“Beauties” of 2020: Donald Trump on Joe Biden, Bill de Blasio, and the Democratic Field
Perhaps it’s not surprising that, for Donald Trump, calling someone a “beauty” can be an expression of disdain. He has been using the term lately in his attempts to encompass the field of Democratic Presidential contenders. “Boy, you got some beauties there!” he said at an event in Hackberry, Louisiana, on Tuesday night, whose ostensible theme was energy infrastructure. (He spent some time bragging to the crowd, which included energy-industry workers, about the natural-gas pipelines he has approved.) Two days later, he picked up the refrain on Twitter: “The Dems are getting another beauty to join their group. Bill de Blasio of NYC, considered the worst mayor in the U.S., will supposedly be making an announcement for president today. He is a JOKE, but if you like high taxes & crime, he’s your man. NYC HATES HIM!”
De Blasio—who, for what it’s worth, in 2017, easily won reëlection as mayor of New York, one of the world’s safest cities, despite dissatisfaction with his handling of the subways, among other issues—did indeed enter the Presidential race on Thursday, bringing the number of at least semi-serious Democratic contenders to twenty-three. The Mayor may have Trump’s attention more because he has some power in New York, which remains Trump’s basic measure of influence, and less because he is an electoral threat; the logic of de Blasio’s run is a little bit elusive. Along with de Blasio, Senator Michael Bennet, of Colorado, and Governor Steve Bullock, of Montana, have joined in the three weeks since former Vice-President Joe Biden made his announcement, on April 25th. Since then, Biden has surged in the polls, drawing the support of more than thirty-five per cent of potential primary voters, and is the clear front-runner. And so—again, not so surprisingly—Trump spoke about him to the crowd in Louisiana as if the opposite were true. “I don’t know what the hell happened to Biden,” he said, as if he were talking about a once promising young man found passed out in the street, or working as a waiter in a Trump-branded restaurant. “What happened to him? I’m looking, and I said, ‘That doesn’t look like the guy I knew.’ What happened to him?”
But then Trump professed to be amused by the entire field. “I’m looking at the competition. You sort of dream about competition like that, but who knows. Who knows? I got Boot-edge-edge”—he pronounced the name of the South Bend, Indiana, mayor, Pete Buttigieg, with exaggerated punctiliousness—“I got ’em all.” He listed five by name or epithet. “Beto is falling fast,” he said, referring to the former congressman Beto O’Rourke. “Remember, about four weeks ago, he said, ‘I was made for this’?” (The quote, to Vanity Fair, was “Man, I’m just born to be in it, and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment.”) “He was made for it! He was made to fall like a rock.” O’Rourke is polling at about four per cent, behind Buttigieg, who is at just under seven per cent.
“Bernie—you know, Bernie is crazy,” Trump said, turning to Senator Sanders, of Vermont. He then modulated his voice, as if stage-whispering at a family gathering, and repeated, “Bernie’s crazy. But Bernie has got a lot more energy than Biden, so you never know.” (In current polls, Sanders has about half the support Biden does, which still puts him in second place.) “No, no, Bernie has got a lot of energy, but it’s energy to get rid of your jobs,” Trump said. He seemed, at this point, to recall his audience and the actual, energy-infrastructure purpose of the event and added, “He’s got the opposite energy that you produce. Not good energy. You don’t like his energy.” Or maybe Trump doesn’t like it.
Next? “Pocahontas, I think, is probably out.” Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, is polling at around eight per cent. Earlier in her career, as a law professor, she listed herself as a Native American, although her connection to any tribe is, at best, quite attenuated. Her attempts to address the issue, which included over-trumpeting a DNA test, have not helped. Trump’s attacks on her with a racist caricature are likely just a prelude to the ugliness he will come up with during the course of the campaign.
Did Trump mention those five Democratic contenders because they are among the top six in the polls, along with Senator Kamala Harris, of California? Or were they just the names that came to him at that hour on that day? The Louisiana event wasn’t even a political rally, though he effectively made it one. (He also threw in an odd dig at the “fake news,” telling the crowd, of the reporters present, “They’re going to be very famous tonight. Some will go and sign movie contracts tonight.”) Trump is never quite as random in his assaults as he might seem; he undoubtedly is watching the polls. (“I believe it will be Crazy Bernie Sanders vs. Sleepy Joe Biden as the two finalists,” he tweeted recently.) And he has fewer opportunities for bullying within his own party, since, for now, only Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, has committed to running against him in the primaries.
The number of Democrats, meanwhile, has now exceeded what the Party has said is the capacity for debates. (Twenty, divided in groups of ten over two nights; entrance is determined by a calculation of individual-donor and polling numbers.) The Democratic debates start in June, and they should leave whoever eventually wins the nomination better practiced with the format than the President is. Trump, in Louisiana, said that he had a simple strategy for debates: cite low unemployment rates among minorities. “All I have to do is say that and walk off the stage,” he claimed. “I guess you win the debate.” That is probably not a good guess. Trump should know that a reason the Democratic field is so crowded is that he is seen as unpopular and vulnerable. There is opportunity in the air.
And Trump doesn’t want to lose his job. He loves his job—that, at least, is what he told the crowd in Louisiana, while discoursing on how workers had more of a “choice of jobs” in the current market. “You got to want to wake up. I do. Despite all of the stuff that we go through.” His trials, he said, included battling “swamp creatures.” He continued, “But I love getting up in the morning. I love what I do.” He does appear to enjoy the trappings, and his perception of impunity. He may not enjoy the competition, as November, 2020, approaches, nor find Election Day all that beautiful.