Trump handicaps 2020 Demo­cratic con­tenders

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Zeke Miller

W EST PALM BEACH, FLA . » Ka­mala Har­ris had the best cam­paign roll-out. Amy Klobuchar’s snowy de­but showed grit. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s open­ing cam­paign video was a bit odd. Take it from an un­likely arm­chair pun­dit siz­ing up the 2020 Demo­cratic field: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

In tweets, pub­lic re­marks and pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, Trump is mak­ing clear he is closely fol­low­ing the cam­paign to chal­lenge him on the bal­lot. Fac­ing no se­ri­ous pri­mary op­po­nent of his own — at least so far — Trump is es­tab­lish­ing him­self as an in-their-face ob­server of the Demo­cratic Party’s nom­i­nat­ing process — and no will be sur­prised to find that he’s not be­ing coy about weigh­ing in.

Pres­i­dents tra­di­tion­ally ig­nore their po­ten­tial op­po­nents as long as pos­si­ble to main­tain their sta­tus as an in­cum­bent floating above the con­tenders who are au­di­tion­ing for a job they al­ready in­habit.

Not Trump. He’s ea­ger to shape the de­bate, sow dis­cord and help po­si­tion him­self for the gen­eral elec­tion. It’s just one more norm to shat­ter, and a risky bet that his acer­bic pol­i­tics will work to his ad­van­tage.

This is the pres­i­dent whose 240-char­ac­ter blasts and pen­chant for in­sults made mince­meat of his 2016 Repub­li­can ri­vals. And Brad Parscale, Trump’s cam­paign man­ager, said the pres­i­dent aims to use Twit­ter again this time to “de­fine his po­ten­tial op­po­nent and im­pact the Demo­crat pri­mary de­bate.”

But of­ten Trump’s com­men­tary re­flects a pe­cu­liar sense of dis­en­gage­ment from the events of the day, as though he were a pan­elist on the cable news shows he records and watches, rather than their prime sub­ject of dis­cus­sion. He puts the arm­chair in arm­chair pun­ditry. In an in­ter­view with The New York Times, Trump as­sessed Har­ris’ cam­paign like a talk show reg­u­lar, declar­ing her open­ing moves as hav­ing a “bet­ter crowd, bet­ter en­thu­si­asm” than the other Democrats.

Crowd size was also at play last week when he held a rally in El Paso, Texas, that was coun­tered a few blocks away by one led by for­mer Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a po­ten­tial 2020 can­di­date.

“So we have let’s say 35,000 peo­ple tonight, and he has 200 peo­ple, 300 peo­ple,” Trump ob­served, wildly ex­ag­ger­at­ing both num­bers. “Not too good. In fact, what I would do is, I would say, that may be the end of his pres­i­den­tial bid.”

When Sen. Klobuchar an­nounced her can­di­dacy on a frigid day in her home state of Min­nesota, Trump anointed her with a nick­name of sorts, and a be­nign one at that: “By the end of her speech she looked like a Snow­man(wo­man)!”

In­side the West Wing and in con­ver­sa­tions with out­side al­lies, Trump has been workshopping other at­tempts to im­print his new ad­ver­saries with last­ing la­bels, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple on whom the pres­i­dent has tested out the nick­names. They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent. He is also test­ing out lines of at­tack in pub­lic ral­lies, ex­plor­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties he could use against them should they ad­vance to the gen­eral elec­tion.

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