In “As West Virginia Goes…” Mr. Blow says if Trump has a path to the presidency, it will likely be because of the Democrats’ weakness among voters who look a lot like the voters in this state. Mr. Kristof, in “Congress to America: Drop Dead,” says Republicans played politics two years ago with the Ebola epidemic, and now they’re stalling on the president’s funding request to fight Zika. Ms. Collins says “Bring Hillary and Bernie Together” and that Democrats could turn his standard speech into the party’s platform. Here’s Mr. Blow:
West Virginia turned on Hillary Clinton.
In 2008, when running for the Democratic nomination against then-Senator Barack Obama, Clinton won every county in the state, carrying it by a whopping 41 points.
Clinton said in 2008 during her West Virginia victory speech that no Democrat had won the White House since 1916 without taking West Virginia. What she didn’t say was that they all could have won without it. The margins of victory in those races ranged from 23 to 515 electoral votes. West Virginia has five.
That is precisely what Obama did. He won the election in 2008 without winning West Virginia, and he was re-elected in 2012 without winning even a single county in the state.
The Hill reported this week that, according to a political-science professor at a West Virginia college, West Virginia voters were so “fiercely anti-Obama that they voted in large numbers in 2012 for his primary opponent, who was a jailed felon in Texas.”
This cycle, a major part of Clinton’s strategy has been to so closely align herself with President Obama that there is very little light between them. This helped her secure and retain some minority voters, but most likely distanced her from many white ones.
On Tuesday, Clinton lost every county in the state and trailed Bernie Sanders by nearly 16 points.
So what’s going on in West Virginia? First, it is one of the whitest states in the country, and the absolute whitest in the South. It is also the least educated state and one of the poorest.
As of 2014, almost 94 percent of its citizens are white, only 18.7 percent have attained a bachelor’s degree and 17.2 percent fall below the poverty threshold.
West Virginia is the only state wholly contained in Appalachia, a collection of counties that stretches from Mississippi to New York and covers portions of swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. This region has been trending away from Democrats in recent elections. Obama won fewer than 30 of Appalachia’s 420 counties in 2012; he won 44 in 2008; John Kerry won 48 in 2004; and Al Gore won 66 counties 2000.
West Virginia is also heavily reliant on the coal industry, which is at odds with liberal clean-energy initiatives.
In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in 2008, Obama said of his proposed energy plans:
If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.
Bankruptcies aside, the Obama years saw a steep decline in coal production in the state. According to a report published by West Virginia University, “After climbing to nearly 158 million short tons in 2008, the state’s coal mine output has tumbled in each successive year to an annual total of approximately 115 million short tons in 2014 ─ or a cumulative decline of 27 percent.”
This was the right long-term clean-energy approach, but it hit a sour chord in West Virginia.
True to her Obama-emulating form, Clinton took a similar tack this cycle when she said during a CNN town hall:
I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?
And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.
Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.
Again, smart long-term policy, but doesn’t sit well in West Virginia. Clinton recently apologized for the “misstatement,” saying, “I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time.”
But the apology was too little, too late for voters in West Virginia.
West Virginia illustrates the danger that accompanies the Clinton strategy of closely aligning with President Obama and his policies: Many white voters, particularly white men, detest him. Many on the right think he went too far and many on the left don’t think he went far enough. The populist movements at both ideological extremes are to some degree anti-Obama movements.
As ABC News reported Tuesday about preliminary exit polls in the state, “the highest level of economic concern in any Democratic primary this year and greater-than-usual turnout among men, whites, political independents and critics of President Obama characterized Hillary Clinton’s challenges in the West Virginia primary.”
In 2014, Gallup reported on the depths of this problem for Democrats in general:
President Barack Obama’s job approval rating among white non-college graduates is at 27 percent so far in 2014, 14 percentage points lower than among white college graduates. This is the largest yearly gap between these two groups since Obama took office. These data underscore the magnitude of the Democratic Party’s problem with working-class whites, among whom Obama lost in the 2012 presidential election, and among whom Democratic House candidates lost in the 2014 U.S. House voting by 30 points.
