Once upon a time, there was a really popular TV show on HBO called Game of Thrones. We’ve written about it a few times at The Root; it’s a show about ambitious white people in an ancient realm who have a lot of incestuous sex, ride dragons and dream of ruling the world. A perfect metaphor for the Trump era.
Anyway, one of the greatest episodes in the series was the “Battle of the Bastards,” a huge, beautifully shot conflict between Jon Snow’s united forces and Ramsay Bolton’s army. Both were bastard sons of royal men; both took charge of powerful armies, and both sought to control the future of the realm (with slightly different methods). They had so much in common, a conflict was inevitable, right? Yet after years of anticipation, the battle around their personal battle was much more interesting than the supposed main event.
Horses got crushed, giants flung people all over the place, but when it finally came down to a one-on-one between Jon and Ramsay, it was actually pretty one-sided and almost anticlimactic. Ramsay Bolton’s ultimate comeuppance happened much later, quietly, in the dark, at the hands of a woman he’d claimed to love in public but insulted and abused behind closed doors. Now, I’m not saying who’s Ramsay and who’s Jon, but the desire by cable networks and pundits to see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren fight it out in the Battle of the Progressives in the Democratic debate this week had a similar feel (and result) to those days of peak Game of Thrones fever.
Days before this week’s debate (the last before the Iowa caucuses), Warren confirmed that Sanders told her a woman can’t win the White House during a conversation in 2018. Battles raged in 280 characters for days as surrogates from each side awaited an epic battle, but in the end, Sanders and Warren didn’t come to blows on stage, no matter how much CNN tried to instigate a fight. In the end, it changed nothing.
Now, black folks loved them some Game of Thrones, but honestly, the committee could not care less about the Battle of the Progressives. First, there is no battle; Elizabeth Warren is merely an exciting presidential candidate to most liberals, while Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is a messianic figure to many of his supporters. The High Sparrow isn’t competing with Catelyn Stark for parishioners. For what it’s worth, I have no doubt Sanders said “I don’t think a woman can win”—probably in the context of “America is too sexist” or something like that. If you asked me in 2004 could a black man win the White House, I’d have said unless his name is Colin-Jesus-Cosby-Luther King, America is too racist to let that happen (Remember, people still loved Cosby back then). The fact that Sanders categorically denies he EVER said anything like that, in any context, is about as believable as Trump saying he never said “nigger” (and we certainly know Bernie has said that).
But you know what? Whether Sanders or Warren is telling the truth or lying won’t get one black kid into college, won’t improve infant mortality for one black woman, won’t save one coastal black community from climate change. So we at the committee will leave this battle to the White Walkers and focus our fire elsewhere. Speaking of White Walkers, after Sen. Cory Booker dropped out of the race this week, the viable 2020 Democratic field looks like the wildest bunch of insurance salesmen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, not a collection of men and women seeking to run one of the most diverse nations in the world. This tweet is an entire mood for our staff.
Booker’s message of love in a time of Trump never made sense and his campaign was more geared to a post-Trump healing era than the war for America’s soul we’re facing right now. Democrats need a wartime consigliere, and Booker was more of a friendly lunchtime manager at Olive Garden.
This week’s big riser is Tom Steyer, who only moves up two spots, but as the race tightens, it’s a sign that all of his spending might give him real staying power. This week’s big drop? Everybody who isn’t named Tom Steyer.
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
Raise your hand if you have that one blunt “friend” who has said plenty of offensive things over the years and somehow NEVER seems to remember.
“I called you fat? At your wedding? Nah, that wasn’t me.”
“ I swear I never said your cornbread tastes like styrofoam covered in cornmeal.”
“No, I called you THAT bitch, like Lizzo. It was a compliment.”
That’s Warren and Bernie. I’m sure at some level they are “friends,” but Team Sanders has been shading Warren for weeks (as he should; it’s an election) and the committee is glad Sen. Warren decided to speak her truth in response. The 2020 election motto should be “no new friends”—or at least, “no new old friends over 70 who want the same job you do.”
Warren tweeted how student debt specifically harms black folks more than other demographic groups and she picked up an endorsement from John Legend. Now we’re just ordinary people on the Power Rankings Committee, so we don’t know how much weight a John Legend endorsement carries, but if Chrissy Teigen goes HAM on Bernie Bros the way she has on Trump, we’re here for it. Warren is now at 16 percent with black voters, leading Sanders, which is a sign that while the truth hurts, black folks are always glad to hear it. That and her focus on at least a few black issues during the debate earns her the top spot this week.
#2: Businessman Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer is like that guy who brags about spending a grip of cash to get great seats at a concert but still ends up sitting behind Shaq, Chewbacca and WNBA star Liz Cambage. Steyer has spent almost $15 million to get on the debate stage for about 15 minutes of actual speaking time. But he made the most of his limited minutes of fame.
