with Brent D. Griffiths

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Outside the Beltway

SMALL BALL: The dozen or so candidates running in the 2020 Democratic primary for president aren't just competing for the right to take on Donald Trump. They're also battling each other for a slice of the money pie that is for the first time this cycle likely to be dominated by small-dollar donors.

And they're creating even more hoops to jump through by imposing strict litmus tests on their own fundraising operations in an effort to keep them consistent with their progressive politics. That could be a big a hurdle in a crowded Democratic primary in which there is only so much money to go around, even if small donors are energized to take down President Trump.

  • “I would say that there isn’t enough money to fully fund a dozen presidential campaigns between now and the convention, so this field will winnow down significantly between now and then,” Tim Lim, a Democratic partner at NEWCO Stategies, told Power Up. “However, there is enough money for three to four candidates to be fully funded till then and that alone could have major implications for the nominating process and the general election.” 

  • “It's a totally untested notion that you can run for president without raising a lot of money from major donors,” GOP strategist Alex Conant, partner at Firehouse Strategies, told us. “Small-dollar donations are easy to raise when you're generating a lot of excitement. But presidential campaigns are long and expensive — and there's inevitably going to be tough stretches in any campaign where online fundraising will dip. That's when having a robust fundraising operation with major donors can be really helpful.”

Most major Democratic candidates are refusing to accept corporate PAC money, but Elizabeth Warren, for instance, is going a step further by eschewing all private fundraisers and donor calls, as well as rejecting money from any PAC and all lobbyists. Candidates must also attract 65,000 individual donors to make the debate stage — or hit 1 percent in public polling, as my colleague Michael Scherer reports.

It's a risky strategy that has so far not paid off financially. During the first 24 hours of their campaigns:

  • Bernie Sanders raised $5.9 million from 223,000 donors.
  • Beto O'Rourke hauled in $6.1 million in online donations.
  • Warren raised at least $300,000 from 8,000 donors and admitted in an email to supporters, “We're falling short.”

The Democratic primary, simply on the basis of diversity, is already defying some of the crustier, conventional campaign norms — a trickle-down effect from progressives who ran in the 2018 midterms and a reaction to Hillary Clinton's 2016 pitfalls as the Democratic nominee. 

  • “I think that what candidates are measuring is the potential impact of the perceived hit that Clinton took for all the Goldman Sachs stuff that allowed Bernie to define her as the establishment candidate that had general election consequences,” a Democratic operative explained to Power Up. “I don’t think anyone has an illusions that you’ll get points for the way you take money. So it’s become a trap to be avoided rather than a positive point.”

The trend is bound to continue as 2020 Democrats want their values reflected in the composition and mechanisms of their campaign — from staffing to fundraising to advertising. (Read the New York Times's Astead Herndon's piece on efforts to diversify staff.)  

  • “Putting people first is a message that wins across the political spectrum and it's really hard to do that when you’re spending your time and energy courting corporate interests and corporate donors,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), a Warren protege, former law professor and one-time bankruptcy lawyer for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who won her 2018 race without accepting money from corporate donors, told Power Up.

  • “How they raise money, that’s going to help increase people’s confidence in their authenticity and help them build trust,” she added.

Rethinking the way Democrats engage in the so called “money primary” has been central to the transformation, even if it's risky. 

  • “I want to run a campaign that's based on principles and ideas, not on how much money I can scoop up from people who have already made it big,” Warren told Power Up. “This is a chance in a Democratic primary for us to do exactly that. To build the kind of grass roots movement, person to person, face to face, neighbor to neighbor across the country.”
  • Warren's campaign passed along evidence of the time saved from scrapping time-consuming fundraising rituals: She's completed "29+ hours doing 34 selfie lines, interacting with 10,000+ people” and has had events in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, California, New York, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Alabama,” per a Warren aide. 

  • “There's a big advantage to being able to spend your time campaigning, instead of fundraising. It really helped Trump in 2015 and 2016 that he didn't have to spend time raising money like his competitors in the primary,” Conant said, referring to Trump raking in an “unprecedented deluge of small-dollar donations for the GOP.” 

Of course, Democrats like Warren will only have to worry about ginning up enough cash to win the bruising Democratic primary. The winner of the Democratic nomination is all-but-assured to have a gigantic outside fundraising machine behind them in the form of outside groups and super PACs hungry to oust Trump.

