The Trailer: Mark Sanford is a Tea Party candidate in a Trump party

In this edition: Mark Sanford’s lonely quest for the presidency, the fight over the Working Families Party’s endorsement, and why a Democratic congressman is bashing the “squad.”

This week marks one full year of this newsletter; believe it or not, most of the Democratic presidential primary is probably behind us. The next year is going to be even more fun, and if it isn’t, we’ll at least have each other. This is The Trailer.

with reporting by Chris Dixon in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Monday morning, Mark Sanford stood outside South Carolina’s capitol, accompanied by a cardboard cutout of President Trump, some reporters and not much else. No passersby stopped to hear the man who’d governed their state for eight years as he explained why he was running for president.

“Do we stand for the kind of debt that we’re running up now?” Sanford asked. “Do we stand for the tariffs, which are backdoor tax increases that are now being contemplated? Do we stand for the breakdown of some of the institutions? Do we stand for some of the tone that the president has laid out? Are those the things that describe what it means to be a Republican?”

Of the three Republicans challenging the president in next year’s primaries – the others are former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld and former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh – Sanford, 59, is the only one who’d ever gotten White House buzz. Ten years ago, as governor of South Carolina, he tried to reject $700 million in economic stimulus funds, a defining early moment for what would become the tea party movement. Sanford was one of the GOP’s most vocal fiscal hawks — until his prominence declined with a June 2009 admission that he was carrying on an affair with an Argentine TV reporter. 

Ten years later, Sanford’s party had rebuilt its identity around Trump, who embraced the fiscal policies that the tea party had allegedly despised — deficit spending and browbeating the Federal Reserve. Trump’s Republican Party had even canceled the 2020 South Carolina primary, which means that if Sanford does catch on, his home state’s voters won’t even get a chance to support him.

Sanford’s response has been to plow ahead. His first full day of campaigning took him to four cities, from the conservative upstate to a Democratic campaign rally near Myrtle Beach. At each stop, he lit into the president (“the king of debt”) and answered questions from the media — among them, whether the party had moved so far from his ideals that he would quit it to run as a libertarian. After all, Trump had endorsed his 2018 primary opponent on Election Day, then taken credit when Sanford lost his Charleston-area House seat. (The Republican primary winner lost to a Democrat in November.)

“I’ve put a lot of time and energy into the Republican Party,” Sanford said. “I was chair of the Republican Governor’s Association. I was a two-term governor. I spent 12 years in the House of Representatives as a Republican. Again, I think we need to have a debate over what it means to be a Republican.” 

To Democrats, and to Trump himself, the president’s takeover of the Republican Party revealed what the tea party had been about from the outset. Out of necessity — George W. Bush’s presidency had wiped out the GOP in both chambers of Congress and most states — it rebranded conservatism as a movement of concerned citizens worried that government would swallow whole industries and send the country into a debt crisis. 

Libertarian donors like the Koch brothers directed the new energy into groups such as Americans for Prosperity and condemned the old GOP for allowing government spending to spin out of hand. By 2011, newly elected Republican governors were turning down federal money and newly elected Republican members of Congress were using a vote on the debt limit to force the Obama administration into spending cuts.

But even at the time, research showed that the funders of tea party organizing didn’t share the values of the activists, or even most of their politicians. Fear of generational change and unchecked immigration of a less-white America — was more salient, among activists, than worry about the federal debt. The Trump administration has brought back $1 trillion yearly deficits, with only a little opposition from the Republican base, because he has delivered on the bigger agenda of borders and culture. Sanford’s former colleagues in Congress have suggested that Trump would cut spending in a second term, an idea no longer taken seriously by the base.

“They always do that,” said Lee Bright, a former South Carolina state legislator who had embraced the tea party movement and endorsed libertarian favorites Ron and Rand Paul in their presidential bids. “Spending and deficits are always bad when Democrats do it, then Republicans come back and they do it, too. In 2010 we were told that they needed the House and the Senate and the White House to cut spending. We got all that and we didn’t cut spending.”

