Election 2020 Politics

Power Up: Everybody is now a pundit in the Democratic primary race to beat President Trump

Happy Friday, people, Thank you for spending the first moments of your Valentine’s Day with us. We’ll be off Monday, but back on Tuesday for the final sprint before Nevada. 


The Campaign

ARLINGTON, VA.SAME OLD SONG: They chanted “two cents” in support of her wealth tax, cheered her status as former teacher and at one point broke out in a chorus of “science” when the conversation turned to climate change. 

But for the 4,000 people crammed into a Northern Virginia high school gym and in two overflow crowds, including one outside in the cold, the biggest question for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) remained one uttered by countless voters in Iowa and New Hampshire: Can she, or for that matter, any of the remaining Democrats still running for president, beat President Trump in November?

Power Up talked to over a dozen voters last night about “electability,” the quality Democrats have told pollsters is the most important to them when they mark their ballots. The concept has gained such traction among voters that they’ve become pundits, weighing the pros and cons of each candidate like cable TV guests waiting in the green room.

More than 60 percent of Iowa caucus-goers and New Hampshire primary voters said they would rather have a candidate who can beat Trump than agrees with them on major issues, according to exit polls.

Electability is a question that supersedes all else, no matter how beloved a candidate or how much of a stump speech has been memorized: 

  • “I hate the question because it means we can’t discuss what we need to discuss to improve this country,” Will Bimber, 62, who lives in Arlington. “Instead we’re trying to save this country, which is the priority. There are so many things that we should intelligently discuss, but that is not possible with a candidate like Trump.” Bimber said Warren is his favorite candidate, but he’ll support anyone with a “D” before their names in November.
  • Christine Dunham, 33, of Annapolis summed up the electability factor: “It’s the only thing that matters for me.

The question first helped and now seems to be hurting former vice president Joe Biden, who performed poorly in the first two contests.

  • “All [voters] want to do is beat Trump and as you can see with Biden, no one is dying on that hill,” a Democratic operative who is not affiliated with a campaign told us. “They supported Biden for a long time because the media told them he was the most electable. ”

A look at the crowd:

It’s also helps explain why the candidate best known for her plans still talks all about them. But increasingly, Warren argues she is the best candidate to “unify” the party and beat Trump.

  • Some statements, according to Warren, are fundamentally disqualifying for the Democratic nominee: The senator laced into billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who suggested at the peak of the financial crisis that ending racial housing discrimination known as “redlining” was responsible for the crisis.
  • Those comments resurfaced this week just as Bloomberg is using his personal fortune to bombard Super Tuesday states with his message. (On Wednesday, Bloomberg refused to directly apologize for his remarks. A Bloomberg campaign spokesman later tried to clarify to the Associated Press).
  • “A video just came out yesterday in which Mike Bloomberg is saying, in effect, that the 2008 financial crash was caused because the banks weren’t permitted to discriminate against black and brown people,” Warren told the crowd. “That crisis would not have been averted if the banks had been able to be bigger racists. And anyone who thinks that should not be the leader of our party.”
  • “The comments were a strategic shift for the Massachusetts senator, who has typically tried to stay above the attacks and counterattacks traded by many of her rivals. On Tuesday evening in New Hampshire, she had criticized the aggression shown by some of the other candidates, urging them to forgo ‘harsh tactics,’” the New York Times’s Reid Epstein and Lisa Lerer report. 

Voters prioritizing general electoral viability in a primary is nothing new: It’s pretty hard not to find a candidate that wasn’t dogged by some electability concerns, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball, ticking through the worries that Presidents Obama, Clinton, Reagan and Carter all couldn’t win. 

In some cases, Kondik added, the worries turned out to be warranted — just look at then- Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) in 1964 and George McGovern (D-S.D.) in 1972 — two candidates who were ultimately too ideologically extreme for voters in the general election. 

  • “It’s part of the whole process,” Kondik said. “These campaigns go on for so long that there are all sort of questions that come up for a person’s background. Somebody’s got to win. Somebody’s got to overcome their liabilities. ”

In New Hampshire: Warren fell far behind fellow Sen. Amy Klobuchar on the question

But even some voters who prioritize picking the winning candidate say that it’s not everything.

