One of the top trending topics on Twitter this morning is the hugely popular podcaster Joe Rogan. Why? Here's the outspoken progressive commentator Carlos Maza:
Bernie's campaign cutting a campaign ad with Joe Rogan fucking sucks. Rogan is an incredibly influential bigot and Democrats should be marginalizing him.
— Carlos Maza ???? (@gaywonk) January 24, 2020
Maza was referencing this Thursday tweet from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.):
"I think I'll probably vote for Bernie… He's been insanely consistent his entire life. He's basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from." -Joe Rogan pic.twitter.com/fuQP0KwGGI
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 23, 2020
Cue the outrage-headlines: "Bernie Sanders' Use of Joe Rogan Endorsement Sparks Debate: 'The Campaign Didn't Need to Amplify It'" and "Joe Rogan Triggers Internet Outrage Because He Endorsed Bernie Sanders."
It's an odd if predictable way for politically engaged progressives to greet the news that a socialist has been endorsed by one of the most popular podcasters in history. Maza, you may recall, successfully browbeated YouTube to demonetize the account of conservative shock-jock Steven Crowder last June after Crowder had repeatedly mocked Maza as a "lispy queer." Maza is from that part of the social media left that prioritizes deplatforming various influential people who have various unacceptable views.
So what are Rogan's? That the comedian and Mixed Martial Arts broadcaster finds it "preposterous" for male-born athletes to compete against women after transitioning. That he lamented the cancellation of The Dukes of Hazzard, using rather salty language. That he has interviewed such even-less-acceptable people as Milo Yiannopoulos and Jordan Petersen. (Rogan's M.O. is to do insanely long interviews with various newsmakers, including, perhaps most spectacularly, a stoned Elon Musk.)
This latest skirmish in the left's ongoing identity-politics war comes against a backdrop of powerful female politicians and their supporters coming after Bernie Sanders and his for their alleged misogyny. First it was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) asserting on January 13 that Sanders told her in a private December 2018 conversation that he did not believe a woman could win the presidency. After Sanders denied the claim in a subsequent Democratic presidential debate (in which moderators from CNN, which had broken the original story, treated Warren's side of the story as settled fact), Warren famously refused to shake Bernie's hand.
A few days later, 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton jumped into the fray, claiming that Sanders has a "pattern" of saying misogynistic things and supporting a culture of anti-women behavior within his campaign.
When the Warren news first hit, I argued that she was making the "exact same tactical mistake" as five presidential candidates who had already flamed out of the race: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.), Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), Julián Castro, and Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.). Namely, they banked on identity politics as an electoral winner.
While those five were also trying to downplay their past centrist heresies—a problem Warren doesn't exactly have, even if Sanders surrogates like to paint her as a closet neoliberal—the Massachusetts senator nevertheless appears to have calculated that reviving the feminist critique of "Bernie Bros" and stressing the extra obstacles female candidates have to overcome was a sound strategy to regain the lead she enjoyed throughout the fall over the other progressive stalwart in the race. So how did that go?
So far, not so well. On January 12, the day before the private meeting became public, FiveThirtyEight's rolling adjusted national polling average had Sanders at 18.4 percent and Warren at 16 percent. (Frontrunner Joe Biden was at 27.6 percent, as he has been since forever.) As of this morning, the spread between the northeastern senators had doubled: Sanders is at 20.6 percent, at Warren 15.4.
As of mid-October, Warren had arguably run the most impressive campaign on the trail, drawing large crowds, slinging out detailed policy plans, shining in debates, marching up in the polls from the single digits to nearly 24 percent. Perhaps ironically, her momentum started to founder when she began conjuring specific price tags and implementation strategies for her ambitious plans to overhaul various parts of the economy, thus opening her up to both pragmatist attacks from the center and utopian attacks from the Bernieite left.
Attempting to cast the Sanders campaign as overly bro-tastic hasn't worked so far. It's early and other factors could affect things, but my guess is that the attempts to marginalize Joe Rogan, or somehow to punish Bernie Sanders for receiving Rogan's endorsement, won't work either. If there is evidence that woke politics is broadly popular, even in the Democratic primaries, we haven't seen it yet.