Some advisers are salivating over running against a socialist. Others say they need to be careful what they wish for.
President Donald Trump and his top political advisers were huddling in the Oval Office earlier this month discussing the state of the Democratic primary when they arrived at an increasingly pressing topic: What to do about Bernie Sanders?
Sanders was surging, and some of the Trump advisers were salivating at the thought of a self-described democratic socialist as their general election opponent. As the president listened, they argued for taking steps to elevate him in the primary to boost his prospects.
But others warned that Sanders wouldn’t necessarily be the pushover he might seem. They told the president, who was joined in the meeting by top officials including campaign manager Brad Parscale and pollster Tony Fabrizio, that the Vermont senator’s authenticity and populist appeal could draw some of the blue-collar voters who propelled the president to the White House.
With the Iowa caucuses less than a week away, Trump advisers and supporters are split over whether to wage an effort to bolster Sanders. While proponents think Sanders would be an ideal opponent, others are wary that the liberal firebrand could make for a dynamic challenger — with the ability to make inroads in the Rust Belt states likely to decide the outcome of the election.
“It’s a big mistake for Trump supporters to assume that if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination there’s no chance somehow he can win,” said Matt Schlapp, a prominent Trump backer who heads the American Conservative Union.
Schlapp stressed that he thought Trump would win regardless but the party shouldn’t expect it to be guaranteed if his opponent is Sanders.
Among those pushing for a pro-Sanders offensive is the anti-tax Club for Growth. On Monday, the pro-Trump group launched a TV ad in Iowa that attacks Sanders but does so in ways that could help him with Democrats. The commercial calls Sanders
- “too liberal” and says that he
- supports “liberal health care policies” and
- giving “government health insurance to everyone.” The spot also
- compares Sanders to Democratic heroes Barack Obama and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and says he would
- spend trillions to combat climate change.
The Trump reelection effort, meanwhile, has spent much of the last several weeks focusing its attacks on Sanders — a gambit that two people close to the campaign described as a deliberate effort to draw attention to the Vermont senator. The campaign has used its Twitter account as an anti-Sanders messaging machine and urged prominent surrogates to train their fire on him. Their working assumption is that the presidential attention will only boost his standing among anti-Trump Democratic voters.
Trump himself took to Fox Business last week and declared that “Bernie is surging, there’s no question about it, and Bernie seems to be the one the party wants.”
Yet some of the president’s big-money backers say they aren’t interested in bankrolling an effort aimed at propping up Sanders. They worry his potential strength in a general election is being badly underestimated, much as Democrats wrongly discounted Trump four years ago.
The biggest fear about Sanders is that he could threaten the president’s monopoly on the outsider mantle in a way other Democrats in serious contention for the nomination cannot. Others express unease about Sanders’ energized following and worry that, as an unconventional, candidate he could inject an unpredictable dynamic into the contest. They, too, see potential parallels to Trump in 2016, when he attracted a wave of new voters.
Others say Sanders has struck a nerve with his focus on kitchen table issues both parties have long overlooked. Last week, Trump favorite Tucker Carlson used his Fox News show to warn that Sanders’ push to forgive student debt could win “many thousands” of past Trump voters.
“Bernie Sanders poses the greatest risk because we are still in an anti-establishment era for presidential elections,” said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, who is widely regarded as a potential future Trump White House chief of staff.
Others in Trump’s orbit adamantly disagree. Unlike Joe Biden, they say, Sanders would be easy to brand as outside the mainstream — even providing an opening for Trump to make up ground with suburban voters who’ve deserted him. Senior Republicans say they have conducted focus groups and found that suburbanites are turned off by the senator’s politics.
“I’m of the school that says running against Bernie would be a gift,” said former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, the national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a pro-Trump group that is expected to spend heavily in support of the president.
“In the end,” Coleman added, suburbanites aren’t “going to vote for a socialist.”
The Club isn’t the first conservative group to try to prop up Sanders in a Democratic primary. Ending Spending Action Fund, a conservative group tied to Republican mega-donor Joe Ricketts, aired commercials in the final days leading up to the 2016 Iowa caucuses labeling Sanders “too liberal” and outlining his positions on issues like health care.
