In this edition: The old Sanders magic, Tulsi Gabbard and her enemies, and the start of Castro 2020.
I've escaped the snowstorm, and don't worry, I feel guilty about it. This is The Trailer.
GREENBELT, Md. — On Saturday afternoon, as Julián Castro was announcing his presidential campaign in Texas and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was making her first campaign stop in New Hampshire, around 50 activists filed into a Maryland coffee shop with a mission: to draft Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) into the 2020 primary.
"We've been told the Bernie is not going to announce today," said Paul Butterworth, the scientist and political activist who'd organized the party. "Don't expect a surprise today. But I think it's inevitable that he will run."
It's not inevitable — Sanders seems genuinely conflicted about running again — but Butterfield's event was one of at least 400 house parties Saturday, from Alaska to Austria, designed to nudge him in. For 30 minutes, activists at each party watched a live stream of prominent Sanders supporters explaining to them that the only questions for a Sanders victory were whether he ran and whether his movement was ready.
“We want the man that was in the arena in 2016 to continue this journey, and we will be by his side,” Nina Turner, the president of Our Revolution, said on the live stream.
The idea and organizing structure came from Our Revolution (a group the senator himself co-founded), People for Bernie (which he didn't), and Organizing for Bernie (which grew out of People for Bernie).
"This is about getting into formation," said Winnie Wong, a co-founder of People for Bernie and organizer of next week's Women's March, in an interview. "I told Bernie we were doing this, and he seemed really shocked at the number of sign-ups and events. Frankly, I’m a little shocked, because I thought we’d only get 150 or 200. If every volunteer sticks with this, that's an army."
No one considering a Democratic primary campaign has the built-in support of Sanders, whose 2016 bid left him with around 14 million votes, 46 percent of nearly 4,000 pledged delegates, and the largest donor email list in politics.
At the same time, no potential candidate entered 2019 with so much negative coverage — two waves of stories about sexual harassment on the 2016 campaign — and so much competition for voters who once supported him. The best summary of the left's pro-Sanders case might be the one Amber A'Lee Frost wrote in the Baffler this week: "Bernie pressured Amazon into raising wages, followed up by going after Walmart, condemned Saudi Arabia and sponsored the resolution to end support for the war in Yemen, introduced the No Money Bail Act, committed to a federal job guarantee, campaigned so powerfully for Medicare for All that he shifted the entire Democratic Party, and saved a woman from being hit by a car."
Still, this weekend began with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), one of just three members of the House who endorsed Sanders before his or her state's 2016 primary, announcing her own campaign. The previous weekend saw Warren, with a message that shares plenty of DNA with Sanders's, make a successful five-stop tour of Iowa. Even Castro, who entered the race on Saturday, used his subsequent media hits to embrace Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and a higher tax rate on the super-rich.
The looming question: How many of the people who got behind Sanders in 2016 are still ready to support him in a contest that's not a binary "establishment vs. outsider" choice? While the house parties were unfolding, Warren was filling a room in Manchester; more than a few of the people who’d shown up had backed Sanders.
“I was with him even before the first rallies in New Hampshire, but I think this is wide open,” John Hall, 68, said at Warren's Manchester event. “There’s been a shift in the Democratic Party; there’ve been young people coming into the party who see what Bernie saw. I think that Elizabeth Warren is one of the people who sees what Bernie saw.”
The voters who backed Sanders in 2016 fit into roughly three camps. The first, like Hall, agreed with the senator’s message and wanted to — at least — move Hillary Clinton to the left before her inevitable nomination. The second, smaller camp, backed Sanders with no real intention of voting Democratic in November; around 33 percent of Democrats who voted in West Virginia’s 2016 primary, which Sanders won, said they would support Donald Trump.
The third camp, represented at the weekend house parties, believed that Sanders would have won the presidency, that he would win it in 2020, and that no other Democrat could be trusted to deliver radical, substantive change if elected. At the Greenbelt party, held at the New Deal Café (“ensuring domestic tranquility since 1995”), activists confronted the reality that Sanders was in a strong but not commanding position if he ran again.
“It looks like it’s going to be a brutal primary,” said Cecilia Hall, the 2016 volunteer engagement manager for the Sanders campaign, on the live stream. “In 2015, we had the advantage of surprise.”
Claire Sandberg, the digital organizing director for the 2016 campaign, said in an interview that the senator’s strength was being underrated — especially if he moved quickly. The “who’s this guy?” factor of the last campaign had been replaced with name recognition, which most other Democrats would spend the year working to build. Sanders, who spent the midterms helping other insurgent candidates create campaigns from scratch, was waiting for the next call.