  • Just yesterday, the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA launched “it's first digital ad campaign of the 2020 election cycle Tuesday after pledging to spend $100 million on early efforts in key battleground states,” CNN's David Wright reports. 

There are also Democrats who want to win at all costs — even if that means accepting big money. That includes the congressional staffer who told me over lunch yesterday that he just wants to beat Trump at all costs to the all-but-announced candidate, Joe Biden, who has reached out to supporters for “help in lining up contributions from major donors so he can quickly raise several million dollars,” the Wall Street Journal's Emily Glazer and Ken Thomas report.

  • “Mr. Biden has expressed concern to these people that he wouldn’t be able to raise millions of dollars in online donations immediately the way some other Democratic candidates have, including [Beto] and [Bernie]," a source told Glazer and Thomas. 

This concern is not without cause: Trump has the obvious advantage of running as the lone Republican candidate in an open field with full control of the party's operations and resources, and has already outspent by nine-to-one the top-spending Democratic candidates in the first two months of 2019, Warren and Kamala Harris. 

  • “Money is money,” Lim told us. “And that is the number one thing you need to keep a campaign afloat. So you can’t diminish the money raised — it’s eye popping to raise $6 million one day and $20 million in a quarter online ... those numbers will play a key role in whether or not a candidate has the resources to get through the primaries.”

  • “The problem is most extreme for the lesser candidates at this point who haven’t had time to build up a strong donor base and [the] only way to have resources to stay in the race is a couple of affluent people who want to take a bet on them winning,” the Democratic strategist told us. “And for those candidates, I don’t see them moving ahead without that kind of operation.” 

  • An aide to Warren noted that “she does not believe in unilateral disarmament for the general election.” 

  • Yet:


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George T. Conway III, conservative lawyer and husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, is a frequent Trump critic. Here’s some background. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

The People

T.M.I., POLITICAL COUPLES ED.: “Mr. Kellyanne Conway” defended himself against the commander-in-chief after Trump and his campaign manager Brad Parscale teamed up on Twitter to call George Conway, the husband of one of Trump's top advisers, a "total loser." 

The Conway Whisperer: In an interview with our colleague Josh Dawsey, George Conway reiterated his concerns expressed in recent tweets about Trump's mental health. Conway explained he views his Trump subtweets as a way to vent and help his marriage.

  • “It’s so maddening to watch,” Conway told The Post. “The mendacity, the incompetence, it’s just maddening to watch. The tweeting is just the way to get it out of the way, so I can get it off my chest and move on with my life that day. That’s basically it. Frankly, it’s so I don’t end up screaming at her about it.” 
  • Reminder: Kellyanne Conway, George's wife and a White House aide, tried to go off the record with our colleague Ben Terris last August to say she thought her husband's tweets were "disrespectful ... a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows."
  •  Dawsey dug up an amazing anecdote from a party at the British embassy last month in which Kellyanne Conway vented to a group that included ex-Postie Sally Quinn and the Times's Maureen Dowd. Kellyanne Conway said she and Trump think her husband is jealous of her standing and that George Conway preferred to "spend his time in front of his computer, while she preferred to socialize, the attendees said. She said it was the fault of the news media for giving her husband such a platform, and that some of George Conway’s close friends had asked him to stop.” 
  • George Conway declined to comment when Dawsey asked him about the state of their marriage, “answering only that he wished his wife did not work for the White House.”

One of George Conway's recent tweets:


BETO & AMY O'ROURKE: On the other side of the aisle, Beto and Amy O'Rourke told our colleague Ben Terris all about their marriage in an age when it's no longer a given that a man will be on a ballot and a woman will take care of everything at home.

  • O'Rourke has already had to apologize for the new normal, when he joked he only "sometimes" helps raise his three kids, a remark his wife reportedly found "flip." But Amy O'Rourke went even further in upending traditional roles by chiding negative coverage of her husband for not quickly getting a new job after being  unemployed for the first time in decades when he failed to beat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2018.
  • “People were saying, ‘Why can’t he get a job to support his family,’ and I was like, ‘Why can’t I be the one? I’m working,’ ” Amy told our colleague, noting she does part-time work as a consultant on education issues.
  • Amy O'Rourke, who previously ran a charter school, added she just finished reading Michelle Obama's "Becoming" and shares the former first lady's feeling that she's never aspired to live in the White House.

