In this edition: Bill Weld's lonely war, the Bernie/Biden dust-up and the race for Congress starts up again in North Carolina.
I don't know why the U.K. even wants its own copy of the Declaration of Independence, and this is The Trailer.
SALISBURY, Md. – It was supposed to be the hardest question Bill Weld got all day. The former governor of Massachusetts, who's also the only Republican running against President Trump in the primary, was at Salisbury University, talking to 50 or so voters during a sleepy summer vacation. What, exactly, was his path?
"Well, we start with New Hampshire, and all of the six New England states, then the Mid-Atlantic states," Weld explained. "I like my prospects in California; Trump and California don’t get on at all, on any topic. Oregon and Washington have some libertarian leanings. And then there's Utah, where I spent some time in 2016; the president got 14 percent in the last Republican primary, so there are some prospects there."
It was an unlikely plan, but no other anti-Trump Republican had a better one. A few days earlier, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he would not run for president, after more than six months of courting by the remnants of the #NeverTrump movement. Former Ohio governor John Kasich seemed to rule himself out, too, telling CNN he saw "no path" to beating Trump, then revising his remarks to say that, maybe, later, there could be a path. (Kasich is a CNN contributor and the author of the book "Two Paths.")
That has left the 73-year-old Weld, who was the Libertarian Party's candidate for vice president three years ago, carrying the torch of moderate, globalist Republicanism through the primaries. The effort to draft alternative candidates remains underway, but Trump critics have warmed to Weld. Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard co-founder who successfully urged a third-party challenger to enter the 2016 race and who less successfully urged Hogan to challenge Trump, is co-hosting a D.C. fundraiser for Weld later this month.
"All honor to Bill Weld for jumping in the pool first," Kristol said in a text message. "He’d be a much better president than Trump. But there are others who’ve quietly been exploring a race, and one or two is likely to take the plunge."
This is still a come-down from what Trump opponents were hoping for. Hogan had repeatedly suggested that the two-year probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election might end with information that changed the race and opened the lane to challenge Trump. The probe ended, the Mueller report was published, and the president, somewhat accurately, continued to boast that upward of 90 percent of Republicans still supported him.
Weld was running before the report concluded and tells audiences that it was devastating. He joined 1,000 other former federal prosecutors on a letter accusing the president of obstructing justice, and he stood by it. He matter-of-factly says that "the House should begin impeachment proceedings," something that catches in the throat of the Democrats who run that chamber.
“Mr. Trump is so far out on obstruction of justice, compared to anything Richard Nixon ever did,” Weld said in his Salisbury remarks. “This is a man who believes that the Justice Department should be completely political and should be in the business of protecting the president’s political skirts."
Most Republican voters have decided that the president hasn't done anything wrong, which, ironically, left more space for Weld. Sarah Longwell, one of the freelance Republicans working to draft Trump challengers into the primary, pointed out that many Republican voters, citing 2016, didn't believe that Trump could lose. A truly devastating Mueller report, one that seemed to end Trump's presidency, would have started a scramble for the nomination, not a welcome-home party for Never Trumpers.
"If it had been a knockout blow, we'd have a whole different ballgame," Longwell said. "Nikki Haley would be running. Marco Rubio would be running. Instead, I think the people who consider doing this right now are the people who want to invent an alternative vision for what the Republican Party can be."
Weld's vision, sketched out in speeches and town halls, is like nothing the party has run on nationwide; it's a lot like what he used to run on in Massachusetts, or what Hogan won with in Maryland. Government should be small. The progressive tax code is a mistake. ("We beat it twice in Massachusetts.") Climate change is real. Gun ownership should be protected, but regulated. Health care should be about competition, not universal coverage. Abortion should be legal, and the bills being passed to ban it amount to "chattel treatment of women."
Weld is also worried about the world at large, a point he makes by describing his membership in a group of international statesmen that he was added to "because they needed an American to kick around."
"Year after year, the number one topic is nuclear nonproliferation," Weld said. "Number two is sectarianism, which is kind of a euphemism for Sunni versus Shia Islam. Number three is access to water; number four is access to food. So, that's what the CEOs of nations around the world think we should be focused on."
The audience for this talk, on a Tuesday afternoon, was small and polite. Some in the crowd had come to support the school and its program; a few, like 60-year-old teacher Karl Smith, said that they came to hear Weld.
"I left the Republican Party about a year and a half ago," Smith said. "Every day, Trump says something that reminds me why I did."
After he finished speaking, a number of voters went up to Weld to thank him for running; one said he was just happy to hear "something different." All were sick of Trump, and Weld had cheered them up by explaining how a primary challenge could rattle and weaken him.
“When you look at presidents who didn’t do well in New Hampshire, it’s five-for-five: They lost,” Weld said. “I think there’s exhaustion with this president. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that he’s a very insecure person with a manic need to be praised at all times.”
Weld very much wanted him gone and was open to several ways of doing that, even if most of them did not end with himself as president. For example, even while running for president, he had been encouraging other Trump critics to jump into the primary.
"It would make this feel more like a real primary," he said. "You never know when someone's going to catch fire. Who would have predicted Pete Buttigieg, coming out of nowhere?"
He was also encouraged to see Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), the only Republican who had called for Trump's impeachment, refusing to rule out a possible Libertarian Party run for president.
"That could work," Weld said. "You know, I like to point out that any Libertarian vote is going to come right out of Trump's hide."
The former vice president skipped California's Democratic convention, while a few candidates used their time onstage to warn against nominating him. Did anyone notice?
Like Pete Buttigieg, Gillibrand used a Fox News town hall to attack the network's coverage, focusing on the way the abortion debate had been turned into one over "infanticide."
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Read the story that's being buzzed about in hipster coffee shops all over America.
Sanders vs. Biden. For any close watcher of the 2020 primaries, Bernie Sanders's Sunday afternoon speech to California Democrats was remarkable. Sanders, who prides himself on never running negative ads — he will contrast on issues, that's it — spent a good part of his time onstage laying into Joe Biden.
"There is a debate among presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room and those who have chosen for whatever reason not to be in this room about the best way forward," Sanders said near the top of his speech, in a clear reference to the former vice president.
Eight times, Sanders condemned the idea that "middle of the road" policies would lead a Democratic ticket to victory in 2020. "We have got to make it clear that when the future of the planet is at stake, there is no 'middle ground,' " he said, for example. "We will take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system." The "middle ground," in current Democratic primary language, is a reference to a Reuters article in which a Biden adviser said that the former vice president would pursue something more centrist than the Green New Deal. (Biden came out with a plan today that impressed some green groups while drawing criticism from others on some of the details.)
Other candidates used time to suggest that Biden had the wrong approach to politics; like Sanders, none of them used his name. Still, Sanders's rhetoric about the candidate leading him in every poll is worth monitoring because it's traveling some ways from where the Vermont senator started. In February, he wrote an email to key surrogates, asking them not to get subsumed in fights or personal attacks when they inevitably came.
"As we engage with our opponents in the Democratic primary, we will forcefully present our views and defend ourselves against misrepresentations," Sanders wrote in an attempt to prevent another round of the sort of bitterness Sanders allies were accused of in the 2016 primary. "But, let us do our very best to engage respectfully with our Democratic opponents — talking about the issues we are fighting for, not about personalities or past grievances. I want to be clear that I condemn bullying and harassment of any kind and in any space."
Sanders has stuck to the last part, but the "past grievances" and "personalities" live on in this primary; Sanders and his surrogates have not moved past them.
In the past few days, his campaign's chief of staff mocked a thin CNN analysis of a "shrinking" Sanders campaign, comparing it with the network's own poll, which showed Sanders ticking up from 15 to 18 percent. Sanders's speechwriter David Sirota mocked the same story and retweeted a snapshot of a damaging New York Times story that found Biden, in his first presidential campaign, making up a story of civil rights heroism. And Nina Turner, one of Sanders's most powerful surrogates, retweeted an interview in which Sanders warned that Biden would be a weak nominee with a head-turning note taken from the video's title: "Establishment sabotaging Bernie Sanders AGAIN."
The "sabotage" suggested in the video, an analysis by hosts of the Sanders-friendly Young Turks network, was that the mainstream media was undermining Sanders by overhyping Biden and other candidates and portraying Sanders's second-place polling as a collapse. None of that's out of the ordinary; working the refs and challenging how the press covers a campaign is simply effective surrogate work. The original Sanders suggestion, that the campaign wouldn't indulge "grievances," was never going to last; it's any campaign's right to point out when it thinks rivals or the media are being dishonest.
Nonetheless, the Sanders of mid-February sounded a little different than the Sanders of early June. He has begun to talk about Biden the way he once talked about Hillary Clinton, with e-mails to donors hinting at the high-dollar fundraisers Biden continues to hold. This is a small and notable change in rhetoric and worth keeping eyes on; the other 21 Democrats who want this nomination are hoping, quietly, that Biden and Sanders drive up each other's negatives.
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It's a North Carolina special! In the state's 3rd Congressional District, the new Republican group Winning for Women has bought ads attacking state Rep. Greg Murphy, who bested 16 other candidates in the May primary. That set up a July 9 runoff against Joan Perry, a doctor making her first run for office, which gave Republicans a shot at electing a woman in the first congressional race since the midterms.
The WfW ad doesn't focus much on Perry, going instead after Murphy for the twin heresies of defending parts of the Affordable Care Act and criticizing President Trump. Like many Republicans, Murphy criticized Trump before the 2016 election, arguing that he might not be electable; the quote in the ad, taken from two days before the election, has Murphy worrying that both parties had the "worst top of the ticket" they perhaps ever had. It's as roundabout as an attack on Trump as you can find.
In the 9th Congressional District, where Democrat Dan McCready spent the year so far raising money and rebuilding a campaign team, he's on the air with a bio spot. "As a Marine," he says, "you don't back down from fighting for what's right." McCready's military background was crucial to his 2018 campaign, which came less than 1,000 votes short in an election that had to be thrown out after the discovery of a Republican ballot fraud scheme. The only specific policy mentioned in the ad: bipartisan legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. McCready's messaging hasn't changed in any noticeable way since last year.
"I was saying boo-oderate." This we know: Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and former Maryland congressman John Delaney are better known today than they were before the start of California's Democratic convention. This we don't know: Whether successfully egging on a liberal crowd to jeer them is going to win them any votes.
Hickenlooper, who told the Saturday gathering of the convention that "socialism is not the answer" to defeating the president, followed that with a mini-media tour, telling interviewers that, yes, Republicans would call the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all "socialism" on the way to beating them. Delaney, who said that Medicare-for-all was neither "smart politics nor smart policy," followed up on Twitter: "Intolerance to alternative points of view is not what the Democratic Party should be about. Don't we get enough of that from Trump?"
Both candidates got the attention they craved, with Fox News and other outlets reporting on a new ideological battle inside the Democratic Party. But both statements were interpreted as strategy, not primal screams. California Democrats, after all, have been punching bags for plenty of politicians; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), now the party's elder stateswoman, lost the party's official nomination in 2018 — and won anyway.
"Look, the Democratic Party convention in San Francisco is not reflective of Democratic activists nationwide and certainly not representative of Democratic primary voters," said former George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove during a Monday appearance on Fox. "They were trying to say, 'Look, I'm going to be a traditional Democrat. If you want to be over there with one of these nutty left-wing candidates, go ahead and be."
Both statements also put the candidates on the wrong side of Democratic opinion. Both Hickenlooper and Delaney have eight months to break out in Iowa; the last Des Moines Register poll in the state found 84 percent of likely caucusgoers supportive of "Medicare-for-all" and 81 percent supportive of a "Green New Deal." Capturing every voter opposed to those ideas would, of course, rocket either Hickenlooper or Delaney into the first tier. But it's more complicated than that; both Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal remain pretty undefined for most Democratic voters, and many of them have been receptive to candidates who support ideas that don't go as far as the legislative (or in the latter case, resolution) text of these policies. What they haven't shown, yet, is an interest in candidates ready to attack those policies.
Still, after this past weekend, Hickenlooper and Delaney have defined themselves better than most of the candidates in the massive third tier of primary candidates. In less than a week, they'll be in Iowa again, with chances to test the message against activists who are not as readily stereotyped as Californians.
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these candidates? (CNN/SSRS, 1,006 voters)
Joe Biden - 46/38
Bernie Sanders - 46/44
Elizabeth Warren - 33/38
Kamala Harris - 27/32
Pete Buttigieg - 22/21
Bill de Blasio - 12/33
Michael Bennet - 11/12
Steve Bullock - 8/13
It's a difficult thought to keep in your head if you, say, write a campaign newsletter. But it's a fact: Most Americans still don't know much about most of the Democrats running for president. By the end of May, a month when both Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg appeared on the cover of Time magazine, 29 percent of voters had no opinion on Warren, and 57 percent had no opinion on Buttigieg.
