ROBERT COSTA: We are less than a year away from the 2020 election, but were Tuesday’s results a bellwether for what’s to come, and what does Michael Bloomberg’s entry mean for the Democratic race? This is the Washington Week Extra.
Welcome. I’m Robert Costa. As former Vice President Joe Biden maintains his spot near the top of the Democratic field, some Democrats are increasingly questioning whether he would be viable as a nominee and standard-bearer against President Trump. And The New York Times reported this week that question(s) over Biden’s viability, they have prompted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to prepare paperwork to enter the 2020 contest. President Trump told reporters Friday that he was undaunted about the prospect of a Bloomberg run.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I’ve known Michael Bloomberg for a long time. He was really a nothing. He’s not going to do well, but I think he’s going to hurt Biden, actually. But he doesn’t have the magic to do well. Little Michael will fail.
MR. COSTA: Joining me tonight, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, congressional correspondent for The New York Times; Jeff Zeleny, senior Washington correspondent for CNN; Anita Kumar, White House correspondent and associate editor for POLITICO; and Josh Dawsey, White House reporter for The Washington Post.
We talked about the campaign. You’ve been on the campaign trail. Kentucky, big loss for Bevin but Republicans did pretty well across the rest of the state, but the suburbs seem to be the key story. And I think you can connect, Jeff, 2019 and election 2020 because suburban voters are up for grabs; Bloomberg sees them up for grabs, too.
JEFF ZELENY: No doubt about it. I mean, it is a wakeup call, another wakeup call for Republicans. It’s a continuation of the 2018 midterm elections here. I was curious what Mitch McConnell was viewing the results. Of course, he is up next year, so I checked in with a lot of his people throughout the night. They thought Bevin was going to win, actually, just narrowly; he didn’t. But all the other Republican statewide candidates won, so Bevin’s a bit of an outlier, I think. You’d be hard pressed – yes, Mitch McConnell’s going to have a tough race. I think it’s always wise to put your money on McConnell because he knows how to win elections. But overall, Republicans see a continuing of a trend, which is why the Trump campaign is doing far more than any of us know. I spent a lot of time with Trump voters and organizers this week, and they are finding all these Trump voters – you made the point earlier, a lot of Trump voters don’t come out in these off-year elections, but they want to get them out and their friends out and their family out for the 2020 election. So not great week for Republicans, but Democrats are incredibly foolish if they’re underestimating President Trump.
MR. COSTA: That’s an interesting point. Does President Trump need to be on the ballot for his voters to come out in 2020?
ANITA KUMAR: There are a lot of Trump people, Trump supporters that just support him. His campaign likes to say that his rallies are people that haven’t voted in the past or they aren’t Republicans even. Some of them might even be Democrats. So they collect this data on all these people that have RSVPed – some come, some don’t – and they say the Trump supporter is a totally different animal. It’s not your typical traditional person – Republican, and so they feel very confident that he’s in a different place than all these other people on the ballot.
JOSH DAWSEY: And a lot of them have disdain for Mitch McConnell, disdain for Republicans in Congress, and think that everyone in Washington isn’t doing enough to help the president and is secretly trying to block him. And one of the things we’re going to watch next year and I think will be fascinating is how much does the president try to run as an outsider again, how much does he try to go against Washington institutions, how much does he try to recreate that magic of 2016 of being the outside candidate? I think he will because when you talk to these Trump supporters at rallies across the country, they continue to hate Washington just as much as ever.
MR. ZELENY: Especially on the heels of impeachment. I mean, likely – if we look into our crystal balls, the House will have impeached and the Senate will likely not convict him – and he will run as an outsider, no question, and Pelosi gives him the opportunity to do that.
MR. COSTA: Well, that’s why the Democratic choice matters, because Senator Warren with Medicare for All, progressive politics, she, Democrats and her allies argue, would be a candidate for change. But then you have Vice President Biden, a seasoned Democrat, former VP. Is he a candidate for change? Could he – would that be a problem for the Democrats trying to challenge Trump on the outsider question?
SHERYL GAY STOLBERG: I don’t think Biden is a candidate for change. Biden is a candidate for the status quo. What Democrats –
MR. COSTA: That’s part of his appeal.
