The faint possibility of a Republican presidential primary, Biden says he misspoke about poor kids, Gillibrand urges Americans to pressure McConnell in the Senate, Yang responds to a parent at a gun safety forum, and a handy metaphor for understanding where we are in the primary race right now.

Show Transcript

Note: This is the speaking script for the show, so the audio as delivered will differ very slightly from the below. This script also does not include audio clips from third-party sources, or advertisements, which may appear at various points in the show.

The faint possibility of a Republican presidential primary

Over the weekend, Anthony Scaramucci made headlines for suggesting that the Republican party might need a different candidate for president in 2020. You may remember Scaramucci as the guy who was Trump’s press secretary for 11 days. That didn’t end well, though Scaramucci continued to be Trump’s ally until this weekend.

Anyway, in a phone interview with Axios, Scaramucci said, “We are now in the early episodes of Chernobyl on HBO, where the reactor is melting down and the apparatchiks are trying to figure out whether to cover it up or start the clean-up process. A couple more weeks like this and ‘country over party’ is going to require the Republicans to replace the top of the ticket in 2020.”

While I sincerely doubt the GOP is plotting right now to replace Trump, he does have one good point—which is, what’s up with a Republican presidential primary in 2020? This is also a listener question I’ve gotten. So, let’s dig in to see how that’s going.

Right now, President Trump officially has one major challenger in the Republican presidential primary. That’s former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld. Weld announced his campaign on tax day, April 15th, this year. He is actively campaigning and often appears on TV interviews to discuss his challenge to the sitting president, though his odds of success are slim. In Q2, Weld raised just under $1 million dollars, compared to more than $26 million dollars for Trump. Weld is an extreme long-shot to even make a dent in Trump’s re-election bid. At the moment, he’s polling at anywhere from 7 percent to about 15 percent against Trump, though those numbers are fairly old, given that most pollsters don’t bother to ask about that race. To make things worse, most of the Republican primaries are winner-take-all, so even if Weld picks up a few percent here and there, he may end up with zero delegates at the Republican Convention, and, well, that’s that. Here’s a clip of Weld speaking about Trump at a primary candidate forum back in late July, in Detroit. Listen in:


So who else might challenge Trump in a primary? Well, former Ohio Governor John Kasich would be a reasonable challenger. He won the Ohio primary in 2016, but later left the race when it was clear he couldn’t win. Last year, Kasich suggested he was interested in a primary run against Trump, but lately he walked that back. Currently an author and CNN commentator—and a vocal critic of Trump—Kasich said in late May that he sees “no path” to the White House for him, given Trump’s base. While technically he says he’s keeping his options open, Kasich’s remarks seem to put him out of the race.

There were also rumors back in 2017 that Kasich might run alongside former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on what’s called a “unity ticket”—a combination of different party candidates together as one political unit. This rumor was finally put to bed when Kasich commented on CNN, “The answer is no.” Plus, even if the answer were yes, it’s unclear exactly how combining Kasich’s political capital with Hickenlooper’s would be enough to move the Democratic or Republican primary by all that much. You would need a much bigger Republican field—enough to remove the majority that Trump will get in primaries, and we just don’t see that happening.

So who else have we got? Well, there’s Justin Amash, the lone Republican in the House who called for Trump’s impeachment. He promptly left the Republican party after that didn’t go over well, and is now an Independent. While I doubt he would run as a Republican against Trump, he has left that option open in public remarks as recent as mid-July. It’s more likely that if Amash runs, he would be either an Independent or a Libertarian candidate, since his odds against Trump in a Republican primary would be quite low—again, due to the winner-take-all nature of those contests. Also, people who just left a party don’t typically run for president on its ticket. Having said that, if he does run as a third-party candidate, he might have a decent shot at picking up a few percent nationally in the general election, though he would not WIN. But that’s still an option, and it’s kind of an interesting one given the difficulty of defending his current House seat after leaving the Republican party.