Joe Dugan, the leader of the South Carolina Tea Party coalition, said that Sanford had been a “one-trick pony on fiscal discipline” — but also that he agreed with him. “This story doesn’t have a happy ending,” said Dugan, referring to the debt-to-GDP ratio.

But asked who was to blame for the surging deficit, Dugan blamed congressional Republicans who did not use the first two years of Trump’s presidency to cut spending. Sanford, he said, would have been more effective had he “used the back door” to lobby Trump instead of becoming such a public critic. And when the Tea Party coalition holds its convention in Greenville next year, Sanford probably wouldn’t be welcome. 

“Just because somebody says they’re going to run for president, it doesn’t give them right to dictate who gives them a forum,” said Dugan, who fully supports a second Trump term. “We have outstanding speakers from all over the world, and he doesn’t rate.” 

As a candidate, Sanford argues that Republicans really are serious about cutting spending and that the president’s dissembling on the issue gives him an opening. “He was the guy who said if you elect me, I’ll eliminate the debt over the eight years that I might be in office,” Sanford said, an accurate paraphrase of Trump’s campaign promises. “His support is a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Asked why more Republicans weren’t at his campaign events, Sanford said that he had been getting plenty of encouragement, especially when he went to last Saturday’s University of South Carolina football game. On Monday, Sanford didn’t find much in-person support until he arrived at the Galivants Ferry Stump, where a half-dozen Democrats were speaking and where Republicans didn’t expect to see him.

Mike McArdle, 53, said he was pleased to run into Sanford at Galivants Ferry but planned to support the president again. 

“I admire the guy and I’m glad he might want to do it,” McArdle said of Sanford. “But I think it’s pointless. I think people like Trump for the most part. I think he’s doing a good job. And that’s not to take anything away from Sanford. But I don’t think there’s any reason to jump ship and change leadership now.” 

Noah Barker, an 18-year-old student at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., thanked Sanford for giving him a citizenship award when he was 7 years old. Baker, who came from a long line of Republicans, was at the Ferry Stump to support former vice president Joe Biden. But Sanford had won his respect.

“When he had an extramarital affair, he stood up in front of the people of South Carolina and said, ‘I’m sorry I did this, it was a mistake,’ ” Barker said. “Trump doesn’t have that capability. There’s something in his brain that doesn’t tell him, this is wrong. That’s one reason I really like the governor. I’m a Democrat, but I’m mainly a Democrat because Trump is the leader of the Republican Party.”

Before Joe Biden took the stage, Sanford said that his own warm reception was not a big surprise. He was not getting specific comments about fiscal policy, his stated reason for challenging Trump, and his driving motivation to stay in politics. He was mostly meeting people who felt politically adrift and alienated, for whatever reason, from Trump.

“There’s a lot of cross-pollinating in South Carolina,” he said. “We’ve become too tribal in our approach to politics. Just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you’re my enemy.” 

He was interrupted mid-sentence by Carole Pillinger, a 64-year-old retired physician from Murrells Inlet who was supporting Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota for president.

“If you can run against Trump, I’ll vote for you,” she said. “I mean it. I wish you well. He screwed you over bad.”

“Well, you’re very kind,” Sanford said. 

But unless the South Carolina Republican Party relented, Pillinger would not actually get a chance to vote for Sanford. On Thursday, Sanford would head to New Hampshire, which is not canceling its GOP contest. Pillinger, in South Carolina, would continue looking for the most acceptable candidate to replace Trump.

“I’m a moderate,” said Pillinger. “I have no party. I have nowhere to go.”

READING LIST

“Kamala Harris grew up in a mostly white world. Then she went to a black university in a black city,” by Robin Givhan

The story of the senator’s years at Howard University, which were initially seen as a strength in this primary.

“In New Mexico rally, Trump makes a direct appeal to Hispanic voters,” by Philip Rucker and Reis Thebault

What brought the president to a state where he barely won 40 percent of the vote?

“Biden has deep connection to black voters. Will it translate into votes?” by Katie Glueck

Democrats are less and less surprised by how much black voters are willing to see past his flubs.

