In this edition: The centrists enter the Democratic primary, the official debate rules are out, and the Young Turks wants to interview the 2020 field.
Unless you're spending tonight at a reception for state Democratic Party chairs, you're not honoring the true spirit of Valentine's Day. This is The Trailer.
HENNIKER, N.H. — At every stop of his latest trip to New Hampshire, John Hickenlooper got the same question. On Thursday, it came from a student at New England College, who wanted to know how the former governor of Colorado would bring the country together.
“I look at what we were able to achieve in Colorado, and in every case it was because we were able to sit down with people who were feuding and at each other’s throats,” said Hickenlooper, who is expected to announce his presidential plans next month. “We were able to get them to put down their weapons.”
In Henniker, Hickenlooper’s example was a compromise on emissions standards; at a house party in Manchester, it was the story of passing gun-safety laws after a 2012 mass shooting. Neither crowd was the size of the ones Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) or Cory Booker (N.J.) has begun to draw, but each was full of Democrats who did not consider themselves part of the far left. Every candidate, from Warren to Hickenlooper, is getting asked about togetherness.
With the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the next wave of candidates likely to announce Democratic presidential bids is far closer to the center than the wave of the past six weeks. Hickenlooper, who has been discussed as a potential president or vice president since he first was elected governor in 2010, is one of at least 10 candidates arguing that the party can't win by just exciting its base — and that if tacks a bit closer to the center, it can win in a rout.
Most of the Democrats making this argument, like Hickenlooper, Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg, have yet to declare their candidacies. But the Democrats showing up at town halls look much like the ones who powered the party's massive 2018 gains in the House — generally liberal, frustrated with Trump and fretful about “divisiveness,” not wearing candidates down with policy demands.
Over a week of town halls across Iowa and New Hampshire, with four different candidates, the concept of “healing” the country came up more frequently than Medicare-for-all, or even the Green New Deal that was making national news. Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, John Hickenlooper and John Delaney got the same sorts of questions, about how they could win, and how they could then deliver.
In-person campaign events are just one way of taking an electorate's temperature. But they are heady for candidates, who often come away with feedback that contradicts conventional assumptions about the primary. Former Maryland congressman John Delaney, the first Democrat to declare his candidacy, has been absent from many national conversations but has plugged away with small town halls where he argues that a centrist could actually be in the best position to deliver for all Democrats.
“We need to be a party that basically appeals to the progressives in our party, who want change; we need to appeal to the moderates in our party, who are kind of solutions-oriented folks; and we ought to appeal to some of these disaffected Republicans,” Delaney said Wednesday, at a town hall in Andover, N.H. “If we build a big tent, we will win, and we will big. And we'll be able to govern.”
Most of the Democrats who piled into the race after Delaney did so as populists, or with records of endorsing popular left-wing legislation. There are five senators in the race so far, and four have endorsed Medicare-for-all.
The Democrats still testing the waters don't have the same ties to the party's left and can be judicious about which policies they endorse. In the past week, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has hinted that he might run, suggesting that the party could use another center-left voice; Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) delivered a foreign policy speech and confirmed that he might run; Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) warned that he was not hearing from the rest of the field the sort of message that could win. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who’s seen as a figure from his party’s left, has not signed onto Medicare-for-all legislation; it did not stop him from speaking to receptive crowds in New Hampshire.
Both the party and the bulk of its voters have moved markedly to the left since 2016, on issues including health care and the minimum wage.
“The idea that the Democratic base is super far left is just wrong,” said Lucas Meyer, the leader of New Hampshire Young Democrats, which has been holding receptions for any potential Democratic candidate who's willing to come. “We're really organized, so maybe that's what Howard Schultz is afraid of. But I don't hear many litmus tests.”
Schultz is the former Starbucks chief executive who’s considering an independent presidential run. His media tour, which included a prime time CNN town hall this week, is predicated on the theory that only far-left candidates would be able to make it out of a Democratic primary and would then lose to Trump.
Schultz’s advisers have said that the data backs up his decision to explore a run, and Schultz himself points to “extreme” positions — he used the word six times on CNN — as proof that he’s right.
