It’s that time of year again when we get a little sad. Football is over (I was right; the team with the black quarterback won!), our favorite shows are coming to an end (Power’s series finale is Sunday but I feel like anything other than Tariq ending up in jail is a downer) and we are nearing the end of the Power Rankings.
As we stated at the beginning of the year, The Root Presidential Black Power Rankings will be ending at the South Carolina primary, which means we only have about three more weeks before no one out there is really paying any weekly attention to what black people—you know, the most important voting bloc for one of two functional political parties in America—really think about the presidential candidates.
This is particularly sad given the Street Fighter combo of sheer political hell that hit the country this week. Trump started off Black History Month by adding Nigeria and five other countries to the travel ban, essentially gutting one-third of every HBCU pre-med study group across the United States, followed by him hitting his highest personal approval of his presidency this week (49 percent). Then the Senate acquitted him of trying to murder democracy on 5th Avenue and the Democrats screwed up the Iowa caucuses so bad it made the Fyre Festival look organized; even Putin pulled a Shaggy (“It wasn’t me”). None of this is encouraging.
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So, in a week when Trump looks his strongest, we thought it’d be a good idea to find some committee members that are just as sad as we are, but might have some insight into how to stop Trump: black Republicans. Yes, they’re still out there. Not Trump Republicans, like scam Pastor Darrell Scott (a dead ringer for rapper Lloyd Banks or porn star Brian Pumper, take your pick) who’s running around breaking campaign finance law to bribe black folks into voting Trump. I mean actual black Republicans who can’t stand Trump but somehow still retain the party name (we’ll have an intervention for them to leave this abusive relationship later).
This week’s guest judges are Lenny McAllister, a director for the Commonwealth Group, a free-market think tank in Pennsylvania that advocates for school choice, fiscal responsibility and a significant extension for Mike Tomlin. Also, Shermichael Singleton, a political consultant, show host, analyst and writer whose claim to fame is incredibly impressive suits and getting fired from Housing and Urban Development for daring to criticize Trump. These folks aren’t just smart, they’re swing voters; black Republicans who are sick of Trump who can either stay home this fall or vote for the Democratic nominee; it’s worth hearing what they have to say. Now, on to this week’s rankings:
This week’s big riser is...Mike Bloomberg, who returns to the rankings in a top spot after being bumped off last week. Mike is problematic in a hundred different ways; the man reportedly plagiarized policies on his own website, but he’s getting a second look from black voters for some highly disturbing reasons. This week’s biggest loser is Joe Biden, who drops three spots and whose political fate seems to be increasingly linked to Bloomberg’s.
How do we calculate black power?
- Finances: Are you paying black staff, advertisers, consultants?
- Legislation: What legislation are you pushing or have passed for black people?
- External Polling: No matter how good you are for black people, if your poll numbers are terrible we can’t rank you that high!
- X-Factor: What’s your rhetoric like? How do you handle a crisis or the kinds of events and scandals that directly impact black lives?
#1: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Warren wins the top spot this week by default because she really didn’t do anything great, but perhaps she just made the fewest fatal errors. She came in third in the Iowa caucuses, which amounts to nothing since the process went about as well as a third-world election with results that are just as credible. She’s moved up a bit nationally but by all accounts, is still about to get dog-walked in New Hampshire, despite the state being in her “backyard.” Warren’s high point this week? Not being completely tone-deaf on race. After essentially a walkout by staffers in Nevada (all women of color), she actually took responsibility and most of the staff claimed they would still caucus for her, they just wouldn’t work for the campaign anymore. Hooray?
“Elizabeth Warren is a person with many plans, but no idea how she would pass anything. At least Bernie Sanders is honest about his ideas. Warren always seems to talk more than she listens and it was revealed as much in a recent Politico article,” said Singleton. “She also nearly always talks exclusively about black women with no mention of black men, which is problematic to me and raises red flags. To be frank, I don’t think she can be trusted.”