These white non-college graduates are a strong base of support for Donald Trump, who exclaimed in Nevada, “I love the poorly educated.” Apparently, the feeling is mutual.
If Trump has a path to the presidency, it will most likely be because of Clinton’s — and Democrats’ — weakness among people who look an awful lot like the voters in West Virginia.
Next up we have Mr. Kristof:
In a moment, we’ll get to the Zika virus.
First, remember how scathing Republicans were about President Obama’s handling of Ebola in the fall of 2014? They lambasted his reluctance to ban travelers from affected nations, with Paul Broun, a House member from Georgia then, even wondering if Obama had a “purposeful” plan to use Ebola to harm America.
Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative gadfly, suggested that Obama didn’t care if Ebola devastated the United States: “He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too.”
A Fox News contributor, Dr. Keith Ablow, suggested in a radio broadcast that Obama perhaps wanted America to suffer from Ebola because “his affiliations” are with Africa rather than with America.
Then there was Donald Trump. After a New York physician, Craig Spencer, returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa and showed symptoms of the disease, Trump tweeted that if the doctor developed Ebola (he did), “Obama should apologize to the American people & resign!”
Trump added: “President Obama, you are a complete and total disaster, but you have a chance to do something great and important: STOP THE FLIGHTS!” That was a reference to what appeared to be the G.O.P. strategy at the time: Let Ebola destroy Africa and much of the rest of the world, but try to seal off the United States from infection.
In the 2014 elections, Republican candidates ran hundreds of ads denouncing the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola.
Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey forcibly confined Kaci Hickox, a nurse returning from West Africa, as she passed through Newark’s airport on her way to Maine. By quarantining her in a tent though she tested negative for Ebola, he complicated initiatives to send health workers to fight the disease in Africa.
In contrast, Obama’s approach was spectacularly successful. With crucial support from Britain and France, and heroic efforts by groups like Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, Obama deployed troops to West Africa and was able to pretty much extinguish the virus there, averting a global humanitarian and economic catastrophe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had calculated that without an intervention there might be 1.4 million cases of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 2015. From there it could have catapulted around the world, killing millions, entering the United States, devastating the global economy and becoming impossible to eradicate in some places.
That might have happened if someone like Trump or Christie had been in charge. It’s tragic that 11,300 West Africans died from Ebola, but the toll would have been incomparably higher — in Africa and in America — if not for Obama’s actions.
Hey, Mr. Trump, do you still think that President Obama should resign for his handling of Ebola?
All of that is worth reviewing because congressional Republicans are now again trying to block a sensible effort to address a public health crisis, this time a Zika virus outbreak that is steadily moving to the continental U.S., bringing with it calamitous birth defects.
In February, Obama urgently requested more than $1.8 billion to address Zika, and Congress since then has done nothing but talk. Republicans have protested that the administration doesn’t need the money, that they have questions that haven’t been answered or that the request is vague. These objections are absurd.
Even Senator Marco Rubio laid into his fellow Republicans a few weeks ago, saying: “The money is going to be spent. And the question is, Do we do it now before this has become a crisis, or do we wait for it to become a crisis?”
Rubio is right. It’s always more cost-effective and lifesaving to tackle an epidemic early.
“I’m very worried, especially for our U.S. Gulf Coast states,” said Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, a tropical diseases expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “I cannot understand why a member of Congress from a Gulf Coast state cannot see this train approaching. It’s like refusing emergency preparedness funds for an approaching hurricane.”
We don’t know how badly Zika will hit the U.S. But, the first American has just died of it, and federal health professionals are debating whether to counsel women in Zika areas to avoid pregnancy — and to me, that sounds serious.
The larger mistake is that budget cutters have systematically cut public health budgets that address Zika, Ebola and other ailments. The best bargain in government may be public health, and Republicans have slashed funding for it while Democrats have shrugged.
“Special funds for public health preparedness have been cut by more than 30 percent over the last decade and hospital preparedness by more than half,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener of Columbia University and its National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “All of this leaves the country far more vulnerable than people realize to threats like a Zika outbreak — or whatever else the future has in store.”
