With just over 300 days until Iowa’s caucuses and more than a dozen Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination, it can all feel like a little much.
So here’s our attempt to simplify it: Every Sunday night, Chris Cillizza will outline 5 BIG storylines you need to see to understand the week to come on the 2020 campaign trail. Subscribe to The Point’s daily newsletter, as well as the new 2020 edition, here.
5. It’s Green! It’s New! It’s a Deal!: Here are two true things: 1) Republicans control the Senate and 2) LOTS of Democratic senators are running for president. Combine them and you see that Mitch McConnell – the Senate Majority Leader – can make life uncomfortable for all of his Democratic colleagues with their eyes on the White House.
Phase one of that Republican effort begins this week, when McConnell will bring the “Green New Deal” – the pet proposal of liberals like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that would overhaul the country’s energy and transportation infrastructures in the country in service of addressing the urgent crisis of climate change.
The proposal is regarded by Republicans – and even some Democrats – as the sort of massively expensive, pie-in-the-sky proposal that the average American dislikes about liberals. But the likes of Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are all publicly supportive of it. So, McConnell’s going to make them go on the record, in hopes of softening them up if they are the 2020 Democratic nominee.
4. Trump rallies post-Mueller: MUCH more on what the Mueller report means for the 2020 Democrats below, but on Thursday, we’ll get the first extended look at President Donald Trump in a purely campaign setting when he rallies in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Even before Mueller’s report was in, Trump would often spend long stretches of his campaign speeches attacking the report and insisting it was all “fake news.” And, in the immediate aftermath of Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress summarizing the findings of the Mueller report, Trump signaled he is likely to continue his assault on Mueller – even after the report largely proved a lack of collusion.
“It was just announced there was no collusion with Russia, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Trump told reporters Sunday afternoon. “There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction. And none whatsoever.” (The obstruction question is not at all as clear as Trump makes it; Mueller’s report said that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”)
Thursday is likely to bring some MAJOR fireworks.
3. Booker’s moment?: The New Jersey senator is among the most charismatic candidates in the field, but has struggled to date to find a moment to stand out in front of a national audience. His best chance for such a moment comes Wednesday in Orangeburg, South Carolina, when Booker will be the featured guest in a CNN-sponsored town hall hosted by Don Lemon.
What I’m waiting to see – and maybe this will be the time – is whether Booker has (or needs) more of a message beyond “we need to be nicer to each other.” The argument for positivity in a very negative time does have appeal but is it enough for a Democratic base that is deeply angry about the direction Trump has led the country and wants someone to fight back as hard as possible?
2. $$$: This is the last week of the first fundraising quarter and, by the end of the week, some of the candidates will likely be announcing their cash totals for the first three months of the year. And money, whether you like it or not, remains one of the critical measures of support – especially in a field this crowded.
Expect BIG numbers out of Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke – given that they both raised around $6 million in their first 24 hours as candidates. Harris, too, should perform well, given her roots in California, a massive Democratic donor state, and the fact that she spent much of the first part of the year (including right now) as one of the early favorites for the nomination.
One person to keep a very close eye on? South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is enjoying a bump of momentum in the final weeks before the end of the quarter. Last week, Buttigieg’s campaign sent out an appeal to raise $500,000 before March 31. He raised it in 24 hours.
1. Mueller, Mueller, Mueller!: Every 2020 candidate has already staked out one very clear position on special counsel Robert Mueller’s now-completed investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election: The report must be released to the public – and soon. Some have called on Mueller to testify in front of Congress about his findings, too; Harris went a step further, calling on Attorney General Bill Barr to testify since he is the one in charge of interpreting and releasing what Mueller has delivered to him.
The Mueller report, as summarized by Barr, poses something of a challenge for 2020 Democrats. Collusion is now off the board, which would have been as close to a silver bullet to end Trump’s chances at a second term as we have seen in modern politics.
Short of that, 2020 Democrats will now almost certainly focus on the fact that Mueller made clear in his report that his unwillingness to indict Trump on obstruction of justice charges did not constitute an “exoneration.” Already, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) is signaling that he will call Barr to testify before Congress on “the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report.”
There will continue to be that sort of one-upsmanship among the 2020 contenders as they seek to be the person who most ardently defended Mueller and sought to prosecute – figuratively, not literally – Trump and his inner circle.
The big question: How much, exactly, will voters care or vote on the Mueller report – especially since it didn’t produce the collusion evidence so many Democrats expected? Yes, Democratic voters want Trump out. But do they believe it will happen before 2020, when they have a chance to vote him out? And will they vote for the candidate that is the most most vociferous in his or her criticism of Trump vis a vis Mueller? Stay tuned!