“The Democrats want to abolish ICE, more or less,” Schultz said on CNN. “I have nothing against the Democratic Party. I just don't feel represented.” In fact, just one declared candidate (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand) has called for abolishing ICE; others have called for restructuring it to deprioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants and to focus on criminals.
Schultz, whose rollout has been light on policy substance, has said that a left-leaning Democratic nominee would create a path for him; more quietly, he has suggested that if someone not seen as left-wing wins the nomination, he has no path. The “billionaire's veto,” as some commentators have described it, could shape the incentives for Democrats even if Schultz does nothing.
But a bigger factor than that is the mood of Democratic voters, who are not making specific policy demands of candidates so far. At his stops in New Hampshire, Hickenlooper was asked not to take a firm stand on each plank of the Green New Deal; he was asked what he thought of the concept.
“We definitely need some kind of New Deal, and it better be green,” Hickenlooper said in an interview before his Manchester event. “I think the key is really looking at the sequence in which you do things. What are the priorities? What's the maximum bang for the buck?” Later, talking to a group of reporters, he said that he could probably support "99 percent” of what's in the Green New Deal resolution but wanted to start any green policy by limiting methane emissions.
Asked whether he considered himself a progressive, Hickenlooper said he was; asked whether he was one of the more centrist candidates looking at the presidency, Hickenlooper said that might end up being how voters see it.
“I'll just quote Winston Churchill,” he said. “Americans will always do the right thing after they’ve exhausted all the other possibilities.”
Do you support or oppose Trump using emergency powers to build a border wall (Washington Post/ABC News, 788 Adults)
Oppose — 66%
Support — 31%
Just when the president seemed to be benefitting from squabbling inside the Democratic Party, he is taking a step that will unite it again: declaring an emergency as a way of moving money toward the construction of a border wall. This is, and always has been, a less popular idea than the border wall itself. Look for every Democrat running for president to denounce it.
Do you have a generally favorable opinion of . . . (Fox News, 1,004 registered voters)
Capitalism — 57%
Melania Trump — 47%
Obamacare — 47%
The Republican Party — 45%
The Democratic Party — 45%
Donald Trump — 43%
Mike Pence — 42%
Nancy Pelosi — 36%
The 2017 tax cut — 34%
Sanctuary cities — 33%
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — 26%
Mitch McConnell — 25%
Socialism — 25%
Howard Schultz — 12%
The upshot of this poll: People identified with the new wave of democratic socialism (Ocasio-Cortez) and with the old wave of centrism (Schultz) are opposed more than they're supported; the vast majority of voters still don't know Schultz. A separate question, however, finds voters split 47-47 on whether they would favor national health insurance.
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The DNC has begun to roll out rules for its debates, which begin in June and may end up being the most crowded in the history of presidential politics. The gist:
The first two debates will take place over two nights each. Democrats announced this previously, but it's official: A June debate anchored by NBC News and a July debate anchored by CNN will unfold over consecutive prime time evenings, as a way of including more candidates without shunting any into little-watched “undercard” debates.
The debates will be capped at 20 candidates. That might end up being higher than the number of declared candidates, especially once lesser-known Democrats such as Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson are counted. But that's the rule.
Candidates polling above 1 percent in three polls will get a shot at the stage. Those polls can be in primary states or nationally. At the moment, there's not much difference between the front-runners in either sort of poll.
Candidates lower in polls can make the stage if they have 65,000 individual donors, at least 200 each from 20 states. That's the most radical new rule; in the past, it could have kept multiple candidates, such as 2008 also-ran Mike Gravel, off the stage entirely, as he never hit the old polling threshold or the new donor threshold.
Bill Weld. The former Massachusetts governor and 2016 Libertarian Party vice-presidential nominee is delivering remarks tomorrow morning in New Hampshire; Republicans expect him to mount a primary challenge to President Trump.
John Delaney. He's being endorsed by the Demcoratic chair of Lucas County, Iowa, the fourth county chair endorsement of his campaign so far. (Delaney is the only Democrat who has visited all 99 Iowa counties.)
