Feb 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Democratic disarray, dysfunction

A tree stump painted in a Des Moines front yard. Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP

This was the worst week for Democrats since Donald Trump’s election-night shocker of 2016.

Why it matters: In less than 200 hours, Democrats botched Iowa, watched Trump hit an all-time popularity high, debated ousting the DNC chair, and watched a socialist soar and an ideological civil war intensify.

  • Axios' Margaret Talev reports from New Hampshire that amid real enthusiasm at candidate rallies, there's an underlying unease about unifying the party enough to get the kind of turnout needed to win in November.

What we're hearing: There's a new fatalism in my conversations with Democrats, with many telling me that what once seemed unthinkable — Trump's re-election in November — is now starting to look more likely than ever.

  • In a CNN segment this morning that included Friday's rosy economic statistics, a graphic asked: "IS TRUMP'S RE-ELECTION PATH WIDENING?"
  • This is all the more galling to Democrats because they believe he truly sees himself "above the law," as House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted Friday night, after Trump's impeachment acquittal.

Reality check: A New York Times live fact-check blog on Trump's State of the Union address on Tuesday came up with 8 statements labeled "misleading," 7 "lacks"/"needs context," 6 "false," 5 "true," 4 'exaggerated," 3 "mostly true," 2 "partly true," 1 "weighted but mostly true" and 1 "lacks evidence."

  • The entries became shorthand for how Democrats see the presidency.

Between the lines: Talk to well-wired Republicans and they'll tell you Trump is fully capable of self-sabotage — that enough exhausted voters will finally say: "Just make it stop." But here's why Dems are apoplectic about the terrain:

  • In the Gallup poll this week that put Trump at 49% approval, a record for his presidency, just 1% had no opinion — leaving few persuadables.
  • Whoever is ultimately nominated will start in a tremendous hole against a Trump campaign has been relentlessly organized and optimized over the past three years. Axios' Sara Fischer has documented how the Trump campaign is mastering Facebook and Google ads.
  • The constant Trump rallies serve as an ongoing dry run for Election Day, with eye-popping metrics.

What's next: Recriminations over the botched count of the Iowa caucuses are continuing into a second week. Rep. James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in the House, told C-SPAN "Newsmakers" (via AP):

  • "There are some serious discussions taking place here on Capitol Hill as to what ought to happen at the DNC."
  • Asked whether DNC chair Tom Perez must go, Clyburn said: "That's a decision for him."

P.S. Changing tides:

  • WashPost, Oct. 28: "'It feels like a horror movie': Republicans feel anxious and adrift defending Trump," by Robert Costa and Phil Rucker.
  • WashPost, yesterday: "'Tempted to despair': Trump’s resilience causes Democrats to sound the alarm," by Robert Costa and Phil Rucker.

Go deeper

Why Trump is very beatable

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

There is a growing sense among top Republicans and Democrats that President Trump is stronger than ever and very hard to beat this fall, but several data points suggest otherwise.

Why it matters: Amid record-high stock markets and record-low joblessness, Trump trails almost every 2020 Democrat nationally, and is in a statistical tie in swing-state polls.

Key takeaways from Trump's State of the Union address

Speaker Pelosi reacts to having her handshake snubbed by President Trump, as Vice President Mike Pence looks on. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

An impeached President Trump struck a defiant and hyperbolic tone in his third State of the Union address on Tuesday night, a day before he's set to be acquitted by the Senate.

Inside the room: Tension permeated the House chamber from the outset. Trump snubbed a handshake from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only to be met with a retaliatory slight of his own when Pelosi failed to apply the honorific language typically used to introduce presidents at joint sessions of Congress.

Trump misrepresents 2020 Russia briefing as Democratic "misinformation"

Photo: Mazza/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

President Trump said in a Friday tweet that a briefing by a top election-security official before the House Intelligence Committee last week on Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2020 election was a "misinformation campaign ... launched by Democrats in Congress."

Why it matters: Trump, who was reportedly infuriated by the event, has made moves in recent days to ensure that administration jobs are held by those loyal to him — notably at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which led the briefing despite Trump's assertion that it was headed by congressional Democrats.