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Trail Mix: How One Reno College and Two Senators Fit Into the State of the 2020 Race

So a whole lot happened yesterday, and even more happened before yesterday… And oh wait, even more is happening today.

Because I had to leave so much material on the cutting room floor last night, let’s unpack from the Giffords/March for Our Lives Forum just a little more, check up on two interesting moments at one Reno college, and listen to one Member of Congress who’s given one of the most interesting explanations of impeachment we’ve heard thus far.

The symbolic twist of Biden’s Reno visit
Photo by Andrew Davey

On August 25, 2016, then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, one that has since become famous as her “alt-right speech”. In a very prescient moment, Clinton warned, “The names may have changed. Racists now call themselves ‘racialists’. White supremacists now call themselves ‘white nationalists’. The paranoid fringe now calls itself ‘alt-right’. But the hate burns just as bright. And now, Trump is trying to rebrand himself as well. But don’t be fooled.”

At the time, some pundits panned Clinton’s speech as overly dismissive of Trump voters’ “economic anxiety” and overblowing the threat posed by a “small, radical fringe”. But looking back and knowing what we now know about the rise of white nationalist terrorism (and how Trump fits into this trend), Clinton’s 2016 “alt-right speech” reads awfully prophetic in 2019.

On October 2, 2019, former Vice President Joe Biden traveled to the very place where Clinton gave that “alt-right speech” and condemned the real-life consequences of what had merely felt theoretical in 2016. At that very same college in Reno, Biden warned, “The threat posed by this president isn’t just to our constitution. This isn’t just an academic exercise in political theory. A president who puts his own self-interest ahead of the public good and national security also poses a threat to each and every American in our daily lives.”

Now that we’ve gone from “Dapper Nazi hot takes” to actual acts of terrorism, and now that we’ve gone from a strange question asked at a libertarian conference to a president openly asking foreign governments to interfere in our election (again) on his behalf, one can argue Biden can do in 2020 what Clinton couldn’t do in 2016 in going beyond scary theory to point out our current hellscape reality. And yet, considering how these crises didn’t just come out of nowhere in January 2017, it remains to be seen if any kind of “return to normalcy” he seeks is either feasible or advisable.

He’s still here: Why Booker’s 2020 journey may yet be far from over
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last week, we reported on the existential crisis facing U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s (D-New Jersey) presidential campaign: Either he needed to raise $1.7 million by September 30, or else he would prepare to drop out. Earlier this week, Booker’s campaign declared victory in raising just over $2.1 million by Monday’s deadline, announcing the imminent hiring of 40 new staffers in Nevada, the other early states, and their Newark headquarters, and setting a new $3 million fundraising goal for October in order to sustain this new growth.

At the Giffords/March for Our Lives Forum yesterday, we saw the fruit of their labor, as Booker made it here to Las Vegas and pushed the entire rest of the 2020 Democratic field to go further on a public health and public safety issue where he’s been leading the conversation since the beginning of this cycle. After all, at the heart of yesterday’s verbal tug-of-war between South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) was the question of how far Democrats should go in gun violence prevention, a question first posed when Booker leapt out front on policies like permit-to-purchase gun licensing.

While speaking with reporters yesterday, Booker commended O’Rourke for his new, bolder stance and encouraged the other candidates to follow suit. “We should have a more courageous empathy to act on these issues and not have [so many shootings] visit upon our communities,” Booker said. He continued, “We need to get this movement to a point where this activism actually drives legislation to become law.” And at least for the time being, Booker will continue to be in a position to drive this kind of conversation on the campaign trail.

How impeachment works, as explained by another Senator
Photo by Andrew Davey

Speaking of conversations on the campaign trail, yesterday was another one of those times when Trump cast a huge shadow over the day’s proceedings. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) urged his Senate colleagues to “walk and chew gum at the same time” by working on legislation like background checks expansion while the House opens its impeachment inquiry against Trump.

While speaking with reporters in the press room yesterday, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) seemed to agree. She referred to Trump’s efforts to coerce the Ukrainian, Chinese, and Australian governments to “get dirt” on Biden and Clinton as a “Global Watergate”, then she sought to assuage some pundits’ concerns that Democrats risk the appearance of “sore losers” by moving ahead on impeachment. For Klobuchar, “This is not about relitigating the last election. This is about ongoing conduct and ongoing security risks, and that’s why we must move forward.”

Then, Klobuchar added, “In the Senate, we have our job to serve as jurors in an impeachment hearing, but we also have an obligation to the country to do two things at once.” Yet while Murphy seemed to hang onto some kind of hope that maybe some bipartisan deal could come together, Klobuchar simply demanded that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) allow Senate votes on the bills that the House has already passed and already have overwhelming public support. “While the House is dealing with impeachment proceedings, we aren’t doing much in the Senate, so we could pass these bills,” Klobuchar stressed.

For all the talk about how impeaching Trump allegedly prevents Democrats from doing anything else, Klobuchar pointed out that House Democrats have already passed several bills, and that nothing prevents the Senate from taking up any of those bills while the House moves ahead on impeachment. Regardless of what becomes of her campaign (which so far hasn’t really materialized here in Nevada), this right here might help party leaders explain to the larger electorate how Congress can actually “walk and chew gum at the same time”.

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