In this edition: Delaware wants Joe Biden to run again, the Green New Deal debate goes nowhere, and the Democratic primary may or may not be a total disaster.
Is ait an mac an saol, seo é The Trailer.
DOVER, Del. — These days, when Joe Biden enters a room, a presidential campaign rally breaks out.
It happened in Washington on Tuesday, when the International Association of Fire Fighters gave a speaking slot to Biden — and to no other current or potential presidential candidates — surrounding him with “Run Joe Run” and “IAFF for Biden” signs. It happened in Delaware on Saturday, when the state Democratic Party's fundraising dinner became a friendly intervention on behalf of its favorite son.
“He has shaped history,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said as Biden looked on from the audience. “He's not just a great speechmaker; he's a great change maker. And along with our president, Barack Obama, Joe Biden led the greatest administration of our lifetime."
As Biden gets closer to deciding on a run, and as the Democratic field closes in on 20 candidates, the former vice president is betting not only that he could win, but that he has a better chance of victory over President Trump than anyone else in his party. After three “change” elections, in 2014, 2016, and 2018, Biden and his allies picture an election that poses a choice between four more years of Trump disruption and a chance to restore the Obama administration.
“I've seen the polling, and it's pretty darn impressive,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). “I mean, Joe runs well among Democrats — traditional Democrats, people on the left, people in the middle, people on the more conservative side. He runs very strong with independents. And there's a surprising number of Republicans who like him, and as we know, will vote for him."
The paradox of the Biden candidacy is that much of this was said about Hillary Clinton, before she made her final decision about 2016. Four years ago, Clinton allies had polling that showed her easily defeating any potential Republican nominee. They had election data, from the 2008 primary, suggesting that she could win over voters that President Barack Obama had lost.
According to Biden's allies, some of whom roamed the Dover Downs events center where he spoke Saturday, two new factors are working in the former vice president's favor. One: He simply does not have the hardened opposition that followed Clinton through public life, including a permanent class of conservative activists who tried (and are still trying) to charge her with crimes. Two: She had to run against the possibility of a Trump presidency, while Biden would be running against its messy reality.
“The country will have experienced four years of Trump by 2020,” said Gov. John Carney (D). “Joe talks about this: 'That's not who we are.' I know there are Republicans and independents who know this is not who we are, whether they agree with the Democrats or not. And some of the things that some other Democratic candidates are saying are just out of the scope for those Republicans. They look at it and say: Trump's not who we are, but we ain't that, either!”
Biden's message, as seen in the political speeches he has given this year, is that American democracy worked until very recently, and that it would not take much to correct it. In Dover, he spoke at length about the "Delaware way" of politics, defining it by describing the "returns day" parade that follows every election.
“We don't demonize our opponents,” Biden said. “We don't belittle them. We don't treat the opposition as the enemy. We might even say a nice word about a Republican if they do something good.” He reminisced about his days in the Senate, contrasting the “petty” and “vicious” politics of 2019 with the politics he came up through. As he's done at multiple public events this year, he chastised “the new left” that criticized him for praising the character of Republicans.
“When the man who sits next to you, a Republican, is crying because his wife has breast cancer, it’s awfully hard to dislike that man,” Biden said.
Many of Biden's rivals, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have handled Republicans (and the president) differently. To them, Americans' alienation from politics began decades before Trump, and it was not fixed during the eight years of the Obama-Biden administration; that is the left's popular explanation for why Clinton lost the Midwest, and the presidency, in 2016.
Biden's version of history is different: The Obama-Biden administration rescued the country, and then Trump lied to economically distressed voters about it. At one point, in Dover, Biden described the Affordable Care Act as a “universal health care” law; later, he sketched out a Democratic argument that resembled Warren's, changing the rules of corporate governance to reduce economic inequality.
“There used to be a basic bargain in America, that if your outfit or enterprise succeeded, you got to share in the benefits,” Biden said. “That used to be the deal. Not a joke. In corporate America, that used to be the deal. Everybody used to share the wealth, from the corporate CEO, to the secretary. That bargain's been broken, badly. We need a new corporate ethic in America, and you're going to hear a hell of a lot more from me about that.”
For years, the left's case against Biden was that a bank-friendly senator from Delaware was not equipped to talk like that; Biden had voted for bankruptcy restructuring and trade deals that Trump eventually turned against the Democrats.
That didn't fly in Delaware, where the Obama-Biden ticket swept Democrats into full control of the state legislature, which they have held ever since. In 2018, Democrats won every statewide office, and much of the party literature sent to voters had Biden at the top. To many Democrats, the lesson was simple: The country wanted Trump gone, and a candidate who was more credible to white working- class voters than Hillary Clinton would win the presidency.
“Joe Biden is someone who has more heart, and more integrity, and more passion for average working people than any candidate I've seen in my lifetime," Coons said. "Yes, he's got a ton of experience, but you're not going to see 40-page policy papers from him. You're going to see someone who knows in his gut what it is he's asking us to do together, and he's going to inspire us to take on the challenges of this century, and he'd be resilient."
But other Democrats wondered how Biden, whose political image has been frozen since the heartbreaking death of his son Beau in 2015, would endure a campaign. David P. Sokola, who was first sent to the legislature in 1990, fondly recalled how Biden backed him then and had campaigned with him since. But he had found himself gaming out the ways that trolls and Republican operatives could run against Biden.
“I'm not sure he's the one who's going to excite the people who are most excited right now,” Sokola said. “You know some of the things that were used by the Russian bots effectively against Hillary could be used against him. After the election, I talked to some young people and I asked them, 'Why didn't you vote for Hillary?' And they said, 'Because Bill Clinton signed the crime bill.' I was amazed. Joe Biden wrote the crime bill!”
The argument inside the party, silenced onstage, was visible inside the room on Saturday. Hours before Biden's speech, Delaware Democrats had held party elections and chosen a new DNC committee member — Kerri Evelyn Harris, a veteran and organizer who unsuccessfully challenged Carper in the 2018 primary. She planned to stay neutral in the presidential primary, and while lots of Delaware Democrats were already behind Biden, she needed to hear more from him, and from Kamala Harris, and from all the Democrats with records at odds with the party's left.
“I'm not someone who will ever write somebody off for their past, but you have to show that you really, truly understand what people need,” Harris said. “You can't just decide, well, that's where the tide is flowing, if you don't believe it yourself.”
Do you approve of President Trump's performance? (Gallup, 1,032 Americans)
Approve — 39%
Disapprove — 57%
Gallup has dramatically scaled back its public political polling, but it continues to check in every week on the president's approval rating. In mid-February, we saw a surprising bounce in those ratings; it faded quickly and has since disappeared, which raises the question of whether it was just some statistical noise. The fundamentals of Trump's popularity, especially during periods when he focuses on immigration, are consistent and weak.
Do you have a favorable view of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? (Gallup, 1,932 Americans)
Favorable — 31%
Unfavorable — 41%
The headline out of this poll was that Ocasio-Cortez, who became a star within minutes of winning her June 2016 primary, has moved from a slightly unpopular national figure to a more unpopular national figure. But “AOC” herself has pointed out that the movement has been split. As she's become better known, Ocasio-Cortez has become better-liked among Democrats and nonwhite voters; she remains popular, though a bit less than before, with voters under 35. The negative momentum has come from Republicans and older voters, who have dramatically swung against her.
North Carolina. The field is set for the special election in the 9th Congressional District, with a potential Republican primary runoff — one that would delay the eventual vote to fill the seat — looking likelier. Ten Republicans filed to run in the May 14 primary, including Chris Anglin, an activist who foiled Republican plans to win a state court seat last year by becoming a Republican and crowding the ballot. (There ended up being two Republicans on the ballot to one Democrat; the Democrat won.)
Democrats, meanwhile, gave their 2018 nominee Dan McCready an easy ride. While the centrist Democrat had to face a left-wing challenger in 2018, he has no primary opponent now, allowing him to spend months raising funds and campaigning while the Republicans sort out their nominee. But he got a potential problem on his left when a Green Party candidate filed to run. Unlike last year, when McCready got a clear faceoff with Republican nominee Mark Harris, voters will get a four-party ballot, including a libertarian candidate.
It has been more than a month since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would bring the Democrats' Green New Deal resolution to a vote, a move interpreted immediately as a way to put the other party on the spot. Since then, senators in both parties have been giving floor speeches about the need for a massive infrastructure program to combat climate change — and hardly anybody has noticed.
This may be because Senate debates, which often cram into the space between votes on congratulating winning football teams or confirming circuit court nominees, are often disconnected and dry. But the texts of these speeches have been revealing, demonstrating how Democrats and Republicans simply do not agree on the stakes of climate change, and end up whizzing right past each other.
The Democratic position is simple: Democrats cite the U.N.'s International Panel on Climate Change to warn that pollution may increase the global temperature by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius. That level of warming, they say, would make parts of the planet uninhabitable, release additional methane through the melting of Arctic permafrost, and bring about flooding and famine. The intensity of new groups such as the Sunrise Movement is based on exactly this: When activists say that humanity has until 2030 to stop irreversible warming trends, they are citing the IPCC.
