Joe Biden’s Expected 2020 Bid Is Likely to Rely on Big Donors

Former vice president’s fundraising structure is less focused on small-donor contributions, which many declared candidates are chasing

Former Vice President Joe Biden will initially rely on a decades-old network of big donors if he enters the Democratic presidential primary contest as expected, in contrast to the small-donor base that many of his 2020 rivals are racing to build.

Mr. Biden’s campaigns in the 2008 and 1988 primaries netted a combined $18.5 million and were financed by big donors and public funds—which candidates in recent years have stopped using because of spending limits they trigger. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, fueled his insurgent 2016 presidential bid almost entirely with contributions of $200 or less, amassing $238 million in a little over a year.

.. There is little evidence that Mr. Biden, 76 years old, has worked to foster a base of small donors in the two years since he left office. He has expressed concern to Democratic fundraisers that he won’t be able to make a splash with early online donations the way Mr. Sanders and other candidates have.The political action committee that Mr. Biden started in May 2017 to help Democrats spent more than $550,000 in digital consultants, but that investment barely paid off, Federal Election Commission records show. The group, American Possibilities PAC, received $923,000 from donors giving $200 or less, out of the $2.6 million it raised.

.. The PAC had been paying Blue State Digital, a firm founded by Joe Rospars, the chief digital strategist for former President Obama’s two presidential campaigns and now an adviser to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign.

Mr. Biden, who has spent much of the past few years giving paid speeches and promoting his book, said he wants to fund his presidential bid on his own terms—and has ruled out well-funded help from outside his potential campaign. Representatives for Mr. Biden didn’t respond to requests for comment.

I will not be part of a super PAC,” Mr. Biden said in a February appearance at the University of Delaware. “An awful lot of people have offered to help—and the people who are usually the biggest donors in the Democratic Party, and I might add some major Republican folks.”

Mr. Biden’s allies have been reaching out to their contacts in preparation for a campaign announcement, which could happen as early as Wednesday. Donors can give a maximum $2,800 per election.

Some of Mr. Biden’s longtime supporters are planning fundraisers for him soon after his likely campaign launch. Several donors said David L. Cohen, a Comcast Corp. senior executive vice president, is organizing a fundraiser that is expected to include former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and several top donors from the Obama and Clinton campaigns, planned in Philadelphia, where Mr. Biden has deep ties.

“The vast majority [of Obama donors] who I’ve talked to are with Biden—and have been waiting for him,” said Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia attorney and Democratic fundraiser who has committed to Mr. Biden.

Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and longtime Democratic fundraiser, said he plans to contribute the maximum to Mr. Biden “the second he announces.”

He has a natural advantage with fundraising, but not a natural advantage in the digital universe,” said Mr. Harpootlian, adding Mr. Biden can use large checks like the one he will write to invest in a small-dollar online fundraising program.

Bob Clark, chairman and chief executive of Chicago-based construction company Clayco Inc., raised more than $500,000 for each of Mr. Obama’s two presidential campaigns. He said he has been talking with Mr. Biden and his team for months and is ready to begin fundraising for him.

Mr. Clark said he has heard enthusiasm for Mr. Biden from his fellow contributors. “He has a strong following with his own donors and with the Obama network,” he said.

The Obama donor network includes about 250 people who each raised $500,000 or more for his re-election bid. But those so-called bundlers, who aggregate donations and write lump-sum checks, aren’t acting in unison—some are writing checks to multiple candidates or have committed to other Democratic presidential contenders ahead of Mr. Biden’s announcement.

Orin Kramer, a New York investor and major bundler for Mr. Obama’s campaigns, is helping Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., as is Steve Elmendorf, a Washington, D.C., strategist and fundraiser who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, meanwhile, is being helped by Mark Gallogly, a New York-based investment manager, and Louis Susman, a Chicago-based investment banker and former U.S. ambassador to the U.K. California Sen. Kamala Harris has attended fundraisers in Florida led by two top bundlers with deep Obama and Clinton ties: Kirk Wagar, a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore, and Alexander Heckler, a Miami Beach attorney.

Small donors help candidates save time and can provide constant cash infusions, Democratic strategists say.

Mr. Rospars wrote on Twitter this month: “The high-dollar chase is less and less sustainable as the contest unfolds—the lowest-hanging fruit is already collected, and in a crowded field it will suck up more time and money and organizational focus for candidates to raise it.”

Mr. Sanders said he raised $600,000 in his first 24 hours as a candidate from supporters who agreed to have monthly contributions to him deducted automatically. He raised more than $18 million in his first six weeks as a candidate, FEC records show.

A Bruised Trump Faces Uncertain 2020 Prospects. His Team Fears a Primary Fight.

Several prominent Trump antagonists are actively urging other Republicans to take on the president, and a popular governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, has indicated he is newly open to their entreaties.

.. Privately, some of Mr. Trump’s 2016 aides have said they are pessimistic about his path to 270 electoral votes after his party’s midterm defeats in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.

..An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.

