In this edition: The California aftermath, the struggles of impeachment cheerleaders, and the end of Hogan 2020.
I hope the next Democratic cattle call adds a jeer-o-meter to the applause-o-meter, and this is The Trailer.
SAN FRANCISCO — The first real “cattle call” of the 2020 primary was full of drama, from loud booing for two candidates, to a shocking interruption of Kamala Harris; from activists shouting “impeach” at Nancy Pelosi, to sex workers staging a “die-in” protest.
The state Democratic convention and satellite events also did a little, if not much, to define the most crowded Democratic contest in modern history. No candidate went from 0 to 60, as Howard Dean had sixteen years ago, though two came out looking stronger. No candidate was blown away, though several came out diminished by a perennially tough test: Whether they can command a room of 5,000 or so skeptical Democrats.
Here's what we learned:
Kamala Harris doesn't have California locked up . . . The senator came into the convention, held in the city where her political career began, after several feats of strength. A majority of Democrats in the state Assembly announced their endorsements. Street teams filled the sidewalks around the George Moscone Center; when they descended the stairs to the main ballroom, their chants of “Kam-a-la” drowned out even the anti-circumcision protesters who had camped out at the bottom of the escalators. (Don't ask.) When Harris arrived at a Women's Caucus gathering, the applause drowned out Sen. Amy Klobuchar, then at the microphone. The stage was set for a triumphant speech.
Harris didn't quite have one. She delivered a short version of her biographical, call-to-action stump speech, adding that “we need to begin impeachment proceedings, and we need a new commander in chief.” But in the room, her reception was not as rapturous as the one that Elizabeth Warren got for a tighter speech with a hard-to-miss attack on centrists. (More about that below.) Harris made no mistakes, and told receptive audiences about protecting abortion rights and eliminating the pay gap. But none of her strongest rivals would be spooked out of competing for California.
“There’s five folks that have a real shot,” Gov. Gavin Newsom, an early Harris supporter, told reporters. “Kamala Harris has a real shot.”
. . . but most other candidates can't compete for it. This weekend was the first good chance that some struggling candidates had to break through, and most of them didn't. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Eric Swalwell — whose district was a short 30-minute BART ride away — had the most distracted crowds. (Swalwell's declaration that we “don't need a crime bill, we need a hope bill” might have been the clunker of the weekend.)
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg did well without surprising anyone; his convention speech and an address to an SEIU gathering stuck to the script that had succeeded in his TV appearances. (He was the only high-profile candidate to skip a MoveOn forum, to which he had been invited.) Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota out-hustled a number of stronger-polling candidates, appearing at every caucus and reception she could, but didn't leave with one strong theme.
Just a couple of candidates performed in a way that had Democrats talking about a possible breakout: Cory Booker and Jay Inslee. The senator from New Jersey, one of the most dramatic orators in the party, used his speech to declare "the normalization" of gun violence "the challenge of our generation," and got a standing ovation. Inslee, trying a bit to evoke Dean's 2003 success, just rattled off the details of his climate plan, sketching out a possible reinvention of the economy along earth-friendly lines.
John Hickenlooper wants to be the anti-Bernie . . . Before Democrats met in San Francisco, the former governor of Colorado had begun telling interviewers and voters that “socialism is not the answer.” It wasn't landing — Hickenlooper, frankly, wasn't generating much media interest — until Saturday afternoon. By denouncing both socialism and Medicare-for-all from the convention podium, Hickenlooper lost the room but gained a national audience. By Saturday evening, centrist pundits were praising Hickenlooper's courage, in telling a hostile crowd that they would lose if defined as too left-wing. (Former congressman John Delaney got the same reaction for attacking Medicare-for-all.)
Hickenlooper's camp did not play coy about the strategy here. Sanders's presence in the race appears to have locked up at least 15 percent of likely Democratic voters; other campaigns have begun to write off that vote in the primary, seeing moderate voters as more gettable. The vanishing of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who until April had been threatening a third-party bid if Democrats went too far left, opened a seat for a candidate who would attack "socialism." (Schultz has not decided against a run, but had initially planned to announce something by now.)
“Republicans will try to make us into socialists even if we’re not,” Hickenlooper said in an interview. “If we’re not willing to draw a bright line and say we’re not socialists, we could quite possibly reelect this president.”
. . . but Bernie's clout in the party might be overrated. The main work of the convention was not the presidential contest; it was a race to elect a new chair of the largest Democratic Party in the country. Former chair Eric Bauman, who in 2017 only narrowly defeated Kimberly Ellis to win the job, resigned over accusations of sexual misconduct; Ellis jumped in to the race to replace him.
