the presidency they will probably control Congress as well. I cannot underscore enough what an enormous disaster I think this would be for our nation. Given that a Democratic president is unlikely to be able to make any new policy except via executive action, I truly do not care who the Democratic nominee is as long as they win. They MUST win.

And I don’t think Bernie can. He does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans. We know that swing voters aren’t policy oriented people. If they didn’t vote from the gut, they wouldn't be swing voters! I can’t see those voters trusting a man who intentionally cultivates an image as angry and unprofessional. Bernie presents the image of a nutty professor as part of demonstrating that he’s reliably socialist. The tradeoff is that, judging by looks alone, he appears to be a nut, and a significant part of swing voters will make their decisions on that factor alone! Given how close elections are, the “bad hair factor” doesn’t need to be very large to cost us the election.

The reader claims that Bernie “does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans,” but I’m not so sure that’s true, at least regarding the GOP’s decisive frontrunner. According to polling averages from RealClearPolitics, Bernie leads Trump by the same margin as Hillary leads Trump—44 to 42. And according to The Huffington Post’s averages, Bernie leads Trump 49 to 42 while Hillary only leads Trump 48 to 44.5. The primaries haven’t even started yet, of course, and Election Day is still ten months away, but Bernie seems like he could be just as strong in the general election as his more centrist Democratic rival. Update: The reader below, Matt, bolsters my point even further:

That comment from the guy who says Bernie loses head-to-head matchups against any Republican? Maybe 18 months ago, but the latest polling on RCP has Sanders beating every Repub while Clinton only beats most. (Cruz for some reason has big numbers in Iowa, but it must just be his turn.) So Sanders has the advantage over Clinton in every hypothetical race (see attached screencap from RCP).

This stuff is not exactly science, but it is illustrative. The Clinton Inevitablity/Electability narrative is half-myth, half-Beltway insider consensus. Nobody is inevitable, Clinton least of all (*cough 2008 cough*).

That reader, in his original email, scrutinizes the Clinton narrative in great detail:

My name is Matt. You posted my thoughts about the merits of online dating for a discussion thread you ran several months back. Today I have more comments on another subject near and dear to people of my general age and political persuasion: Bernie Sanders. I wanted to respond to the individual who wrote the topmost email in this note. The reader ultimately misstates the nature of Clinton’s appeal while ignoring that her apparent positives—steadiness, competence, a legislative record to run on, realism, pragmatism, political and bureaucratic mastery, etc—are actual aspects of Sanders’ legislative accomplishments.

People like Hillary for a variety of reasons—her competence, her formidable knowledge and recall of geopolitics, her decades of hard-won relationships in Washington that could theoretically be leveraged into real legislative accomplishments. I too have met her; I found her warm and engaging, if a little humorless and kind of a hard ass. But I have also met Sanders (I interned for him in college) and found him much the same.

The argument I’m not buying, and never will, is the “she’ll by gosh get things done” canard. This is a problematic argument for two reasons.

Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Iowa State University on January 12. (Scott Morgan / Reuters)

A reader defends Hillary against the these readers who support Bernie:

Your reader wrote: “Clinton appeals to a smaller and smaller segment of the Democratic electorate. She is BORING.” This, I think, is the crux of why I’m wary of Sanders and will be voting for Clinton. Maybe she’s boring. Maybe she’s stiff in public and lacks her husband’s ability to pirouette through the electorate. But I think she’ll be competent and effective in a way that I've seen no indication that Sanders can be.

Obama came into 2008 riding the type of train Sanders is on now. Our last great hope! Save America from the Establishment! HOPE! CHANGE!

I always though the mushy hope/change stuff was largely BS. But what I did see in Obama, in a few unguarded moments like the Reverend Wright speech and the “cling to their guns” moment, was the guy underneath the messiah campaign. And that guy seemed to me like someone who was smart, capable, empathetic, knowledgable, and realistic about the state of the world. It’s that man I wanted to be president.

In a piece from David Graham showing how close the race is between Clinton and Sanders in key polling, David notes how she is “pulling out various stops. In particular, she has spent the last few days assailing Sanders for being, in her view, soft on gun control”—despite the Vermonter’s D-minus rating from the NRA. Along those lines, a reader predicts that Sanders would “wipe the floor with Trump” and refers to the video seen above:

Obama called her Annie Oakley in the 2008 primary because of her proud pro-gun stance, but now ALL OF A SUDDEN she is supposed to be some kind of anti-gun crusader? Come on.

Clinton appeals to a smaller and smaller segment of the Democratic electorate. She is BORING. Sanders has ALL of the excitement because he actually stands for something and is principled. She is so very obviously nothing but a panderer who changes her tune depending on which way the wind blows.

H.A. Goodman in The Huffington Post looks at the record from the last time Clinton ran against a fellow Democrat:

According to a 2008 New York Times article titled Clinton Portrays Herself as a Pro-Gun Churchgoer, Clinton’s rhetoric on the 2nd Amendment differed greatly from today’s attacks against Sanders: