In this edition: Democrats reckon with the activists who elected them, an open seat in Pennsylvania, and the question of who can and can't evolve without being called a flip-flopper.
I'm not going to Brussels either, and this is The Trailer.
On Friday, the Women's March will send citizen lobbyists to Capitol Hill to begin a long-term campaign for Medicare-for-all legislation. On Saturday, the group will hold a mass rally in Washington, marking the third anniversary of the movement and the release of a “Women's Agenda,” a left-leaning, 10-point platform of “realistically achievable” goals.
“We're focused on an intersectional, international strategy that sets the narrative for 2020,” said Linda Sarsour, one of the four co-founders of the Women's March. “You want to knock on our door and get our vote in 2020? You'd better get with the agenda.”
But there's no spinning it: Women's March Inc., which has organized the largest rallies and political campaigns of the young movement, is coming into 2019 dogged by controversy. Tamika Mallory, one of the group's other co-founders, has associated with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, has never completely denounced his anti-Semitism, and has been accused of holding her own conspiratorial beliefs about Jews.
As The Post's Marissa J. Lang has reported, a number of marches that never relied on Women's March Inc. for support have issued statements saying they have nothing to do with Sarsour's group. The Democratic National Committee and nearly 300 other organizations that endorsed the 2017 march are no longer affiliated with it. Few actual or potential Democratic 2020 candidates are planning to wade into the crowds.
What began as an astoundingly successful grass-roots organization has become a politically fraught one, in ways that could shape Democratic politics and the 2020 primaries.
The 2017 Women's March was a seminal event for Democrats, especially those with presidential ambitions. In speeches and memoirs, many of them have referred to the event as the beginning of a real resistance to the Trump presidency, even more than the surprisingly successful health-care rallies that took place before the inauguration.
It was a clear, heroic story line: First women marched, then they organized, and then they won. They drew a direct line from the 2017 rallies, organized by Women's March, to the 2018 campaign, which the Women's March engaged in through rallies and voter registration drives, to the victory that created the largest class of women in Congress.
“No one could move, but everyone seemed to understand that the march was a glimpse of a new kind of coalition whose true strength had yet to be tested,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wrote in her in new memoir, about the Washington march.
“On a cold, bright, Saturday morning, something special was happening,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote in her own memoir, about a women's march in Boston. “I knew that we had tens of millions of people with us and that this fight would be our fight.”
Neither Harris nor Warren will participate in a women's march event this weekend. Representatives for most of the Democrats seen as likely 2020 candidates said that they would not be at the events — not citing the controversy, but tacitly acknowledging that the march was no longer the sort of event they must participate in. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said in a short interview that she will be attending a funeral; a spokesman for Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who attended the 2017 march in Washington, said he will be traveling Saturday.
The Democrats who are going to march this weekend have also had to tread carefully. A spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that he will be attending a march that is not affiliated with Women's March Inc. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will attend a Women's March-affiliated event in Des Moines; asked first by Buzzfeed's Ruby Cramer, she responded to the anti-Semitism controversy by emphasizing that local organizers were running the event she'd be attending.
“Senator Gillibrand strongly condemns anti-Semitism from anyone, in all forms, and believes it has no place in a movement for women's empowerment or anywhere else,” her campaign said.
On its own, attending or skipping one march shouldn't say much about a candidate, and schedule conflicts can be real. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who spoke at the 2017 march in Burlington, has not ruled out attending a march this weekend, but just two weeks ago he hosted Sarsour and Women's March co-founder Bob Bland at his Senate swearing-in party. (Sarsour worked on Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign.) And Gillibrand has never distanced herself from the national organization.
“Senator Gillibrand has been an ally to us and a leader on a number of fights,” said Winnie Wong, a Women's March organizer focusing on the Medicare-for-all lobby day.
Every time a party gains power, it reassesses its relationship to grass-roots organizers, and those organizers become bigger, more important targets for critics. Democrats have to deal with an inevitable and sticky fact of politics — associating with activists or politicians who come under fire for their own associations or remarks. For some Republicans, the ostracization of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) over his racist remarks was meant to signal that their party policed itself and Democrats did not.