You would never figure this out if you listened only to the Senate floor speeches from the GOP. Several have suggested that the climate issue is all about conservation; given that, Democrats are trying to distract from bipartisan solutions to pass an unrelated economic takeover.
“We want clean air, we want clean water, and we want to take care of our environment and natural resources,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in his floor speech. “At the same time, we also care about our economy, jobs for families in our states, and making sure that everyone in our country has the opportunity to succeed.”
The Democratic argument, however, is that it's not enough to “take care” of natural resources; water and air quality will degrade if carbon continues being released at such a rapid rate. In the past, Senate debates about this have found Republicans citing or quoting climate scientists who disagree with the consensus. That hasn't really been happening during this debate; more frequently, Republicans have been scoring on the Green New Deal by insisting, incorrectly, that it requires bans on meat and air travel.
“This Green New Deal sounds more like a socialist wish list than it does some great, bold conservation plan,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). “Calling for an end to air travel, getting rid of all of the cows and ceasing all production of coal would literally destroy our state’s economy.”
Not too long ago, national Republican campaigns discussed the climate issue by proposing market-based ideas such as carbon taxes. A rump of Republican establishment figures, teamed up with some business leaders, still favor carbon taxes, if tied to a “carbon dividend” that would defray the cost for poor Americans. But the conversation in the Senate suggests a 2020 climate debate that consists of two parties that won't even agree on what they're debating.
Kirsten Gillibrand. She announced a March 24 rally outside the Trump International Hotel in New York for the first major speech of her presidential campaign.
Beto O'Rourke. His ramble through primary and caucus states continued on Sunday in Wisconsin; as the week goes on, he's expected in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth Warren. She missed this year's St. Patrick's Day breakfast in South Boston, where, in absentia, she was the subject of jokes. Gov. Charlie Baker, a liberal Republican, said that a DNA test revealed he was "1/1000 Republican,” while a Boston city councilor joked that Warren had sent a shamrock smoke signal.
Bernie Sanders. He campaigned in Nevada for the first time in this campaign; he's heading to California next weekend.
Andrew Yang. He's attracting the first big media attention of his campaign, and will spend the middle of this week in rural northern New Hampshire.
Marianne Williamson. She's spending Monday and Tuesday at New Hampshire meet-and-greets with Democrats.
Pete Buttigieg. He became the third Democratic presidential candidate to sit for a Fox News interview.
Jay Inslee. He’ll appear on the Daily Show on Monday night, bringing the number of Democrats invading cable that night up to three — Warren and Gillibrand will be taking town hall questions on CNN and MSNBC, respectively.
The size of the Democrats' primary field — it is at 15 declared candidates today, before Joe Biden announces anything — has inspired a few thoughtful rounds of speculation about a potential party meltdown. The most thoughtful came from the Cook Political Report's David Wasserman, imagining an “all-out fracas next July in Milwaukee” because of three factors.
Those are: the rise of grass-roots donations, the clustering of delegates in early primaries, and the heralded “superdelegate reform” that will empower unpledged delegates to pick a nominee if there is no winner on the first ballot. No Democratic nominating contest has gone to multiple ballots since the introduction of the Democrats' proportional system after 1984. As Wasserman points out, “had the 2016 Republican primary played out under Democrats’ rules, it would have almost assuredly resulted in an ugly, contested convention.”
We're 16 months out from the convention, so no take, no matter how hot, is really wrong. But it's always easier in practice to imagine a brokered convention then to make one happen. First, there are two factors that make Democrats nervous:
Proportional delegate selection. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? It's also the reason it would be difficult for a Democrat to follow Donald Trump's insurgent path to win the nomination. In every state primary and caucus, Democrats assign delegates according to candidates' vote shares statewide and in congressional districts (or, in New Jersey, state Senate districts). Districts with higher Democratic votes in the last primary get more delegates than districts with lower Democratic votes. To sweep a seven-delegate district, for example, a candidate would need to win more than 86 percent of its votes.
In practice, in 2016, this would have stymied Trump. Take Missouri as an example. Hillary Clinton won it by less than one point, taking just two of its eight congressional districts, which gave her just 36 delegates to 35 for Bernie Sanders. That same night, Trump edged Ted Cruz by less than one point in Missouri. His prize: 37 delegates to just 15 for Cruz.
