ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa.
Let’s pick up our conversation from the show on the challenges facing the 2020 Democratic field as we head toward the New Hampshire primary. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg have both claimed victory in Iowa after a counting fiasco, but what happens now?
Joining me tonight, Ayesha Rascoe, White House reporter for National Public Radio; Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post and co-author of the number-one New York Times bestseller A Very Stable Genius; Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor in chief of The Economist; and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, congressional correspondent for The New York Times.
You brought up something interesting on the show, Sheryl, about the challenges women candidates are facing this time around. Is that getting enough discussion?
SHERYL GAY STOLBERG: I don’t know if it is. It’s sort of – it’s murmuring sort of a little bit beneath the surface, but it certainly got discussion when it came out that Bernie Sanders had said to Elizabeth Warren, you know, a woman can’t win. Now, Senator Sanders said he never said that, she says he did say it, but it certainly, you know, put the question out there, can a woman win? And that is, obviously, a question that emanates from the 2016 election and the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
MR. COSTA: And Senator Warren faces challenges in New Hampshire. It’s right near her home state of Massachusetts, but Senator Sanders is there with a strong base, nearby Vermont, and you have Pete Buttigieg rising in the polls.
AYESHA RASCOE: Yeah, and I mean, and that’s the way – it seems like some of these candidates are kind of canceling each other out. Like, no one has, like, this clear path, and so you have Pete Buttigieg who did so great in Iowa now going into New Hampshire – is that going to cut into Elizabeth Warren and what she’s trying to do, but then what happens after that with Buttigieg? And it’s really – I mean, Elizabeth Warren, when you talk about the issue of women running, I think people haven’t been talking about it, but it is the issue, right? And when I have colleagues who are out on the trail, they say that when they talk to voters they’ll say things like they don’t think a woman can win, and there’s this idea of if you’re going to beat Trump again do you want to have an Elizabeth Warren and this idea of, like, Clinton – like, do you want that risk? But she’s really paying a price right now.
MR. COSTA: Joe Biden – what happens now with this campaign? We heard today different reports that Anita Dunn, longtime Democratic consultant and strategist, former adviser to President Obama, is going to be taking on a leadership role inside of the campaign. Does that tell you that he feels a shakeup is needed?
PHILIP RUCKER: Well, it’s sort of the classic New Hampshire shakeup, right? When a candidate underperforms in Iowa, the next week there’s all this pressure to do something about it. In the Biden case I’m not sure the problem is the campaign staff; it seems to be the candidate’s performance. Talking to Democrats, there’s a lot of concern that he’s just not sort of firing on all cylinders the way he needs to to go up against Trump, and the big test for him’s going to be South Carolina. He’s way overperforming the other Democrats in polling there. He has a huge advantage with African American voters. So he needs to win and win big there. If he – if he falls short in South Carolina, that could be the end for Biden.
ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: What about the money side of it? Because one of the big problems that the Biden campaign has is the lack of money, right, relative to others. It’s only – and Buttigieg is – has that on his side. And so I wonder whether, even if he limps along, he’s going to limp along and then just not have enough money to really do what he needs to do on Super Tuesday.
MR. RUCKER: Yeah, we don’t have a clear view at this day how much money’s in the bank for him, but he’s been lagging behind the other candidates in fundraising, certainly behind Buttigieg and Sanders and even Warren, and he requires a lot of money to keep that campaign going. The commercial – or the private jets, the staff, the organizers all around the country, it’s expensive.
MR. COSTA: Sheryl, when –
MS. STOLBERG: You know what I thought –
MR. COSTA: Sorry.
MS. STOLBERG: I was going to say what I thought was really interesting about Joe Biden this week was he talked openly about his struggle with stuttering, and this is something that he has not talked much about. And Phil mentioned earlier that he’s had these sort of halting performances at the debates, and he seems to want to now maybe explain that or shed light on this other aspect of himself that could explain why he seems to struggle in that public setting. People think when they see him that, oh, he’s off a step, he’s lost a step, he’s –
MR. COSTA: Without naming names, when you pull aside some Democratic senators at the Capitol, what’s their real view of the Biden campaign right now? (Laughter.) I’m just curious.
MS. STOLBERG: I think Phil expressed it. I mean, I think it’s a campaign that is struggling. I mean, I don’t – I don’t think it’s any surprise, and we’re seeing it play out right in front of us, right? I mean, he had this dismal performance in Iowa. Initially, he was supposed to be the guy that Trump was the most afraid of, but the more you see of him the more concerns I think people have about him. I think Democrats are concerned about –
MR. COSTA: It’s interesting, I just got a report that during the ABC debate Friday night Vice President Biden said I took a hit in Iowa and I’m likely to take a hit in New Hampshire, so he’s already signaling at the ABC debate that he’s going to probably have a problem in New Hampshire.