Warren is increasingly emerging as the choice of activists and analysts who want a taste of progressive politics but are worried that Sanders will turn off too many people; given both of their relatively weak numbers, it’s not clear that will even matter. According to Lenny McAllister:
Why is she higher in this list than, say, Bernie Sanders? Because Elizabeth Warren is coming to the table, at this point, with the liberal chops that Bernie has along with the policy insight and slightly less labels (i.e., the dreaded “socialist” label that Trump is already starting to gin up to his base, as evidenced in the State of the Union) than Sanders has. How she does at the upcoming few elections/caucuses will make a difference as to whether Warren actually becomes the “true liberal” that black folks can trust (i.e., liberals without the “Bernie bros” toxicity) to be strong enough to win in November or if Warren and Sanders are ideologues without a viable path.
#2: Businessman Andrew Yang
Yang drops one spot this week after not only failing to really make any headway in Iowa but also going full Nino Brown on his campaign staff after his poor performance there.
Yang isn’t going anywhere because he’s got money and is having too much fun on the campaign trail, but if he wants to be a real contender he’s got to do something more than rack up cool celebrity endorsements.
What kept him from dropping further is an interesting historic note from guest judge Shermichael Singleton. We’ve had our doubts in the past, but it turns out universal basic income was a lot closer to becoming law than most of the committee thought, and it was from Richard Nixon, of all people—which means everyone from MLK to Nixon to Obama has suggested it might not be a bad idea. Those aren’t quite endorsements, but it makes his signature plan much less of a fantasy.
Singleton spreads some knowledge:
Another aspect of Yang’s campaign has been his advocacy for UBI. It certainly isn’t realistic, but there’s a little history behind the idea that may shock you. In 1969, then-President Richard Nixon revealed a similar proposal called the Family Assistance Plan. Nixon’s proposal would’ve guaranteed a family of four $1,600 a year, which was around $10,000 in 2016. It received significant support in the House, but ultimately died in the U.S. Senate in 1972.
#3: Businessman Mike Bloomberg
I feel like I have some odd personal connection to Mike Bloomberg since the Bernie left has spent a week trying to claim that me reminding the public of his terrible criminal justice record, non-disclosure agreements with former employees and attempt to basically buy a nomination are apparently a “defense” of Mike Bloomberg.
My point, which Our Revolution director Nina Turner either didn’t understand or was intentionally misinterpreting, was simply that calling Bloomberg (or any other rich person in America) an oligarch doesn’t work in the American context because that word doesn’t mean anything to most people. If I tell a group of people we have to stop oligarchs like Jeff Bezos, I get blank stares. If I say Jeff Bezos makes $8,961,187 an HOUR and pays almost zero taxes? People will be marching to Congress with pitchforks. This is distinction that The Root’s senior reporter Terrell J. Starr, who has a master’s in Russian, East European and Eurasian studies and has observed oligarch culture up close, will be writing about as well. That being said, this is the scary reality about Bloomberg; he won this week, as Lenny McAllister depressingly points out:
Don’t be mistaken: The debacle of the caucuses, coupled with the close race between Buttigieg and Sanders (with Warren in third), only shows the black voting bloc that what is needed to beat Trump in 2020 will be an infusion of money, personnel, energy, and long-game vision—all of which Bloomberg is trying to bring to the table. As well, Trump’s showing at the SOTU (i.e., one that polled well with Republicans and independents alike) indicates that the “current crop of candidates” will have a hard time beating Trump in November, leaving the door open for Bloomberg over these next few states.
The American left and the mainstream press do not realize just how serious black America, especially older black Americans, are about getting rid of Trump. From Tennessee to Texas to California, we’re hearing from committee members that black folks will jump to Bloomberg if Biden falters because they think he might be the only one to beat Trump. And that’s not all about money because Tom Steyer is spending millions and even he’s not polling second with black voters like Bloomberg is in North Carolina, of all places.
In other words, if it takes a billionaire with a terrible race policy to stop an alleged billionaire who coddles white nationalists, black folks will go with the devil over Satan.
“Personally, I like Bloomberg’s business acumen and I think he would be superb on economics. However, there should be serious questions about his judgment as it pertains to criminal justice and his ideas about curbing punishment. As recently as early 2019, he still publicly stood by ‘stop and frisk’ despite all evidence showcasing its deleterious impact on black men,” Shermichael noted.
