Skip to main content

Jacobin - December 4, 2019

"However bleak her polling among the wider population might be, the Minnesota senator can at any rate rest easy knowing she’s doing well within the Pundit Track — a kind of special electorate for which elections are almost entirely aesthetic and political appeal has nothing to do with a politician’s ability to attract votes from real people. In this respect, she is the quintessential Beltway phenomenon: a Highly Electable Candidate with virtually no popular support. Satire hasn’t been this obsolete since Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize."

As the Democratic nomination race nears Iowa at long last, Amy Klobuchar sits with a resounding 2.4 percent in the RCP average of presidential primary polls.

Like several other candidates who’ve received lavish praise from the pundit gallery and a veritable pile of momentum stories from major media outlets, the Minnesota senator’s press attention has palpably failed to crystallize into significant or lasting popular support — with one extremely amusing difference: ephemeral and contrived as they may have been, the breathless, effusive media campaigns that aided the momentary surges of figures like Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke were at least accompanied by a noticeable uptick in a handful of polls.

Klobuchar, by contrast, has been an also-ran from the moment she entered the race, having failed to crack even the mid–single digits since announcing her candidacy in February. She’s a distant ninth in quarterly fundraising — behind the likes of Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, and Kamala Harris (who suspended her campaign this week) — and unless America’s liberal establishment somehow burns through its seemingly inexhaustible reserve of focus-tested centrists and billionaires before the polls close in Iowa, her position seems unlikely to shift.

None of this would matter in the slightest if elite pundits and marquee op-ed writers hadn’t been taking it upon themselves to tell us, again and again, that Klobuchar is both incredibly impressive and eminently electable. Indeed, perusing the coverage of the Minnesota senator’s perpetually flailing campaign, the casual reader might easily conclude that America is in the throes of chronic Amy Mania or, at any rate, that an insurgent Klobuchar breakthrough is mere days or weeks away.

Poll a representative sample of the nation’s leading pundits and you’ll discover that Klobuchar is an able and charismatic debater whom ordinary voters adore for her folksy charm, down-home affect, cuttingly dry sense of humor, and dogged commitment to political realism. Her debate performances always receive wide acclaim from the martini-soaked galleries at press viewing parties, and her campaign is currently receiving its fifth or sixth second look from a primary electorate some still insist is positively crying out for a Plainspoken Moderate whose biggest idea is expanded personal savings accounts.

So why, exactly, do elite pundits love Amy Klobuchar so much?

The simplest explanation is that some are more or less glorified sports commentators who revel in the kind of speculative, horse-racey, meta-commentary bullshit that now arguably comprises the vast majority of campaign coverage. Viewed in this way, democratic politics are mostly an amusing spectacle wherein various candidates compete on the basis of neatly taxonimizable personal attributes — like professional athletes or fantasy characters digitally rendered with +7 Electability and +15 Midwesternness for the latest release by EA Games. This was evidently the thinking behind a February analysis penned by pollster qua soothsayer Nate Silver entitled “How Amy Klobuchar Could Win The Democratic Nomination,” brimming with observations like the following:

The beer track . . . without the baggage? Klobuchar’s campaign is likely to emphasize her working-class Midwestern roots, her staff said; you’ll hear stuff about how her grandfather worked as an iron-ore miner, for instance. It will also pitch her to voters on candor, honesty, pragmatism, an ability to “get stuff done,” work ethic and so forth. It’s going to lean pretty heavily into her Midwesternness, in other words. The idea is to draw a contrast — probably softly at first, and maybe more explicitly if the campaign grows more combative — between Klobuchar and more left-wing candidates from the coasts, particularly Harris, Warren, Sanders and perhaps Booker. In some ways, this will recall the old distinction between “beer-track” (“flyover-state” moderates) and “wine-track” (coastal liberals) Democrats.

The preceding, of course, would make a bit more sense in a world where it was somehow possible to abstract a candidate’s “electability” from their popularity among actual people who cast votes. Given the obvious disconnect between her ostensible electability and her cavernous numbers, a bewildered Silver was thus forced to conclude of a recent poll unfavorable to Klobuchar: “[She] probably has one of the best electability arguments in the field, so the fact that she’s tied for last here is a sign that voters don’t really think about electability in the same way that political analysts do.”

Let that sink in for a minute ...
Read full report at Jacobin