“Warren, before huge NYC crowd, touts herself as an heir to female pioneers,” by Annie Linskey, Amy B Wang and Cleve Wootson Jr.

From the scene of the latest mega-rally.

“Good at math? Work hard? Some Asian Americans bristle at Andrew Yang’s use of stereotypes,” by Amy B Wang

The candidate who ends every speech with a self-deprecating Asian joke has irritated some Asian American voters.

DEMS IN DISARRAY

The Working Families Party started as a left-wing electoral force in New York and expanded over the years into a coalition of grass-roots organizers — state-by-state campaigners for left-wing candidates and ballot measures. In 2015, the WFP endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, after 87 percent of its members asked it to, leading Sanders to praise it as “the closest thing there is to a political party that believes in my vision of democratic socialism.” And it was a happy marriage, boosting Sanders in the primary while bringing more energy and attention to the growing WFP.

But on Monday, the party endorsed Elizabeth Warren after a mixed voting process that included an online ballot for party members and an online vote for 50 members of the WFP’s national committee. “The two highest vote-getters were Sen. Warren with 60.91 percent of the vote, and 35.82 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.),” the party announced. (Sanders is an independent who caucuses with Democrats.) “More than 80 percent of voters listed Warren and Sanders as their top two picks.”

At first, Warren’s majority was the story; the WFP’s instant-runoff system, in which the second choices of members would be ranked and added up, didn’t even come into play. But supporters of Sanders began to focus on the opaque way party leaders and party members’ votes were calculated. The dozens of leaders’ votes counted for half the total; so did the tens of thousands of party members’ votes. And the WFP would not release the individual votes, stoking speculation that members had supported Sanders but that a lopsided vote by leaders gave it to Warren.

“For there to be one true vote, and to maintain the nature of secret ballot, all of that went into the back end,” said WFP National Director Maurice Mitchell, explaining why the party would not reveal more about the numbers.

That did nothing to quiet down the complaints. Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa tweeted that he’d “heard the board got a signal from big donors that those donors would only fund a WFP [independent expenditure] if it was for Warren,” an allegation the WFP denied.

“It’s totally false, and it makes no sense,” said Joe Dinkin, who manages the WFP’s independent expenditure arm.

Videos of Mitchell’s appearance on CNN were deluged with angry comments from Sanders supporters, comparing a clip of him praising Warren for policies supported by both him and Sanders to a “hostage video.” The socialist magazine Jacobin wrote that the WFP, by not supporting Sanders, had talked itself into political impotence.

“The Sanders base isn’t going away, whatever the election results next year,” Jacobin editors Bhaskar Sunkara and Micah Uetricht argued. “The future of progressive politics lies with them. The Working Families Party has waited decades for that future, but the party may have just written itself out of it.”

While the WFP has remained tight-lipped about the process, people familiar with the vote point to a few factors that helped Warren. First, Warren personally spoke to at least a dozen members of the national committee; the Sanders campaign would not say whether the senator from Vermont made the same personal outreach. Second, Warren allies, like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, repeatedly urged members to look for the WFP ballot — it cost nothing to sign up to vote — while Sanders allies did less. And third, while the Sanders campaign tapped Analilia Mejia to be its national political director this year, her ties to the New Jersey branch of the WFP — she used to run it — did not move votes.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, the Sanders campaign was asking the WFP to explain its vote. “We respect the result of the WFP’s endorsement process, but we do believe they should release the final tally of both the board vote and the member vote, as they did in 2015,” said Sanders communications adviser Mike Casca. “The inconsistency and lack of transparency is creating unnecessary division.”

“All the candidates were clear on our process before it began,” Dinkin said. “Our process intentionally blended direct and representative democracy that engaged and energized people across the country. We make no apology for that.”

AD WATCH

Joe Biden, “Family.” A new digital ad, targeted to “parents of new families in Iowa” consists mostly of average people playing with children, followed by an image of Biden embracing Barack Obama. “Every family deserves to have good health care from day one,” a narrator says. “Let’s build on Obamacare and finish the job.”