#4: Sen. Bernie Sanders
What can you say about Bernie Sanders that hasn’t already been said, then attacked, then doxed by his staffers, then explained by common sense people, then attacked again by Bernie surrogates who literally seem to live online (because they certainly aren’t out in the streets)? Sanders doesn’t move this week because it was a “two steps forward, two steps back” kind of situation for him.
On the positive side, his campaign came in (tied?) for first in the messy, terrible, no-good Iowa caucuses. He’s gaining ground and is in a strong second in South Carolina, and his campaign raised $25 million in January, more than any other campaign in the entire fourth quarter last year.
The bad news? According to the latest polls, Sanders is the first choice of only 8 percent of black voters, which puts him in fourth behind Biden (43 percent), Warren (14 percent) and (eye roll) Mike Bloomberg (12 percent). This is downright embarrassing given that Sanders has basically been campaigning for five years. Even worse, the turnout in Iowa was the same or perhaps even lower than 2016, despite having more candidates, which suggests Sanders’ pitch that he can bring out new voters didn’t quite manifest. And most importantly…bruh, you lost to MAYOR PETE, essentially the Sheldon Cooper of the 2020 Democratic field.
No matter how you spin this (and Bernie world is trying), it’s one thing if Sanders had tied or lost to Biden or Warren, but to get out-hustled by a guy who essentially ordered his campaign staff off Amazon 10 months ago when Sanders had a five-year head start is a really bad sign.
#5: Former Vice President Joe Biden
Lenny McAllister breaks down Joe Biden’s somewhat mediocre week, if not his campaign as a whole:
“Telling us that he is the most electable candidate for the Democrats in 2020 is not the same as showing it, just as telling black voters that Hillary Clinton was the most prepared, talented, and decorated president candidate to ever run for the presidency in 2016 (which, by the way, was not true—Washington? Adams? Jefferson? Eisenhower? Johnson?) was not enough to convince more of us (i.e., in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan) to vote for her. He needs to show black people that the gaffes will stop, the energy will start, and the primary wins will flow—starting with a top 3 (at the very least) showing in New Hampshire...or else. #Bloomberg2020"
Team Biden has been telling the committee for months that they didn’t expect to do well in Iowa nor did they expect to compete in New Hampshire, which is the backyard of Warren and Sanders. So a lackluster fourth-place finish for a guy who’s never been a great campaigner isn’t a surprise.
Here’s why Biden has dropped in our rankings for two consecutive weeks, though. His “firewall” in South Carolina might actually be made of straw. Sanders is only trailing him by 5 percent now, and there is a huge local fight brewing thanks to local Biden campaign surrogate Dick Harpootlian, who is running around Columbia South Carolina pissing off black legislators. Harpootlian has accused South Carolina Black Caucus Chair Jerry Govan of being a tool of Tom Steyer (since Steyer was paying the guy almost $50,000 a month to work as a consultant), apparently ripped an entire majority-black staff for being incompetent and insulted a black 75-year-old Vietnam vet in the process. At a presser, black legislators wanted Biden to denounce Harpootlian; Biden’s campaign says they don’t endorse anything that’s come out of Harpootlian’s mouth. Black legislators say Biden is pivoting like Zion Williamson in the post, but isn’t nearly as effective.
Look, the committee isn’t trying to get involved in a local spat between Southern folk (you ever walk into a hot South Carolina kitchen hours before a summer barbecue only to have two aunties turn to you angrily with wooden spoons in their hands asking you to decide whose barbecue seasoning is better? There is no right answer. Turn. Run. Break North. Find Grandpa; it’s just best to not get involved). But we’re also not running for president. If Biden doesn’t handle this quickly, he runs the risk of alienating the lone constituency that still seems to believe he’s got a crack at the White House in a must-win state.
#6: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
“Is the black population in South Bend celebrating Mayor Pete’s narrow victory in a state that looks more like South Dakota than South Bend? No? Then why should black folks get aboard yet?” Lenny McAllister asked.