Okay, let’s keep digging. Oddly enough, Vice President Mike Pence does sometimes come up as a possible Republican nominee for 2020. If you look at prediction markets—these are essentially legal betting sites that attempt to predict the outcome of things including elections—Pence is in the mix, and right now he’s number 2 behind Trump…though he’s like 86% behind Trump, for obvious reasons. If Pence ends up at the top of the Republican ticket, that’s not going to come through the primary process. It would be because Trump dropped out, Pence took over as President, and then promptly ran again using the power of incumbency. At that point, the competition for Vice President might be pretty interesting. But if you want to spend time on way-out-there speculation, just read a good novel or watch a movie or something.

Now, there is a short list of other Republicans who are often mentioned (and you can even bet on them, if you’re willing to take 99-to-1 odds) as possible contenders. The best bets there, and I say this with all due caution because “best” here means…well, slightly more than zero, I think there are three top possibilities. In that list, we should take note of former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Of those, Cotton does face an election for his Senate seat in 2020, but seems unwise to ditch that in favor of an extreme longshot presidential race. Cotton is relatively young, so his strategy may be simply to wait. And I would say that’s smart. Cruz narrowly won his Texas Senate seat in 2018, but he’s got it through 2024—so the time to make a move would be then. Haley is in a similar situation, though she’s currently taking a break from politics after serving in the Trump administration—it’s most likely we’d see her run in 2024. If she ran today, the likely effect would to tick off a whole bunch of Republican voters, thus hurting her odds in a 2024 primary.

So, that’s where that stands. It seems incredibly unlikely that there will be a serious Republican presidential primary for the 2020 cycle, and the current frontrunner against Trump, Bill Weld, is polling so far behind that I don’t see him picking up any states.

Now IF, for whatever reason, Trump does not in fact run in 2020, then yeah, we’re facing a different picture—but given the time scale here, fifteen months from the general election, I would not bet on it. And given that you can literally bet on it, I recommend you don’t.

Biden says he misspoke about poor kids

On Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden commented on that story about his comments last week. He had been notably silent about this whole thing for a few days, but, you know, a horde of reporters yelling at you about it eventually can solicit a response. In an article for Politico, David Siders gives us the details.

““Look, I misspoke,” Biden told reporters at a gun violence forum [in Iowa]. “I meant to say ‘wealthy.’ I’ve said it 15 [times]. On the spot, I explained it. At that very second, I explained it. And so, the fact of the matter is that I don’t think anybody thinks that I meant anything other than what I said I meant.”
Biden’s remarks came after the former vice president said during an event in Iowa on Thursday, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," then quickly added, “wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.”
That same day, Biden flubbed a line at the Iowa State Fair, providing ammunition for President Donald Trump’s supporters to jeer him on social media when he said, “We choose truth over facts.”
And on Saturday, Biden [made] yet another gaffe, telling reporters that "kids from Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president." Biden did meet with students following the school shooting in Parkland, [Florida], but that shooting — and the subsequent meeting — occurred in 2018, long after Biden left office.”

So what you need to know right now about this whole Biden thing is that we’re in the midst of a media narrative that’s laser-focused on Biden. What I mean by that is, Biden made a very notable gaffe, and also a variety of other mini-gaffes right around the same time, and that fuels anybody—whether it’s a reporter, or the opposition party, or whomever—to go ahead and essentially list out the mistakes. That creates a narrative, which then further drives the news. And now, any new puzzle piece—any new mis-statement or gaffe or however you want to put it—gets slotted into this narrative.

Now, to be frank, we’ve had this narrative since the beginning of Biden’s candidacy—and even before it—but the intensity is cranking up, as Biden pushes into Iowa and is followed by a zillion TV cameras. So be aware, this Biden story is not over, and I would suggest it is really just beginning.

Gillibrand urges Americans to pressure McConnell in the Senate

Over the weekend in Iowa, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made an appearance at a candidate forum in Des Moines on the topic of gun violence. It was sponsored by Moms Demand Action, as well as Everytown for Gun Safety, and it’s leading up to a rally this weekend.

