Why you should care
Because we may redefine what a commander-in-chief looks like … again.
The 2020 presidential campaign officially began on January 20, 2017, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when he filed the paperwork for his re-election. The rallies he’s staged across the country ever since have been designed for the campaign and in many ways are a replay of 2016, down to his outro song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones.
But in the interest of gaining more attention and focusing minds on his re-election, Trump staged a “kickoff” rally on Tuesday in Orlando, Florida. It was a show of force in a critical swing state, as well as an opportunity to make a money push that raised nearly $25 million in a single day (far more than any of his Democratic rivals raised in the first three months of the year). It also proved that Trump, like the Stones, is going to play the hits — again and again and again.
“Crooked” Hillary Clinton? Check. Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt”? You betcha.
This coming week’s pair of Democratic debates, well timed for the segregationist flare-up, will be instructive.
His tweaked re-elect slogan is “Keep America Great,” and it comes as Trump weaves his grievances together with accomplishments like passing big tax cuts and a law to allow veterans to seek out more private health care options.
Despite his declaration that Republicans have “the only positive vision for the future,” he’s always on the attack. It suits him. So he accuses Democrats of being the party of open borders, socialism and late-term abortions, but the Trump Show feels rudderless without an opponent.
And that’s the real reason the 2020 campaign kicked off this week: The Democratic primary just got real.
Former Vice President Joe Biden found himself in a five-alarm crisis after saying he worked well with segregationist Senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge in the 1970s, quipping that Eastland called him “son” instead of “boy.” So to recap, he made light of racist rhetoric as part of a nonsensical point about working across the aisle, considering that Eastland and Talmadge were Democrats. Add in the Trump-like response when Sen. Cory Booker called for an apology — “Cory should apologize” — and it was, shall we say, not a great week for Biden.
The other parallel between Trump and Biden: the anonymously sourced postgame stories about how advisers urged him not to say that thing, but he said it anyway. Another foot-in-mouth presidency may well be upon us.
Of course, we’re a long way from a President Biden — or even the Biden-Trump matchup that the president’s team seems to be most afraid of. This coming week’s pair of Democratic debates, well timed for the segregationist flare-up, will be instructive. Biden gets a favor by not being on stage with Booker or the fast-rising Elizabeth Warren, who has skewered Biden before. (The top 20 candidates have been spread out over a two-day extravaganza by the Democratic National Committee.)
But the former veep will surely have to answer for the Eastland comment while contending with a feisty Bernie Sanders from the left and a powerful generational-change argument from 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg.
It can all feel like a carnival, which is why the events toward the end of the week, when Trump said he called off an airstrike in Iran at the last minute, were sobering. As opposed to a dumb comment, he’s in a real crisis, where every word matters. Nicknames won’t play well with Ayatollah Khamenei.
Voters will have ample chance to evaluate whether any of these 20 Democrats — plus three more who didn’t make the stage — pass the commander-in-chief test. After the current Oval Office occupant has utterly redefined what “presidential” looks like, Democrats are still figuring out whether they want a classic version or to redefine the role once again.
If you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.