ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa.
Let’s pick up our discussion from the broadcast on 2020. Tomorrow Nevada will hold its caucuses and become one of the first states to have their say in the Democratic primary process, followed by South Carolina’s primary next Saturday.
Joining me here is Elisabeth Bumiller, assistant managing editor and Washington bureau chief for The New York Times; Shannon Pettypiece, senior White House reporter for NBC News Digital; Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios; and joining us from Las Vegas, Laura Barron-Lopez, national political reporter for POLITICO.
Laura, can you hear us out there in Vegas?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: I got you loud and clear.
MR. COSTA: I appreciate you being here and staying with us for the Extra. We finished the broadcast by talking about what you’re looking for in the caucuses. What are the campaigns talking about out there as they look ahead not only to Nevada on Saturday, but South Carolina on February 29th?
MS. BARRON-LOPEZ: South Carolina is going to be big, especially for someone like former Vice President Joe Biden. He needs to do well there. He needs to do well in Nevada, but he also needs to do well in South Carolina if he’s going to keep his campaign alive. But also, the talk here on the ground so much from the campaigns is about Michael Bloomberg, the looming force that he is in the Super Tuesday states, and there’s talk that maybe he’s actually helping Sanders by running because he’s been weakening Biden. And there’s also talk of whether or not this reaches a contested convention because of the added factor of Bloomberg.
MR. COSTA: When you covered Mayor Bloomberg, Jonathan, you spent time with him, his team. What was your impression of how this campaign is operating and how they’re going to handle the adversity at this moment politically speaking?
JONATHAN SWAN: The debate performance in some days did not surprise me because he’s running a very pristine, in some ways vacuum-sealed campaign. It’s all heavily controlled. It’s heavily staffed, very professional, has a corporate feel to it. He’s been avoiding serious, tough sit-down television interviews, and it’s all done on his terms. It’s all beautifully laid out, perfectly produced, mayor after mayor comes out to endorse him. One thing I picked up that surprised me – maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did – was when I talked to voters who were at the events – you know, I traveled with him through Los Angeles – and one thing I heard again and again – and these are from, you know, Democrats who are hardcore Democrats who are skeptical about the field, looking for someone to beat Trump – I asked them, you know, what do you think about the fact that he’s a billionaire? And I expected them to, you know, be horrified. They said, we love it. We love that he’s rich. We need someone who’s really, really rich – like, we need someone who’s rich to beat Trump. And I think I saw Phil Rucker tweeted that yesterday, which is exactly what I picked up, you know, on Iowa caucuses night. So it was – it was something I heard again and again, that they need a rich guy to take on Trump.
MR. COSTA: Elisabeth.
ELISABETH BUMILLER: I mean, people in this country have never – I don’t think they really resent rich people, you know. I mean, I think they’d like to be rich themselves, and I think – I said earlier when he was asked are you sorry you made all that money, the right answer is absolutely not, you know, I worked hard for it. And then, of course, Bernie Sanders came back and said, well, your workers worked hard for it, you know – our socialist candidate here. (Laughs.) But I think – I think, you know, he had a very bad performance, but I think there were moments during that performance where you could see him sort of connecting in a weird way to Americans who, again, like a rich guy.
MR. SWAN: But sure, how are you not prepared for the question about the NDAs, the women that you’ve – I mean, really. I mean, and if you had submitted yourself to even one tough television interview, that would have been one of the questions. You would have had to have, you know, honed your answer there.
MS. BUMILLER: But what was the right answer to that question? There was –
MR. SWAN: Well, maybe the answer he’s come out with now, right? Like, yeah, sure. (Laughs.)
MS. BUMILLER: But at that point you’re not going to – you’ve decided you’re not going to release these women, so what is the right answer? There was no good – I’m not going to defend him; there was no good answer.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Well, it’s the one reason it might have been good for him to play in these earlier states because if we think back to how all of these candidates were in the first debate, the first debate was not good. Nobody was good on that Democratic stage in the first debate, really, but they’ve had a lot of practice now. I mean it’s a skill, and especially the ones like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who have been campaigning for so long they have their message and their talking points down and solid. And so that is the type of thing you get from doing Iowa and New Hampshire, as silly as Bloomberg felt would be.
MR. COSTA: Laura, when you – sorry.
MS. PETTYPIECE: Oh, no, go right ahead. Let’s see what Laura’s got to say. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: No, I was just saying, because that brought up, what is Warren – Senator Warren, does she get a bounce on the ground out there in Nevada because of how she went after Bloomberg?
