The Memo: What Trump’s barbs say about 2020 Dems

The Memo: What Trump’s barbs say about 2020 Dems
© Anna Moneymaker - Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE is turning his fire on potential Democratic presidential candidates, a sign that he is looking beyond November’s midterm elections toward his own reelection campaign in 2020.

Democrats, meanwhile, are starting to jockey for position. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden VP race is highly fluid days before expected pick Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package MORE (D-Mass.) said on Saturday that she would “take a hard look” at the presidential race once the midterms were over.


What Trump has said about possible opponents offers plenty of intriguing clues as to how he sees their potential strengths and weaknesses against him.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Biden clarifies comments comparing African American and Latino communities Kanye West may have missed deadline to get on Wisconsin ballot by minutes: report MORE

What Trump says: “We call him ‘1 Percent Biden.’ … Until Obama took him off the trash heap, he couldn’t do anything.” (Trump rally, Johnson City, Tenn., Monday.)

Trump’s “1 percent” remark appears to be a derisive reference to Biden’s showing in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. The then-senator exited the race after the Iowa caucuses, where he indeed scored just 1 percent support.

Biden is vulnerable to the charge that he has never quite measured up to expectations. A 1988 presidential bid also ran aground amid allegations of plagiarism.

But it’s telling that Trump targets Biden so fiercely.

Biden backers rue that former President Obama’s vice president stood aside in 2016, since they believe he might have been able to maintain the traditional Democratic “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that crumbled with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump touts economic agenda in battleground Ohio The Memo: Campaigns gird for rush of early voting Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat MORE at the top of the ticket.

Biden has also performed well in early polls of Democratic contenders — though this may be a function of his high name-recognition more than anything else.

Biden’s age would be an issue in 2020 — he is three years older than Trump — as would his image as a fully fledged member of the political establishment.

Trump also referred to Biden on Monday as “a real genius,” apparently in sarcastic reference to some past positions that could be used against the former VP, such as his support for the Iraq War.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

What Trump says: “[Democrats] have moved so far left that ‘Pocahontas’ is considered a conservative.”  (Trump rally, Johnson City, Tenn., Monday.)

Also: “You know, I was watching, during the campaign, and Hillary [Clinton] was sitting right there, and ‘Pocahontas’ was up, she was so angry, you know. I think she’s losing the audience.” (Trump rally, near Pittsburgh, March 10.) 

Trump’s racially charged nickname for Warren is an allusion to her having claimed Native American heritage during her time as an academic, preceding her political career.

Warren stands by the claim, but Trump uses it to raise broader questions about her authenticity.

If Warren runs, her first major challenge will come if 2016 candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) also runs again. The danger for both senators is that they split the progressive vote in the Democratic primary.

If Warren were to end up the nominee, she would undoubtedly enthuse the liberal base of the party — she is not, contrary to Trump’s claim, considered a conservative by any serious observer. She also showed during the 2016 campaign that she was willing to give as good as she got from Trump on Twitter and elsewhere.

But Trump’s earlier references to her purportedly angry style could presage an attack on her as out of the mainstream.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets MORE (D-N.J.)

What Trump says: “You have Cory Booker, who destroyed Newark. … And to see some of the things he wrote when he was young about women. Take a look.” (Trump rally, Johnson City, Tenn., Monday)

Newark, N.J., had plenty of troubles before Booker became mayor in 2006. But Trump’s criticism is an amped-up version of one of the most common criticisms of the New Jersey senator — that he is interested more in his own image and ambitions than in the nitty-gritty of doing the job.

In that sense, Booker suffered a self-inflicted injury — which he later tried to mend — by comparing himself to Spartacus during the confirmation hearings for Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump’s reference to women appears to be an allusion to a college newspaper article Booker wrote while at Stanford University, in which he referred to groping the breast of a woman who had kissed him at the age of 15.

But Booker’s team pushes back on Trump’s characterization, recently telling that “the entirety of the column … is in fact a direct criticism of a culture that encourages young men to take advantage of women.”

Trump could be seeking to dull Booker’s appeal to liberal activists as the “Me Too” movement continues to roil national politics.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

What Trump says: “I gotta hand it to Bernie. I saw him up there the other day, that hair getting whiter and whiter and he’s getting crazier and crazier.” (Trump rally, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Aug. 2.)

Also: “Bernie Sanders supporters have every right to be apoplectic of the complete theft of the Dem primary by Crooked Hillary!” (Twitter, Nov. 3, 2017.)

Sanders became the standard-bearer for progressives in the Democratic Party during his 2016 presidential bid.

During that period, Trump was sometimes unexpectedly sympathetic to the independent democratic socialist from Vermont — perhaps because they share a similar skepticism about free trade deals but, just as likely, because Sanders was giving Clinton a run for her money.

Sanders would be a formidable candidate again in 2020, and Trump seems to be going out of his way to paint him as beyond the pale before the Vermonter can gain momentum.

But Sanders’s backers say he could be competitive for working-class votes and that he is a more genuine agent of change than Trump.

Other candidates

There are several other potential candidates at whom Trump has not yet aimed verbal arrows.

The Hill could find no reference by Trump himself to Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden VP race is highly fluid days before expected pick Harris, Ocasio-Cortez push climate equity bill with Green New Deal roots Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Calif.), who is widely thought of as a top-tier candidate if she enters the race. The White House official Twitter account did accuse Harris of “supporting the animals of MS-13,” a criminal gang, in July. But Trump did not repeat the allegation himself, and Harris shot back.

Last year, Trump tangled with Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Progressives soaring after big primary night MORE (D-N.Y.). A December 2017 tweet that alleged she had “come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)” ignited a firestorm because it was widely interpreted — including by Gillibrand herself — as a sexual innuendo.

The furor did Gillibrand no harm with the Democratic base, especially since she stood up to the president, repeating her call for him to resign given the number of women who have accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior, including sexual assault.

Trump has jabbed at least one other potential presidential candidate.

In February, he apparently took umbrage at a spate of speculation that talk show host Oprah Winfrey could run for the White House.

“Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect,” he tweeted on Feb. 18. “Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!”

The idea of another celebrity running for the White House had apparently gotten under the president’s skin.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.