“Last time around, Bernie started out with 5 percent name recognition, and the biggest challenge for the campaign was that voters didn’t know who he was,” said Sandberg, standing at the back of the New Deal Café. “Broadcast media completely blocked out coverage of him. We ran out of runway by the time everyone was voting. Now, we start out with everyone knowing who Bernie is, and he’s the most popular politician in the country.”
But with that name recognition have come scrutiny and negativity that have made Sanders supporters bristle. Some of Sanders’s allies have also attacked the coverage of the 2016 campaign’s harassment complaints, which Sanders himself has apologized for, and which one of Saturday’s presentations (from Sheila Healy, discussing the senator’s 2018 reelection campaign training) suggested could never happen again. Nomiki Konst, a Sanders delegate now running for New York City public advocate, said last week that the harassment story was being used to hurt activists who had nothing to do with it.
"I think, unfortunately, the 'Me Too' movement has been used as a political weapon in this case. It has to be dealt with no matter what, but it is not something that feeds into this old 'Bernie bro' narrative," Konst told interviewers from The Hill.
Near the end of Saturday’s meeting, activists ran down their potential persuasion targets: voters who considered Sanders too radical, voters who did not think he was radical enough, and voters who believed that the electoral system was “rigged” and not worth participating in.
There would be more meetings. Four hundred house parties in January — that was more than any other candidates' supporters were doing. But reaching out to Democrats who liked much of Sanders's agenda and could be sold on a new candidate would not be easy.
“I hear people say: 'I love Bernie, but he’s too old now,'” Butterworth said. “He’s ‘an old white man.’ That is the phrase I keep hearing.”
Ben Terris contributed reporting from New Hampshire.
DEMS IN DISARRAY
Who's afraid of Tulsi Gabbard? The Hawaii congresswoman's entry into the presidential primary was no surprise; she had been hinting at a run since 2017 and had told an interviewer in 2016 that she might one day be president.
But no other Democrat has been received like this. Gabbard has alienated some Democrats by meeting with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and, more recently, by echoing conservative accusations of “religious bigotry” against Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) after she questioned a conservative Catholic Trump nominee. That led the president of the Center for American Progress to joke that Gabbard could own the “pro-Assad, pro-Bannon, anti-Mazie Hirono lane” of the primary. The spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association made fun of Gabbard's 2018 endorsement of Dennis Kucinich's long-shot Ohio gubernatorial campaign. Medhi Hassan, a columnist for the Intercept, warned of the “very hawkish, right-wing, Islamophobic foreign policy positions.”
“I was on the other side of this argument wearing a bulletproof vest while she was saying this,” Howard Dean tweeted, calling attention to her opposition to LGBT rights in the early 2000s. “She is not even a Democrat and she certainly isn’t progressive. She is an ambitious moral shipwreck.”
Gabbard's first win attracted national attention — she was the youngest woman (just 31) in her Democratic class and one of the first female veterans of the Iraq War to enter Congress. But she has voted with Republicans more than most Democrats from deep blue seats have, and both activists and colleagues still remember how she accepted a meeting in late 2016 that, reportedly, was over whether she would take a national security job in the Trump administration.
David Nir, the political director of Daily Kos, wrote Saturday that the blog's community was not just opposed to Gabbard but would support a challenger if she ran for Congress again, no matter what her “national stanbase” did.
“Our community has no tolerance for apologists for murderous dictators,” Nir wrote. “We’ve wanted to see a primary challenger for Gabbard emerge since 2017, when her cozying up to Assad and adoption of Putin’s talking points about Syria really burst into full view.”
That might be an idle threat. Gabbard easily defeated a primary challenger who raised these issues in 2018. Her last visit to New Hampshire, after a meeting of the Sanders Institute (founded by Jane O’Meara Sanders, the Vermont senator’s wife), saw her take friendly questions, the hardest of them asking simply how she would deal with attacks on her old quotes.
But what makes some Democrats most nervous about a Gabbard candidacy is the potential for mischief on her behalf. RT, the Russia-funded news network, has run a series of glowing pieces about Gabbard, content that dredges up painful liberal memories of Russian propaganda boosting the 2016 Trump campaign.
“Establishment figures on both Right and Left are scrambling to smear the antiwar congresswoman with impeccable identity-politics bona fides,” read a typical RT dispatch this weekend.
Gabbard has barely registered in early primary polls, but no candidate makes Democrats so nervous about the tone of their coming contest.
