My big complaint about the Democratic primary season so far is that Democrats are basically making zero national effort to go after Donald Trump in the meantime, while he gets the bully pulpit and free TV coverage every time he goes after a Democrat in the race. As the first Democratic debates draw near, national Democrats are finally mobilizing against the real threat, and in a huge way.
Democrats are preparing to kick off a campaign totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to blunt Donald Trump’s head start in the 2020 campaign as their party's candidates slug it out for the right to take him on.
Democratic super PACs are set to soon launch a yearlong $150 million advertising onslaught countering the millions the president’s campaign has already spent targeting voters. On top of that, billionaire Tom Steyer is funding other groups testing a range of strategies to register and turn out people to vote. And the Democratic National Committee this week began training hundreds of college students to work as field staff in battleground states, an effort that will continue throughout the election.
The efforts, described to POLITICO by operatives involved in the plans, come as some Democrats worry that Trump is going largely untouched during the Democratic primary, amassing huge sums money and lobbing bombs at his would-be rivals as they wage war among themselves. Those concerns were given voice last week by former Obama adviser Ben LaBolt, who wrote in an op-ed in The Atlantic that Trump is “running unopposed” in the 2020 race as his would-be rivals scrap for position in the Democratic primary.
But Democrats interviewed by POLITICO insist that while LaBolt put his finger on a critical imperative, the party apparatus is not sitting on its hands. Instead, they are taking early steps to build a massive anti-Trump effort, preparing to shoulder the load until well into next year, before the eventual nominee’s campaign can build back up its bank account after a depleting primary.
The work to counter Trump, who formed his reelection campaign within weeks of being sworn in as president, needs to start early and build to a massive effort, Democrats say — especially because the party’s primary is expected to last well into 2020 and deplete the eventual nominee’s bank account.
“It’s nuts for us to spend money on Democrats fighting Democrats,” said Andrew Tobias, a former DNC treasurer who plans to mostly forgo activity in the primary and focus instead of raising money to power the DNC’s youth field program. “I’ve given 2 percent to one primary candidate, but 98 percent of my budget [is for] the early organizing and registration we need to build a massive blue wave. And I’ve done it now — not next year when it will be flooding in — because giving it now is so much more powerful.”
The effort is ramping up months after the president’s campaign began the nuts-and-bolts work to secure his reelection, hosting rallies and unleashing close to $6 million in advertising on Facebook alone, according to the company’s political ad disclosures.
Some of the Democratic operatives most focused on Trump worry that by the time Democrats winnow their 23-person primary field to one, the president may have secured himself a hard-to-beat advantage if Democrats don’t successfully mount a sustained push against Trump in a swath of 2020 battleground states. There are already significant obstacles: The DNC has raised $27 million this year, less than half than the $62 million the Trump-fueled Republican National Committee has pulled in.
“I take very seriously the fact that Republicans and Trump are already communicating under the radar to sets of voters they are already in threat of losing,” said David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, who has been working to raise funds and counter the Trump campaign’s advertising online in his state. “If Trump has an entire year to be hitting these voters with all sorts of garbage, the mindset will be cemented in with a lot of voters by the time we find them.”
I'm glad Democrats are finally realizing that being this deep in the hole against Trump is a bad thing, and that they are going to be hitting back hard. We'll see how the effort goes over the early debates this summer.
But there's a lot of work to be done still, especially if Dems want any headway. And should Trump start that war with Iran, all those Democratic campaign ads against him go into the trash with Trump wrapping himself in the flag.
It's a race to see who can get their machine going first.