Steyer focused on climate change as a race issue, the need for more jobs programs targeted at African Americans and he finally explained why he only has one tie that looks like it was purchased from the Braveheart Collection at Marshalls. Just kidding. He didn’t say anything about black jobs. Polls show that Steyer’s standing with black and brown voters, especially in criminally overlooked Nevada, might be holding. Which goes to show that spending money like a ’90s rapper after the Source Awards can actually get you somewhere in what’s left of American democracy, so he moves up this week. Side note: We love how Steyer insists he wasn’t being messy getting in between Sanders and Warren and then proceeded to be messy anyway. We see you, Tom.
#3: Vice President Joe Biden
The committee has come to accept that Joe Biden just might not be too good at this debate thing. He seemed distracted and flustered Tuesday and continues to miss the open layup questions about impeachment. Biden’s only answer to any impeachment question for the next three months should be “Trump is so shook by me that he got impeached.” Put it on a T-shirt, tattoo it across your chest (right next to DELAWARE LIFE).
Biden also actually dipped a bit in the polls this week with black voters, which contributes to his drop; he’s still doubling his rivals, but Steyer, Sanders and Warren have each polled at double digits in at least one poll last week, showing Biden’s grip on black folks isn’t what it used to be. That’s why this was a good week for him to launch his HBCU Students for Biden campaign and a nationwide tour touting his HBCU funding policies. Biden is the only Democratic candidate left with an HBCU in his home state, and by all accounts, when he shows up on HBCU campuses, students flock to him like Red Bull during finals week. He is also starting his Barbershops and Beauty Salon Tour in South Carolina this week. We’re still waiting for somebody to ask him if he can tell the difference between 4C and 3B hair, because if he does, this election might just be over.
#4: Sen. Bernie Sanders
As we mentioned previously, Sanders is more the High Sparrow than Ramsay Bolton, but either way he “won” the Battle of the Progressives, as far as his supporters are concerned. They flooded Elizabeth Warren’s Twitter timeline with snakes (Not sand snakes, but we think Bernie Bros are just as vicious), donated another $1.1 million to his campaign after the debate and continue to organize as he just secured the endorsement of the Clark County Nevada Black Caucus. So why did Bernie drop this week? Some committee members penalized him for the Warren flap, some didn’t care, but some saw it as part of a larger pattern with Sanders.
“The problem with Bernie is that he only cares about black voters so far as they are also as poor as his white friends. I don’t think Bernie saying he doesn’t recall the conversation with Warren is helping his case. First a heart attack, now dementia?” said one committee member.
At some point, should Sanders become the nominee, you have to wonder if he’ll realize that the behavior of his staff and supporters (especially the harassment of prominent black female activists online) will make it all but impossible to bring the party together, or does he even care? That and the fact that 13 percent of black voters still say they’d be “disappointed” if Sanders won the Democratic nomination keeps him from making the top three this week.
#5: Businessman Andrew Yang
Let’s list some of the prominent black men who have come forward to support Andrew Yang:
Donald Glover/Childish Gambino
Hannibal Buress (for like 12 hours)
And now, Dave Chappelle.
Yang seems to have cornered the market on a certain kind fo black guy. Rich black dudes? Rich black guys in entertainment? Black men who’ve said problematic stuff about black women? Who knows.
Does Dave Chappelle really help Yang? “Niggas in South Carolina and Nevada will love it,” texted one committee member. I say ask Ben Jealous. Dave campaigned hard for Jealous when he ran for governor in the exceptionally black state of Maryland in 2018, and despite the blue wave, not only did Jealous still lose to Republican Larry Hogan, but Hogan more than DOUBLED his black support from 13 percent in 2014 to 28 percent versus Jealous in 2018.
Look, it’s nothing personal; I actually like Sticks and Stones, but unless he’s going to go on the campaign trail as Black Bush, I don’t see Chappelle doing numbers for Yang. Yang holds steady in his rankings spot because despite not changing much in the polls, he continues to rack up endorsements and organizers in key states. He also told the NY Times that Barack Obama broke his heart, but he’s going to have to get in line because the bloom off that rose ended during Ferguson. Or maybe it was during “take off your bedroom slippers?” Or maybe it was lecturing Morehouse grads? The point is, critiquing Obama isn’t an automatic drop among black folks anymore...as long as you’re not a Republican.
#6: Former Gov. Deval Patrick
“While Deval may be the last black man standing in the 2020 race, he and his campaign have put very little effort into courting the black vote, and it shows. He and his Appalachian-white senior staff have spent most of their time focusing solely on New Hampshire’s melanin-deficient voters,” said one committee member.
The Patrick campaign has about 10 senior staffers and two are African American, which is 20 percent—which is about 100 percent more than where he’s polling right now anywhere in the country outside of his own living room. However, Patrick gets back onto our poll this month and relatively high because he’s now got seven state campaign directors and has been quietly raising money.
Deval has raised about $2.2 million in six weeks, which, if he continues at that pace, will allow him to play all of the shuffleboard and dominos he wants on the next leg of his vacation/campaign. Since Patrick has spent almost all of his campaign time in South Carolina and Nevada he’s mostly focused on black people and black issues, and he just got a glowing write up in the Washington Post, which sounds as much like a Tinder profile as a candidate profile but it encourages Democrats to give him a second look. We may take their advice if he makes any big moves in the coming weeks.
