Politics

Trump May Have Tipped His Hand on 2020 Democratic Foe

President appears leery of facing Biden, GOP operative says

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., watches Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrap up her speech during a rally in Washington. President Trump revealed he wants to run against one of the liberal senators in the 2020 general election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Already thinking about his 2020 re-election bid, President Donald Trump essentially dared Democratic voters Thursday evening to pick a nominee from that party’s most liberal ranks.

Trump often lets the world know his thoughts on legislation, policy decisions and foreign policy matters — either during free-wheeling political rallies or Twitter rants. That was the case during a campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, when he signaled he would prefer to run against “Pocahontas” — his racially tinged nickname for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren — or “Crazy Bernie” — his dismissive moniker for Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Both are leaders of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. And both are eyeing 2020 presidential bids. But the president seemed to use his signature nicknames for his political foes Thursday night for a larger purpose than merely getting a reaction from an arena full of “Make America Again” gear-wearing supporters.

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He sketched out how he would counter messages from a liberal Democratic nominee — and notably, he did not mention more centrist Democrats who are considering a presidential bid, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, who already has a 7-percentage point lead over Trump in a hypothetical one-on-one race, according to a new poll.

“Let’s say I’m running against ‘Pocahontas’ or ‘Crazy Bernie,’” Trump said, and then used one of his signature personal digs to try and diminish Sanders: “I’ll tell you, I gotta hand it to Bernie. I saw him up there the other day, hair getting whiter and whiter, and he’s getting crazier and crazier.”

“Crazy Bernie. He is one crazy dude,” Trump said as the crowd laughed in unison.

“So I don’t know who we’re going to run against. I don’t know,” he said, before signaling he has a progressive preference.

“But when Bernie tells [you] how wonderful things are, think of it, he wants to raise your taxes, he wants to create massive amounts of crime, he wants to open your borders. Think of it,” Trump roared. He then repeated his contested claim that his administration has overseen an economic recovery that has produced the “lowest levels of unemployment” in American history.

“How does someone fight that?” he asked before raising his arms and turning to face the audience on risers behind the stage. “Don’t forget, when I ran last time against Crooked Hillary, what happened? I had nothing like that. I said I was going to do that, but you had to take my word for it.”

Translation: Trump believes his message about the economy under his watch would blunt a progressive candidate’s focus on wages and income inequality. He added to that likely messaging by ticking off a list of other things that have happened during his tenure, like ending the 2010 health law’s individual insurance mandate and his administration’s new health care plans.

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He is giving every indication during recent public remarks that he will continue trying to fire up conservative voters by saying it was not his fault a GOP bill that would have completely repealed Barack Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment failed.

“And I had Obamacare done, except for one guy,” Trump said without naming McCain. “He came in in the middle of the night and said, ‘thumbs-down’ even though he campaigned for years on repeal and replace.”

In March, Trump accepted Biden’s invitation to a fist fight. But it’s less clear if the president is eager for an electoral brawl with the career politician Obama once described as the “scrappy kid from Scranton.

Trump appears to “know that Joe Biden is probably the one Democrat who could beat him,” one Republican strategist said.

“I don’t think he wants to run against Biden,” the GOP strategist said. “When it comes to white, educated women in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and other swing states, Trump, I think, realizes Biden would be big trouble in terms of appealing to them. … He would much rather see a Warren or a Sanders, no doubt.”

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