.. The Mueller investigation looms as another destabilizing force for the president. David Kochel, a Republican strategist based in Iowa who is opposed to Mr. Trump, said the special counsel’s eventual report could determine whether Mr. Trump is vulnerable in a primary.

“That will be a focusing mechanism for the party,” Mr. Kochel said.

.. Mr. Trump captured the presidency with a largely improvisational candidacy, guided by his own instincts for personal combat and cultural division, and lacking the strategic discipline of most presidential campaigns.

.. But even among his own political lieutenants, there is a general recognition that Mr. Trump currently lacks anything resembling a positive message.

.. Mr. Trump is especially fixated on two well-known Democrats, speaking frequently about Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president whom Mr. Trump regards as his most dangerous potential opponent, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Some of his advisers are more preoccupied with two other would-be challengers, who would offer a starker generational contrast with the 72-year-old president: Senator Kamala Harris of California and Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas Senate candidate.

.. Now a top aide on Mr. Trump’s campaign, Mr. Stepien and his deputies have been consulting party leaders about shutting off avenues to a challenge and ensuring that states cannot put forward “favorite son” candidates to contest the president’s renomination.

.. Mr. Trump has also dedicated a team of aides to guaranteeing that only political loyalists are elected to serve as delegates to the convention. To that end, Mr. Stepien dispatched some of his staff members this month to see that their preferred candidate remained in charge of the Maine Republican Party.

..Mr. Hogan spoke briefly with William Kristol, an implacable Trump critic in the conservative press, who argued that the president is weaker than widely understood

.. In addition to Mr. Hogan, William F. Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is weighing a challenge to Mr. Trump as a small-government moderate, people who have spoken with him said. Mr. Weld, 73, who was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2016, has discussed either opposing Mr. Trump in the Republican primaries or seeking the Libertarian presidential nomination.

.. Other Republicans known to be entertaining campaigns against Mr. Trump include John R. Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, who ran in 2016; Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska; and Jeff Flake, the former senator from Arizona. But Mr. Sasse is said to have grown uneasy about the idea, and Mr. Kasich and Mr. Flake are pursuing opportunities in television.

.. Bruce Berke, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire aligned with Mr. Kasich, said he currently saw Mr. Trump as unassailable in a G.O.P. primary.

“A primary challenge in 2020, as of today, would be futile for anyone,” Mr. Berke said.

Still, Republican donors will want to know just how damaged the president may be by the end of this year before they truly commit to a challenge.

Mike Pence, Holy Terror

Are you sure you want to get rid of Donald Trump?

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

.. The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors

..  the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

.. In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

.. “I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

.. It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”
.. he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”
.. You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools.
Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary.
.. Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

..  Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

.. Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.”

 

McCaskill’s Intimidation Game

The Missouri senator runs attack ads not on her opponent but one of his supporters.

Team McCaskill is already employing the Democratic Party’s go-to tactic this midterm: character assassination. There’s not much else. The economy is humming, the party’s centrist and liberal wings are fighting, and the drumbeat of impending Trump doom isn’t finding much accompaniment. So in Missouri as elsewhere, candidates are reverting to personal attacks. But the McCaskill forces are piling on a guy who isn’t even running.

.. Indeed, they are attacking a private citizen and donor, David Humphreys. Back in March, Chuck Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC began plowing millions into attacks on the businessman, who donated to Mr. Hawley’s campaign for attorney general. The pattern is the same: An ad makes a malicious accusation against Mr. Humphreys, then sidles over to tar Mr. Hawley with guilt by association. Just how invested are they in this strategy? Since airing their first spot, 70% of Democratic ads—amounting to $4.7 million—have been focused on Mr. Humphreys.

.. Ms. McCaskill’s pickle is that the GOP has upped its recruitment game. Her only prior re-election bid in 2012 had her face off against Todd Akin, who self-immolated after his blundering comments on abortion and rape. Mr. Hawley—a savvier, younger man and squeaky clean—hasn’t provided a similar opening. A native Missourian and onetime U.S. Supreme Court law clerk, he arrived on the political scene only in 2016, becoming the Show Me State’s first Republican attorney general in 24 years.
.. Mr. Humphreys is a long and active participant in Missouri civic life. He’s been a major backer of judicial reform, so the trial bar loathes him. He pushed hard for the state’s recently enacted right-to-work law, so unions loathe him. He sits on the boards of the free-market Cato and Acton institutes, so liberals in general loathe him.
.. A liberal organization, Campaign for Accountability, sought to keep the affair in the news by filing an official complaint with a federal prosecutor in Missouri. It may now wish it hadn’t. Mr. Humphreys’s attorney recently got a letter from U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison, stating that his office had followed protocol and referred the issue to the FBI, which determined that “there was no basis for further inquiry.”
.. That won’t stop the attacks because they serve a greater purpose. Beyond the smears against Messrs. Hawley and Humphreys, such ads are a warning to other donors. Don’t get involved, or your reputations and businesses will be next.
.. Intimidation and threats, leveled against private citizens, are now standard liberal practice.
.. It isn’t about transparency in the public interest; it’s about identifying new political targets.