  • “My dad’s a Republican who’s going to vote Democratic because he doesn’t like Trump … and he said, ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to vote if it’s between Warren and Trump or [Sen.] Bernie [Sanders]. So that’s something that I’m really concerned about, how many kind of centrists would vote for that?” said Emily Miles, 25, of Alexandria. “But I think if I was scared about that, nothing would ever change.”
  • “We would just get complacent and be like, ‘Well, I guess this is the only person who has a chance so we’ll accept them.’ But that’s not how change happens. You have to go for it, so I’m going for Warren or Bernie. I want a socialist in the White House.”

At The White House

RETURN OF THE LOYALISTS: Two Trump loyalists are returning to the White House as Trump seems bent on taking an iron grip of the government following his acquittal on impeachment charges, along with meting out a healthy dose of revenge on those he thinks tried to undermine him.

Back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is Hope Hicks, one of the president’s longest-serving and most trusted aides, and John McEntee, the president’s former personal assistant.

  • “…on her return, [Hicks] will report to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and work with the White House political director, Brian Jack. Her title will be “counselor to the president,” the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman first reported. 
  • A senior administration official said that Ms. Hicks would work on projects that Mr. Kushner oversees, including the re-election campaign. She will not rejoin the communications office,” per Haberman.
  • McEntee will rejoin as “head of presidential personnel, according to a senior administration official,” our colleague Josh Dawsey reports.
  • It’s an unusual role for McEntee to assume after leaving the White House in March 2018 after “an investigation found he was a frequent gambler whose habit posed a security risk… A background investigation found that McEntee bet tens of thousands of dollars at a time, making him unsuitable for a sensitive position close to the president, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. There was no indication his gambling was illegal, but there was concern that he could be vulnerable to outside influence, the person said,” per Josh.

The move is part of a broader push by Trump “to surround himself with people he trusts and punish those deemed insufficiently loyal,” our colleague Toluse Olorunnipa reports. 

  • “Trump’s decision to welcome back Hicks and McEntee, who both worked on the 2016 campaign and left the White House in 2018, is part of a move to bring in loyalists after the president has become increasingly infuriated over what he believes are so many people around him who are not loyal.”
  • Trump’s vengeful mood was evident on Twitter yesterday: He fired off angry and threatening tweets at Bloomberg, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the juror in the Roger Stone trial.

In the Agencies

BARR NONE TOO PLEASED: “Attorney General William P. Barr pushed back hard Thursday against [Trump’s] attacks on the Justice Department, saying, ‘I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,’ an assertion of independence that could jeopardize his tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official,” our colleagues Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey reports.

It is a remarkable rebuke of the president by a sitting Cabinet member: The defiant statement comes after Trump has needled the Justice Department for days over its prosecution of his longtime confidant Stone who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

  • “I think it’s time to stop tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said in an interview with ABC News’s Pierre Thomas, adding that statements from the president “about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending here, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”
  • Backup: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News anchor Bret Baier that Trump “should listen to [Barr’s] advice … I think if the attorney general says [tweeting] is getting in the way of his job then I think the president should listen to the attorney general.” (McConnell declined the opportunity to address the tweets himself).
  • White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham responded this way: “The President wasn’t bothered by the comments at all and [Barr] has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions. President Trump uses social media very effectively to fight for the American people against injustices in our country, including the fake news. The President has full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law.”

What the AG is thinking: “People close to Barr said that in recent months he has become increasingly frustrated with Trump’s tweets about the Justice Department,” Devlin, Matt and Josh report. “The president, they said, seemed not only to be undercutting his own political momentum but also to be fostering doubts about the department’s independence. Trump’s tweet complaining that he believed his friend was being treated unfairly proved something of a last straw, they said, because it was so damaging to morale at the department.”

  • The real beef: Behind the public fight, “according to people familiar with the discussions, is a deeper tension between Trump and Barr’s Justice Department over the lack of criminal charges against former FBI director James B. Comey and those close to him.”
  • “That sent Trump into a rage, according to people briefed on his comments. He complained so loudly and swore so frequently in the Oval Office that some of his aides discussed it for days, these people said. Trump repeatedly said that Comey deserved to be charged, according to their account. ‘Can you [expletive] believe they didn’t charge him?’ Trump said on the night of the decision, these people said.”

