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“A Victory for the Underdogs”: Sanders & Cruz Win Big in Wisconsin as Front-Runners Stumble

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In the race for the White House, Tuesday was a big night for the underdogs, as Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Ted Cruz secured decisive victories in the Wisconsin primary. Sanders beat rival Hillary Clinton by winning over 56 percent of the vote. Ted Cruz easily defeated front-runner Donald Trump by 13 percentage points. We speak to political analyst and activist Van Jones and Ruth Conniff, editor of the Wisconsin-based magazine The Progressive.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In the race for the White House, Tuesday was a big night for the underdogs, as Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Ted Cruz secured decisive victories in the Wisconsin primary. Sanders beat rival Hillary Clinton by winning over 56 percent of the vote. Ted Cruz easily defeated front-runner Donald Trump by 13 percentage points. Sanders held a rally Tuesday night in Wyoming, which holds its caucus on Saturday.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: With our victory tonight in Wisconsin, we have now won seven out of eight of the last caucuses and primaries. And we have won almost all of them with overwhelming landslide numbers. What momentum is about is that at a time in contemporary politics when every major candidate has a super PAC, we have said no to super PACs, said no to the billionaires who fund those super PACs.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders, speaking in Wyoming, where he’s projected to pick up another victory at the state’s caucus on Saturday. The focus of the race is already turning to delegate-rich New York, which votes on April 19th. Despite Sanders’ recent victories, Clinton still holds a lead of about 250 pledged delegates. She also maintains a huge lead among superdelegates, members of the Democratic Party establishment, who could change their vote at any point.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In the Republican race, Ted Cruz’s victory over front-runner Donald Trump in Wisconsin increases the chances that Trump will fall short of winning enough delegates to secure the nomination before the convention in July. On Tuesday, Cruz gave a victory speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

SEN. TED CRUZ: God bless the great state of Wisconsin. What an incredible victory tonight. And thank you to your tremendous governor, Governor Scott Walker. … Either before Cleveland or at the convention in Cleveland, together, we will win a majority of the delegates. And together, we will beat Hillary Clinton in November. Tonight was a bad night for Hillary Clinton. It was a bad night in the Democratic primary, and it was an even worse night for her in the Republican primary. We are winning because we’re uniting the Republican Party.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Ruth Conniff is with us, editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin-based magazine The Progressive. Van Jones is president and founder of the Dream Corps. He’s the co-founder of #cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to reduce the U.S. incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years. Van was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009 and founded Green for All. He’s also a CNN political commentator.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ruth, let’s begin with you in Madison, Wisconsin. Talk about what happened last night, a victory for the underdogs.

RUTH CONNIFF: Absolutely, yeah. It was—it was really unprecedented, Wisconsin, actually. Usually, the state goes with the winner and the front-runner in both the Republican and the Democratic primaries. This year, it was a big upset. On the Republican side, I think what you saw was really an anti-Trump vote. I don’t think it’s so much that you saw Wisconsin Republicans consolidate behind Ted Cruz as you saw them looking for an alternative to Donald Trump. There was a very heavy push for him by the governor of the state, Scott Walker, by the right-wing radio talkers in the suburbs of Milwaukee who really drive Republican politics since the rise of Walker here. And you saw this—you know, this push for anybody but Trump. And that anybody right now looks like Ted Cruz. There’s also a very strong evangelical vote here. Evangelical Christians have also helped propel Walker’s rise, and they came out in force for Ted Cruz.

On the Democratic side, you saw Sanders win by a very significant margin and a bigger margin than the polls show, including the Marquette poll, which has been a very accurate poll. So, he’s got a credible case that he’s really on the run here. It’s a very progressive state. His message really resonated here. This is a state that is partly a Rust Belt state. We’ve seen the flight of manufacturing jobs. And so, when he talks about corporate trade deals that have really hurt the middle class, he gets a lot of response from Wisconsinites.

In addition to that, there was a huge turnout, unprecedented since 1980. Forty percent in a spring primary, it’s pretty amazing. And a lot of students came out to vote and overcame the first go-around of an incredibly restrictive voter ID law, registered to vote in huge numbers at the polls yesterday and, in addition, had to go and get a special ID, because your student ID doesn’t work to vote, your valid out-of-state driver’s license and your proof of residency don’t work to vote. So students jumped through a lot of hoops and still came out in big numbers for Bernie Sanders, propelling his win here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Van Jones, do you see last night’s results as making any significant change in either of the campaigns, or do you see this as a watershed moment for either one of them?

VAN JONES: Well, absolutely, for the Republicans. It looks like the path to the nomination for Donald Trump has been cut off. It’s very, very hard now to see the math. He has to get, you know, 55 percent or more of all the remaining delegates. He usually gets between 35 and 45. So he has to start doing much, much better. It in fact looks like he’s doing much, much worse.