“I've watched Democrats being accused of different crimes,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said after stripping King of his committee assignments. “I've watched Democrats say things that are offensive to all Americans. The real challenge here: I've watched the Speaker be silent.”
McCarthy did not name names, but within days, the New York Post and the Washington Examiner had published columns asking why, if Republicans could condemn King, Democrats could not condemn new Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian American who had asked whether supporters of legislation to punish boycotts of Israel “forgot what country they represent."
On Thursday, McCarthy and other House GOP leaders asked Democrats to condemn a 2012 tweet in which Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a new member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Israel had “hypnotized the world” and to distance themselves from Omar's support for the “boycott, divestment, and sactions” movement. (Omar has pointed out that her tweet was opposing airstrikes Israel was carrying out across the Gaza Strip.)
“Pelosi must make Tlaib pay a price for her use of the language of Jew-hatred,” Jonathan Tobin wrote in the New York Post. “If she doesn’t, it won’t just be a matter of hypocrisy but a sign of the growing tolerance for anti-Semitism on the left.”
Plenty of liberal-leaning writers have pushed back on the idea that supporting BDS is anti-Semitic; Republicans have replied by pointing out that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says that it is. The Democratic Party's shift to the left since 2016 hasn't met much resistance from its establishment and didn't stop it from winning the midterms. But many campaigns have been tripped up by associations, both by having them and by seeming skittish if they ended them.
Women's March Inc. is plowing ahead, cognizant of how the controversy has altered its role. It's no longer part of the cadre of liberal groups that Democrats will comfortably line up with.
“This is a social movement, a decentralized protest movement, focused on building institutional power and capacity,” Wong said. “Trump and his cronies are doing a good job of derailing what the new House had wanted to focus on. The shutdown has been a massive distraction. And so, once again, the Women’s March is leading and bringing the focus where it should be, while Democrats have been sidetracked.”
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Will you vote to reelect Trump? (NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist, 873 registered voters)
No — 57%
Yes — 30%
This is an unspinnably bad poll for the president, coming just a few days after Brad Parscale, his 2020 campaign manager, said internal data showed him in his strongest-ever position. Other presidents have seen the “won't reelect” number surge past the “will reelect” number and prevailed. That happened to Bill Clinton; it happened to Barack Obama. But we're three weeks into the shutdown with no public data that suggests it has fixed the president's problems outside his base. Even 7 percent of voters who backed the president in 2016 say they would not in 2020; if he gained no additional voters, that would put him at 43 percent support, wiping out his win margins in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Just two weeks into the 116th Congress, we have a member pulling the ripcord: Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), a five-term conservative who arrived in Washington with the tea party wave.
The words “special election” and “Pennsylvania” are enough to induce terror in Republicans after their disastrous 2018 performance in the state. The year began with them losing a once-safe district to Rep. Conor Lamb (D) and ended with them getting blown out statewide while dropping three more seats — and holding three more by single digits.
But it would take a true political disaster for Marino’s 12th Congressional District to become competitive. As drawn by a panel of judges last year, it covers a large rural swath of north and central Pennsylvania that was never very friendly to Democrats and has grown downright inhospitable.
Marino was first elected in 2010 to represent much of the same territory, in what was at the time the most Republican-leaning Pennsylvania district represented by a Democrat. Chris Carney, a moderate Democrat who'd worked on counterintelligence for the Bush administration, won the seat in 2006 after Don Sherwood, a formerly safe Republican incumbent, was revealed to have conducted a years-long abusive affair.
Carney won that election narrowly and won a second term in 2008 by running far ahead of Barack Obama. But Marino defeated him by 10 points and held onto the seat comfortably after two rounds of redistricting. In 2016, President Trump carried the district with 66.1 percent of the vote, one of his strongest performances anywhere in the state.
Two years later, as Democrats swept the state, Marino won his final term by 32 points. But even Scott Wagner, the Republican nominee for governor who lost statewide by 17.1 points, carried Marino’s seat by 20. It’s never a good sign when an incumbent heads for the exits, but a Republican loss here would take an even more dramatic swing than the one that elected Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.).
