The Implications of the South Carolina Black Vote for Bernie and Biden

February 28, 2020

Marcus Ferrell, a former Sanders operative, takes us from the last Democratic debate, to the eve of South Carolina's primary, to the upcoming Democratic nomination and the war with Trump.

Marcus Ferrell, a former Sanders operative, takes us from the last Democratic debate, to the eve of South Carolina's primary, to the upcoming Democratic nomination and the war with Trump.


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Story Transcript

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I think we’re talking about math.

GAYLE KING: We’ll get to you, Mr. Sanders.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Let’s talk about it.

TOM STEYER: Can I say something?

BERNIE SANDERS: First of all…

TOM STEYER: No, let me go.

BERNIE SANDERS: No, I think she was talking about my plan, not yours.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I think we were talking about math, and it doesn’t take two hours to do the math.

BERNIE SANDERS: No, no, well, let’s talk about math.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Because let’s talk about what it adds up to.

BERNIE SANDERS: Let’s talk about math.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Let’s talk about math, indeed. OK, so here’s the math…

BERNIE SANDERS: If we do nothing is what…

PETE BUTTIGIEG: No, here’s the math.

BERNIE SANDERS: Excuse me, can I respond to the attack?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: To do nothing is what will happen…

NORAH O’DONNELL: Senator Sanders, you are allowed a quick response and then we would like to allow the other candidates…

BERNIE SANDERS: Listen to the moderator, guys.

NORAH O’DONNELL: Senator Sanders. Senator Sanders.

BERNIE SANDERS: The moderator–is it my turn?

JOE BIDEN: This helps a lot, doesn’t it?

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us.

The South Carolina Democratic debate was out of control. It felt like sheer chaos with no one in charge. But it was very revealing, especially in the context of the Nevada debate and what lies ahead for both the battle of the Democratic nomination–perhaps also for the soul of that party–and the fall war coming between the Trumpian forces and the Democratic opposition. The chaos may be emblematic of the state of the Democrats as much as it was terrible moderating. So what have you learned from the last two debates?

Well, we are going to talk about that now with Marcus Farrell, who was the African American Outreach Director and South-Eastern Political Director for Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign. Former deputy campaign manager for Stacey Abrams in her bid to become governor of Georgia, and former chief of staff for the New Georgia project, and currently working as Political Consultant in Georgia and joins us from Atlanta now. Marcus, welcome, good to have you with us.

MARCUS FERRELL: Is it my turn to talk? I was trying to figure out whether it’s my turn to talk yet.

MARC STEINER: No, I’ll let you know when that time comes.

MARCUS FERRELL: You just did a better job than the moderation last night.

MARC STEINER: That was terrible. My god, that was insane. It was really out of control. But here’s what I was thinking about the chaotic nature of that debate last night. It might in real time kind of reflect this fratricidal warfare going on among these Democrats. So let’s listen to this one little clip–it just blew me away for a while–which is the crowd booing Warren and Bernie.

BERNIE SANDERS: Mayor Bloomberg has a solid and strong and enthusiastic base of support. Problem is, they’re all billionaires. Now if you look, Joe has voted for terrible trade agreements.

MARC STEINER: And they booed Warren as well. it was pretty glaring. Then this morning I read this article in Common Dreams that explains it all, which was that this was an audience full of mostly really wealthy people and politically connected people who paid at least $1,700 a ticket to get in. And then I realized, that’s happened before. So you’ve been around this game for a long time, what was that? I mean, Bloomberg didn’t have to pay for a stacked deck, they gave it to him.

MARCUS FERRELL: Well, let’s talk about what we’re doing right now. First, let me backtrack a little bit, then I can get into the boos. Because what I’m going to say next should make sense.

MARC STEINER: Okay, cool. Go ahead.