But I don’t want progressives to get too excited about the strife and the stupidity on the right. We need to use this moment to accelerate the strategy and strength on the left. And one big problem that we’ve had is that Hillary Clinton has been able to use African Americans and Latinos to hold off Bernie Sanders. Now, you can, you know, love Hillary, love Bernie, but it’s very, very odd to me that the African-American community, in particular, has been used by the Clintons, who, obviously, with welfare repeal, with the crime bill, with NAFTA, could arguably have done a great deal to hurt black folks. How are African Americans now being used to help the Clintons and to hurt a candidacy like Bernie Sanders’, that shows some weakness on the left that we need to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think it is?

VAN JONES: Well, I think it’s two things. One is, I think that on the—the Democratic Party is kind of a three-legged stool. You have the corporate establishment wing that Hillary Clinton represents—God bless her. But then you have the populist wing of Elizabeth Edwards [sic], Bernie Sanders. There is a racial blind spot there all too often. It’s going to change this year.

AMY GOODMAN: Elizabeth Warren.

VAN JONES: Elizabeth Warren, I’m sorry. It’s going to change this year. But for a long time, from the white populist wing, it was almost like we were supposed to have trickle-down justice. We’re just going to tax Wall Street, fix Social Security; racism will disappear. And that did not go well with the third leg of this party, the racial justice wing. The racial justice wing has not had a dog in this fight, really. And so, I think there’s been a blind spot for the white populists, but there’s also a weakness on the racial justice left. We have been either anti-electoral or non-electoral for too long. And so, when you put the weakness of the white populist left and the weakness of the racial justice left, when it comes to elections, you have a hole, and Hillary Clinton was able to drive through it. I think that is bad for progressives, going forward.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ruth Conniff, what about that situation in Wisconsin? Clearly, Hillary Clinton’s base of support was in Milwaukee and some of the African-American areas of your state. How do you see this issue of the—how African Americans and Latinos have been responding to Hillary Clinton?

RUTH CONNIFF: Well, I absolutely agree with Van Jones. And he’s made this point, actually, in an interview in The Progressive magazine, and I think it’s really smart. Basically, I think Sanders has failed, for a lot of the campaign, to connect directly with African-American and Latino voters and talk about the particular concerns of those voters, apart from this very general economic justice and inequality message that he has. And in Wisconsin, this is particularly a missed opportunity. It was in the debate, the Democratic debate in Milwaukee, because the collapse of the black middle class in industrial areas of our state is directly tied to the outsourcing of jobs, the collapse of manufacturing, the attack on unions, which Walker has led. Public employee—unionized public employees, people with great middle-class jobs in manufacturing that have been on the decline here are disproportionately African-American.

So, Sanders has begun to turn that around. And it was interesting to see him in rallies in Wisconsin over this last period beginning to speak much more directly to people of color and to connect his message, specifically of economic justice, to that burden that has fallen disproportionately on people of color. And he’s also started to say, “I am listening. This campaign is listening to our African-American brothers and sisters. This campaign is listening to our Latino brothers and sisters.” He started to get this riff going. And I think that that was a direct response to this criticism of him that he wasn’t speaking directly to those voters.

VAN JONES: And he hasn’t.

RUTH CONNIFF: And so, you know, I think this idea of a more progressive set of policies being beneficial to voters of color, I think that that has picked up a little bit. He’s corrected a little bit there. And, of course, it’s true that a corporate Democrat is not necessarily great, particularly one who talks about superpredators and bringing people to heel, not the natural candidate necessarily for African-American voters. So I think there is a real weakness there for Hillary.


VAN JONES: Bernie Sanders has been remarkable in his ability to improve. You remember, when he first started out, you had Black Lives Matter snatching the microphone out of his hand. He has become a great and eloquent champion. The challenge is, though, the racial justice left has been anti-electoral or non-electoral. We are a protest-based left, a not-for-profit-based left, prohibited by law from participating therefore in elections. And that anti-electoral bias is now causing us real problems. And so, this is the moment for the Black Lives Matter, the DREAMers, the Idle No More, the racial justice rising movement to say we have an opportunity to determine who the president of the United States is going to be, who the next nominee will be. Here in New York City, that movement, that Zephyr Teachout was able to capture, the Working Families Party, those are the forces—

AMY GOODMAN: Who ran against Governor Cuomo.

VAN JONES: Who ran against Governor Cuomo and took him all the way to the finish line there. Those forces, those good economic populist forces and the racial justice forces together, are not just the majority in the Democratic Party, we are a majority, a governing majority, potentially, in the country. But we’ve got to take this moment seriously. And we can’t just hope the Republicans blow it.

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