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Power Up: Sanders reopens debate over 2020 Democratic appeal to Trump voters

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with Brent D. Griffiths

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BREAKING: The Sri Lankan state minister says the Easter church bombings that killed over 300 was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attacks, per the Associated Press

The People

THE SANDERS-TRUMP VENN DIAGRAM: A revived debate over whether Bernie Sanders does — and should — appeal to Trump voters is dividing the Vermont senator's own supporters and shed a telling light on how 2020 Democrats plan to campaign against the president.

Over the weekend, one of Sanders's most prominent advocates -- Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) -- attacked 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg for comparing supporters of the Vermont senator to Trump backers. 

  • “It is intellectually dishonest to compare Bernie to Trump,” Khanna tweeted. “Bernie is for giving people healthcare, education, childcare, & more pay. He wants to blow up credentialed elitism — those who reject tuition free college for all.” 

But for many, that's a debate that was settled in 2016, when Sanders first ran, and needs to be on the table for 2020 if Democrats want to win the White House.

“Both of them appeal to the alienated voter,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz told Power Up. “Both of them have a message that they are getting screwed and it’s time to stand up and speak out. Both of them have a ton of applause lines to public speeches that are extremely well attended and, in the end, both of them are unpredictable. You don't know who they are going to come after — but you know they are going to come after the establishment.” 

Political operatives told Power Up the same overlap that Sanders saw in 2016 with Trump voters works to his advantage in 2020 -- despite Khanna's protestations that Buttigieg's "manipulative" comparison failed to address differences in Sanders's and Trump's solutions for voters motivated by economic anxieties. 

  • “We got in his head,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir told The Daily Beast's Asawin Suebsaeng and Gideon Resnick of Sanders's Fox News town hall last week, referring to Trump. “Because I do think what you saw in the Fox News appearance was what will end up being a very intentional and successful outreach by Sen. Sanders to voters who may have either voted for Donald Trump, may have had some sympathy or empathy towards him, and have since soured on him.”
  • There's also the play Sanders is making for the manufacturing states that Trump captured in 2016. The senator released a “Lordstown Tough” campaign ad over the weekend, referring to the home of the General Motors plant that shut down in March. Sanders visited Lordstown last week, which voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 after going for Obama in 2012. 
  • “A bunch of doors our campaign knocked on in New Hampshire were people who were deciding between Bernie and Trump and it’s because both Bernie and Trump represent, in very different ways, a radical departure from the status quo,” Sanders's 2016 New Hampshire communications director, Karthik Ganapathy, told us. “They both speak to the visceral pain that Americans are feeling in terms of the way society and the economy are structured to benefit but they both offer radically different solutions.”
  • The key distinction, per Ganapathy: “Trump uses fearmongering and racial division to convince people that they are where they are because of Muslims and immigrants and Bernie’s solution is to target the billionaire class — that we need to come together to break their stranglehold.' 

By the numbers: 

  • Roughly 12 percent of Sanders primary voters supported Trump in the 2016 general election, according to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a poll of more than 50,000 voters conducted by YouGov in conjuction with Harvard University. (FiveThirtyEight dug into the data more, if you're interested). 
  • Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts University, found that Sanders-Trump voters were much less likely to identify as Democrats.
  • What Schaffner did find could indicate why Sanders surrogates are nervous about the Trump comparisons: nearly half of Sanders-Trump voters disagreed with the idea that white people have advantages. 

That data point underscores why some Sanders supporters think it's problematic to for any Democrat to try to lure Trump sympathizers. Asked if Sanders appeals more to Trump voters than any other 2020 candidate, Khanna instead explained to us the differences between Sanders's 2016 campaign and his 2020 operation:

  • “Where I see him having improved is his team is a lot more diverse — he has a lot more people of color and women in very senior roles, his coalition is a lot broader and I do think he is speaking more in the lagnauge of inspiration,” Khanna told Power Up. 

Our colleague Dave Weigel, whose newsletter 'The Trailer' is a must read if you're trying to make sense of the 2020 race, told us the divide derives from Sanders's position as the frontrunner this time around while he continues to cultivate his anti-establishment bonafides: 

  • “The problem for Bernie Sanders is that he does not have a problem — meaning, he does not have an obvious foil in the Democratic primary. In 2016, he started and ended his campaign as the candidate battling the party establishment, personified by Hillary Clinton,” Weigel told us.
  • “It's a real-life version of that old Reddit question about whether you'd rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses. So, last weekend, Pete Buttigieg was the establishment; before that, Neera Tanden was the establishment; before that, Beto O'Rourke was the establishment." 
  • “Beyond the day-to-day, Sanders has built his campaign as a challenge to the entire political and economic establishment, which he believes that Trump managed to do, dishonestly, in 2016. That was the theme of his Midwest stops, especially the Ohio stop which was summarized by a weekend campaign video. It is not that Sanders and Trump agree; it's that to Sanders, the Trump victory proved that voters want anti-elite populism, and they got suckered into voting for tax cuts and deregulation instead.” 

Tad Devine, the chief strategist of Sanders's 2016 campaign, acknowledged that Sanders and Trump tapped “into similar veins” of anger and frustration that's taken hold around the world. But Devine said the key distinction in 2020 is that Trump's promises to take care of "people looking for hope and opportunity" didn't pan out: 

  • “Trump speaks to them in lies,” Devine charged. "I think the difference now is when Trump ran the first time saying. 'I will never cut Medicare, I will never cut Social Security, Medicaid.' and then he proposes hundreds and millions of dollars of cuts to these proposals – I think people know this is just a lie. When he says he’s going to cut taxes but he does it for rich people and corporations, that’s a lie too. I think the reality of Trump’s policies are going to catch up with him this next election.”

