ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra, now livestreaming on Friday nights. I’m Robert Costa. And tonight we’re looking at the latest in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Our all-star panel is here to discuss it: Shawna Thomas, Washington bureau chief for Vice News; Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios; Susan Glasser, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of the weekly Letter from Trump’s Washington; and Joshua Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek.
This week, the race for the Democratic nomination was marked as much as by who bowed out as who’s jumping in. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he wouldn’t run, as did Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. And former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, he joined the contest. But a shadow still lingers from Delaware over the field. Former Vice President Joe Biden is reportedly moving closer to a bid. Smart story in The New York Times about it. But he remains undecided.
Josh, when you look at Sherrod Brown, center-left, progressive, but someone who’s from the industrial Midwest. You got Bloomberg saying: No thanks. Are there signals being sent in the Democratic Party, Biden’s about to jump in, clear the lane?
JOSHUA GREEN: I don’t know if it’s a fear of Biden jumping in, or if it’s a realization that the Democratic Party, the energy of the party, is really on the progressive left, and that a moderate candidate like Biden, you know, who might have performed better in the past, might have a tougher time this time around. I mean, that being said, the expectation is still that Biden will get in the race. However, you know, he said at the end of the year the decision was coming soon. He said in January, a decision is coming soon. Here we are in March, they’re saying maybe a decision’s coming in April. And we haven’t gotten one yet. So it’s possible that Biden decides to take a pass.
MR. COSTA: Is the argument for Biden he could win back a state like Pennsylvania, where he grew up?
MR. GREEN: I think it is. I mean, if you talk to most Democratic strategists they think that the clearest path back to 270 electoral votes is through the upper Midwest – states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin the Democrats lost. Biden, just by virtue of, I think, his persona, his background in Scranton, Pennsylvania, his tightness to labor, is somebody who, I think, kind of culturally can connect with those kinds of voters maybe better than Hillary Clinton could. And therefore, a lot of – a lot of Democrats, who are eager above all to see Trump defeated, would really like Biden to get into that race.
SHAWNA THOMAS: But I think part of why all eyes are on Biden is that you are also getting to the end of the first quarter of fundraising, right? So we’ll see those numbers at some point in April. It makes sense that if Biden were going to get in, he would get in in April, because he has to start raising, real money. He has to form an exploratory committee and get out there, because you’ve got low-dollar fundraising going on with Bernie Sanders amassing, like, thousands of people who are just giving $5. You’ve got all of this going on. He is not independently – I mean, he’s not, you know, bad off, but he is not fabulously wealthy, like a Michael Bloomberg would have been, who could have waited a little bit longer because he can put a lot of his own money in. So at some point there’s a very practical matter that if you are going to run a presidential campaign against a sitting president of the United States who has been running since the day after he took office, you’ve got to get in.
MR. COSTA: But when you’re talking to your team at Vice, Shawna, and they’re talking to Democratic voters out in Iowa, New Hampshire, is there an appetite among the Democratic base for Vice President Biden?
MS. THOMAS: We haven’t – I mean, we’ve been to Iowa a few times. We’re going out there. We haven’t seen people clamoring and asking about Biden. But we haven’t been asking them about Biden either.
SUSAN GLASSER: But people are clamoring for somebody who’s electable. And that is one of the notable features of the polls. As much as we talk about the ideological fissures within the Democratic Party as they figure out what’s the best strategy to respond to Trump, the real answer is that the consensus – you know, center-left and middle-left and whatever – is find somebody who can beat Trump, and then we’ll sort it out. And Biden, at the moment, is perceived in that way. But I think there’s two risks here, obviously, that leap to mind.
Number one is fighting the last war risk, which is the idea that we’re still looking at Biden and even talking about him in contrast to Hillary Clinton. But, you know, it’s not 2016 anymore, number one. Number two, and I think this is under-appreciated, but the idea that the Democrats are going to nominate somebody who would be an octogenarian president of the United States, you know, is something that is a high, high, high risk factor for the Democratic Party, and potentially for the country.
And I think that is something that has not been really fully processed. You know, people can have the highest possible respect for Joe Biden. I’ve talked with many Democrats myself who are just very queasy at the idea of an octogenarian president like Joe Biden right now, especially –
MR. COSTA: But Senator Bernie Sanders is in the race. He’s in his mid-to-late 70s.
MS. GLASSER: Yeah. I think that’s a problem too. (Laughs.)
MS. THOMAS: They’re worried about him too.
MS. GLASSER: It’s a big problem.
MR. COSTA: Is that ageism in some level?
MS. GLASSER: No, I don’t think it is. I think it’s really serious. You know, I mean, I don’t know about you, but I love my parents, and I’m not sure that, you know, they’re turning 80 – and they’re not 80 yet – is when – their best moment in their professional career to take on the challenge of the toughest job in the world, I got to tell you.
MR. COSTA: And Democratic leaders are up there in age across the board. When you’re talking to people in the Trump campaign for 2020, and they look at the possible entry – maybe even the likely entry of Vice President Biden – do they see their main threat, or do they see threats more in Senator Harris of California or Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont?
JONATHAN SWAN: It really depends who you talk to. There are some Trump advisors who see Biden as a real threat, if he could get through the primaries, because he does have that centrist appeal. He’s likeable. Great name ID. And can take some of these white working-class voters away from Trump. I don’t think Trump himself is particularly worried about Biden. I genuinely don’t, authentically don’t think he’s that worried about him. And I will tell you, Trump was very impressed by Kamala Harris, her rollout. He – I mean, Trump’s love language is the crowd. So – and crowds don’t lie. And she had some really big crowds.