Moms Demand Action is gearing up for a so-called “Recess Rally” on August 17th and 18th to pressure Senator Mitch McConnell to call the Senate back from recess to vote on those two gun-safety bills passed by the House that we discussed several times last week.

Here’s a clip from Gillibrand at that event. Listen in:


Yang responds to a parent at a gun safety forum

Now, at that same event, Andrew Yang also gave a statement, and his was far more emotional. This one’s a little longer at about three minutes. And I want to caution you, if you’re driving or otherwise occupied, there is some raw emotion on display coming up in about thirty seconds. So, you know, that’s gonna happen.

I think the audio here speaks mostly for itself, but I do want to note that in the video, which is linked in the show notes, Yang is clearly distressed from the very beginning. He reaches for a glass of water while the question is being asked, in a move that I recognize as a way to try to stop yourself from crying. It doesn’t work, and his tears are visible throughout this clip.

It’s rare that we see this level of emotional display from any presidential candidate, particularly this emotion—this sense of empathy, vulnerability, and shared loss. I would call it, essentially, grief.

I’ve seen plenty of candidates be fine with expressing ANGER about this issue. But to see a candidate responding like this, expressing GRIEF in such a raw way, is notable. We have also seen grief expressed by Biden on the trail, after the loss of his son.

Yang also manages to express a policy proposal despite all this, which is the idea of a so-called “personalized” gun. Those are weapons equipped with a technological solution that should prevent them from being fired by anyone other than a specific person. This can be a fingerprint sensor, it can be a grip strength sensor, or a combination—there’s a lot of ways to do this, and Yang is offering here a technological solution as kind of a middle ground to reduce certain kinds of tragedies.

All right. I don’t love playing clips about gun violence, but Yang’s emotional and honest reaction to this question is something special, and I think you should hear it. Listen in, and the questioner, a mother in the crowd, speaks first:


A handy metaphor for understanding where we are in the race today

Last up today, this is a quick one. In a Politico story last week, Democratic strategist Jeff Link gave us a very helpful metaphor for understanding where we are right now in the Democratic primary season.

So right now, the Iowa State Fair is kind of topping the news, but you may be asking, okay, fine, but where ARE WE? Right? Like, in the overall time-scale of this whole thing, where is today, and where is the end-point? Is it early, is it late? What’s the deal with the primaries?

We don’t have a debate this month, we DO have a whole BUNCH of upcoming debates, but we’re not even sure when those will happen after the one in September. So, it’s helpful to have somebody give us a sports metaphor to figure out the big picture.

Reading here from Politico, this is the end bit from a story by Natasha Korecki and Christopher Cadelago. And here they are quoting Jeff Link:

“The State Fair is like half time. We’ve had the first two quarters of the game. We have the third and fourth quarters to play still. If you’re a fan of the NBA, nothing happens until the fourth quarter,” he said. “I wouldn’t be satisfied being ahead at half time.””

So, if you are a basketball fan, I hope that makes sense to you.

Right now, as we spent all of last week discussing, the polls show essentially five top-tier candidates, with three—Biden, Sanders, and Warren—at the very top. But, it’s halftime. So…there’s still time on the clock here, especially for people who are already on the board and have some money. In other words—anybody who makes this next debate is still very much in the game, even if their only winning strategy involves a series of 3-pointers.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Again, I want to welcome those of you coming from the This American Life podcast, and hope you enjoyed the show—it comes out every Monday through Friday. For our longtime listeners, I spent the weekend trying to clean up a spider mite infestation in the indoor portion of the yarden. This is a long and losing fight, but I’m trying. So far, the mites have managed to eat most of our African violets. Fortunately, I’ve got a cloning project underway, where I am currently trying to clone a 19-year-old violet that I bought at a grocery store the day I moved to Portland. So the potential clones are sitting and watching me right now, under their little glass domes. And I will keep you posted if they sprout. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.