Michael Bennet, “Most” and “Truth.” The senator from Colorado’s first presidential campaign spots emphasize his opposition to Medicare-for-all, without actually using those three words. “I’ll get everyone covered with a public option or the coverage they have,” he says in the semi-biographical “Most.” In the companion spot, he warns that “a health-care plan that starts by kicking people off their coverage makes no sense.” It’s part of Bennet’s difficult balancing act: to become the candidate of “truth telling” by arguing for big but incremental changes to the status quo.

Thom Tillis, “Warrior.” One of the only Republican senators facing a primary challenge in 2020, Tillis gives over his first TV ad entirely to the president, with footage from one of his recent North Carolina rallies. “Democrats support deadly sanctuary cities which release violent criminal aliens onto our streets,” Trump says, referring to Tillis’s legislation that would make sanctuary cities liable if undocumented immigrants commit crimes, as an image of Democratic presidential candidates raising their hands appears on-screen. (The question that got them raising hands was actually whether they would allow undocumented immigrants to access Medicare.) Like ads in the just-concluded race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, this one warns that Democrats would allow cities to duck compliance with ICE, something sheriffs can do without official “sanctuary” status. 

POLL WATCH

New York Democratic presidential primary (Siena, 359 registered Democrats)

Joe Biden — 22%
Elizabeth Warren — 17%
Bernie Sanders — 15%
Kamala Harris — 4%
Pete Buttigieg — 3%
Amy Klobuchar — 1%
Tulsi Gabbard — 1%
Andrew Yang — 1%

The Empire State just approved the date of its 2020 primary: April 28. And despite the passage of election restructuring bills by the new Democratic state Senate, voters who want to change parties to vote in that primary have to do so by the middle of next month. For that reason, polling “registered Democrats” captures an electorate that could change slightly; at the moment, there is much less locked-in support for the polling leader than there was in 2008 or 2016. Biden’s lead comes from older voters, black voters and voters making less than $50,000 per year; in the past two competitive New York primaries, those voters backed Hillary Clinton.

But Biden’s support in those demographics tops out at 32 percent, and while he does best with New York City voters, Warren wins suburban voters and union households — demographics that also stuck with Clinton in the 2016 primary. If there’s a reason to be skeptical of the crosstabs, it’s that just 4 percent of Jewish voters support Bernie Sanders, the most electorally successful Jewish politician in American history.

2020 Democratic primary (WSJ-NBC, 506 registered voters)

First choice
Joe Biden — 31% ( 5)
Elizabeth Warren 
— 25% ( 6)
Bernie Sanders 
14% ( 1)
Pete Buttigieg 
 7% ( 0)
Kamala Harris 
5% (-8)
Andrew Yang 
4% ( 2)
Amy Klobuchar 
2% ( 1)
Cory Booker 
2% ( 1)
Beto O’Rourke — 1% (-1)
Tulsi Gabbard — 1% ( 1)
John Delaney — 1% ( 0)
Tom Steyer  1% ( 1)
Michael Bennet 
1% ( 0)
Bill de Blasio 
1% ( 1)
Julián Castro 
1% ( 0)

Second choice

Elizabeth Warren  21% ( 8)
Bernie Sanders 
16% ( 4)
Pete Buttigieg 
12% ( 4)
Joe Biden 
11% ( 1)
Kamala Harris 
8% (-6)
Beto O’Rourke 
5% ( 3)
Cory Booker 
4% ( 2)
Andrew Yang 
2% ( 1)
Tulsi Gabbard 
1% (-2)
Julián Castro 
1% (-1)

This newsletter doesn’t often get into national polling; there’s no national primary, and most of these candidates are unlikely to make it through the first month of voting. But this gets to the reason many Democrats are looking at Warren’s strength in early states, as other candidates fade or run low on cash: Increasingly, she’s the most popular second choice of Democratic primary voters, and Joe Biden, while holding a lead, has not been picking up those voters.

