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Amy Walter and Lisa Lerer on Democrats’ 2020 fundraising rules

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Lisa Lerer of The New York Times join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including evaluating the rise of Democratic 2020 candidates Andrew Yang and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and first-quarter fundraising results for the Democratic field.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Turning back now to the race for the White House and the divisions over Representative Omar's recent remarks, it is time for Politics Monday, with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Lisa Lerer, a politics reporter for The New York Times.

    Hello to both of you. It's Politics Monday. So much to talk about.

    But let's start with Andrew Yang. He's one of the presidential — many presidential candidates out there on the Democratic side.

    And, by the way, we should say, Amy, that today, we had — on the Republican side, we just learned in the last few hours Bill Weld joining — saying that he will take on the president on the Republican side.

    But, on the Democratic side, Andrew Yang, and then you had yesterday the — Pete Buttigieg announcing officially, jumping into the race.

    But talk about Andrew Yang and what his early message is.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, his early message seems to be one of a revolutionary, right? I'm not coming in just to be a candidate to throw some rather traditional ideas around. I'm going to come in here and put these big, sort of dramatic ideas, like the universal basic income, like legalizing a small amount of heroin, these sorts of things, with the idea perhaps that it gets to be part of the conversation.

    Even if he is not the candidate, he is not the front-runner, he doesn't stay in for very long, that it sparks a conversation within the rest of the party. This is what happens at this point in most campaigns, right? You have a whole bunch of candidates. The field ultimately winnows out.

    But many candidates try to put as many ideas out there as possible, hoping that if they can't last, maybe one of their ideas will.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can someone like Yang shape the race in some way, do you think?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    He may.

    I think it tells us — his popularity — he's already qualified for the debate stage — tells us something about the media environment, the political environment we live in now. This is someone who really got those — met those debate requirements by appearing on popular podcasts. He's like a podcast candidate.

    That's something we wouldn't have seen 10 years ago. And he's kind of this quirky candidate with some views that are, you point out, you know, fairly left-wing, like he supports Medicare for all, and other things like cutting the federal work force by 15 to 20 percent, which is something that wouldn't really ring well with a lot of Democrats.

    But I think we're in a place now where, because of the Internet, because of podcasts, you can see candidates get on the stage, have an influence in the debate, without really needing any party support whatsoever.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's a really good point.

    And it brings to the bigger issue now, we're in this stage that they used to call the invisible primary, right, before voters get a chance to weigh in. All these other factors are supposed to influence the field. Or, at least, in the past, they had.

    And so some of those were things that were written rules and unwritten rules. The written rules that have changed, the Democrats, one, you can get on stage now in a debate not just by where you're polling, but how many individual donors that you have put together.

    And the superdelegate rules changing. At this point, a candidate could become a front-runner by saying, I have 150 superdelegates already before any ballots were cast.

    And then the unwritten rules, which are now no longer being OK among Democratic candidates, to take money from certain sources, super PACs, from big corporate donors. Now everybody wants to have small donors, which is fine, but it means that you're not going to get these eye-popping fund-raising numbers, like you saw in 2016 or 2007.

    And the media has also, I think, weighed in too, saying, maybe we made a mistake in 2016 by trying to label people front-runners too early. So now we're going to stay out. We're not going to have the same rush to put the front-runner mantle on someone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I do want to ask you both about Pete Buttigieg, who was the flavor of the month, I guess. But now we're asking, is he more than that? But I also want to ask you about the money.

    But, quickly, about Buttigieg, is he showing some staying power, Lisa?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Well, I think he's shown that he can get himself into maybe the second or third tier of the race, depending how you're counting. And who really knows how we're counting these days?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's true.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    But the question for him now is, can he build out an organization? Can he stay there? Can he do the kinds of things that you need to do not just to raise money, but to eventually actually win some votes?

    And that's the great unknown. We can't know that. But we certainly see that he's a guy who saw a moment and capitalized it, in a way that put him into this race in a bigger way. I mean, this is someone who is a mayor of a mid to small-sized city whose biggest national accomplishment was losing the race for Democratic National Committee chairman.

    Hat's not traditionally been a qualification for the presidency. But for the reasons you point out, we're in uncharted territory. And who knows.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He's defied all the — what we thought used to be the rules.

  • Amy Walter:

    Although he does fit very well for this moment.

    That's the great thing about politics, is you can plan your whole life to be perfectly ready to be president on this date, right? In 2020, I will have all of — I will have checked all the boxes.

    But the moment might not be right for you. You have to be in this moment. And what we saw in 2018, remember, the candidates who got the most attention, who raised the most money, who were the most successful were the ones who were so different from anything that we had ever seen before. They were brand-new to politics.

    They came from outside of the traditional avenues for going into Congress. And Pete Buttigieg, while he's had a long political career, he doesn't act or sound like your traditional presidential candidate, for sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meanwhile, just quickly, Lisa, the president, President Trump's campaign announced this record-breaking number, tens of millions of dollars, he's raised just in the first quarter of this year.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Yes, that was a fairly eye-popping number.

    And part of that, of course, is because, unlike any other president, he started running for reelection the second he won his first term. So it give him time to raise some money. But I also think it's something that the Democrats have been watching closely.

    There has been this — a lot of energy on the Democratic side about not taking money from super PACs, not taking corporate donations, not holding big fund-raisers. And that's something that the grassroots of the party, the activists in the party certainly like. It's something that the donors of the party, well, it makes them a little bit nervous.

    And I think seeing that number is only going to sort of exaggerate and increase that divide and that debate within the Democratic side.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. In 2008, it was very different. Obviously, there was not an incumbent Republican president at that moment.

    But if you look at how much money just Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at this moment in time in 2007 raised, they raised $50 million together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At this moment.

  • Amy Walter:

    I think, at this moment, you have to put probably four or five candidates together right now to equal the $50 million.

    So, Bernie Sanders, just to give you an idea, raised $18 million. The next closest, Harris, Senator Harris, raised $12 million, right. Those are the top fund-raisers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you remember these numbers, Amy Walter?

  • Amy Walter:

    I just — I burned it into my brain.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She's got it written on the back on her hand.

  • Amy Walter:

    I do. I cheated.

    (LAUGHTER)

    But it definitely stands out.

    And it goes to Lisa's point, which is, when you are raising money with this many people, this — with these new unwritten rules, raising the big, big dollars is going to stand out.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    And we don't know how any of this plays.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    We have never seen a presidential race that's so heavily dependent on small donors.

    There's been midterms, 2018. Democrats did quite well. But small donors will give to a bunch of different candidates. We just — in a midterm, when they're not competing against each other. We don't know whether they will give $5 to a bunch of different presidential candidates or $100 or whatever it is.

    So no one quite knows how this all shakes out. And that's what makes these big donors pretty nervous.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So fascinating to be thinking about this right now in early April, with weeks and weeks to go.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    It's never too early.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And more announcements to come.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Lisa Lerer, Politics Monday, thank you.

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