From last night's Harvard Institute of Politics/CNN town hall: 


“That would have been a big show”: It would have been yuge.

As you might remember, Sanders's campaign challenged Trump to a debate before the 2016 California primary. The impetus for everything was a Jimmy Kimmel appearance. Before Trump went on the show, the comedian asked  Sanders if he had any questions for Trump. He did: Would he debate Bernie?

Trump, perhaps not realizing that such a showdown before the nominees were officially chosen would be virtually unprecedented, agreed, provided some money go to charity. So shortly thereafter, Devine, while golfing at Agawam Hunt in East Providence, R.I., tried to sort it all out. He recalled the series of strange events over dinner with reporters last week: 

  • “ … In the course of that 18 holes, I had two conversations with Paul Manafort, two conversations with Jeff Weaver and, you know, one conversation with Bernie Sanders and one final conversation with him in the locker room. And the gist of it was, you know, Manafort said, ‘Trump is crazy, we have no idea what he’s gonna do. Maybe he’ll do it, maybe he won’t. I really don’t know anything. I’ll talk to you when it’s over.’ But you know, unless I go to prison now I won’t be able to speak to him. So uh, you know, yeah, I basically said, ‘Listen, let us know.’ Because at that point in time, we were putting on as big of show as possible. That would have been a big show.”
  • Alas the debate was not meant to be, but perhaps 2020 will be different.

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On The Hill

NO TO IMPEACHMENT — FOR NOW: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her fellow House Democrats that their leadership team has no immediate plans to launch impeachment proceedings against President Trump, Rachael Bade, Karoun Demirjian and I report just days after a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's 448-page report was made public.

  • Members of Pelosi’s leadership team reaffirmed her cautious approach, according to four officials on  rare Monday night conference call. 'We have to save our democracy. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about saving our democracy,” Pelosi said.
  • Trouble ahead? " . . . Pelosi’s message did not go over well with several Democrats, who argued that Congress has a duty to hold Trump to account with impeachment despite the political blowback Pelosi has long feared.” 
  • “Despite leadership’s effort to tamp down impeachment talk, they did not rule it out completely. In fact, after some of her members spoke up, Pelosi clarified that 'if it is what we need to do to honor our responsibility to the Constitution — if that’s the place the facts take us, that’s the place we have to go.'”
  • Read the full story here.

. . . Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee on Monday subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify by May 21 and to turn over documents by May 7. McGahn emerged as perhaps the key former White House figure in the report after giving at least 30 hours of revealing interviews to Mueller, including describing to prosecutors his opinion that Trump asked him to help fire Mueller. He refrained. 

Separately, the White House is stonewalling:  

From the Courts

SCOTUS HEARS CENSUS QUESTION CASE: The Supreme Court later this morning will take up what our esteemed court watching colleague Robert Barnes calls " the most consequential Trump administration initiative since last term’s travel ban” as justices tangle with whether a question about citizenship can be added to the 2020 census. “The census is not only constitutionally mandated but count of the U.S. population once every 10 years determines, as Bob reports, “the size of each state’s congressional delegation” and “informs how the electoral districts for those seats and others — down to local school board elections — will be drawn.”

The high court may have to make a decision quickly as the Census Bureau has to decide by the end of June whether the question can be included on the 2020 form.

At issue:

  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the census, says adding the question of all households would provide more accurate information and help the Justice Department protect minority voting rights.
  • Experts at the Census Bureau, who work for Ross, say the question will mean undercounting households with noncitizens, as many as 6.5 million people. The effect will be even greater in communities and states with large immigrant populations.
  • Three federal judges, all Obama appointees, have ruled against the administration and questioned Ross’s shifting explanations for including the question to begin with.
  • Read the rest of Bob’s story here.

The Supreme Court on Monday also added potential landmark civil rights cases to the docket for the next term. Bob reports the high court accepted a trio cases examining "whether federal anti-discrimination laws protect on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” More here.

Global Power

COMEDIAN WHO PLAYS PRESIDENT ON TV NOW NEEDS TO PLAY IT IN REAL LIFE: Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won 73 percent of the vote in the runoff election in Ukraine against Petro Poroshenko on Sunday, demolishing the incumbent president in a nationwide rebuke of the ruling elites, our colleague Anton Troianovski reported from Kiev.

Zelensky, best known for playing the president on a hit TV show, walked out to the sound of his show's theme song as the 41-year-old political neophyte declared “everything is possible.”

  • “Amid a continuing war in eastern Ukraine, economic travails and popular revulsion over allegations of government corruption, Zelensky’s anti-establishment, antiwar and reformist message captured the support of a wide cross-section of the country,” Anton writes.
  • “Zelensky’s apparent victory is the latest in the global trend of political outsiders harnessing TV and social media to outmuscle the unpopular establishment. It is likely to reverberate in Russia and elsewhere across the former Soviet Union, where few other countries can claim a democratic system that would allow a comedian to unseat the sitting president.”

Stop us if you've heard some of this before: “During his campaign, Zelensky largely eschewed traditional advertising and unscripted interactions with journalists. Instead, the entertainer relied on social media and his television shows to reach voters. (Zelensky also is part of a Saturday-night comedy show.)”