Friends describe Amy O'Rourke as a moderating influence, pointing to the fact that after her husband said El Paso should tear down its border wall that she advised him to rein in his rhetoric. During the midterms, Amy also reminded her husband that his casual profanity might turn off some Texans. As for the former congressman and now top-tier presidential candidate, Ben found multiple examples of Beto's "impulsive and puckish" streak --- especially when it comes to pranks:

  •  “The remote-controlled cockroach in the kitchen, the 'Psycho'-style scares in the shower. One time, according to a friend, Beto collected an especially verdant turd from one of their kids’ diapers and put it in a bowl, telling Amy it was avocado. (Neither would confirm this, though Beto did allow it sounded like something he’d do.)”

From the Courts

TRUMP KEEPS LOSING . . . IN FEDERAL COURT: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made stacking the federal bench with conservative judges a top priority. But in the meantime the Trump administration continues to lose key legal battles because judges say officials are failing to do the most basic of things.

  • Our colleagues Fred Barbash and Deanna Paul report the Trump administration has lost in federal court at least 63 times over the past two years because officials are failing to provide things like “legitimate explanations supported by facts and, where required, public input.”
  • It's the tweets: Trump himself is making the matter worse with his constant tweeting; our colleagues found that at least a dozen court decisions have referenced the president's tweets or comments.
  • Fact Check: The president likes to blame the losses on “Obama judges,” but Fred and Deanna report that on major issues where multiple judges have ruled, it hasn’t matter where the judges are based or which president appointed them.
  • Example: “Four judges, for instance, have rejected the decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has protected from deportation nearly 700,000 people brought to the United States as children. All four judges said essentially the same thing: that the government’s stated reason for ending DACA — that it was unlawful — was 'virtually unexplained,' as U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, an appointee of President George W. Bush in Washington, said in an April opinion.” 

The Investigations

ANOTHER SIGN MUELLER IS ALMOST DONE?: Prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team asked a judge to give them until April 1 to respond to a request from The Post to unseal records related to Paul Manafort. They cited  “the press of other work,” our colleagues report.

The news comes as every minute development is being scrutinized as foretelling the possible end of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any connection to Trump campaign aides.

  • “The Post has objected to the abundance of sealed and redacted records in Manafort’s Washington case and petitioned the judge in his case, Amy Berman Jackson, to open them to public view,” Spencer S. Hsu and Matt Zapotosky report.

That being said there continue to be signs that things are wrapping, including the reported imminent departure from the team of top prosecutor Andrew Weissmann


PLAYING CATCH UP: Fewer than 200 people watched the alleged New Zealand gunman’s live-stream of the massacre at two mosques on Facebook and the company says that its moderators removed the video 29 minutes after the stream began. But as our colleague Drew Harwell reports, the horrific video still ended up reaching millions, the latest sign of tech companies’ struggle against users who harness the sheer speed of their platforms to spread vile content.

  • Drew reported that Facebook found more than 1.5 million copies of the video were uploaded within 24 hours. Facebook said that 1.2 million videos were blocked at the time of upload by moderators or automated algorithms, but has not commented on how many people viewed, commented on or reacted to footage that broke through those safeguards.
  • Beyond Facebook, YouTube officials told The Post “a new copy was being uploaded every second.” The original stream was posted on a site “known as a haven for far-right extremism and hate speech,” as users exchanged tips and egged each other on to find ways to ensure the video would not be blocked for good.

IMPOSSIBLE OR JUST REALLY HARD?: Drew tells Power Up that lawmakers and executives are still grappling with the big question of how or if they can contain, moderate or quash graphic or distressing content traveling at the “speed of the Web.” Drew writes: 

  • “Everyone agrees it’s a huge problem that a white-nationalist mass-murder video can take off on the same websites where kids watch cartoons.
  • “Now the big question for tech (and Washington): Is it an impossible problem, or just really, really hard?
  • “Tech is trying — they do care. But every shooting, they come up short. We need to understand why one of the most cash-rich industries in America, with our top engineering minds, keeps getting outmatched by anonymous trolls. They can't solve for every human darkness, but they should be accountable for the ideas and information they propel around the web. Otherwise, this keeps happening,” Drew told us.