Sanders went on to narrowly lose the caucus to Hillary Clinton. ESA Fund has yet to weigh in on the 2020 Democratic race.
Club for Growth President David McIntosh, a former Indiana congressman, said the Sanders-focused commercial was part of a broader effort to engage in the Democratic race. Last year, at a time when some Republicans were concerned about the candidacy of Beto O’Rourke, the conservative group ran TV spots that aimed to weaken the former Texas congressman among Democratic voters.
McIntosh said he was well aware of the prospect that the new ad would energize Sanders’ base and probably help him in Iowa.
“I think the person who suffers from that,” McIntosh added, ”is Biden.”
He has proved to be irresistible media catnip : flamboyant and fast-talking with a bottomless pocketful of scoops and quotes.
.. stories circulated of Avenatti threatening or harshly criticizing three media organizations: the Daily Caller, the Hollywood Reporter and Law & Crime, a legal website.
.. “If you and your colleagues do not stop with the hit pieces that are full of lies and defamatory statements, I will have no choice but to sue each of you and your publication for defamation,”
.. Here is the charismatic ratings-meister who thrives in the spotlight, but when the coverage turns negative, he goes on the attack against the very press that benefits him.
.. “Avenatti seems quite Trumpian in both loving media attention and acting quite contemptuously toward the free press.”
.. Identifying errors, and asking for corrections, is always legitimate, of course.
But should a fit of pique really include threats to sue journalists and their news organizations for defamation?
.. he sees Avenatti being treated as a hero because a lot of people agree with his anti-Trump agenda.
But he says he shouldn’t get that kind of a pass.
.. Liberals’ faulty thinking about Avenatti goes like this, he said: “It’s okay if he acts badly because he’s accomplishing things.”
.. White sees a clear parallel to the way avid Trump supporters defend the president’s unsavory behavior: “Take him seriously, not literally” — simply because it’s someone whose agenda you like.
.. “I generally support standing up to Trump and Cohen,” White said, “but when Avenatti makes frivolous legal threats, he’s acting just like them.” (Trump is well known for threats to sue journalists, very few of which have come to pass.)
Avenatti is effective, in part, because he plays the same game as Trump, with a gleeful willingness to attack and an instinct for manipulating journalistic appetites.
Except, of course, that Kelly, unlike a fictional dinosaur, has been through some truly horrific sexual violations, including vile and gendered comments from a man who is now the president of the United States, as well as an online silencing campaign that will most likely continue for as long as she refuses to capitulate.
.. Except, of course, that Kelly, unlike a fictional dinosaur, has been through some truly horrific sexual violations, including vile and gendered comments from a man who is now the president of the United States, as well as an online silencing campaign that will most likely continue for as long as she refuses to capitulate.
.. If you’ve heard the term “white feminism” tossed around your social media feeds, this is a prime example: fighting for freedom and justice as far as the boundaries of your own identity and not beyond.
.. America’s traditionalist wing has set a tidy trap: The more you actually know about the way abuse functions, the less seriously you’re taken. So, what do we do with the fact that, as destructive as some of Kelly’s work has been, there are people who listened to her indictment of Ailes who would never have listened to, say, Anita Hill.
.. When Kelly finds a righteous purpose, she is potent.
.. In a profoundly hostile and disturbing interview about the settlement, O’Reilly told The New York Times that he had been the subject of no formal complaints to human resources in 43 years. Kelly dunked on that one, too: “O’Reilly’s suggestion that no one ever complained about his behavior was false. I know because I complained.”
.. Conservative women, anti-feminist women, apolitical women, it is simply a fact: You are participating in feminism just by being alive. In the most passive sense, you are beneficiaries. You can vote, you can work, you can have your own bank account, you can bring a sexual harassment claim against someone at your place of employment, you can prosecute your husband for rape
.. by participating in #MeToo, by fighting back against harassment, by telling your story, you are standing up for the idea that women are autonomous human beings who are preyed upon and subordinated by men. Sorry, but that’s feminism. We’ll be here when you’re ready.