Kamala Harris. She won the endorsement of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who represents her birthplace of Oakland and is the first member of the House leadership team to weigh in. Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) was the first member of Congress to back Harris, but Lee is the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to weigh in — a big deal, as Cory Booker is also aggressively courting the CBC.
Eric Holder. The former attorney general told reporters in Des Moines that he will decide in March whether he's running for president.
Bill de Blasio. He has postponed a trip to New Hampshire, which was supposed to start tomorrow, after the shooting death of a police officer.
Michael Bennet. The senator from Colorado keeps sitting for interviews about what a 2020 bid might look like and is looking at an Iowa trip next weekend.
Kirsten Gillibrand. She has reintroduced the Family Act, her paid-leave plan that, thanks to the Democratic House, may get its first markups and votes. (It differs from the plan pushed by Ivanka Trump and Republicans in that it would be paid for with a new, small payroll tax, not from diverted Social Security funds.)
Elizabeth Warren. She's heading to four states over the weekend, including two — California and Georgia — that vote shortly after the first four big primary states. (The trip includes her first stops as a candidate in Nevada and South Carolina, too.)
Bernie Sanders. He talked to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to offer support during the days when she was being accused of anti-Semitism.
Whether they like it or not, the dominant story of the week for House Democrats was Sunday night tweets by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) about Israel's influence in American politics. On Monday, Omar and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released statements saying that the freshman Democrat would work to combat anti-Semitism. On Wednesday, Republicans got every Democrat to vote to condemn anti-Semitism, putting the language in a historic resolution to cut off American support for Saudi military operations in Yemen.
The Yemen vote, which tees up another Senate vote to end the Yemen intervention, could have long-term political implications. But as Politico's Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris report, the GOP's anti-Semitism language got a lot of the buzz; it's part of a mostly successful strategy to introduce “motions to recommit,” getting a vote on Republican priorities even while Democrats run the House. Each of those motions have attracted a rump of Democratic support.
“I’m old enough to remember a few weeks ago when talking about a united House Democratic conference was all the rage,” joked National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Pack, passing the Politico story on to reporters.
The anti-Semitism measure was actually watered down substantially; a previous version condemned both Rep. Rashida Tlaib (R-Mich.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) by name and had no chance of passage. But Democrats can't deny that the Republican votes, even when they fail, are revealing divisions in their conference. The question is whether it matters — and who it helps.
None of these votes are materially disrupting the Democratic agenda. Instead, they're putting some swing-district Democrats, like Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), on record, repeatedly, against Pelosi. The speaker has not lost substantive Democratic support on must-pass bills; she has lost them on nonbinding language meant to embarrass Democrats.
That isn't to say that cracks in the party being repeatedly revealed is a plus for House Democrats. But when Republicans pointed out that the anti-Semitism language was the first successful legislative maneuver by the opposition party in a decade, they accidentally revealed something about the risks of party discipline.
The last Republican majorities denied oxygen to Democratic bills and resolutions and prevented breakaways such as the 2018 attempt to force an immigration reform vote that wasn't supported by GOP leadership. One result was the biggest Republican electoral defeat since 1974, with endangered Republicans unable to point to many substantial votes against their party.
But any analysis of how these votes will play in elections assumes that advertising and campaign rhetoric match up to reality. There's no guarantee of that; the first two attack ads launched at Democrats over the Green New Deal focused on two Democrats who did not, in fact, co-sponsor it.
CONCORD, N.H. — The rules for choosing the next Democratic presidential nominee keep changing, though not as fast as reformers might like.
On Wednesday morning, the campaign to radically change New Hampshire’s primary with ranked-choice voting was throttled in a small committee room near the state capitol. A bill that would have introduced the system by early 2020 — allowing Democrats to rank their favorite candidates, with ballots added up until one candidate has a majority — was quickly debated and tabled.
That won’t stop Democrats, who run both houses of the state’s General Court, from introducing the bill later this year. But the reform’s supporters acknowledged that they might not get another bite at the apple until this autumn, just a few months before the primary. And even then, they’d need buy-in from some skeptics in their party.
“It’s highly unlikely,” said Ellen Delena Reed, a second-term state legislator and main sponsor of the legislation. “Theoretically, we could attach it to a different bill, but it’s hard to do that without the blessing of leadership.”