Mayor Pete’s victory in Iowa shows that white America isn’t serious about beating Donald Trump. Literally, as I was typing this Power Ranking, I got a text from a middle-aged black colleague saying essentially, “If it’s not Biden, I’m going for Bloomberg. Pete can’t win.” It cannot be underestimated how much convincing black people you can actually beat Donald Trump really matters, and nobody outside of his husband, his pastor and those five black women they got to stand behind him during his pre-victory speech in Iowa believes that Mayor Pete can actually go head-to-head with Donald Trump. During an interview with Angela Rye this week, Pete wasn’t able to name TWO black women he’d put in his cabinet. Just ANY two women. How hard can it be, Pete? Chloe and Halle Bailey. Salt & Pepa. Diamond and Silk. Oprah and Gayle. Anybody.
“What black people would you put in your cabinet” is the 2020 campaign equivalent of “Tell me why you left your last job” at a real-world job interview. If you answer it upfront, the interview moves on quickly; if you stumble or hesitate, everybody is going to give you the side-eye.
If the Democratic nomination comes down to Mayor Pete versus Bernie Sanders, then black America will have to denounce the Baptist church, become Branch Bernidians and worship our Lord and savior Bernie Christ because Pete’s got no chance of getting past Donald Trump. That opinion so thrilled Sanders supporters, I was put in a Daft Punk video—which only Bernie supporters would think is a compliment given Daft Punk robbed Kendrick for the Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
#7: Former Gov. Deval Patrick
Deval Patrick finished up a six-day bus tour of pancake houses and antique shops in New Hampshire this week, and we have some reports that he did some campaigning, too. His campaign is still under the impression that since Biden took a hit in Iowa, all his black supporters in South Carolina are going to fall to Patrick like sonic rings, but nobody on the committee sees that happening. The fact that New Hampshire voters should be familiar with him after his time as governor in a neighboring state doesn’t seem to have helped his numbers at all, and the only way he’s getting into the Nevada debate is if he dresses up as a microphone and hides under Tom Steyer’s tie. Deval moves up one spot this week, purely on the strength of his great resume and the fact that I like using affirmative action on the lone black man in the rankings this week just to piss off our Republican judges.
“As governor of Massachusetts, he increased the minimum wage by 37 percent. So ideas about and plans some candidates have run on are realities for Patrick. Being able to work a job with dignity and honor regardless of the type of job is important and though not guaranteed considering the current divided Congress, the track record of success on the issue is important,” Singleton noted.
#8: Businessman Tom Steyer
“When you’re a billionaire, can self-fund, and have been in several debates...and another billionaire comes in with more money, more traction, and higher polling than you across the board...perhaps it’s time to go. Steyer is not connecting on his bucket-list tour,” Lenny McAllister said.
Tom Steyer continues to stay messy in South Carolina but it’s not translating into votes. Rumor has it that the whole Harpootlian-versus-State Rep. Govan battle is really a manufactured conflict so that Steyer can pick a fight with Joe Biden. It seems rather contrived, almost as contrived as his Braveheart tie and insistence on appearing with rolled-up sleeves like he just left a Habitat for Humanity meeting.
Word on the street is that Steyer wasn’t that impressive during his interview with The Root recently, and while the committee credits Steyer with pushing out a policy that combats the inherent racism in school funding being linked to property taxes, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s not doing anything radical enough this week to convince black voters that he’s the best option to defeat Trump. Steyer is starting to give the committee that Beto O’Rourke feeling: his passion about climate change and racism is real, but maybe he’d make a better governor or congressman than president.
#9: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
“She is the 2020 version of Tim Pawlenty, circa 2011: A candidate who, on paper, should have some good natural advantages that never translated to the debate stage, fundraising and campaign trails, and (now) voting booths,” McAllister said.
Well, Amy Klobuchar doesn’t have commercials as good as Pawlenty and the #Klobucharmy got clobbered in Iowa, so there’s no reason for anyone to consider her a real contender anymore. Klobuchar has never resonated with black voters or pushed any meaningful black policy and if she can’t even manage to make a splash in her mythologized white Midwest, then what’s the point of her staying in this race anymore? Singleton was thinking the same thing:
I’ve never watched or read in an interview anything from Klobuchar that suggests she has any interest in how policy issues impact African-Americans. Her biggest selling point appears to be her ability to turn out Obama-Trump voters, but doing that without being able to turn out African-American voters is a fool’s errand and you can’t turn out black voters if you’re not talking about proactive policies that benefit the unique set of challenges that African Americans face.
#10: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
I got nuthin’...and neither does she...