#7: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
“Show me a man who’s never made an enemy and I’ll show you a man that’s never stood for anything.”
We respect Luke because Vader wants him dead. We respected Olivia Pope because she battled B613. We salute Popeyes because they stood up to Chik-fil-A. In politics who doesn’t like you is almost as important as who does and Mayor Pete seems to have finally learned that lesson this week, earning grudging respect from some of the committee.
“I don’t care how many times he meets with Rev. Barber, it’s not going to save him if you can’t get black people to show up for you. Exhibit A, B, C, D, E, F, G. He also had a terrible debate answer (lol) but he got a few endorsements this week, including a black mayor in Iowa, South Bend Councilwoman Sharon McBride and Miss Black America,” one committee member said.
He’s also got Jim Clyburn’s grandson doing radio ads for him in South Carolina. But perhaps Mayor Pete’s biggest weakness with black voters is his lousy record with the South Bend Police Department. So, when a right-wing think tank, Judicial Watch, went through hundreds of documents about policing in South Bend and concluded that Mayor Pete was one of those extra-woke mayors who forced officers to take classes in racial sensitivity and de-escalation, it actually worked in his favor.
Want to prove you’re not racist? Make sure racists hate you (we’re talking to you, Tulsi Gabbard with the David Duke endorsement). Good job, Pete. What’s next, we find out you rejected George Zimmerman’s application to be a part of your security detail? After weeks of mistakes and well-earned bad press, some endorsements and a reverse endorsement have Mayor Pete moving up in our rankings.
#8: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Why didn’t the CNN debate moderators ask Amy Klobuchar about her relationship with black voters like they did with Mayor Pete? I mean outside of the championship-winning Minnesota Lynx, have you ever actually seen Amy Klobuchar with a group of black people? And if she was, did she look lost or nervous?
Speaking of who she knows and doesn’t know, the only thing worse than a name-dropper is a name-dropper who can’t even remember the names they want to drop. Klobuchar tried to compare herself to recently elected Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, but couldn’t remember Kelly’s name during the debate and stumbled over her name like the person who’s lied their way into a job interview but can’t remember which fake sorority they shared with the CEO. Also, can we just point out that if you’re going to recite names during a debate, how about Philando Castile or the dozens of other black people who were abused by police on your watch as a prosecutor or senator in Minnesota, like Julian Castro would have done? (Pouring out some Dos Equis for our man’s campaign.)
Klobuchar gets this high because she at least mentioned black people during the debate and she’s up to only 46 percent of black voters not knowing who she is, according to the latest YouGov poll (pdf), which puts her somewhere between the non-Meghan Markle members of the British royal family and non-Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence movies on the scale of stuff that matters to white people that black people care nothing about.
#9: Businessman Michael Bloomberg
The committee believes that Michael Bloomberg is only running because if Bernie or Warren get in and pass that wealth tax, he won’t be able to afford a self-indulgent presidential run in 2024. So Bloomberg has been running tons of ads with him and black and brown people, but he remains as stagnant as a Penn Station bathroom in the polls. Initially, we wanted to lump him in with Steyer, but the other billionaire’s ability to turn cash into support means that there really must be something that Bloomberg is NOT doing with black voters to keep himself in the basement. Maybe it’s something like this week, when he initially said he was in favor of stop and frisk, then he was against it, then he wanted to move on.
Or when he was in favor of changing the schedule of primary states, then against it, then changed his mind again. Look, the committee empathizes; when you’ve got all that money, decision-making is rare, since you can pretty much buy anything. But at this point, Bloomberg is flopping more than Warren on Medicare for all, Bernie on his taxes and Pete on when he discovered black people. Bloomberg’s only saving grace is giving money to Stacey Abrams get-out-the-vote efforts and his commitment to one day drop out and put ALL of his money behind the Democratic nominee.
Also, while the committee has an official policy of not counting anybody else’s coins (although we do suggest you take care of yo’ chicken), we do have some advice for where Bloomberg can spend all of that money he’s hellbent on blowing right now. Florida courts just ruled that even though felons who’ve served time have the right to vote again, they have to pay restitution before doing so; a ruling, of course, that disproportionately affects black voters. How about Bloomberg go down to Florida, drops a few million and pay off all those fines? He would literally be giving the vote to over a million people, and he could take credit for it during the primary. Call us, Mike; we’ve got ideas on better ways to spend your cash.
#10: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
I went to McDonald’s even though I was vegan (Step up your game, like Burger King).
I went to Italy, home of cappuccinos, yet spent all day at a generic Starbucks instead.
I went to Vegas but I hate to gamble.
Tulsi Gabbard, how are you flying into South Carolina in your white suit, looking like Nikki Haley doing Colonel Sanders cosplay, sitting down and doing a whole interview, but having literally NOTHING to say; no plan, no schedule, not a peep about what your goals are for black voters? Why, in the year of our Lord 2020, is she still in the race but Booker and Castro aren’t? Either way, since Gabbard has decided she won’t run for reelection, we have a job offer for her; looks like the entire Russian government resigned. I’m pretty sure they’re taking applications and she’d probably fit right in. Trump would happily write her a recommendation.