MS. BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, the debate performance was considered strong by, you know, her supporters, of course, but also clearly by some voters because she got a massive fundraising boost from it. In the 20 hours after the debate, she raised at least, I believe, six million (dollars). And so that was a big boost for her and her campaign because we saw, based on the FEC reports that were released, we just had the deadline, that she was running out of cash. So was Biden, and so were some – so was Klobuchar. But she seems to have gotten a big boost from that, which can help her stay alive in states like South Carolina and heading into Super Tuesday.
On the note about her performance in the debate, she – by her supporters – this has been the Warren that everyone has wanted to be unleashed for so long. This is who she actually is, the person who went after Bloomberg aggressively and also name-checked all the other candidates on the stage, including Sanders. And they were frustrated that up until this point she had been advised not to take that route, and not to be her full self. So we’re seeing – and maybe it’s too little too late – but more of an embrace of actually who she is in these final days leading up to the Nevada caucus.
MR. SWAN: She’s also given up on the, you know, let’s be perfectly principled here. She’s basically said, yeah, super PACs, yeah, come on, why not? (Laughter.) And you know, she said that – you know, she’s hitting Bernie now. She said you know, we don’t want somebody – you know, I don’t want be a president that just shouts at people. So she sort of said, you know, these lines that she drew early on, you know, what have I got to lose.
MS. BUMILLER: One little point about the shouting. We’ve got – if we have Bernie and Trump we’ve got two candidates who are bellowing at us from –
MR. COSTA: All these New Yorkers. (Laughter.) You covered city hall.
MS. PETTYPIECE: I would just add real quick, I do think Buttigieg might have been one of the winners of this debate, because he is back under the radar. And when for a few moments it looked like he was the frontrunner and he was taking it from all sides, and they piled on. Now everyone kind of forgot about him, and they have stepped back. And he was able to get his message out there without taking any fire.
MR. COSTA: He also had some – a tussle with Senator Klobuchar on stage.
MS. PETTYPIECE: That’s true. Yes, that’s true. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: But, Laura, final thought from you in Las Vegas about Mayor Buttigieg. You think about South Carolina, has he made any inroads with African American voters ahead of that critical contest?
MS. BARRON-LOPEZ: Polling right now still shows Biden and Sanders – it seems as though Sanders has made more inroads in Biden’s black support. That’s followed by Steyer and then Buttigieg and Warren. So he’s ticked up a tiny bit in states like South Carolina, but again, after Nevada, it’s only week till South Carolina, and then after that only three days until the Super Tuesday states. So again, it remains to be seen whether or not he’s going to make the inroads he needs to with communities of color.
MR. COSTA: Any final thoughts?
MR. SWAN: No, I just think, you know, back to thing we were talking about before, about being battletested, you know, you have a moment like that, 19 million people were watching. He might – he could have had a bad interview, you know, on Saturday television where he got beat up and they said, well, heck, maybe we should deal with these women that, you know, seem to be a bit of a problem. But, no, he decided to keep himself vacuum-sealed until the big stage comes up, and then –
MR. COSTA: But did you say – I think it was you, Elisabeth, who said he has all these advertisements. And you can’t turn on TV now without seeing a Bloomberg advertisement.
MS. BUMILLER: Mike will get it done, I know.
MR. COSTA: And what really matters in the eyes of voters who watch TV? They may see those ads more than they see clips about that debate in the long run.
MS. BUMILLER: That’s true. And I still – (laughs) – you know, I do think, though, that he needed practice. And he – I thought a lot of times he looked like he was kind of bored up there, like I can’t believe I have to do this, this sort of disdain that, you know, why am I here? So that came across, I think, unfortunately. (Laughs.)
MS. PETTYPIECE: I would just say meanwhile in Trump world, the money was pouring in this week. He raised $24 million in five days. He had three rallies. He had a great time at the rallies. It was like vintage 2015-2016 Trump. And even at the end of the rally today he said: I’m having such a great time. I feel bad I have to go back to Washington. So Trump in main campaign mode, just cruising along right now.
MR. COSTA: Thank you all here at the table, and thank you, Laura, for joining us. Best of luck at the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.
MS. BARRON-LOPEZ: Thank you.
MR. COSTA: And that’s it for this edition of our Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website. While you’re there, check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. And see you next time.