MARCUS FERRELL: Welcome to the South, baby. Welcome to where the black folks are. I’ve been waiting for this all year long. No more Iowa speak. No more talking about how I make 41 year old white moderate women happy. Now you’ve got to get down to the Dirty South where issues that African Americans give a damn about actually matter, right? So you got to understand something, there are elite versions of everything. Believe it or not, there are very wealthy, elite black people. Right?

MARC STEINER: Sure.

MARCUS FERRELL: And if you’re going to tell me that that crowd was a crowd full of the barbershop owners, the brothers who play basketball on the basketball court after work and after school. The cats who fix your car and the mechanics, even some of the lawyers and doctors that won’t necessarily pay $1,700 for a ticket. I don’t think they filled that room. Now, I did have a conversation with Jamie Harrison this morning on Facebook. And he said to me, “Listen. It was an organic room. Bernie probably could have answered the question differently, but you’ve got to understand something. That might have been a room that was just tailor-made to wait for him to automatically say anything that wasn’t the way that they necessarily wanted it to be said.” Lastly, you got to understand something. There are some people who are part of the Democratic establishment in the South that still hate Bernie for running against Hillary Clinton.

And I say that as the African-American Outreach Director for him, who I was going to some of these offices with, some of the same people that are in these offices that took the immediate opportunity to take whatever Bernie said and if he didn’t immediately go into the answer he was trying to dodge. And we all know that Bernie actually came back and answered the question. The same thing with Elizabeth Warren. So let’s just be real about what we’re talking about here. There’s a cash system. African Americans are not a monument and I don’t think that’s going to be indicative of how Bernie performs. Joe Biden still will perform well, but a room for the people who are a part of the Democratic establishment booing Bernie. I mean, what else do you expect?

MARC STEINER: Well, there’s a couple things I want to… Let me just pick up one little thing you said, not pick on but hit one of the things you said before I hit this next point I really want to make. So you worked for Bernie before. You’re an independent now working as Independent Consultant. So what do you think is at the bottom of Bernie Sanders picking up so much new black support in South Carolina and across the country? Where is that coming from?

MARCUS FERRELL: Time man, time. We had time to learn who he was. I mean, you got to understand something. African Americans didn’t just up and start supporting Hillary Clinton. They had a 20 to 25 year relationship with her in 2016 when she ran. Same thing with Biden, right? Biden gets automatic ghetto pass from some of us, because he was the first black President’s Vice President. But here’s the thing, I was on the ground in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 with Bernie Sanders, and some of those relationships take time to nurture. Especially when you have more conservative, more moderate, more… I want to say establishment class literally trying to red scare black people into believing that Bernie is some kind of communist when they finally get an opportunity to spend five years hearing his message and making sure that it’s understood.

Now here’s the thing. I’m a Bernie fan and I will always be a Bernie fan, but Bernie had work to do on getting his message of Medicare for all and what that means for black people instead of just being a class thing. And it’s finally starting to resonate because this time around he’s doing a little bit better of a job being like, “This is how Medicare for all affects your family. This is what it means when I say college parole. This is how I’m going to make sure that you’re… that black bodies aren’t laid on the streets because of unfair criminal justice system.” And you know, and so on and so forth. I mean, it took him a long time to get there and I know, Lord knows, I bumped my head with him with making sure that he got there.

But the reason why he has newfound support is because it’s clicking in time. Nothing about his messages has changed in 35 years. We all know that; he’s been saying the same thing for a long time. But now people in the South are starting to pay attention to him. Now you’re starting to see people in the black barbershop that four years ago would have been like, “What’s a Bernie Sanders?” To in comparison to now, where it’s like, “Well, I don’t know. Joe Biden, he did the whole crime bill thing. Bloomberg stopped and frisked. Bernie just wants to get us in college and give us some free healthcare.” Those are the conversations that you starting to hear. You’re starting to hear conversations about Elizabeth Warren, and that’s the biggest difference. It just takes time to resonate with African Americans.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk a bit about one of the things that you alluded to here, which is one of the things that people think that you could really undercut Bernie with, and it happened this last night’s debate as well. And that’s attacking socialism, as Bernie says, in America. And it could be effective in this country. So this is a little piece of Biden and Pete attacking.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You’ve praised the Chinese communist party for lifting more people out of extreme poverty than any other country. You also have a track record of expressing sympathy for socialist governments in Cuba and in Nicaragua. Can Americans trust that a Democratic Socialist President will not give authoritarians a free pass?