Meanwhile, at the DNC meeting unfolding in the District this week, the leaders of state parties are submitting their delegate selection plans for 2020. The next big changes on that are really up to state legislatures, and the march of states from caucuses to primaries is continuing at a steady pace. Washington, which has been under total Democratic control since early 2017, is on pace to bind its delegates to a primary, not a caucus.
It would be the single largest transfer of delegates from the latter system — which usually helps grass-roots candidates — to the former. And it would move the primary to March 10, one week after the first Super Tuesday.
“That would make Washington state more interesting — let’s say that,” said Tina Podolowski, the state party chair.
For years, Washington has held both a caucus, paid for by the state party, and a later, nonbinding primary, concurrent with state primary elections. In the 2016 caucuses, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won 72.7 percent of the vote, giving him one of his biggest pledge delegate margins over Hillary Clinton. Months later, Clinton won 52.4 percent of the vote in the nonbinding primary, which neither candidate campaigned to win.
The Young Turks, the left-leaning online news channel that has built a serious following with Democratic voters, is launching a new interview and debate series designed to put every presidential candidate, and many legislative candidates, on record on issues that they don’t see other media asking.
The guests won’t be limited to potential presidents — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will be one of the first guests, but so will Adam McKay, the director of “Vice” and “The Big Short.” Nonetheless, the long-term plan of Cenk Uygur, the founder of the TYT network and host of its flagship show, is to carry out “the most substantive conversations on the planet” with candidates.
“The rest of the media has an establishment perspective, and we have a progressive perspective,” Uygur said in an interview. “It’s very important, in a Democratic primary, that there be a conversation centered around that. I’m going to ask different questions than Jake Tapper is. He’s going to ask questions skeptical of Medicare-for-all; I’m going to ask questions skeptical of the current system. That’s already a massive difference.” (In a town hall with Kamala Harris, Tapper asked if "Medicare for All" would eliminate private insurance; Harris implied that it would, partially reversing that position one day later.)
Uygur, a former MSNBC host who said that the CNN town hall format was better than much of cable news, suggested that the big networks nonetheless deferred to voters to ask many policy questions. The TYT series would keep the microphone in the host’s hand; part of the point would be seeing who is and isn’t rattled by that.
TYT, which has hosted Democrats including Joe Manchin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has nearly 4.3 million YouTube subscribers and a committed audience that sees its hosts as more credible than cable news reporters.
In Washington, where TYT has beefed up its presence since 2016, the network is known for strongly favorable coverage of Sanders. It has been a media partner for the senator from Vermont 's national town hall meetings; in 2016, Uygur repeatedly appeared on the campaign trail at Sanders rallies. But any candidate willing to appear in 2019, he said, would get a fair hearing.
“We did not pick Bernie last time because he was anybody’s uncle,” Uygur said. “That primary was the most binary choice that anybody’s ever had, between the establishment and a progressive. And now, there are lots of choices. If you think you can make a better progressive case than Bernie Sanders, then you should come on tomorrow. I’d argue that Hillary Clinton made a giant mistake by not coming on TYT and telling a progressive audience why they should come out and vote. That made all the difference in the world.”
"Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign decision: Quietly agonizing as months go by,” by Matt Viser and Michael Scherer
The Biden guessing game is, as the man might say, no joke — the reason some confidants have been wrong about his start date is that he really does keep studying the field and changing his mind.
The city most affected by debates over border security looks nothing like the fortress that border security hawks imagine for the country.
“The Ocasio-Cortez Effect: Wave of Challenges Hits Entrenched N.Y. Democrats,” by Shane Goldmacher
The activists who helped oust Joe Crowley are increasingly recruiting against the rest of New York's delegation, including at least one seat that could be swung by a Republican in a bad cycle for the party. That's a bit of a clash with the strategy that emerged after November's liberal defeats in swing districts.
. . . one day until Kamala Harris makes her first real campaign swing through South Carolina
. . . one day until Beto O'Rourke makes his first trip to a swing state
. . . one day until Kirsten Gillibrand heads to New Hampshire
. . . “four or six weeks” until John Hickenlooper decides whether to run for president