Like Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand ended one of the first days of her presidential campaign (sorry, yes, exploratory committee, fine) with an interview on “The Rachel Maddow Show.” But the setups couldn’t have been more different.
Maddow’s interview with Warren began with a preroll of the senator’s interviews on NBC News as a consumer rights advocate, demonstrating that the senator had been building a record for years before she ever ran for office. The interview with Gillibrand began with the story of how she flipped a historically Republican House seat in Upstate New York.
“She had conservative bona fides,"Maddow said. "She had an A rating from the NRA. She said she wanted to make English the official language of the U.S.A." Her first question to Gillibrand began with this: "Tell me about that transformation."
For once, liberal members of the media are asking the same questions that Republicans are raising. The Republican National Committee welcomed “chameleon Kirsten” to the 2020 campaign by predicting that she'd be apologizing for the stances she'd held in her four years representing the upper Hudson Valley. Indeed, she's been moving left ever since her 2009 appointment to the Senate and has explained her transition as a process of steady, informed evolution.
On gun rights, for example, Gillibrand told Maddow that her eyes were opened as soon as she began talking to her new constituents in New York City. “I traveled to Brooklyn, and I met with a family who had just lost their daughter,” she said. “I just knew I was wrong.”
There are many ways to divvy up the Democratic field: One easy way is to divide the “evolved” candidates with the ones who've never really changed. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) frequently point out that he has talked (and to some extent looked) the same for his entire career in politics, advocating for a European-style welfare state, moving to the left on only gun rights and some aspects of criminal justice reform. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a 2016 Sanders backer who is bidding for his voters, has already apologized for her previous, heated opposition to LGBT rights, releasing a three-minute video this week to explain how she changed.
Sanders's consistency was one of his greatest assets in 2016, but the next Democratic field will probably include several candidates who've never really changed. Neither Warren nor John Delaney had run for office before 2012. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has always been a center-left politician, evolving on only same-sex marriage; Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has a voting record that doesn't start until January 2017, though she is already taking fire for her record as a California prosecutor. Many others with longer résumés will have changes to account for.
In past campaigns, Democrats have foundered over accusations of flip-flopping. What has changed since then? Basically, it was the victory of Donald Trump, who rolled into his 2016 campaign with a long, often videotaped record of liberal statements. There is a precedent now for telling voters how you evolved and why you won't change back and for making commitments to interest groups that you'll deliver for them. But the candidates who never had to evolve have it easier.
Seth Moulton. His attempt to block Nancy Pelosi from the speaker's gavel didn't work, but he's heading to speak to suburban Democrats in New Hampshire on Feb. 2. As the Boston Globe's James Pindell points out, Moulton has never ruled out a bid for president.
Sherrod Brown. He will launch a “dignity of work tour” in Cleveland on Jan. 30, heading from there to the first four primary states. There is no set timeline for a Brown announcement or exploratory committee.
Eric Swalwell. He's traveling around the South for Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, spending the day itself at events in Atlanta.
Kamala Harris. She's the focus of a devastating Laura Bazelon column on her prosecutorial record, which remains the single biggest impediment in her effort.
Joe Biden. He'll be an “honoree” at the Rev. Al Sharpton's MLK Day breakfast in Washington.
Mike Bloomberg. He'll join Sharpton at the same event as Biden.
"How policy decisions spawned today's hyperpoliticized media,” by Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer
The story of how unwinding the “Fairness Doctrine” created a market for hard-charging partisan TV, which a few decades later elected a president.
“The shutdown is giving some Trump advisers what they’ve long wanted: A smaller government,” by Lisa Rein, Robert Costa and Danielle Paquette
Every modern shutdown eventually gets to this point: some conservative speculation that voters will learn how little they need the government and urge Congress to shrink it.
“Jack Dorsey has no clue what he wants,” by Ashley Feinberg
A tough Q&A with the man who, more than anyone, could shape the social media conversation about 2020.
. . . two days until the Women's March
. . . four days until MLK Day
. . . 13 days until Sherrod Brown's “dignity of work” tour
. . . 16 days until Seth Moulton heads to New Hampshire
. . . 36 days until Elizabeth Warren headlines the New Hampshire Democrats' dinner