That's why a poll like this — though the top lines show Biden leading with all Democrats nationwide — keeps the other campaigns going. Both Biden and Sanders have become less popular since launching their campaigns, with Biden down from a net 25 favorable rating after the midterms to a 8 rating now. Sanders has fallen less since then, from 16 to 2, but he's far down from the heady days of 2016, when up to 60 percent of voters viewed him favorably. (An important, unanswerable question: How much of Sanders's support evaporated once he was no longer Hillary Clinton's opponent?) There's not much good news for other candidates, though Warren has continued to rise as the second choice of the most voters.
Iowa. Theresa Greenfield, a real estate firm president who impressed local Democrats with her 2018 House bid, will run for the party's nomination to challenge Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). Better-known Democrats passed on the race, including Rep. Cindy Axne (D), who last year won in the 3rd Congressional District, where Greenfield also was running. Greenfield became well-liked among Democrats for a unique reason: Her congressional campaign was deep-sixed by her old campaign manager, who forged signatures to get her onto the ballot. Greenfield reported the fraud, pulled the petitions and briefly got national attention.
Greenfield starts the new race with disadvantages against Ernst, who became an instant GOP star after winning the seat in 2014. But Greenfield's launch video is designed to demonstrate how she's different than other Democrats, focusing on her upbringing on a farm. Former congressman Bruce Braley, who lost to Ernst in 2014, never recovered from a gaffe, caught on camera by a supporter, in which he warned fellow attorneys that if Democrats lost the Senate, "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school" — namely, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — would lead the Judiciary Committee. And Greenfield's announcement came after Republican trackers repeatedly caught Eddie Mauro, a businessman who also ran in the 2018 3rd District primary, questioning whether Ernst's military experience was an asset in the Senate.
South Carolina. Jaime Harrison, the former state party chair who made an unsuccessful attempt to be the DNC chair, got plenty of attention after launching a bid against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Harrison's campaign claimed $270,000 raised since his announcement last week — that's more than twice as much as Graham's last two opponents raised for their entire campaigns, combined. That in itself isn't too impressive; in 2008, the Democrats accidentally nominated a right-wing candidate who compared himself to Pat Buchanan. But it established Harrison as a credible candidate, the kind that Democrats running for president will happily appear with. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee gave Harrison its official support last weekend.
Joe Biden. He introduced his own climate plan, adopting the rhetorical structure of the "Green New Deal" but focusing entirely on climate goals and green infrastructure. (The GND goes from there into universal health care and a jobs guarantee, not part of Biden's plan.) Unlike many greens, Biden makes no mention of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and does not seek to phase out nuclear power. He instead proposes $1.7 trillion in spending to invest in new energy and get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, 20 years after the end point of the Green New Deal. It has more in common with Hillary Clinton's 2016 plan than with the further-reaching plans by the new Democrats.
Elizabeth Warren. She's begun a long rollout of "economic patriotism" plans, starting with a green jobs plan that would create the National Institutes of Clean Energy, a $400 billion commitment to clean R&D, and a new federal office that would sell American green energy technology abroad.
Bernie Sanders. He's heading to Bentonville, Ark., on Wednesday to address the Walmart shareholders meeting; workers invited him to describe his proposal to give workers more control over the companies they work for.
Tim Ryan. He told his CNN town hall audience that it was time for the House to start impeachment proceedings, explaining in a post-debate statement that "an impeachment inquiry will begin to cut the cancer of corruption out of government and prevent it from spreading."
Pete Buttigieg. The South Bend, Ind., mayor said on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Monday night that he would not have pushed Al Franken to resign from the Senate in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct without more evidence.
Kirsten Gillibrand. The senator who was first to call for Franken to resign after eight women accused him of groping or forcibly kissing them disagreed, saying it is “not too high a standard.”
Michael Bennet. He said he hit the polling criterion to make the June debate stage, making him the 20th candidate to appear to have qualified for a microphone. If that number rises any higher, the DNC will begin cutting candidates who did not hit both the polling (1 percent in three credible surveys) or donor (65,000 donations) thresholds. In the same statement announcing the poll news, Bennet's campaign said it was "a shame the DNC has set up a system to reward cable TV hits and short-term fundraising tactics."
... two days until Biden, Buttigieg and Booker speak to Democrats in Atlanta
... five days until 17 Democrats (though not Biden) speak to Democrats in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
... 17 days until a bunch of Democrats go to James Clyburn's fish fry