Feb 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Raising Bernie as Bernie rises

Trump supporters demonstrate against Sanders, April 15, 2019, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders has surged to the front of the polls ahead of Monday's Iowa caucuses. And some of Trump's political advisers say they are doing their best to help him stay there.

Behind the scenes: "We're trying to promote the rise," said a Trump adviser. "The campaign has been pumping up the national messaging behind Bernie, pushing out fundraising emails. When you attack his policies, it gets the media to talk about him."

  • The adviser said that highlighting Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, helps Trump put the whole field of Democrats under a socialist umbrella.
  • But a senior White House official told me that even if they agreed it would be nice to face Sanders in the general election, they were skeptical that the campaign had the capacity to help a Democratic candidate win. "We tried it with Pocahontas and look how that went," the official said.
  • Another senior White House official said the campaign's efforts to elevate Sanders seemed more reactive than strategic.

Between the lines: Trump advisers, including two senior White House officials, told me that elevating Sanders is far from the main reason so many Trump surrogates are going to Iowa. They want to get free media coverage. And it's working, with the Trump team's visit dominating the front page of Iowa's Des Moines Register the week before the caucuses.

  • A Trump adviser told me they plan to do the same for future Democratic primary contests.

Go deeper: Biden surrogates test electability argument ahead of Iowa clash with Sanders

Go deeper

Biden surrogates test electability argument ahead of Iowa clash with Sanders

Biden at an event in Cedar Rapids the weekend before the Iowa caucuses. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a friend and top surrogate for Joe Biden, said Sunday that if Bernie Sanders were the Democratic nominee, he'd have a "very difficult time" beating President Trump and pose a "serious" threat to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's ability to retain control of the House.

Why it matters: On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Biden surrogates are testing electability arguments against Sen. Sanders, the perceived front-runner there, while lowering expectations about how well the former vice president may do in the first contest in the nation.

Trump's Iowa caucus

Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Drake University in Des Moines, Jan. 30. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The star guest spotted at a Sheraton in Des Moines in recent days was Elizabeth Warren's golden retriever, Bailey. But in a conference room off the same hotel lobby, Trump campaign operatives have been quietly orchestrating a massive operation for tomorrow's Republican caucuses.

Why it matters: The Trump campaign is using Iowa as a testing ground for the rest of the campaign trail.

The Sanders surge shapes the Iowa caucuses

Data: Axios research; Note: (*) indicates a year where the majority was uncommitted; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

DES MOINES, Iowa — Bernie Sanders' momentum is shaping the final hours of the race to win tonight's Iowa caucuses, forcing his rivals to lower expectations and feeding the Democratic establishment's fears about what a Sanders victory could do to the party.

The state of play: Advisers to Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are already insisting that Iowa's not everything in advance of possible disappointments tonight. "We view Iowa as the beginning, not the end," Biden adviser Symone Sanders said Sunday.