BERNIE SANDERS: Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba. What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba, that Cuba made progress on education.

JOE BIDEN: I talked to Barack Obama.

BERNIE SANDERS: Excuse me. Occasionally, it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy. And that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran. And when dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that.

JOE BIDEN: Barack Obama was abroad; he was in a town meeting. He did not in any way suggest that there was anything positive about the Cuban government. He acknowledged that they did increase life expectancy, but he went on and condemned the dictatorship. He went on condemned the people who in fact had run that committee. The fact of the matter is, he in fact does not, did not, has never embraced an authoritarian regime and does not now. This man said that in fact, he thought it was… he did not condemn what they did.

BERNIE SANDERS: That is untrue. Categorically untrue.

MARC STEINER: Well, so here comes that. But let me play one more very quick clip here for you, just in terms of how this pans out. This is Chris Matthews last week on MSNBC, this so-called liberal network, kind of really freaking out about Bernie Sanders. Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I wonder whether the Democratic moderates want Bernie Sander to be president. I mean, that’s maybe a too exciting a question to raise. They don’t like Trump at all. Do they want Bernie Sanders to take over the Democratic Party in perpetuity? I mean, he takes it over he sets the direction for the future of the party. Maybe they’d rather wait four years and put it in the Democrat that they like. This is going to be very frustrating for pundits. Very frustrating for media consultants and everyone who’s trying to figure this out logically. But there has to be some alternative or we’re not going to have a real contest here. Bernie’s going to walk away with it.

MARC STEINER: All right. So Marcus, this attack could be real, both before the nomination and post, if he gets it.

MARCUS FERRELL: Hey, listen. First, did you notice how Vice President Biden was like, “That’s my Barack, not yours.” I find that hilarious. Listen, we’ve got to talk about what’s going to win us this election. And I’m tired of centering white moderates. I’m sorry, I’m done with that. We don’t win elections with white moderates because if we had won elections with white moderates, then there’ll be a President Hillary Clinton instead of a President Donald Trump right now. Let’s look at the universe that we need to win. You need African American women and you need African American men, and you need young African American women and young African American men to come turn out at high numbers.

If black folks in Milwaukee, if black folks in the Midwest–and by the way, there are black people in the Midwest–if they had a turnout for Hillary Clinton, she’d be the president right now. But she decided that she wanted to ignore them and stick to more moderate tones. Listen. Historically, that’s what you’re supposed to do. Once you get the black people’s vote, you just are supposed to pivot to moderate white folks and we have to get swing Republican. There’s no such thing as a swing Republican nowadays. So here’s what I’m going to say about these hits on Bernie Sanders. When it comes down to that, black people don’t care about that.

Young black folks don’t care about what’s going on down there. Young people that we need to turn out to actually win this election care about feeding their baby, having a job, not getting killed by a damn cop when you go outside. Black women have one of the highest rates of infant mortality in America, and you think a woman who’s having a baby gives a damn about what these hits are? No, they care about what you’re going to do for them in these policies that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and bringing up, particularly when it comes down to healthcare, right? I don’t have time to worry about, and don’t get me wrong, it’s very important. And Bernie actually said he didn’t support them; they did a good job. Well, if you would, tell me where the lie is. And I’m not pro-communist, I don’t want to have anything to do with Cuba.

