Trump Camp Dismisses Sanders, Homes In on Bloomberg

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Early on the morning of Bernie Sanders’ expected victory in the New Hampshire primary, President Trump was already focused on a newer Democratic threat looming large on the electoral horizon.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is a “total racist,” Trump said in a tweet, referring to newly leaked audio of comments the former New York mayor made in 2015, when he unflinchingly defended the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy during his time leading the city, a policy for which he has since apologized.

In the edited clip, Bloomberg can be heard saying that “the way you get guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.” Writer Benjamin Dixon, a Sanders supporter, posted the audio to Twitter late Monday.

Trump deleted the tweet within an hour, but not before #BloombergIssaRacist was trending on Twitter and driving cable news coverage. Trump later explained to reporters that he “put something out and it was pretty nasty” and that he thought better of it because, “you know, I’m looking to bring the country together, not divide the country.”

Never mind that just the night before, at a raucous New Hampshire rally, the president recited a poem comparing immigrants to snakes, and that similar tweets using the #BloombergIsaRacist hashtag by his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.,  and campaign manager Brad Parscale remained untouched at the end of the Tuesday, despite touching off a media firestorm. 

It also didn’t seem to matter that Trump had himself supported stop-and-frisk in the past or that that he was now leveling the racist charge at a Democratic rival that he and his supporters have bitterly complained has been hurled unfairly at him and his followers.

Bloomberg quickly punched back: “The president’s attack on me clearly reflects his fear of the growing strength of my campaign. Make no mistake, Mr. President. I’m not afraid of you, and I won’t let you bully me or anybody else in America.”

The damage, however, had already been done. On a day filled with speculative reporting before election results came in, one-two punches from Trump and Sanders at Bloomberg helped drive news coverage and the national conversation at the very moment the businessman’s candidacy was on the rise.

By Tuesday night, CNN was running an op-ed arguing that Bloomberg’s caught-on-tape comments about stop-and-frisk should disqualify him from the nomination and Democratic fears were growing over their chance of botching the election and failing to force Trump from office.

With a fractured Democratic Party on full display, Sanders’ New Hampshire win threatens to set up a championship cage match for the presidential nomination with moderates trying to position Bloomberg as Trump’s most formidable challenger if he can find a way get by Sanders, the new front-runner, in delegate-rich states such as California and Texas, where Bloomberg is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on ads.

By the end of the day, Trump was hitting Bloomberg again for a poor showing in a primary that his potential opponent purposefully sat out.

“A very bad night for Mini Mike!” Trump tweeted. He also needled Sanders by pointing out that Pete Buttigieg did well in New Hampshire, giving “crazy Bernie a run for his money. Very interesting!”

Hours earlier, when it became clear that Sanders would win the primary with former Vice President Joe Biden coming in a devastating fifth place, the Trump campaign started to shape its response as if Sanders would eventually win the nomination, not Bloomberg.

Trump Jr., while campaigning in New Hampshire Tuesday, said he didn’t consider the Vermont senator “real competition” even though he shares some policy and messaging similarities with his father and both men have energized armies of supporters with their populist messages. Trump Jr. argued that his father can point to a list of accomplishments such as the recently ratified U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement and his first-phase trade deal with China, as well as economic policies that benefit working-class voters.

Sanders, in comparison, has no real record of successes, the president’s son argued.

“Bernie’s been in [Congress] for 30 years. What has he done?” Trump Jr. told The Hill newspaper. “There’s a difference between talking about fighting and actually fighting.”

He also said some Sanders supporters have pledged to vote for Trump if the self-described socialist doesn’t win the nomination. And Trump Jr. acknowledged that his father and Sanders have been mistreated by the media.

“Without question,” he said. “I don’t think they treat him nearly as bad as they do us, but they have stepped up their game against him since the numbers have gone up.”

Trump’s oldest son predicted a long and drawn out fight for the Democratic nomination that would end in a contested convention, a move that would tear the party asunder and benefit Trump.

“The time they fixed a primary, it worked out very well for us,” he said in reference to the 2016 race between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, “so I don’t want to get in their way.”

Hours before the cable networks called the Granite State for Sanders, the president’s campaign was already highlighting their confidence in besting him in a general election.

“The Democrat nominee will be broke, running on a big-government socialist platform and lacking the operation they need to win,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Ali Pardo told RealClearPolitics. “That’s not going to be a recipe for success in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.”

In contrast, she said President Trump’s policies have delivered results for Americans across this country. “Next November it will be a binary choice between President Trump and his clear record of accomplishment versus whichever socialist the Democrats put up,” she said.

Hours later, the Trump camp had retooled that message and ended up putting out two statements Tuesday night, showing just how split their reaction is to the Sanders win and the prospect of Bloomberg trying to step in to help Democrats save the day.

At 11 p.m. Parscale said the story out of New Hampshire is the “continued dominance of big government socialist policies and the success of their standard-bearer, Bernie Sanders.” In a separate statement Tuesday night, he touted the enthusiasm on display for Trump after the president cruised to an easy victory in the first-in-the nation Republican primary over former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. He received more primary votes in the state than any incumbent president running for reelection of any party over the past four decades, the campaign pointed out. On Fox earlier in the day, Parscale predicted that Trump would turn the state red in November after narrowly losing it in 2016.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, opposed Trump early in the 2016 GOP primary but has since transformed into a major supporter. She said the president’s economic record with unemployment at half-century lows, a soaring stock market and wage growth across the board shows that he is “delivering for Americans and the American family.”

Heading into the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22 and then the South Carolina primary at the end of the month, she said it appears as if Bloomberg is trying to “buy the nomination” and outmaneuver Sanders with help from the party establishment. “It will be interesting to see if the party lets that happen,” she said.

Martin also predicted Bloomberg’s record will turn off a lot of voters in battleground states in the industrial Midwest. “He wants to suppress Second Amendment rights and he seems to have had a lot of flip-flops on positions” over the years, she said.

In the end, Bloomberg has shown that he is “certainly not a moderate, and is very much in favor of big-government control and thinks he knows best how to run all of our lives – including the small details of our lives,” Martin said, a reference to taxes on sugary sodas that Bloomberg has pushed in various states over the last several years.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz agrees that Trump is positioned well for reelection as long as the economy continues its current boom. He warned, however, that the Trump campaign has become too overconfident in the wake of his impeachment acquittal and recent positive economic news.

“His approval rating is still lower than it should be with a president with this type of record of accomplishment,” Luntz told Fox News. “It’s going to be imperative for this president not to just go after his own base, but to go after independent voters too.”

The campaign’s boasts about easily besting Sanders in any head-to-head race are also overblown, Luntz asserted: “I’ve been to a dozen Sanders rallies – they are fired up. They are a mirror image of a Trump rally – every Sanders supporter who has been to one is going to get out and vote for Sanders.”

But Democrats’ worst enemy may come from within, Luntz also predicted. If Bloomberg starts to command higher poll numbers and wins some key primaries, “it could get really ugly for Democrats in the next few months,” he said.

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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