I don’t think he’s figured out how to talk about her. He doesn’t have nickname for her. I don’t think he knows how to handle her yet. She is a very interesting candidate to me because she seems to be pretty close to where the activists are – not totally. She’s not totally there with Bernie and Elizabeth Warren. But she’s pretty close there. She’s obviously a woman of color. And the process favors her. So California being so early. You have a lot of these Southern states on Super Tuesday, which you can rely on African-American voters, older white women. I just think there’s a lot to her. And she’s got a very smart team, good strategists. I think she’s a very compelling candidate.
MR. COSTA: So as Democrats think about winning over some of those Trump voters from 2016, some of those voters watch Fox News. And the Democrats decided this week that they were not going to have Fox News be part of their Democratic primary debate process. Is there a political cost to that move for the Democrats, or not?
MS. THOMAS: You know what? I don’t really think there is. I mean, I don’t think most of those Democratic debate watchers were going to watch it on Fox anyway. I do think from the point of view of the actual candidates it might have been good to get a couple of questions from Chris Wallace during the primary, or a couple of questions from a Bret Baier during the primary. Chris Wallace who does amazing interviews. And I think it might have been good training for them, especially for whichever person ends up in the actual general election.
But, you know, if we’re going to talk about our parents, I don’t think my, you know, liberal parents in Texas were going to watch the debates on Fox News anyway. So while I think – I think there is a world where maybe Fox News should have played, I’m not sure it’s actually a bad thing for the Democratic Party. I think it will kind of blow over, to be honest. And –
MS. GLASSER: Well. I’m glad you brought up Fox News. I do have to say, like, a shout-out to my colleague Jane Mayer and her piece in The New Yorker this week, which has managed to disrupt, it seems, both the Democratic Party’s 2020 plans and, you know, the White House itself, where Bill Shine, you mentioned earlier, the communications director has departed after serious questions raised about the fact that he’s still receiving something like a $7 million bonus from Fox, while he was a senior-level staffer in the White House. Many questions, of course, about this fusion between Fox and the White House, as if we essentially had a propaganda network.
And, I think, you know, we’ve been moving in this direction of fragmented media for a long time, in which it may not matter of Democrats watch Fox debate, because they’re not going to do it anyways and so it doesn’t really affect in a day-to-day sense. But I think it’s part of what suggests that the gridlock and partisanship, and the dysfunction we’re seeing in politics is going to outlast President Trump no matter what – whether he wins reelection – as I think is a real possibility – or not, because in fact, there are structural reasons that the country is no longer speaking to each other.
MS. THOMAS: I think there is an interesting test, though, because the DNC is not going to stop networks or organizations from having forums – like candidate forums, one-on-one things, that kind of thing. So who are the Democrats who say “yes” to a Fox News forum, and what kind of test will that be on the campaign trail? That might be interesting to see.
MR. GREEN: Well, you see – you see some Democrats already – candidates like Amy Klobuchar – willing to go on Fox News and submit to interviews. So Democrats can get their exposure to the Fox audience and the Fox broadcasters if they want to.
MR. SWAN: There’s two of them. There’s two of them.
MR. GREEN: Who is the other one?
MR. SWAN: Klobuchar and Eric Swalwell.
MR. GREEN: And Eric Swalwell, right.
MR. SWAN: It’s not exactly the full slate.
MR. GREEN: Well, no, but I’m saying as the campaign goes along, if they feel like they’re not, you know, reaching a Fox audience, and care to, they certainly have that ability without having to submit to a debate.
MR. SWAN: I just don’t think you’ll see any top tier candidate really spending any time on Fox. I mean, I’ve seen no evidence that they feel any pressure to.
MR. GREEN: No, I think – I’d agree that they don’t think they feel any pressure to, which is also why I think the DNC made this move and decided, you know, we don’t want to have anything to do with Fox. It’s more important to kind of show this fealty to our base, which is continually outraged by Fox.
MS. GLASSER: Which is my point. Until we have an ability to talk to each other outside of these ever-narrower, segmented audiences, we’re very, very, very unlikely to reach a new consensus about something that gets us to more than 49 percent.
MR. SWAN: I mean, Elizabeth Warren, from my recollection, in her launch video, had Tucker Carlson as one of the, like, you know, betes noires of America, you know, the sort of demons of America. So I mean, this is – the idea that she would then try and get on primetime Fox seems like a bit of a fantasy.
MS. GLASSER: Well, if he’s on the phone getting his marching orders from the president, why should she?
MR. SWAN: I’m not saying she should. I’m just saying I don’t think there’s any need for her – she doesn’t feel any need –
MR. GREEN: They do share economic policies when it comes to breaking up monopolies. I mean, there is a little bit of Warren –
MR. SWAN: There’s a lot of conversation to be had.
MR. GREEN: However, I agree, she’s probably not going to be showing up on Tucker Carlson.
MR. COSTA: That is a discussion for another Extra. (Laughter.) The intersection of the populist left and the populist right. Maybe we’ll do that next week.
But that’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. If you want to know more about these 2020 candidates, go to our website and read all about them. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. And we’ll see you next time.