What POTUS is thinking: Trump is said to be waiting for a report from Barr-appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is probing whether the FBI and CIA committed crimes when pursuing allegations of 2016 Russian election interference.

  • Trump has become more insistent that Durham finish his work soon, according to people familiar with the discussions. Trump, these people said, wants to be able to use whatever Durham finds as a cudgel in his reelection campaign,” my colleagues reported.

Outside the Beltway

THE NEVERENDING IOWA CAUCUSES: The Democratic National Committee seems to have been more involved in the oversight of the app that threw the Iowa caucuses into disarray than Tom Perez suggested. 

Yahoo News’s Hunter Walker obtained “a copy of the contract and internal correspondence” that “demonstrates that national party officials had extensive oversight over the development of the technology.” 

  • “An unaffiliated Democratic operative in Iowa provided Yahoo News with a copy of the contract between Shadow and the Iowa Democratic Party. The contract, which was signed on Oct. 14, 2019, and refers to Shadow as the “Consultant,” specified that the company had to work with the DNC and provide the national party with access to its software for testing.”
  • “The contract also specifies that Shadow agrees to ‘provide DNC continual access to review the Consultant’s system configurations, security and system logs, system designs, data flow designs, security controls (preventative and detective), and operational plans for how the Consultant will use and run the Software for informational dissemination, pre-registration, tabulation, and reporting throughout the caucus process,'” per Walker. 
  • The DNC responds: “We requested access to the tool solely for the purpose of doing security testing,” DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said regarding the contract.
  • “Hinojosa disputed that the DNC was involved in the development of the app. ‘The DNC drafted broad language to make sure whatever vendor IDP ultimately hired was required to work with the DNC’s cyber-security consultant,’ she said. ‘We did not build the application, nor did we provide ‘oversight’ of its development — that’s the vendor’s responsibility. We only provided security assistance.”

ON THE TRAIL ‘GRAM: “Mike Bloomberg has contracted some of the biggest meme-makers on the internet to post sponsored content on Instagram promoting his presidential campaign,”the New York Times‘s Taylor Lorenz reports. 

  • “The Bloomberg campaign is working with Meme 2020, a new company formed by some of the people behind extremely influential accounts…The campaign, which began this week, has already placed sponsored posts on Instagram accounts including @GrapeJuiceBoys, a meme page with more than 2.7 million followers; Jerry Media’s own most popular account, with more than 13.3 million followers; and @Tank.Sinatra, a member with more than 2.3 million followers. The accounts all posted Bloomberg campaign ads in the form of fake direct messages from the candidate.”
  • $$$: “After several large Instagram memers became aware on Wednesday of Mr. Bloomberg’s influencer campaign, many expressed an interest in creating sponsored posts for him. The campaign so far has seemed amenable. ‘We want to work with creators and we’ve never been shy about paying people for creative work,’ the aide said,” per Lorenz.

The strategy?: “Hack the country’s attention,” writes the New York Times’s columnist Charlie Warzel

  • Mike Bloomberg and his presidential campaign respect the fundamental equation governing the modern internet: Shamelessness and conflict equal attention. And attention equals power.” 
  •  “At the heart of these tactics is a genuine shamelessness that fits perfectly not just with politics but also the internet at large. Mr. Bloomberg is unapologetic about — and unafraid to hide — the money he’s spending. That transactional approach is an excellent match for online influencer culture, where young internet celebrities aren’t often overly particular about accepting good money to endorse suspect products,” per Warzel.

On The Hill

SENATE REINS IN TRUMP ON IRAN: “The Senate passed a resolution to limit [Trump’s] power to order military action against Iran without first seeking Congress’s permission, a bipartisan rebuke of his administration’s resistance to involving the legislative branch in decisions that some fear could lead to all-out war,” our colleague Karoun Demirjian reports.

  • Eight Republicans crossed the aisle to pass the measure 55-45: They did this “despite sharp warnings from Trump that challenging his war powers would ‘show weakness’ and send ‘a very bad signal’ to Tehran,” our colleague writes. The eight are: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.).

What’s next: “Trump will almost certainly veto the measure once it passes the House, and neither chamber of Congress has the votes to override that veto, lawmakers say,” our colleague writes.


We hope his feet did not grow peri:

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