IN THE STATES

North Carolina. Anti-gerrymandering campaigners have won a series of victories against a Republican-friendly map, one that has prevented Democrats from controlling the state legislature even if they win more votes statewide. But on Monday, a court’s order for new maps led to most Democrats joining Republicans to approve maps that remained skewed toward the GOP — while protecting incumbents and keeping their constituencies intact. That has outraged the people who worked, spent money and sued to break the old maps.

“The map-drawing process happening right now in North Carolina is a sham,” tweeted Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, as the debate went on.

Dan Blue, the Democrats’ state Senate leader, took to Twitter to argue that the party had made a safe, short-term strategic bet.

“Redistricting reform will not happen this week,” Blue wrote. “Republicans have been clear in their opposition to independent redistricting. If we want reform and truly fair maps we have to take the majority. How do we do that? As leader, it means participating in a flawed process to advocate for progress, even if it’s not the perfect outcome. Circular firing squads, like the ones President Obama warned us of, ultimately hurt the greater cause.”

None of that has mollified campaigners, who worry that Democrats have given a future court a rationale to declare that the new maps were bipartisan. And the Charlotte Observer condemned both parties in an editorial, arguing that “the court should wrest the maps from the hands of lawmakers and either give the task to a special master or, if there’s time before 2020, allow lawmakers to pursue an independent commission.”

2020

Elizabeth Warren. She delivered an address to at least 20,000 people in New York on Monday, the largest gathering for any Democrat of the campaign so far since Kamala Harris’s campaign launch. The theme: ending “corruption” with a new regulatory regime, tying together her ideas and putting them in the stream of labor and feminist history.

Bernie Sanders. He’ll build a “Bernie beats Trump” campaign tour around the weekend’s steak fry in Des Moines.

Steve Bullock. Jeff Bridges, whose support for Bullock has been highlighted by his campaign before, tweeted a video that urged donors to get him into October’s debate.

Andrew Yang. He offered to meet with Shane Gillis, a comedian whose invitation to join Saturday Night Live was withdrawn after critics found video of him making racial slurs against Asian Americans — including one against Yang.

Amy Klobuchar. She’s launching a “blue wall tour” after her Tuesday address to Philadelphia AFL-CIO members, cutting through Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

WAIT, WHAT?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has thrown in with Marie Newman, the liberal primary challenger making her second run against antiabortion Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Already, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had backed Newman, who won over several liberal members of Congress in her 2018 race. But Ocasio-Cortez was the first Lipinski colleague, in this cycle, to call for his defeat.

“The fact that a deep blue seat is advocating for many parts of the Republican agenda is extremely problematic,” Ocasio-Cortez told the New York Times. “We’re not talking about a swing state that is being forced to take tough votes.”

Lipinski’s Chicagoland district, drawn for him by fellow Democrats eight years ago, is very safe; Donald Trump won just 39.9 percent of the vote there in 2016 and Republicans failed to find a real challenger to him in 2018, allowing a neo-Nazi activist to fall into their nomination. But Lipinski’s response to Ocasio-Cortez hit her from the right, arguing that Illinois did not need a left-wing “squad” member representing it in Congress.

“Ms. Newman’s support of the so-called ‘Medicare-for-all’ plan, which has no resemblance to Medicare, would hurt 3rd District residents by taking away private health insurance from 170 million Americans and eliminating Medicare for seniors,” Lipinski said. (Medicare-for-all would expand the program, not eliminate it, for seniors.) “AOC’s Green New Deal, which Newman endorses, would have a price tag of $50 to 93 trillion.”

Why might Lipinski take that tone in a blue district? It’s not just that many conservative Democrats might agree — it’s that Illinois has an open primary, with no party registration. In March 2020, while there might be challenges to President Trump on the GOP ballot, there’s unlikely to be a competitive vote for president. And in theory, that would allow thousands of typically Republican voters to wade into the Democratic primary and boost Lipinski. 

COUNTDOWN

… two days until the first MSNBC climate forums
… three days until the Democrats’ LGBTQ forum in Iowa
… four days until the Polk County Democratic steak fry in Iowa

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