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Who’s responsible for the shutdown? (Washington Post/ABC News poll, 788 adults)
Trump/Republicans — 53%
Democrats — 29%
Both — 13%
What's remarkable about this poll, as The Post's Scott Clement has pointed out, is that the country split along identical lines in 2013, when House Republicans forced a shutdown over funding of the Affordable Care Act. At that time, 53 percent of Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown; days after that poll was taken, Republicans caved.
Is the situation at the border a crisis? (CNN/SSRS, 848 respondents)
No — 52%
Yes — 45%
This is, believe it or not, the strongest level of public support seen so far for the idea that whatever is taking place on the U.S.-Mexico border — it's not defined here — constitutes a crisis. Even a weakened presidency retains some power to persuade. But not too much, as only 69 percent of voters who agree that there's a “crisis” on the border say that a wall would fix it. That's not as nice for the administration as it looks — you can extrapolate that support for a border wall, believing it is needed to end a crisis, is in the low 30s.
ON THE TRAIL
SAN JUAN — While the partial shutdown of the federal government drags on, Latino politicians have been meeting in the capitol of America's largest territory — first 30 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, then a meeting of the Latino Victory Fund.
“We've learned a lot, and we've been scaling up significantly, and our signature effort will be to essentially double Latino turnout in early states,” said Cristobal Alex, the president of the Latino Victory Fund. “What that means is a very focused campaign in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina. As we do that we'll be working to elect Latinos down the ballot. There's not a single Latino state legislator in Iowa or South Carolina, and we expect to dramatically increase that.”
The meetings were planned months ago, and the CHC's gathering -- sponsored by BOLD PAC, its political campaign arm -- has already been attacked by the White House and conservative media as a "beach" junket while the government is shut down. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was initially expected to attend, stayed in Washington.)
Organizers didn't really mind. Any junket to Puerto Rico, in winter, is naturally designed to connect members of Congress to lobbyists in a place far from reporters' eyes. But the timing and location of this conference was always designed to highlight Puerto Rico and the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, with the largest delegation of CHC members ever to visit the island.
“It is more devastating than many of us realized. I'm glad that we came,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), told CBS News.
Organizers of LVF's conference also pounced on the leaked idea, quickly opposed by members of both parties, of redirecting money earmarked for disaster relief into the construction of a border wall. “This is an island that is still reeling from Trump's failures, and we can juxtapose that with how he's holding the country hostage,” Alex said.
On Monday, Julián Castro will make his first campaign stop outside Texas in San Juan, as part of LVF's conference. Among the topics: Why Democrats, with plenty they could be saying about the treatment of Puerto Rico's debt and recovery, underperformed in Florida last year.
Julián Castro. He’s running, after a speech that dealt with his relatively low name ID by saying that “no front-runners” were born in the neighborhood where he grew up.
Kirsten Gillibrand. She appeared with model and activist Christy Turlington Burns on Sunday to promote her MOMS (Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards) Act. Oh, and the senator from New York told activists in New York that she'll be running for president.
Sherrod Brown. The Ohio senator confirmed a listening tour to assess a possible run for president, date to be determined. “Connie and I are going to go into the primary states fairly soon,” he told Greg Sargent this week.
Bill de Blasio. The New York mayor is planning to give some speeches around the country about policies implemented in his city, and he’s not ruling out anything, if you were curious. “I want to push this whole party and I want to inform this debate in this country about the fact that we could go a lot farther,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I never rule things out because you never know what life brings.”
"‘In the White House waiting’: Inside Trump’s defiance on the longest shutdown ever,” by Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Seung Min Kim
A mind-meld with the conservatives inside and outside the White House who wanted a shutdown but are unclear on how to end it. A common theme: a misunderstanding of how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thinks and what her incentives are.
Democrat Jim Glenn won a legislative race by one vote, his election was certified and he was sworn in. Kentucky’s Republican-run legislature is now considering whether a challenge from the incumbent he defeated is enough to nullify the election.
Could it go nowhere? Sure, it could. But Castro's presidential campaign is at least 15 years in the making, and tells a story about San Antonio that is only now being appreciated.
It was striking in 2018, and striking when Elizabeth Warren hit the trail with nearly no mention of the man in the White House. Democrats' own polling finds that they don't need to attack the president, because voters already assume they're against him.
... five days (at least) until Kirsten Gillibrand hits Iowa
... eight days until Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders return to South Carolina
... nine days until Jay Inslee returns to New Hampshire