But to be honest with you. If you look at their healthcare system, they’ve been doing a pretty good job with less money than we’ve been throwing at our health care for a while. And that’s just a factual thing. That’s like science. That’s like real evidence based stuff here. So if you want to win elections, you stick to the basics. Doing the red scare tactics is not going to throw off young black voters, young people of color, young voters that we need to actually turn out to beat Donald Trump. It might do a little something to black super voters who are a little bit older, but at the end of the day, if they’re a super voter, are they going to vote for the Republican? No, they’re going to vote for the Democrat.

MARC STEINER: So Marcus, I’d like to ask a totally different question here. I was fascinated by what happened with Bloomberg in that debate. He didn’t do really well, but one of the issues here that I thought was really great, first of all, the slip he made about buying Congress. Let’s just check this out for a second.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Let’s just go on the record. They talk about 40 Democrats; 21 of those with people that I spent $100 million to help elect. All of the new Democrats that came in and put Nancy Pelosi in charge and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I got them.

MARC STEINER: So there’s that. And then there is Warren, who I think again did a brilliant job in that debate, who told the audience–told the world–that the core of the Democrats could not trust and would never trust Bloomberg. Watch this.

GAYLE KING: You said Mayor Bloomberg is not the safest candidate; he is the riskiest candidate. What did you mean by that?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I mean that Mayor Bloomberg… Let’s think of it this way. We’re here in Charleston. And you know who’s going to be in Charleston later this week? It’s Donald Trump. He’s going to be here to raise money for his buddy, Senator Lindsey Graham. Who funded Lindsey Graham’s campaign for reelection last time? It was Mayor Bloomberg. And that’s not the only right wing Senator that Mayor Bloomberg has funded. In 2012, he scooped in to try to defend another Republican Senator against a woman challenger, that was me. It didn’t work, but he tried hard. I don’t care how money Mayor Bloomberg has. The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him. And the fact that he cannot earn the trust of the core of the Democratic Party means he is the riskiest candidate standing on this stage.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I’m the one choice that makes some sense. I have the experience, I have the resources, and I have the record. And all of the sideshows that the Senator wants to bring up have nothing to do with that.

MARC STEINER: Bloomberg does not like Warren, that’s clear. And she clearly doesn’t like him. And she has some quotes on points. And then you had all these mayors, men in the… African-American mayors from around the country coming out to support Bloomberg. And then you had these almost, I forget the number… around a hundred people, who signed this petition out of New York. Black folks and Latinos especially, and some Asian Americans saying, “This is why you should not vote for Bloomberg, because of his racist policies.” Just talk about how you think this is going to play out in this election.

MARCUS FERRELL: Well first we have to get back and give Senator Warren props for just being as strong as she was on that stage that night. Listen, I tend to trust people in the city that the candidate governed in, right? Because you can say whatever you want. And I rarely do this, but the one thing I want to give Bloomberg props for over Biden is that Bloomberg stepped into the race and at least had the gumption to apologize for stop and frisk. Unlike Joe, who decided that “I’m going to double down on the crime bill.” So if I’m going to back up and look at the trust factor of Mayor Bloomberg, he has enough money to create a narrative that is damn near impossible to break if you have no idea of what he’s done in the past. And there’s no counter narrative that is advertising what stop and frisk meant. What unabated capitalism meant. What actually pressuring city council to give you an extra term means when it comes down to possibly winning the president.

We are already concerned about Donald Trump not stepping down if he loses or trying to get a third term if he wins. And now we have a candidate like Bloomberg who, let’s be honest… I’ll give the Bloomberg campaign props. They picked up some of the best community organizers that were not hired because they had the money to do that, and they are putting them and unleashing them on States on Super Tuesday. But the problem with Bloomberg is very serious. You put a lot of black people in jail and those people are actively campaigning against you, reminding everybody that stop and frisk was a thing. And do African Americans across the country want to possibly be under someone that actually has the willingness to implement police driven tactics to hurt our communities? When we’re already the most incarcerated human beings in America right now, do we allow somebody who is blindly willing to do that to actually have access to the justice department? These are real questions that need to be answered.

