Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
(CNN)With just 142 days until the 2020 election, it will be here before you know it. Every Sunday, I outline 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. 48-ish days to the VP pick:
Former Vice President Joe Biden has said he would like to have picked his running mate by August 1 — which isn’t that long now!
That search has taken a different course in the last few weeks, as the death of George Floyd has prompted protests around the country and a renewed national conversation about race.
Those developments have pushed several African American women — most notably Florida Rep. Val Demings and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — into the top tier of the VP race, joining the likes of California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Those same events have pushed Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar much further down the list of possibilities out of concern for her record as the lead prosecutor in Minneapolis in the early 2000s.
(Here’s my latest look at the 10 women most likely to wind up as Biden’s pick.)
Biden himself has retreated somewhat from his earlier armchair quarterbacking of who was under consideration and who, well, wasn’t.
While he still occasionally offers praise for the most-mentioned candidates — and his campaign has held virtual fundraisers with politicians like New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — the former vice president tends to resist much political handicapping these days.
Which means things are getting more serious.
4. How do Democrats dance around ‘Defund the Police?’:
What Democrats in Congress want to spend this week talking about is the package of legislation they introduced last week aimed at reforming the police — from banning chokeholds to building a national database of police misconduct.
What they may well have to grapple with — for a second straight week — are ongoing calls from some Black Lives Matter activists to defund the police entirely and reallocate those funds to support marginalized communities.
Which is a hugely fraught position, politically speaking. An ABC News-Ipsos poll released Friday showed that two-thirds of Americans oppose defunding the police. But almost 6 in 10 (57%) of black Americans support such a measure — and reallocating that money to more community-based programs.
Seeking to move beyond the “defund the police” debate, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the highest ranking African American official in Congress, said this on CNN on Sunday:
“Nobody is going to de-fund the police. We can restructure the police forces. Restructure, re-imagine policing. That is what we are going to do. The fact of the matter is that police have a role to play.”
Which is, politically speaking, the right place to be. Lots of people support reforming law enforcement. Far fewer back defunding it entirely.
The question before congressional Democrats is whether Clyburn’s stated position on Sunday is enough for the more activist wing of their party.
3. Trump and the ramp:
On Saturday, President Donald Trump delivered the commencement address at West Point. And as he was leaving the stage, cameras caught him walking gingerly down a ramp to the ground.
Twitter went bananas, suggesting Trump looked old and frail. Which is, of course, what Twitter does.
But then Trump decided to drastically amplify the profile of the moment — and ensure it became a MUCH bigger story.
“The ramp that I descended after my West Point Commencement speech was very long & steep, had no handrail and, most importantly, was very slippery,” Trump tweeted on Saturday night. “The last thing I was going to do is ‘fall’ for the Fake News to have fun with. Final ten feet I ran down to level ground. Momentum!”
It’s hard to overestimate the miscalculation here by Trump. Without his tweet, the video of him walking down the ramp is, maybe, a minor Sunday story. With the tweet, it’s a BIG story on Sunday, with the potential to leak into a week that the President wants to be focused on the restart of his reelection campaign.
So, why did he do it? Because he is simply unable to be publicly portrayed as weak or anything less than totally-in-command at all times. So, even if he amplifies the criticism, Trump feels as though he has to respond to it. (Read this about Trump’s twisted definition of toughness.)
It’s a disastrous political instinct.
2. The Trump campaign restart:
It’s been a disastrous last few weeks for Trump and his party. (See below). The President hopes this is the week where that all changes, with everything pointing toward Saturday’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While that has been botched already (the rally was originally scheduled for Friday, June 19, which is known as Juneteenth, a day celebrating the end of slavery) Trump and his closest allies see a return to the campaign trail as perhaps the thing that can heal what ails the President’s political fortunes.
Trump, ever the hype man, said on Twitter Friday that “we have already had ticket requests in excess of 200,000 people. I look forward to seeing everyone in Oklahoma!”
There’s no question that Trump is fueled by the energy of crowds, and that there will be a ton of people in attendance on Saturday night. (No, there will not be 200,000 people; the arena where the event is being held has a capacity of just over 19,000.)
But with coronavirus surging — in the west and Southwest in particular — the week’s news coverage is likely to focus, at least in part, on the wisdom of Trump holding a large rally at all.
Attendees are already being asked to sign a waiver acknowledging contracting Covid-19 at the rally is a possibility. Tulsa’s health director said Saturday that he wishes Trump would postpone the rally out of concerns for “our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event.”
And yet, there are no current plans to enforce social distancing at the rally or mandate mask wearing.
So yes, Trump will likely get what he wants — a big crowd celebrating the country’s “transition to greatness.” But at what cost?
1. Push the panic button:
Late Saturday night, the Des Moines Register released a poll on the Iowa Senate race. And it was a shocker.
Democrat Theresa Greenfield took 46% in the poll to 43% for Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst. As pollster J. Ann Selzer noted, it was the first poll since Ernst ran and won in 2014 that showed her trailing a general election opponent.
While those numbers don’t suggest Ernst will lose — Republicans have just begun to attack/define Greenfield after her primary win earlier this month — they do make clear that a race that was seen on the fringes of being competitive now looks like a very real contest.
And that is t-r-o-u-b-l-e for Senate Republicans hoping to hold their narrow majority this fall.
Why? Because there are a whole lot of seats that independent handicappers see as at least as vulnerable as Iowa.
The Cook Political Report, for example, ranks Iowa as “leans Republican” along with both Georgia seats, Kansas and Montana. And they rank four more GOP seats — Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina — as toss-up, meaning they are the most endangered.
Do the math: That’s nine seats. By contrast, Cook rates only two Democratic seats — Alabama and Michigan — as competitive. And when you consider that Democrats only need to net three seats to win back the majority if Biden wins the presidential race (and four if he doesn’t), you can see why Republicans had a very bad Saturday night (and Sunday).