In this edition: How Trump is painting Democrats, the emergency declaration and 2020, and how this time is different for Bernie Sanders.
It's hard to believe some senators in the Democratic caucus aren't running, and this is The Trailer.
MIAMI — It was a billed as an official event for President Trump to lay out his vision for addressing the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. But Trump’s visit to Miami on Monday doubled as an unofficial campaign rally, complete with MAGA caps, “Tiny Dancer” intro music, and a distinct message for domestic voters in the nation’s largest swing state: Socialism is a failed system, and he is fighting those who want to bring it to the United States.
“Socialism is not about justice, it's not about equality, it's not about lifting up the poor,” Trump said in a message that resonated among the mostly Hispanic crowd of Venezuelan American and Cuban American supporters. “Socialism is about one thing only: power for the ruling class. And the more power they get, the more they crave. They want to run health care, run transportation and finance, run energy, education — run everything.”
As Trump’s reelection campaign gears up, he is on a mission to brand Democrats as socialists hellbent on turning the United States into Venezuela. The president is taking every opportunity he has — from official events to campaign messaging to Twitter — to label Democrats as far-left radicals with bankruptcy-inducing policy ideas.
With his approval ratings stubbornly stuck underwater, and with no signs he plans to pivot to the center, Trump’s only path to reelection is to make his potential opponents seem as extreme and unfavorable as possible, said Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report.
“The swing voters are not with him,” she said. “He and his campaign will work to make the Democrat [nominee] so unappealing that voters will have to make the best-worst choice.”
Trump’s team has openly admitted that it hopes to tarnish Democrats during the primary process before candidates can define themselves. While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who announced on Tuesday his run for president, is the only Democrat who calls himself a democratic socialist, most of the candidates running for office reflect the leftward shift of the party in recent years. Trump, who likes to give his foes nicknames and has attacked several Democratic contenders by name, will lead the charge, said Raj Shah, a former White House spokesman who is advising the campaign.
A top goal for 2019 will be using Trump’s bully pulpit and campaign surrogates to define Democrats early, “when these candidates are out there trying to define themselves,” Shah said.
He mentioned issues such as the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all and proposals for tax hikes on the wealthy as top targets to exploit.
“There’s going to be an increasing number of 70-30, or 80-20 issues, where the energy on the left is in one place but the mainstream of the country is in a different place,” he said, referring to policies that he believes are disliked by 70 or 80 percent of the public. ``The president and the campaign are going to focus on exploiting those gaps.”
It’s not clear how effective that strategy will be in 2020, as polls show growing public support for policies such as Medicare-for-all and higher taxes on top earners.
The president has told advisers that he wants his 2020 campaign to be about the wall, foreign policy and trade — themes he rode to an unexpected victory in 2016 but used with little effect during the 2018 midterms. His advisers believe that he can re-create the magic of 2016 in part by making his Democratic opponents so unappealing to voters that the eventual nominee comes out of the primaries bruised and fighting off low favorability ratings.
Trump's campaign Tuesday announced a handful of new hires who have begun working on that goal.
Kayleigh McEnany will serve as national press secretary, Marc Lotter will be the director of strategic communications and Tim Murtaugh will be the communications director, campaign manager Brad Parscale said Tuesday.
“Together, we will spread the President’s message far and wide and hold Democrat presidential candidates accountable for their extreme agenda,” he said in a statement.
McEnany and Lotter each have been pushing the “socialist” message for months, with more than 100 tweets between the two of them linking Democrats to socialism.
“Democrats embrace socialism, but voters are sure to choose the Party of Lincoln over the Party of Lenin!,” McEnany, a former Republican National Committee spokeswoman, tweeted in July.
“Democrats are running FULL SPRINT toward socialism,” Lotter, a former spokesman for Vice President Pence, tweeted Feb. 8, tagging one of the president’s favorite channels. “Will discuss tonight at 8:30p with @trish_regan on @FoxBusiness.”
The campaign’s staffing announcement came one hour after self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders announced he was running in the Democratic presidential primary.
Asked about Sanders on Tuesday, Trump held his fire, even complimenting the senator from Vermont on his trade policies.
“Personally, I think he missed his time,” Trump told reporters. “But I wish Bernie well."
An August Gallup poll showed Democrats view socialism more positively than capitalism, a dynamic that Democratic 2020 contenders are navigating as Trump lobs barbs. But so far, Sanders is the only candidate embracing the label.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told reporters in New Hampshire over the weekend that she is “not a democratic socialist.” And during a CNN town hall Monday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) distanced herself from some of the Democrats’ most far-reaching policies, including Medicare-for-all (“something we can look to for the future”) and the Green New Deal (“an aspiration” and “something we need to move toward”).
The nuance in positions among the Democratic primary contenders probably won’t be a factor in the Trumpworld messaging, as both the president and the campaign have sought to paint Democrats with a broad brush.
“Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism,” McEnany said Tuesday in her first statement as press secretary.
“To those who would try to impose socialism on the United States, we again deliver a very simple message: America will never be a socialist country,” Trump said Monday in Miami, echoing a message from his State of the Union address this month.
Seeming to speak specifically to the issue of “democratic socialism,” Trump added: “All of us here today know that there is nothing less democratic than socialism. Everywhere and anywhere it appears, socialism advances under the banner of progress, but in the end it delivers only corruption, exploitation and decay.”
Ostensibly, Trump was in Miami to call for Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro to step down peacefully as the Venezuelan people suffer from food shortages and hyperinflation. And while Trump’s official remarks didn’t mention any specific 2020 candidates — he didn’t even mention the word “Democrats” — the partisan strategy at play was unmistakable.
Several elected Democrats in Miami support the White House’s efforts to oust Maduro and back national congress leader Juan Guaidó. They were not invited to the event.
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Does President Trump declaring a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border make you more likely or less likely to vote for him for reelection in 2020? (NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, 807 adults)
More likely — 33%
Less likely — 54%
No difference — 12%
Not sure — 2%
This poll also showed that 61 percent of Americans disapprove of the use of a national emergency to build a wall and 58 percent don't think there is an emergency at the border. Eleven percent of Republicans say the emergency declaration makes them less likely to vote for Trump; so do 55 percent of independents. As Aaron Blake points out here, white men without a college education supported Trump in 2016 71 to 23 percent, but 47 percent said they're less likely to support him because of the declaration.
Elizabeth Warren. She proposed a child-care plan that would limit what families pay, to be funded by a tax on the wealthy.
Julián Castro. He said he's heading to Iowa at the end of the week, his first trip as an official candidate.
Joe Biden. He spoke at the University of Pennsylvania and although he didn't announce a presidential bid, he did say he has a new dog, Major.
Michael Bennet. The senator from Colorado said he's heading to Iowa this week to talk to educators, farmers and others as he decides whether to run.
His ideas have been adopted by many of his challengers for the 2020 nomination, who will take him seriously as a contender.
As the campaigns are staffing up, they're calling experts who've been developing ideas on fighting economic inequality for years.
YouTube Unleashed a Conspiracy Theory Boom. Can It Be Contained?, by Kevin Roose
Not all conspiracy theories are political, but they have a tendency to crop up around the people who are in power. This piece looks at what YouTube has done and the limitations of its moves to keep people from going down rabbit holes.
... six days until Sen. Bernie Sanders's town hall on CNN
... 112 days until legislative primaries in Virginia
... 378 days until "Super Tuesday"