He added, “We will pay a steep price for this particular shortsightedness.”
And now we get to Ms. Collins:
Bernie Sanders is not going away. And why should he? The weather is nice, the crowds are enormous and he keeps winning primaries. Hillary Clinton has what appears to be an insurmountable lead in delegates, but hope springs eternal.
“It is a steep hill to climb,” he admits.
Actually, probably harder to surmount than Gangkhar Puensum. (Which is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. I am telling you this to distract you from the subject of delegate counts.)
But about Sanders: Democrats, what do you think he should do?
A) Convention floor fight. “Game of Thrones”! Jon Snow is alive!
B) Go away. When Clinton lost, did she torture Barack Obama over who was going to be on the platform committee? No, she sucked it up and gave an extremely nice endorsement speech.
C) Why can’t we all just get along?
Personally, I think that last one is possible. Although it would probably be a good idea to avoid saying a Clinton nomination could be a “disaster simply to protect the status quo,” as Sanders’s campaign manager did in an email on Wednesday.
In an ideal world the Democrats would nominate a presidential candidate who’s got an inspiring vision of change and the competence to run the country from Day 1. This person is not going to be on the ballot this year. So let Hillary Clinton have the nomination and give Bernie Sanders the party platform.
He deserves a role. Sanders has spent the last year speaking about narrowing the gulf between the rich and the bottom 99 percent, fighting climate change and keeping special interests out of government. He’s inspired millions. It’s pretty much always the same speech, but he’s the one who can bring the music.
(Question: Will the Republicans have a fight about their platform? Nah — Donald Trump will let his opponents put in anything they want. Look, the man has convention entertainment to plan. Given the option of choosing the party position on health care or the dance numbers, you know which way he’s going to go.)
The Democrats could just make the Sanders speech into a platform, then join hands and march into the future. There actually aren’t a lot of areas of disagreement. Clinton thinks his call for free public college tuition is … well, let’s not say dumb. Dumb is not going to get you a united convention. Let’s just say too much of a good thing. But she does want free community college tuition. Did you know that? She announced it on the very first official stop of her campaign. Since then not, um, frequently. Feel free to remind her.
They both believe in universal health care coverage. Sanders wants “Medicare for all.” Clinton’s campaign says she does, too, in theory, but just doesn’t believe anything like that could get through Congress. This week she proposed a new option for 50-somethings that The Times’s Alan Rappeport and Margot Sanger-Katz called “Medicare for more.”
And you know, if Clinton could actually deliver on those two promises, it would be stupendous. This is an excellent example of the Democratic bottom line: On many, many issues, her platform is what the Sanders platform would look like if it actually got through the congressional wringer.
On other matters, the Democrats’ current policy divisions are just about doubting Hillary Clinton’s intentions. Sanders wants to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, which bars commercial banks from going into the investment banking business. Clinton says she can crack down on Wall Street better with more recent legislation. Sanders followers don’t believe she means it.
I say, be impressed that there’s a party full of young voters for whom “Glass-Steagall” is a big applause line. You can’t not want to encourage that. Put Glass-Steagall in the platform. Even if Clinton is right, all you’d have is duplication of effort, and it would be an excellent gesture of solidarity.
Finally, there’s the influence of big-money donors on American politics. In theory, Sanders and Clinton are pretty much in the same place. But in practice, he’s built his entire campaign around the concept of throwing out special interest money, while Clinton’s barely provided lip service.
“One of the four pillars of her campaign was going to be democracy issues,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21. “Well, the pillars haven’t been around too much.”
Wertheimer had his heart broken by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who both promised to make campaign finance a top priority, then didn’t. Hillary Clinton, he thinks, ought to promise something more specific that she could implement right away. “Set up a task force in the White House whose job it is to pursue this reform. Of top staff people,” he suggested.
Or a blue-ribbon committee featuring Bernie Sanders. Who would certainly never let her hear the end of it if she failed to deliver. Put that in the platform and smoke it.