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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The most telling split among 2020 Democratic hopefuls won’t be over policy, but whether to match President Trump's scorched-earth tactics, top Democrats tell Jonathan Swan and me.

"The key question is: How crazy will Trump make us?" asked a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns. "How far out there will you go to be like Trump?"

The two camps:

  • The "responsible restorationists" will say: As soon as Trump’s gone, we should go back to the way things were. Their campaign style will reflect Michelle Obama's famous line: "When they go low, we go high."
  • Instead, the "ruthless radicals" will say: Screw the old rules. When they go low, "hit harder," as Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti put it during his 2020 water-testing appearances.

Avenatti, and senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, are in the more aggressive camp:

  • Avenatti says Democratic candidates for 2020 must commit to expanding the Supreme Court bench to 11 seats to pack the court with Democrats.
  • Booker had his “I am Spartacus” moment at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing.
  • And Warren recently told CNN the 25th amendment should be used to remove Trump from office if his senior officials don't think he can do his job.

The restorationists could include candidates like Michael Bloomberg, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

  • Joe Biden is a traditionalist but has flirted with Trumpian language, saying in 2016 that if they were in high school, he would’ve taken Trump “behind the gym and beat the hell out of him” for demeaning women.

Scott Pastrick — president of Prime Policy Group, former DNC treasurer under Bill Clinton, and longtime adviser to Democratic presidential candidates — said : “You’ve got this divide between people who want to govern and be more measured, ... and another side that’s hellbent on breaking china."

  • "It’s the activist base, the screamers, looking to do whatever they can to push back on Trump and demonstrate that they are ideologically pure. And I’m afraid that this is going to drive us right into extinction.”

A strategist for one of the 2020 candidate told me this calibration will be tough: Primary voters hunger for "someone to descend to Trump's tactics." But general-election voters are more likely to prefer "a hopeful message about making government boring again."

Be smart: Whichever course a candidate favors, it has to be genuine. As a longtime Democratic operative told me: "Hillary tried to go high but then went low, and no one bought it."

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Go deeper

Updated 22 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.

Australian Open organizers reverse "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirt ban

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai during the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: Bai Xue/Xinhua via Getty Images

Australian Open organizers on Tuesday reversed a ban on t-shirts supporting Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai following widespread criticism.

Why it matters: Tennis Australia's announcement came less than 24 hours after the governing body defended the decision to ask fans last Friday to remove "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirts, citing ticket policy prohibiting political clothing, per the BBC.

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