5 key matchups to watch in the 2020 race this week

Posted at 4:02 PM, Jul 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-14 18:02:46-04

With 204 days until the Iowa caucuses and a record number of Democratic candidates, the 2020 election is already in full swing. Every Sunday, I will break down 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.

5. Beto vs. Beto: Today is July 14. The former Texas congressman announced his plan to run for president — to MUCH fanfare — on March 14. Four months ago exactly. And in that time, it is impossible to argue that O’Rourke’s candidacy has been anything short of a disaster.

He’s struggled to seize on an issue (ANY issue) on which to distinguish himself. He’s come across as entitled and listless, as though he’s not even sure this is what he should be doing. And he has watched as his place in the top tier of the race has been claimed by others.

At some point soon, O’Rourke needs to decide if this race is something he really wants to be in or not. If he continues like this, he will do real damage to his chances in future races (and he may have done some of that already). There are zero obvious signs that he can turn things around, but we’ve seen comebacks built on less. The question for O’Rourke is how — and when?

4. AOC vs. Pelosi: The bubbling tensions between the speaker of the House and the leader of the millennial troop in Congress boiled WAY over in the past week, with New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggesting that Nancy Pelosi seemed fond of criticizing female Democrats of color within her caucus.

Which is, well, whoa. Pelosi, who has criticized AOC — obliquely and not so obliquely — since the 29-year-old phenom came to Congress in January, refused to engage with that particular charge. “How they’re interpreting and carrying it to another place is up to them, but I’m not going to be discussing it any further,” she said of AOC’s criticism of her, uh, criticism.

In the midst of all of that, AOC’s outspoken chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti sent a tweet attacking Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids for her vote in favor of the border funding bill. The official House Democratic caucus Twitter handle responded with this blistering clapback: “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color? Her name is Congresswoman Davids, not Sharice. She is a phenomenal new member who flipped a red seat blue. Keep. Her. Name. Out. Of. Your. Mouth.”

This fight isn’t done. It’s only just beginning. And neither side is backing down.

3. Mayor Pete vs. black voters: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a big problem: He simply cannot convince black voters to be for him. Like, any. In a CNN poll released earlier this month, Buttigieg, who has been THE story of the Democratic race to date, received 0% support among black voters. 0%! (Buttigieg took 5% of the overall vote.)

He has acknowledged that he’s got a major problem. Last week Buttigieg announced his “Douglass Plan” (named after Frederick Douglass) — a broad strategy to address racial inequality across a variety of fields, from health care to education to criminal justice.

The mayor told CNN’s David Axelrod that he is “not interested in winning without black support,” adding: “I’m interested in winning black support and deserving to win black support.”

Which is all well and good. But being “deserving” of winning support in the black community is different than winning that support. And Buttigieg is right: He won’t win the nomination — or come close — without making inroads in the black community.

2. Trump vs. Ryan: It’s important — especially as President Donald Trump ramps up his bid for a second term — to understand these two facts: a) He has totally and completely taken over the Republican Party and b) Trump’s version of what it means to be a Republican is wildly at odds with how those who ran the GOP before his emergence envisioned it.

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s comments about Trump — in Tim Alberta’s new book which I cannot wait to read! — are a reminder of just how far we’ve come.

“Those of us around [Trump] really helped to stop him from making bad decisions,” Ryan told Alberta, according to a copy of his book obtained by The Washington Post. “All the time.” Trump, of course, hit back — calling Ryan a “failed V.P. candidate” and a “long running lame duck failure.”

What’s really important here — especially when we consider where the GOP is heading — is not the back-and-forth between Ryan and Trump. It’s how the current leadership of the GOP all took Trump’s side. Which is a remarkable thing, given how lauded Ryan (and his ideas) were by these same people just a few years ago. Trump takeover complete.

1. Bernie vs. Biden: This one has been looming on the horizon since the start of the race — the establishment, incremental candidate versus the outsider, blow-it-all-up candidate.

In New Hampshire this past week, former Vice President Joe Biden went after “Medicare for All” — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ signature issue that would eliminate all private health insurance in favor of a government-run program. “I don’t want to start over,” said Biden, noting that Sanders’ plan would end the Affordable Care Act.

Sanders hit back. “At a time when Donald Trump and the health insurance industry are lying every day about Medicare for all, I would hope that my fellow Democrats would not resort to misinformation about my legislation,” he said in a statement. (Biden had claimed there would be gaps in coverage if the system switched to Medicare for All; Sanders said there would not be.)

What to watch: These are two men with totally different views on a) how to solve the problems facing the country b) what the Democratic Party needs to be and where it needs to go and c) how to beat Trump. That means this is the first of many skirmishes between them.