In early December, as President Donald Trump’s approval rating reached a new low of 32 percent, the commander-in-chief was rating the 2020 Democratic field from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who had recently bested Trump in a poll that tested the two septuagenarians in a head-to-head match-up — wasn’t a serious threat and would be easy to beat, Trump told a Republican with close ties to the White House who was in the room.
It wasn’t the lefty politics of the self-described socialist that Trump thought were a losing proposition. Instead, according to the person in the room, Trump was hung up on Sanders’ age, arguing that Sanders, now 76, wouldn’t have the energy to run another national campaign.
Sanders wasn’t the only potential presidential candidate that Trump, 71, brushed off as a non-threat. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the woman he has nicknamed “Pocahontas,” would be “easy to beat,” he said. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker probably wouldn’t end up running, Trump mused. When someone in the room brought up California Sen. Kamala Harris, the president seemed not to have her on his radar yet.
Handicapping potential 2020 challengers — however premature the exercise is — has become a favorite pastime for the competitive president, who still regularly rehashes his shock win in the 2016 race.
“He’s always asking people, ‘Who do you think is going to run against me?’” said the Republican who heard the president’s assessment in December.
Despite a bumpy first year and historically low approval ratings, this Trump ally said: “I don’t think he sees anyone, right now, being a serious competitor.”
But the people close to Trump are alert to potential challenges — though no consensus view seems to have emerged about who Trump needs to be most concerned about. More than half a dozen interviews with former White House officials, people affiliated with outside Trump-supporting groups and staffers at the Republican National Committee revealed divergent theories of who would pose the greatest challenge to Trump, and who is seen as a cakewalk candidate.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has feuded with Trump on Twitter after calling for his resignation because of sexual harassment and assault allegations, doesn’t make these people nervous. Former Vice President Joe Biden, however, is seen as someone who could cut into Trump’s base.