On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, this paragraph is admittedly a trifle premature — its thrust being that the paradox of skepticism has always played out especially well in American politics, where doubt beats fanatical devotion. Tomorrow, doubt will be populated by the Clinton camp, while inhabiting absolute devotion are Sanders's followers. To cite a paradox within a paradox, in his brilliant memoir the late Trotskyite and fanatically anti-Clinton Christopher Hitchens summarized my sentiments with perfection: "After various past allegiances, I have come to believe that Karl Marx was rightest of all when he recommended continual doubt and self-criticism. Membership in the skeptical faction or tendency is not at all a soft option." Continual doubt about Hillary within Hillary's camp is likely to prove superior. "God knows she has her problems but" will beat berning, unquestioning loyalty. The former is grounded in what is customarily called the real world, while the latter dwells in the hovering superstructure of hopeful ideology.
Assuming (shifting to Voltaire) one of the lower of all possible turnouts, that is. That of course will be the key for Clinton. Yesterday, via the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics, Ann Selzer, perhaps the most capable pollster around, reported that Clinton is leading Sanders 45 to 42 percent among likely Democratic caucus-goers. The internal key to Selzer's finding is who the newcomers are, or rather, how many there might be. It is here, historically speaking, that the Sanders camp futuristically falls short: "Only one in three likely Democratic voters in the survey are first-time caucus-goers, who break decidedly toward Sanders. That compares with 60 percent in the final pre-caucus survey of 2008, when a wave of young voters and new participants helped Barack Obama overpower Clinton in Iowa."
Just to delve into yet another paradox, against Sanders's fanatical loyalty Selzer finds that "Clinton’s support is deeper and sturdier" (and that an imposing "83 percent of her voters say their minds are made up"). Concludes Selzer: "Most of the ways you look at it, she’s stronger than the three-point race would suggest." All this, notwithstanding the pervasive, internal-party skepticism about Hillary Clinton. It suggests that one can take all the "untrustworthiness" stats — within Democratic partisanship, anyway — and trash them; that, in the end, the old coalition will hold.
A couple days ago, the ordinarily staid Nate Silver removed (however briefly) his analytical cap and debuted some directorial imagination:
If you’re dreaming of Bernie Sanders beating Hillary Clinton, you know how the movie begins (he wins Iowa on Monday), how it ends (he accepts the nomination to a Simon & Garfunkel tune), and one of the major plot lines (black, Hispanic and moderate Democrats, who for now prefer Clinton to Sanders, begin to #feelthebern). You also know who the hapless villain is: Democratic party elites (aka "the establishment"), who will be fighting Sanders every step of the way.
Otherwise, the details are fuzzy. We’re not quite sure how Sanders pulls off this Wes Anderson caper.
Nate Silver is as skeptical as I am about those who are somehow fanatically unskeptical about an ultimate Sanders triumph. As for the Iowa kickoff, he gives "a little better than … 2-to-1" odds for a Clinton victory. From there — after New Hampshire — the odds become even bleaker for Sanders. Which leaves us with a final paradox: Skepticism about Hillary may reign even among Hillary's supporters, yet, looking down the road to her nomination, that selfsame skepticism is rare -- there is, simply, very little doubt.