Ellis, who supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, became the de facto “Berniecrat” candidate in 2017, endorsed by the Sanders-founded Our Revolution; her refusal to concede defeat to Bauman triggered emotions that Democrats wanted to bury after 2016. Nonetheless, Ellis ran in 2017 as the candidate of many Sanders supporters, and a number of longer-shot candidates, led by party vice chair Daraka Larimore-Hall, ran as left-wing change candidates. At a Friday night Progressive Caucus forum, only one candidate — Rusty Hicks, a labor leader with the bulk of union support — rebuffed some of the left's demands, such as replacing appointed delegates with elected ones.
But Hicks crushed the competition, winning 57 percent of the vote, 10 times the margin that Bauman had won over Ellis. What changed since 2017? Some of the influence of Sanders supporters in the party had declined; just as importantly, the desire to beat the party “establishment,” which had helped Ellis in 2017, had dissipated.
The anti-Biden forces haven't arrayed yet . . . Anyone who spent more than 10 minutes at the convention was handed a two-sided document from the group RootsAction, consisting of quotes from the former vice president and quotes from left-wing writers who warned that he was unelectable. It was the only physical evidence at the convention of Biden, whose campaign was a sponsor of the event, but whose candidate was speaking to LGBT rights activists in Ohio.
The warm reception for Biden's rivals demonstrated what has been obvious for months: The former veep is leading the polls, but most Democratic activists remain interested in alternatives. But there's not the sort of coordinated campaign against Biden that there was against Hillary Clinton four years ago, or 12 years ago, when stopping the “front-runner” was a major rallying point for the left. At the Progressive Caucus meeting, there was plenty of applause for a co-chair's assertion that “we must send a message that the future of the party is not Joe Biden.” But there was no clear way to do so.
“The more candidates that get in, the better it probably is for Biden,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), who has not endorsed a candidate in the primary.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Cenk Uygur, the host of “The Young Turks” news network, Sanders gave an unusually game answer to a question about whether nominating Biden could lead to the same sort of defeat as the 2016 Clinton nomination.
“I fear that it could be, I really do,” Sanders said. “I fear that you could have a campaign without a lot of energy, without a lot of excitement.”
. . . but Warren's strength is complicating the left's approach to Biden. Sanders, who lost the 2016 California primary by single digits, has never stopped campaigning in the state; he drew big crowds at a series of rallies this week, and he dominated the forums and caucuses that he attended. When Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) spoke on Harris's behalf at the Progressive Caucus meeting, there were still some shouts of “Bernie!”
But Warren's very good month was capped off by a series of Bay Area coups. She drew the largest crowd of her campaign in Oakland, where at least 6,000 people came to hear her, and thousands waited in line to get a photo with her. (Warren didn't finish the photo line until 11 p.m., two hours after the end of her speech.) She got the best reception at the convention on Saturday, with a speech that subtly but unmistakably pitched her as the alternative to a race-to-the-middle Biden candidacy.
“Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses,” Warren said. “But our country is in a time of crisis. The time for small ideas is over.”
Polling in California has been sparse, but as in most other states, Sanders is down from the support he got in his 2016 run. A month ago, his campaign sounded dismissive of Warren; the Sanders who tore through California was not dismissive, using his time at MoveOn to sketch out an ambitious vision of leaving “endless wars” and redirecting much of the defense budget to green energy and jobs. The impression was of a candidate who would offer an even more radical version of change than he did in 2016. It wasn't clear, after one weekend, whether that would consolidate support, or leave more room for Warren to meet swing Democrats.
Sean Sullivan contributed reporting.
The agony of a candidate whose big apolitical fan base translates to crowded events, decent fundraising and not too much respect from her party. “I had thought naively that I would have my 15 minutes, like they gave to Herman Cain or Ben Carson — they’ll give me my 15 minutes, and I’ll do so much with those 15 minutes.”
“After dazzling debut, Kamala Harris falls from top of presidential pack,” by Melanie Mason and Mark Z. Barabak
It's early, but one of the most talked-about 2020 hopefuls keeps getting asked why she hasn't broken through yet.
Democrats don't know quite what to make of the president's focus on immigration, which doesn't even poll as well as his trade positions. But they are too rattled to be sure he's wrong.
“Insurgent Democrats, many of them women, worry a new party policy will block them,” by Jennifer Steinhauer
The DCCC policy of cutting off contractors who work for primary challengers is facing another backlash, from those who want a more diverse party and wonder whether incumbent protection will hurt that.