Fewer caucuses. State Democratic parties have drastically cut back on the number of caucuses, and Washington, which has for years offered more delegates than any other caucus state, is on the verge of scrapping it, too. That's going to change this contest, because caucuses by their nature are boosts for insurgent candidates with large grass-roots support. In 2016, Bernie Sanders won 12 of the 14 caucus states; in 2008, Barack Obama won 13 of them. Just as important was the landslide margins they won in these states. Famously, Obama netted more delegates by winning the tiny Idaho caucuses than Hillary Clinton won by drubbing him in the high-turnout New Jersey primary. There will be no Idaho caucuses next year, just a primary.
And here are the three factors that soothe the perpetually worried Democrats.
Do-or-die states. In theory, yes, a number of candidates could continue their campaigns past Iowa and New Hampshire. Right now, a number of candidates are in the familiar position of having to pack up if they do not win one of the first three primaries. The short version: There is no path for Amy Klobuchar if she loses Iowa; no path for Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand if they lose New Hampshire; no path for Cory Booker and Kamala Harris if they lose South Carolina. Skip forward two weeks, and the door shuts on Beto O'Rourke or Julián Castro if they do not win Texas. It's just as hard for Bernie Sanders to continue strongly if, having won the biggest landslide in the New Hampshire primary's history last time, he falls behind in 2020.
The end of super PACs. At the moment, just one Democratic presidential candidate, Jay Inslee, has a super PAC on the air on his behalf. The majority of Democrats have preemptively promised not to encourage super PACs, which cuts off a spigot of money and support that have distorted some recent primaries. Candidates who struggled to raise money in 2012, such as Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, were kept in the hunt because super PACs provided them air cover; the same happened in 2016, with super PACs allowing some also-ran Republicans to stick around and split the vote past Super Tuesday.
The superdelegate's dilemma. It's true that unpledged delegates are free, under new DNC rules, to vote on the nomination only if no winner emerges on the first ballot. But the maximal danger from this system comes from the threat of superdelegates denying the nomination to a candidate who received more votes during the primaries. The odd irony of the post-1984 superdelegate change, which was designed as a backstop against an unelectable candidate, is that it would blow up the party if a candidate who lacked plurality support was given the nomination.
Democrats have been through “unthinkable” outcomes before — Trump, for example — but when the DNC was changing this rule, the seeming impossibility of a delegate “coup” was one big reason. In fact, the only recent campaign that tentatively encouraged superdelegates to change their votes in favor of a nominee with less support from Democratic voters was the 2016 Sanders campaign. When that didn't happen, several delegations spent much of the convention protesting the nominee anyway.
That's the mixed news for Democrats. It's unlikely that they tear themselves apart at the party convention, but quite a bit more likely they do so before it.
Trump vs. labor: On Saturday afternoon, when not much of the country was watching Fox News, the network ran a segment about the shuttering of a GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and the thousand-plus workers affected. But the president was watching and tweeting his advice: “General Motors must get their Lordstown, Ohio, plant open, maybe in a different form or with a new owner.” And on Sunday, he added a jibe at David Green, the president of the UAW local for the plant’s workers, telling him to “get his act together and produce.”
Democrats, having decided that they focused too much on Trump's personality in 2016, don't grab onto his tweets anymore. This one might be different — the party sees enormous, unexpected potential in going back to places where manufacturing employment has not really expanded since 2016, and in reintroducing its candidates to organized workers. Green himself seemed to preview the message in his February 1 letter to Trump.
“Your campaign promise to retain and create good manufacturing jobs in this community awarded you with many votes,” Green wrote. “I am still hopeful that General Motors, an American company that received billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers just a decade ago, will recognize the importance of building vehicles where they sell them.”
Green ended up attending the State of the Union speech as the guest of Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who said Sunday that “the president’s tweet today is offensive and does nothing to help bring back the manufacturing jobs he promised to my district.” Ryan is still considering a run; any Democratic nominee is making a list of these moments when Trump seems to flail around, struggling to deliver on his jobs promise in distressed communities.
"Beto Versus the Barrio,” by Christopher Hooks
The deep dives into O'Rourke's history as a businessman-turned-city councilman-turned-congressman have begun, and a major emerging critique is that, until he ran for Senate, the congressman was a pretty standard developer-friendly pol.
“Can a Rust Belt Yogi Save the Democratic Party?” by Elaine Godfrey
Sherrod Brown is out of the presidential race, so Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) might be back in again. (He's among the invitees for a March 30 town hall in Iowa.)
Nearly one-quarter of Democratic Socialists of America who voted in a membership poll did not want the organization to endorse America's foremost democratic socialist for president. Why?
. . . three days until Andrew Gillum makes some sort of announcement about his future
. . . 13 days until the first Democratic cattle call in Iowa
. . . 16 days until Wisconsin elects a new state Supreme Court justice
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