MS. RASCOE: And I think part of his – another part of his issue is this impeachment that just happened. Biden played a big role in that, and at this point he didn’t really have a good answer for Hunter Biden, the questions that came up. Even though Democrats may say they don’t think that Joe Biden did anything wrong, they realize that the president is going to keep talking about that. And if you put Biden on the ticket, you’re going to be relitigating Ukraine over and over again, and talking about Hunter Biden, and Burisma, and whatever other dealings Hunter Biden had, until the election. And so that’s another thing that’s hanging over Biden.
MR. RUCKER: The problem for Biden, though, is when you’re the former vice president who served in a very popular presidency for Democratic voters, you enter a race like this one as the presumptive leader. And it’s not enough to say you’re not – you’re going to fall short in Iowa and New Hampshire. He came in as the favorite, as the guy to beat Trump. And he’s really struggling.
MS. STOLBERG: The one thing Biden does have, though, is support in the African American community. His support there is strong. And I don’t see that the other top contenders can match that.
MR. COSTA: Well, let’s wait – let’s pause on that, because if that’s true then South Carolina is everything. If Buttigieg or someone else somehow wins the South Carolina primary in late February, that must throw this race open.
MS. BEDDOES: But for me, sort of standing back a bit, you know, you made a point earlier which is absolutely right, that we have this sort of, you know, Iowa to New Hampshire shakeup, everybody kind of – the people who don’t do well in Iowa change things around. But this time around it seems to me that there are both more fundamental divisions between the two wings of the party. Everybody says the main and only preoccupation is to beat Trump, OK? But I’m surprised, if that’s the main preoccupation that you have such radically different approaches. You have basically Senator Sanders saying that the best way to beat Trump is to have a revolution in American policy writ large. And then you have at the other extreme, you know, Mike Bloomberg basically wanting to go back to completely centrist policies.
And so what is the best route to doing that? And is it – I think Senator Biden’s hope is that people want – there’s a bit of sort of restoration. They want to remember the good times before Trump. And they don’t – they want a kind of guy who’s your, you know, nice grandpa figure. It doesn’t matter if he’s sort of – you know, isn’t terribly coherent. But he’ll just be sane. You don’t want any kind of big change. And if that’s the driver, maybe he gets through. But I think – I’m not sure that that’s what the Democratic Party wants, because otherwise why is Senator Sanders doing so well?
MS. RASCOE: I don’t think the Democratic Party –
MR. COSTA: What about – where is President Obama? Talking about a restoration. Where is President Obama? Is he going to speak up for Biden or not?
MR. RUCKER: It’s interesting. He’s on television, President Obama, because Mike Bloomberg has his in his ads. There’s an ad the Bloomberg campaign put out, one of many ads he’s been putting out, that just features a reel of Obama complimenting Bloomberg. And that’s not an endorsement of Bloomberg, but it’s a sign of how critical Obama is in this process. And he’s been silent.
MS. STOLBERG: Yeah. I don’t envision President Obama speaking out until there’s a nominee. I would be surprised if he put his foot in this race. First of all, there’s no upside for him to doing that. Let’s say he comes out and he says: I endorse Joe Biden. And then, you know, Biden implodes. Well then, you know, whoever gets the nomination, oh, that was Barack Obama’s second choice. Even Barack Obama didn’t think that person was the right person. It just – it doesn’t make sense to me.
MR. COSTA: Final thoughts?
MS. RASCOE: I mean, I think when you ask that question of who can beat President Trump, I think the fact is the Democratic Party hasn’t decided yet. And that’s why you see these polls kind of all over the place. Because even African American voters, if they do see Biden really stumbling that could easily change their view in South Carolina because they, like everybody else, want somebody that’s going to win, right?
MS. BEDDOES: But the risk is that if it takes them until the convention and to a contested convention to choose, that so much damage will have been done on the way that it becomes virtually impossible to do so.
MS. STOLBERG: But and not only do they not know who they want to take on Trump, they don’t know what they want. In other words, they cannot decide whether a revolutionary candidate is the right way to go or an incremental just, you know, be sane and manage the – you know, manage the ship. They don’t know.
MR. COSTA: We’ll leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website. While you’re there, check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us and see you next time.