SAN FRANCISCO — The piles of signs at California's Democratic convention, free for anyone who wanted to wave them, were mostly provided by candidates. Green and white “Amy” signs appeared when Amy Klobuchar went onstage; “Win With Warren” signs were ready when the senator from Massachusetts arrived.
But at any given moment, mixed between the candidate names, there were nearly wordless signs in the air that showed a simple cartoon image: A peach with a Donald Trump haircut.
Those signs came from Need to Impeach, the multimillion-member organization founded two years ago by Tom Steyer, which has been a steady presence on TV screens and held scores of town hall meetings. Steyer, back in his hometown to continue that pressure campaign, was convinced that Democrats were leaving a grass-roots cause behind.
“People have sent over 800,000 postcards to their congresspeople,” Steyer said in an interview near the convention hall. “They have made more than one and a half million contacts, whether it's email or phone calls. And there's been all kinds of other stuff, in terms of physical activity, in terms of congressional visits, not even by us, but by constituents reaching their elected officials.”
Steyer, who has spent $80 million from his own pocket on Need to Impeach, has been told since the beginning that impeachment was a distraction. The past few weeks haven’t changed that — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) have continued to talk about impeachment in the third person, as an event that may become inevitable, not one they want to bring about.
“We're five months into the year,” Steyer said, exasperated. “We've had one hearing, with Michael Cohen, that was related to impeachment; we've had one 10-minute unscheduled presentation by Robert Mueller, that was about impeachment in terms of getting the show on the road.”
Steyer’s motivating concern was that President Trump did “damage every day” that he remained in office. His secondary concern was that Democrats might be reaching the point at which inaction really hurts. If the House did not impeach Trump, Steyer said, “people are going to assume” that the allegations against him were baseless after all. Failure to act quickly on impeachment, he said, was “a big part” of why polling showed Democrats to be slightly less enthusiastic about the 2020 elections than they were about 2018.
“If I were the president, and it was October of 2020, and there had been a bunch of investigations and nothing had happened, I would say ‘Look, there was a lot of talk, but I got cleared by Nancy Pelosi,’” Steyer said. “You know: ‘If I was so bad, how come they never brought a single thing against me?’ ”
Pelosi’s discomfort with Steyer’s cause was visible at the convention. At least twice, when she addressed a meeting of the party’s Women’s Caucus and when she addressed the full convention, cries of “impeach,” “impeach him,” and — just in case — “impeach Trump” — rang out.
Also on display in San Francisco was the nervousness from rank-and-file Democrats, the ones Pelosi needs to stay in power. The “impeach” hecklers were heavily outnumbered in every room, and usually shushed. The people doing the shushing were professional Democratic Party activists. The idea that impeachment distracted Democrats from winning simply baffled Steyer.
“How is showing, in public, that the president is corrupt and criminal good for him?” Steyer said. “Our polling shows that about two-thirds of Americans support impeachment once they’ve seen that he’s done any of the things we’re reading about, including obstruction of justice.”
After two years of campaigning, after all the ads in which Steyer talked into the camera about Trump’s threat, he worried that Democrats remained naive about how impeachment would play. They had mis-learned, he said, the lessons of the 1998 impeachment and 1999 Senate trial of Bill Clinton, which backfired on the GOP in the midterms of that cycle.
“Republicans got punished so badly that they won the House, the Senate and the White House one year later,” Steyer scoffed. “Yeah, that was their punishment.” Republicans were handing Democrats a gift, he said, when they promised to block a real trial in the Senate. (If impeached, Trump would be the first president to face a trial with the Senate controlled by his party.)
“We have the most corrupt president in history, and they’re saying they won’t hold him accountable,” Steyer said. “This is not just some vote on, you know, some unknown bill that no one ever hears of again. They would wear this forever.”
Shortly after talking through his plans, Steyer got time to address the Democratic delegates at the Moscone Center. As he got to the part of his remarks that made the case for impeachment, the music swelled, and he was played off.
Should the president be impeached and removed from office? (CNN/SSRS, 1,006 registered voters)
No — 54%
Yes — 41%
As ever, support for impeachment comes from the strong majority of Democrats; it's opposed by everyone else. There has been a notable uptick in Democratic support since the end of last year, and this poll puts an end to polls that suggested, in the wake of the initial Mueller Report findings, that demand for impeachment among Democrats had fallen off. The most interesting finding from this poll is mostly about what happened before: Since the start of his presidency, more voters have favored an impeachment of Trump than ever favored impeaching Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.
Alabama. Roy Moore rebuffed personal advice (and insults) from the president and his oldest son to say that he may run for Senate again in 2020. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who has repeatedly (and self-interestedly) urged Moore to run, did so again. But the state's runoff system, which helped Moore in 2017, might make it harder for him to seriously compete in 2020; any other Republican challenger could credibly say that only one of them had lost to Jones.
