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It’s Mueller time! The 5 top 2020 storylines to watch this week

Posted: 4:02 PM, Jul 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-21 18:11:22-04

With 197 days until the Iowa caucuses and a record number of Democratic candidates, the 2020 election is already in full swing. Every Sunday, I will deliver outline the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked — so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week. 

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5. Beto looks baaaaad: The last three months have not been kind to former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke — defined by a listless debate performance and an even more listless campaign that seems to not really know what it wants to be or where it wants to go.

But even with all of those struggles, O’Rourke’s second quarter fundraising numbers — $3.6 million, down from $9.4 million in the first 18 days of his campaign — was a stunner. That O’Rourke spent $5.3 million while raising almost $2 million less than that is of deep concern to the campaign’s future.

O’Rourke needs something major to change the arc of his candidacy, which has been trending steadily downward since he entered the race on March 14 or, as these money numbers reveal, he could find himself without the money to fund the major national campaign he has built.

Circle July 30 on your calendar. Beto will be in the first CNN debate in Detroit and absolutely MUST find a way to show some life — or run the risk of watching his once-promising candidacy end sooner than he’d like.

4. The “Medicare for All” fight, continued: The central policy fight in the Democratic race is — and will continue to be — which candidates support abolishing private health insurance to make way for a government-run “Medicare for All” system. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts support that move. California Sen. Kamala Harris sort of, sometimes does . And former Vice President Joe Biden very much does not.

“I’m not a big guy on Medicare for All, but I will tell you what — over my dead political body are we going to get rid of Obamacare,” Biden said at a fundraiser in California on Friday. “We’re going to build on it.”

What do you want to hear the candidates discuss in next week’s CNN debate? Vote here.

Sanders has insisted Biden is mischaracterizing the impact of abolishing Obamacare and replacing it with Medicare for All. “Joe is a friend of mine and he has different points of view on health care than I do,” Sanders said in Iowa on Saturday. “That’s great. We’ll debate those issues. But we should not have a distortion of what Medicare for All stands for.”

This is a fundamental disagreement within the Democratic Party. Neither side will cave. Both believe voters are with them. The primary fight could well swing on who is right.

3. Bernie has a hypocrisy issue: There’s nothing voters dislike more than a candidate telling them how to do something but not living up to that same standard in his or her own life.

Enter Bernie Sanders’ campaign, which, as expertly reported by The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan this week, isn’t paying some of his field organizers the $15/hour minimum wage that the senator has insisted should be the national standard.

And Sanders’ initial reaction to the news wasn’t, um, great. “It does bother me that people are going outside of the process and going to the media,” he told The Des Moines Register on Friday. “That is really not acceptable. It is really not what labor negotiations are about, and it’s improper.” (Sanders’ campaign was the first in the 2020 field to unionize.)

Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told CNN that the campaign had offered field staff a raise that would guarantee a $15 an hour salary but that the proposal had been rejected.

Unfortunately for Sanders, this controversy is coming at exactly the wrong time, as he is only 10 days away from standing next to his main rivals for liberal votes — Warren — on stage at the CNN-sponsored Detroit debate on July 30.

2. Trump’s race campaign continues: A week after sparking a massive firestorm by sending a series of racist tweets about four, non-white Democratic congresswomen, the President of the United States got up on Sunday morning and tweeted this :

“I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologize to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said. They are destroying the Democrat Party, but are weak & insecure people who can never destroy our great Nation!”

There’s no debate that Trump believes these sorts of appeals to racial biases are effective in rallying his base. He has done it time and time again during his four years in public life. And he will continue to do it — even while his aides insist he isn’t actually doing it. (This is about patriotism, not racism, they insist, unconvincingly.)

Trump’s weaponizing of race will be a prominent feature of the 2020 campaign. And it will only get uglier as the election gets closer — particularly if Trump believes he is losing. That is certain. What is less certain is how Democrats running against him deal with it. Engage and play his game? Or ignore and let his racist attacks fester?

1. It’s Mueller time: When former special counsel Robert Mueller comes to Congress Wednesday to testify about the findings of his eponymous report, all of the 2020 candidates will be like us — sitting on the sidelines and watching. Mueller will testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. (California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who is on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, dropped from the presidential race earlier this month.)

But just because none of the 2020 players will be, uh, players in the Mueller drama doesn’t lessen its potential import in the 2020 race. As The New York Times put it in a headline Sunday, “ Mueller Hearings on Wednesday Present Make-or-Break Moment for Democrats .”

Democrats — in Congress and in the 2020 race (and there’s plenty of overlap between those two groups!) — have been pointed at Mueller’s testimony as the moment when the public really becomes aware of what this President did to obstruct the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and why. And/but, Mueller has been quite clear that a) he didn’t want to testify and b) he has zero plans to go beyond what was in the 448-page written report .

All of which makes Wednesday a huge moment in the presidential race.