MS. STOLBERG: Right, of what Democrats were. That’s part of his appeal, but not to the younger, more progressive, ascendant wing of the Democratic Party, the wing of the squad, if you will, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Of course, they’ve endorsed Bernie Sanders. But, you know, progressive Democrats are hungry for somebody who will reflect their values, somebody like Elizabeth Warren or Sanders, who are willing to say that the system is rigged, that it’s corrupt, that it’s all for the millionaires and the billionaires, and we’ve got to fight for the little guy.
MR. COSTA: Let me ask a question about the House. You cover Speaker Pelosi so well. I know she has a – she’s not going to make an endorsement. But what do you think in her world, let’s say, where would she like the party to go with the nomination? She has to keep this House majority. What does she want?
MS. STOLBERG: You know, I don’t know what she wants. But I feel like she probably wants a Biden-like candidate. If you watch the way Pelosi has managed the House, this very disparate caucus, she has consistently gone to the middle. You know, Republicans will paint Nancy Pelosi as a San Francisco liberal; in San Francisco, they view Nancy Pelosi as sort of a corporate centrist pall. And so everything about Pelosi is trying to keep those ends of her base together, and that means not going too far to the left.
MR. COSTA: What about on the Republican side? If you’re going to be losing the Philadelphia suburbs in the way that they went in this past week toward the Democrats – and they went in many ways toward the Democrats in 2018 – does that mean at the White House you’re going to have to ramp up the vote in western Pennsylvania to even have a shot? And how do you do that? What’s the play?
MS. KUMAR: Well, there are a lot of people telling the president that he should take up different issues, or at least tone down the rhetoric. That’s really what it is for some of these suburban suburbs. We saw it in ’17. We saw it in ’18 and ’19. Three years now. I think Mitch McConnell last year said: This isn’t going to happen again. We’re going to fix this. Well, they didn’t fix it. This is a president who can’t stop doing those things, that rhetoric.
MR. COSTA: What about gun control? Does that have any shot at coming back up?
MS. KUMAR: Well, so the president has abandoned that, but there are some things – that and some softer language on immigration that some of his advisors feel like could help him. But the thing is, is he going to stick with that?
MR. ZELENY: The most important thing, I think, politically that happened this week was a ceremony that looked very average at the White House. It was about the judges. The conservative judiciary. President Trump’s imprint on the judiciary is so important. We don’t talk about it nearly enough. That will be the key to his reelection effort next year. No matter who –
MR. COSTA: With Evangelical voters especially.
MR. ZELENY: No matter who the Democratic nominee is, if there is an opening on the Supreme Court, which there could be, even if there’s not, this is his legacy. This is why conservatives, Evangelicals, will stick with him regardless of that. That’s why they were at the White House this week. So that’s –
MS. STOLBERG: And that’s why they’ll stick with Mitch McConnell too.
MR. ZELENY: For sure.
MS. STOLBERG: And Mitch McConnell, you know, you mentioned him before in Kentucky. His favorability ratings are always low, but he never loses.
MS. KUMAR: When you go and talk to Trump supporters at rallies and other places they mention judges and they mention a thing we never talk about, which is deregulation. This thing that is huge for Republicans and Trump people that we don’t really talk about in Washington. But I think those two things will help him.
MR. COSTA: Final thoughts, Josh, as a student of the president, a great reporter?
MR. DAWSEY: Well, I think all of these things are right. And I think the president will continue to stoke cultural wars in 2020 as well. One of the things that you realize when you leave Washington and you go out to these rallies are the things we don’t even talk about that much here that the president’s pushing, that the president’s talking about to them. For us, it might be a quick comment that we barely pick up on. But outside of the – outside of Washington, I think they see, a lot of his voters, see him as a cultural warrior. And I think that will continue.
I think if you take a pretty conservative agenda, which the president has accomplished a good bit of, and you mark it with his fighter status, I agree with what Jeff said. I mean, it would be foolish to write this guy off.
MR. COSTA: That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra.
MS. STOLBERG: (Laughs.) Well said.
MR. COSTA: You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website. While you’re online, check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.