Iowa. Retiring Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) has endorsed state Sen. Rita Hart in the race to replace him in the 2nd Congressional District. While it contains some of the most liberal parts of the state, including the college towns of Fairfield and Iowa City, it’s now the only Democratic-held open seat that went for Trump in 2016.
Minnesota. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) filed for a new term, setting up yet another challenging reelection in the most Trump-friendly rural district still represented by a Democrat. Republicans lost only narrowly to Peterson in 2018, despite seeming to give up on the race; had Peterson retired, there was little expectation that Democrats could still compete for it.
Montana. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who narrowly lost a 2016 run for governor, will run for the office in 2020; he’s expected to face a competitive primary race with Tim Fox, who Republicans see as less conservative but more broadly electable. Democrats fought for the state's sole House seat when Gianforte first won it in 2017, and they came closer to beating him in 2018, so they're expected to contest it again even though President Trump's presence on the ballot is expected to hurt them.
New York. For all the attention being paid to the 2020 moves of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — she's appeared with Warren and Sanders, with speculation churning about her eventual endorsement — she's devoting much of her campaign time to help Tiffany Cabàn, a candidate for Queens DA.
Wisconsin. The state's Democratic Party elected Ben Wikler, the longtime Washington director of MoveOn, as its new chairman during a weekend convention that was slightly overshadowed by the festivals in California.
Joe Biden. He headlined the Human Rights Campaign's dinner in Columbus on Saturday, telling the audience that passage of the Equality Act, which would enshrine many LGBT protections into law, “will be the first thing I ask to be done” as president.
Bernie Sanders. He took some of his sharpest swings yet at Biden, without naming him, at the California convention; he told delegates that “we will not defeat Donald Trump unless we bring excitement and energy into the campaign” and “we cannot go back to the old ways.”
Tim Ryan. He's following his latest trip to Iowa with his first CNN town hall, one of three broadcast tonight.
Eric Swalwell. He's got his own CNN town hall tonight.
Seth Moulton. He's completing the CNN town hall trilogy, after a week of focusing on veterans' mental-health care.
Beto O'Rourke. Asked on “Meet the Press” why he had fallen in polls: "I knew this was going to be tough," he said.
Julián Castro. He rolled out a police overhaul platform at the MoveOn “Big Ideas” summit, and got applause at the California Democratic convention for naming victims of police shootings.
Amy Klobuchar. She used her slot at the “Big Ideas” summit to talk about a voting rights plan that could make it through Congress.
Steve Bullock. He's raising money in Seattle and San Francisco next week before rejoining the scrum of Democrats in Iowa.
Marianne Williamson. She didn't get a microphone at the California Democrats' convention; she will at next week's Iowa “hall of fame” event, and she's building out several more days of campaign stops around the state.
Pete Buttigieg. He's camping out in northern California until Monday night, when MSNBC will hold a town hall for him in Fresno.
Bill Weld. He'll be speaking on Tuesday in Salisbury, Md., just days after the state's governor decided not to join him in the Trump primary field.
The Draft Hogan campaign, 2018-2019. An effort to nudge Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan into the Republican presidential primary died this week. The cause: Hogan himself, telling The Post's Robert Costa that he will forgo a White House bid and instead start a new organization dedicated to bipartisanship.
Hogan's decision, coming just days after former Ohio governor John Kasich appeared to tell CNN that he saw “no path” to beating Trump, closed a chapter of the #NeverTrump movement's story. (Kasich cleaned up the remarks later, but has made no serious moves since a late 2018 visit to New Hampshire.) Hogan had spent six months as a speculative candidate, with no apparent downsides; he visited the first two primary states, got into the national conversation, and slammed the president over the government shutdown.
“I have a high regard for Larry Hogan, and Marylanders are lucky to have him as governor,” tweeted Bill Kristol, one of the conservatives who promoted Hogan the most. “Needless to say, the fight for our party and our country will continue. Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.” (The Latin translates to: “I shall either find a way or make one.")
Trump's conservative opponents argue that the lane for a primary challenger is wider than anyone appreciates; this week, their favorite evidence was a Pew Research survey that found 43 percent of the party's supporters open, at least, to an anti-Trump run. But this may have been the week when Bill Weld, the socially liberal former governor of Massachusetts, got the lane to himself.
. . . seven days until the Iowa Hall of Fame gala
. . . 10 days until the cutoff for the first Democratic debates
. . . 12 days until a drawing to determine who makes which debate stage
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