MARC STEINER: So in going to a different subject here at the time we have so, so going back to Bernie’s campaign, he was really pushed hard about the cost of Medicare for all and there was a huge back and forth for the Democrats. Let’s just watch this piece. This debate going on in around Medicare for all.

NORAH O’DONNELL: Senator Sanders, the cost of your agenda. Yesterday, you released information about how you will pay for your major proposals, but not all of your details are clear. You’ve proposed more than $50 trillion in new spending.

BERNIE SANDERS: Over a 10-year period.

NORAH O’DONNELL: You’ve said Medicare for all will cost $30 trillion.

BERNIE SANDERS: Over a 10-year period.

NORAH O’DONNELL: But you can only explain how you’ll pay for just about half of that. Can you do the math for the rest of us?

BERNIE SANDERS: How many hours do you have?

GAYLE KING: Two.

JOE BIDEN: That’s the problem.

BERNIE SANDERS: No, it’s not the problem. All right. Let’s talk about Medicare for all. I’m sure you’re familiar with the new study that just came out of Yale University, published in Lancet magazine, one of the prestigious medical journals in the world. You know what it said? Medicare for all will lower health care costs in this country by $450 billion a year and save 68,000 lives of people who otherwise would have died.

NORAH O’DONNELL: Senator Klobuchar, does the math add up?

AMY KLOBUCHAR: No, the math does not add up. The Medicare for all plan alone on page eight clearly says that it will kick 149 million Americans off their current health insurance in four years.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: So let’s do this math. Senator Sanders at one point said it was going to be $40 trillion, then it was $30 trillion, then it was $17 trillion. That’s an incredible shrinking price tag. At some point, has said it is unknowable to even see what the price tag would be. Now there are new numbers. I’ll tell you exactly what it adds up to. It adds to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, and the inability to get the Senate into Democratic hands.

MARC STEINER: So this issue here, I’m very curious, because you were inside that campaign for that 2016 race. You’re outside of it now, but you were inside it than. I’m curious about the kind of conversations and the debates going on. Because this is one of those issues that can really split and divide Democrats; split and divide this country. Even if Bernie wins the nomination, even if he beats Trump, if that happens, you’ll still have a Congress and a Senate that will be really recalcitrant to want to do single payer healthcare. You’ve still got millions of millions of people who work in the healthcare industry who will lose their jobs. So people can make a lot of arguments about why this is difficult to make work. And that could affect the election, it seemed to me.

MARCUS FERRELL: Yeah. Listen, there’s a very big difference… Well first, you ever noticed that people always say, “How are you going to pay for it when it comes down to healthcare?” But they never say, “How are you going to pay for it when it comes down to war?”

MARC STEINER: Funny about that. Right.

MARCUS FERRELL: There’s a multi-trillion dollar war machine that can be scaled down in many places. This is just my personal opinion that Bernie has talked about a lot. Earlier that day on the CNN town hall, Bernie presented how he was going to pay for healthcare. And to be quite honest with you, any major fundamental change is going to cost us a little bit. But if you look at it when it comes down to your premiums going down, and the amount of money that you’re going to spend going up, and the amount of money you’re going to spend for healthcare in general by just having healthcare and being healthier, is going to be a win-win for Americans. But I don’t want to be pro-Medicare for all. I want to talk as an African American male who has family members, and currently literally has to fend for his own health care on his own.

Black men have the highest rate of hypertension, blood pressure, literally most of the things that causes heart attacks, African American men have the most. What Bernie is doing is talking to a segment of society, super voters, who don’t have health care right now. And to be quite honest with you, I believe Medicare for all, in a general election is going to pull more people to a side, for the voters that we actually need to come and vote. In comparison to the voters that already have major health care and would be, as long as he doesn’t necessarily take healthcare away in general, they’re going to vote for the Democrat. They’re not going to vote for Donald Trump. And to be honest with you, we need to pull out more people that actually beat this guy in a general election.

