Get Ready for ‘Billionaire Populist II: The Sequel’

Campaign 2020 is shaping up as a contest of populist visions.

By Matt Taibbi and cross-posted from Rolling Stone

Most coverage of Donald Trump’s re-election campaign to date has focused on polls, specifically two: a Fox survey that showed Trump losing to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in a hypothetical one-on-one (but beating other Democrats) and Trump’s own internal polling that, to the glee of reporters, leaked, showing him trailing Biden by a ton in a head to head matchup.

The latter revelation was particularly humorous given that Trump later tweeted that “only fake polls” showed him behind the “Motley Crew,” his new term for the Democratic field.

Polls aside, Trump’s launch is already notable for the themes he’s choosing to stress. He released a video Monday re-hashing his 2016 populist formula. It’s not often that a sitting president promises to take on Washington, but he did it. “We’re taking on the failed political establishment and restoring government of, by and for the people,” it says. “It’s the people, you’re the people, you won the election.” We should expect more rhetoric along these lines tonight.

Last time, it was an awesome display of chutzpah when the billionaire scion of inherited wealth ran and won as a champion of the common voter. If he manages to repeat the feat this time by running from inside the White House as a political outsider — while doing one-hour ABC specials bragging about how awesome it is to travel by Air Force One and Marine helicopter — it might be time to admit Trump’s only peer in the annals of con artistry will be the guy who sold the Eiffel Tower twice.

That Trump continues to present himself as a populist isn’t surprising, since it worked last time. What’s interesting is that much of the Democratic field appears to be gearing up to use the same strategy. This would be a departure from 2016, where the battle lines coalesced around a theme that ultimately cut against Democrats: experience and competence versus change and upheaval. Trump ran on blowing it all up and won.

This time around, Democratic campaigns seem to recognize voters are still in detonation mode. Yahoo Finance just ran a piece describing the 2020 race as likely to be “competing visions of economic populism between Senator Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump.”

This doesn’t mean the general election will be between Trump and Sanders. It does however suggest that the substantive issues of next summer’s national debate will revolve around whose campaign provides the most plausibly sweeping corrective to the failures of modern American capitalism

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