Donald Trump, Democratic hopefuls have eye on 2020 campaigns

October 18, 2018 GMT

The midterm campaign of 2018 is starting to look a lot like 2020.

On Saturday, President Trump will campaign for Republicans in the small town of Elko, Nevada, promoting candidates for Congress and governor. But he’s also picking up volunteers at each campaign stop this fall to work on his re-election bid.

Along the way, the president has raised more than $100 million for his campaign in 2020.

About 400 miles to the south of Mr. Trump’s rally in Nevada, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden will hold a campaign rally Saturday in Las Vegas for Democratic candidates at the local headquarters of the Culinary Workers Union. While Mr. Biden hasn’t announced his intentions for 2020, he is the early favorite of Democrats to challenge Mr. Trump.

Mr. Biden also accused Mr. Trump on Thursday of having a “love affair” with authoritarian leaders while criticizing how the administration has handled the investigation into the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I’m very worried that the president seems to have a love affair with autocrats,” Mr. Biden said on CBS. “And the idea that he is already making excuses before the facts are known is typical but it hurts us internationally.”

The competing rallies by Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden in a battleground state wrap up a week in which the president increasingly took aim at his potential Democratic opponents in 2020, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Clearly, the president is assessing the Democratic field.

“I have a pretty good idea who I think will emerge,” Mr. Trump said this week, declining to predict which Democrat will win the party’s nomination. He did say he believes that Mr. Bloomberg, a former Republican and independent, won’t win the nomination.

“I think the Democrats will eat him up,” the president told Fox Business’ Trish Regan. “You know, you have a lot of people running. I’m hearing names that are shockingly bad, but they’re nasty.”

Asked if he’s running in 2020, Mr. Trump replied, “Yes, 100 percent.”

The Democratic field for president is getting more crowded by the day. In addition to the possibility of Mr. Biden running again, Democrats likely to run or strongly considering it include: Ms. Warren, former Attorney General Eric H. Holder, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Mr. Bloomberg, former Secretary of State John Kerry and attorney Michael Avenatti of Stormy Daniels fame, as well as Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent.

“It’s going to be big and messy,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a Trump ally. “The older people, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, have to look at this mess and say, ‘Wait a minute, if there’s this many candidates, why aren’t I running again? Why can’t I get 20 percent in these primary states?’”

Mr. Schlapp said the president’s campaign rallies are “a renewal of the popular uprising across the country.”

“Do they turn into activists come Jan. 1 for the re-election of the president?” he said. “It sure seems like that’s what’s being set up. The crowds are getting bigger. It is something to behold.”

While he’s raising money and gathering volunteers for 2020, Mr. Trump also is playing a mirthful game of whack-a-mole with his potential Democratic opponents, smacking them rhetorically one by one when they pop up as contenders.

Exhibit A is Ms. Warren, whose presidential bid might have self-destructed this week before it ever got off the ground.

The liberal lawmaker released the results of a DNA test Monday purporting that she indeed has American Indian ancestry. It was an attempt to support her past claims of having Cherokee heritage and to push back at Mr. Trump’s taunts of her as “Pocahontas.”

But upon further review, the DNA test suggested that Ms. Warren is between 1/64th and 1/1,024th American Indian, raising even more ridicule about her past claims that she was Harvard Law School’s first “woman of color.” The Cherokee Nation rebuked her, adding to the embarrassment.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted, “1/1024th does not equal 2020.”

Said Mr. Schlapp: “You see the Warren strategy was ‘every Indian for herself.’ She did what she needed to do so she could announce, I assume, immediately after the election. She wanted to get this DNA fiasco out of the way, and of course the opposite has happened.”

The president practically begged Ms. Warren to become the Democrats’ nominee.

“I hope she’s running for president because I think she would be very easy [to beat],” Mr. Trump said. “I do not think she would be difficult at all. She’ll destroy the country. She’ll make our country into Venezuela. With that being said, I don’t want to say bad things about her because I would hope that she would be one of the people that would get through the [nominating] process. It’s going to be a long process for the Democrats.”

As for Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump said recently the former vice president could never gain any traction in two bids for the Democratic nomination, in 1988 and 2008.

“We call him ‘1 percent Biden,’” Mr. Trump said. “Until [former President Barack] Obama took him off the trash heap, he couldn’t do anything.”

Mr. Biden, 75, said this week that his age is a “totally legitimate” question. He’ll be 78 in 2021; Mr. Trump, 72, will be 75 in January 2021.

Other Democrats are laying the groundwork in Iowa, which traditionally holds the nation’s first presidential caucuses. Mr. Booker and Mr. Castro already have visited the state this month; Mr. Sanders and Ms. Harris are scheduled to stump for candidates there next week.

Rep. John Delaney, Maryland Democrat who already has announced he’s running for president, also will visit Iowa later this month.

A CNN survey this week showed Mr. Biden leading all potential Democratic candidates for president with 33 percent support. The next closest was Mr. Sanders, with 13 percent; followed by Ms. Harris at 9 percent; Ms. Warren, 8 percent; Mr. Booker, 5 percent; Mr. Kerry, 5 percent; Mr. Bloomberg, 4 percent; Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, 4 percent; and Mr. Holder, 3 percent. Mr. Avenatti was among those polling at 1 percent.

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said it’s far too early to figure out who will emerge as the party’s nominee, noting that others such as liberal billionaire activist Tom Steyer still might get into the race.

“It’s too early for me to find a date,” she said on Fox News Channel. “I haven’t been courted yet. I don’t know the full team. There are a lot of people who are not on that list today.”

The increasing attention as a national candidate Mr. O’Rourke “would be hilarious if it wasn’t so irresponsible,” writes Ben Domenech, founder of The Federalist.

“He is such a clear example of the media hyping a candidate where the evidence of his potential for success is so out of sync with the amount of attention he receives,” Mr. Domenech wrote in The Transom newsletter. “The hype machine is so great around this very average white male candidate that he may well have the potential to join the 2020 stakes or be a potential VP selection. That’s how crazily overhyped this fellow is.”

Gabriella Munoz contributed to this report.