MARC STEINER: So now that you said that, let’s look at this. This is Obama. Excuse me. This is Trump coming to the defense of Bernie Sanders.

DONALD TRUMP: I think it was a great win for Bernie Sanders. I hope they treat him fairly. Frankly, I don’t care who I run against; I just hope they treat them fairly. I hope it’s not going to be a rigged deal, because there’s a lot of bad things going on, and I hope it’s not going to be one of those. So we’ll see what happens, but I congratulate Bernie Sanders.

MARC STEINER: So you can look at that and you can think, well okay, what he’s saying is, “Give me Bernie, I can take him on and beat him.” So let me set this up and see what your response from your analysis is. Having been in the middle of that campaign, and also being in the middle of these campaigns now this election, so there were 16 million people who voted for Obama in 2008 who did not bother to vote in 2016, they were just so disgruntled about what’s happening. And then you have the almost 10 million people who voted for Obama and then who voted for Trump. And so you know, this attack against Bernie around socialism amongst some other things, is going to be fierce. But if a moderate takes it–if Bloomberg takes it, if Biden takes it–then you might have the same phenomenon where people who were for Bernie not coming out. So how do you see Trump losing this election?

MARCUS FERRELL: I see Trump losing this election by millions and millions of young people, of people of color, young women, of young black men, of young black Tino men actually leaving the basketball court, leaving their job after they get off work and saying, I’m going to go vote for something that’s actually going to have a real true fundamental change.

MARC STEINER: Why do you think that would happen?

MARCUS FERRELL: I think it would happen after we get rid of… Okay, if Bernie wins the election, there’s not going to be a bunch of neoliberal Democrats who are trying to muddy the water with a message, that will be too messy. A Trump message and a Bernie message, right? And that means you have to listen to one or the other. Eventually, you’re going to have an opportunity to hear an unabashed, unbiased Bernie Sanders message in a general election. And people get to judge that against a probably sort of racist slash misogynist Trump type of message, and we’ll get to compare them against each other. And there’s no third way, there’s no middle ground. And when people start to hear Bernie’s message, he said it over and over and over and over again in his speeches. “This is the movement of millions and millions of people coming together to do the best thing for America.”

Listen. My grandmother said this to me, “I don’t believe a black man will ever be president of the United States of America.” Before she passed away, she got an opportunity to vote for a black man and see a black man get elected. But just less than 15 years ago, 16 years ago, we thought a black man couldn’t win. And guess what the argument was in the primary then: “Can a black person win and actually beat a Republican?” And not only did he beat them, he destroyed them. So we don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen in a general election until it comes. And to be honest with you, more of the same is going to keep the same people who didn’t show up in Milwaukee away from the polls. In comparison to actually having a different message and trying something different. To bring people out and to pull people out and to get a Democrat elected.

MARC STEINER: Well, let me just say this, Marcus Farrell, it’s been a pleasure to have you on Real News and talk with you. I look forward to many more conversations with you in the coming months as we cover this election and more. And we really had a great conversation, I appreciate it.

MARCUS FERRELL: I’m coming back, man. Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER: That is great. But I want to leave everybody with this. Now the other night watching this debate, we know that with primaries coming up, we’ll see what happens on Saturday and then we’ll have another program on Monday to analyze what happened and hopefully Marcus will be back with us for that conversation as well. But I’d like to leave with this: While we were watching it. My wife, Valerie, looked at this and said, “This line from Amy Klobuchar is going to be a Saturday Night Live skit.” I had to leave with this because it just cracked me up.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Having someone that can lead the ticket, that can bring people with her, is the way you get gun safety legislation. I look at these proposals and say, do they hurt my Uncle Dick and the deer stand?

MARC STEINER: So, for Uncle Dick and the deer stand, and us here at Real News, thank you Marcus Farrell for joining us. I’m Marc Steiner of The Real News Network. Talk to you all soon.