Is This the Democrat Who Can Beat Trump in the Rust Belt in 2020?

Could Sen. Sherrod Brown, a left-wing, pro-labor senator who just won a third term in Ohio, be the Democrats’ answer to Donald Trump in 2020?

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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The presidential primary season kicks off next year and there is one big question hanging over the Democratic party, the question that has haunted them ever since 2016: the rust belt. For the last quarter century, it was solid blue, but Donald Trump changed that. And as 2020 approaches, the Democrats find themselves wondering, is there a candidate who can take it back? Could Sen. Sherrod Brown, an unashamedly left-wing, pro-labor Ohio senator who won a third term these past midterms, be the Democrats’ answer to Donald Trump in 2020? And is he even going to run, against the likes of Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren? Mehdi Hasan is joined by Sen. Sherrod Brown himself to discuss his presidential ambitions, and then with The Intercept’s DC bureau chief Ryan Grim and Bernie Sanders’ former organizing director Claire Sandberg to analyze the rust belt and the 2020 electoral field.


Mehdi Hasan: Hi, this is Mehdi Hasan. Before we begin, I want to take a moment to invite you to become a member of Deconstructed and The Intercept. It’s never been more important to support truly independent journalism. If you’re listening to this show, then you probably already know that The Intercept is a news organization that doesn’t follow the crowd and isn’t afraid to challenge orthodoxies.

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Now time for the show. 

Ana Cabrera: Well, the 2020 race for president is already heating up.

Chris Cuomo: The real question for Democrats is who they have to take on Trump. 

Steve Hilton: President Trump is already talking 2020. 

Donald Trump: 2020 is looking really easy, isn’t it? Who the hell’s gonna beat us? 


MH: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan.

I know, I know. It feels like the midterm elections were only yesterday. But that’s U.S. politics— 2020 is for all intents and purposes just around the corner. The presidential primary season kicks off next year. And there is one big question hanging over the Democratic party— the question that has haunted them ever since 2016.

Chris Matthews: The Democratic party is looking for signs of life in the midwest, the rust belt it used to be called. We don’t say that anymore. It went big for Trump in 2016

MH: The rust belt. The midwest. The industrial heartland. For the last quarter century, it was solid blue. Donald Trump changed all that. And as 2020 approaches, the Democrats find themselves wondering, is there a candidate who can take it back?

Sherrod Brown: I was fighting against bad trade agreements. I was fighting for justice. I was fighting for marriage equality when this president, private citizen, billionaire, inheritor of great wealth was making his products overseas. And then saying, “Make America great again.”

MH: That’s my guest today, Senator Sherrod Brown. He just got reelected for a third term in Ohio. Yeah, Ohio! In a state where things otherwise look increasingly grim for the Democrats, Brown pulled off the supposedly impossible, defeating his Republican opponent by nearly 7 points.

So, on today’s show, could an unashamedly left-wing, pro-labor senator from Ohio be the Democrats’ answer to Trump in 2020? And is he even going to run, against the likes of Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren? I’ll ask him, and I’ll also discuss the 2020 Democratic race with my Intercept colleague Ryan Grim, our DC bureau chief, and Claire Sandberg, party activist and former digital organizing director for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries.

[music interlude]

Before we get to my interview with Senator Brown, though, I want to say a few words about his boss, Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, who was re-elected as minority leader by acclamation – his Democratic colleagues didn’t even bother voting for him. Last week, Schumer responded to reports that Donald Trump still wants $5 billion for his absurd border wall, by telling reporters he, the Senate Minority Leader, was okay with spending $1.6 billion on it.

Chuck Schumer: The 1.6 billion dollars for border security negotiated by Democrats and Republicans is our position.

MH: Now Schumer and his defenders, ever since this quote of his went viral on Twitter, have been at pains to stress that this 1.6 billion dollars isn’t for the wall. It’s for “border security.” It’s for fencing. Come on! One man’s fence is another man’s wall. And “border security” for Donald Trump, as we now know, involves tear gassing kids.

Newscaster: Children hit with tear gas, families blocked at the border. 

MH: Maybe shooting them too.

DT:  They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back.

MH: So, the correct answer when discussing how much money to spend on Trump’s border wall, remember the wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for:

DT: They’re going to pay for the wall and they’re going to enjoy it, okay?

MH: The correct answer is not 1.6 billion dollars, or 1 billion dollars, or half a billion dollars, it’s 0 dollars, Chuck Schumer. Zero. There is no bipartisan deal to be done on border security funding with an administration of white nationalists which wants to turn the border into a war-zone.

And here’s the worst part of it: Schumer made his 1.6 billion-dollar-compromise offer the day after NBC News reported that, according to their data, the Democrats won the House of Representatives with the biggest ever margin of victory in a midterm election for either party – the biggest midterm win in US history – an 8.8 million vote lead over the Republicans, breaking the previous record which was set back in 1974, in the wake of Watergate.

So, to be clear: the very next day after it was confirmed that Democrats now have a huge and historic electoral mandate, Chuck Schumer goes to a press conference and signals to the world and to the White House that he’s willing to roll over, as usual. Just as he rolled over when an under-fire Facebook asked him to.

Brianna Keilar: The New York Times reporting that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, essentially ran interference on behalf of Facebook as the Senate investigated the social media giant for its role in propagating false information during the election.

MH: The same Facebook which gives Schumer more money than any other member of Congress. No conflict of interest there at all. Just as he rolled over on 15 of Trump’s judicial nominees over the summer, who Schumer outrageously, astonishingly, agreed to fast-track without any resistance and without getting anything for the Democrats in return. As journalist David Klion joked on Twitter last week: “If Chuck Schumer were the president of Mexico, Mexico would be paying for the Wall.”

But all jokes aside, Schumer is a disgrace. He’s unfit to be Senate Minority Leader; he doesn’t do resistance, he does collaboration. At a time when Nancy Pelosi is constantly having her leadership in the House of Representatives questioned by left and right alike, why is Schumer getting a pass? Why isn’t anyone calling for him to go? It’s not as if there aren’t Senate Democrats who do stand up to Trump. I’m about to speak to one of them.

[music interlude]

In their very successful midterm elections last month, the Democrats didn’t do so well in the key swing state of Ohio – failing to pick up any new seats in the House of Representatives and failing to break the GOP stranglehold on the state’s legislature, Senate and Governor’s mansion. They did though score one very big win there:

Rachel Maddow: Progressive populist, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, he won his Senate race on Tuesday night, his re-election race, despite Republicans targeting him heavily and despite Ohio otherwise staying pretty Republican this year.

MH: Trump won Ohio by 8 points. But Sherrod Brown won his third straight senate election in Ohio for Democrats on November 6th by more than 6 points. He’s the only Democrat who seems to be able to win a statewide race in Ohio these days and he does it by getting lots of votes from white-working-class voters. He champions trade unions and the labor movement. He’s a long-standing critic of corporate power and free trade deals. He was pushing his anti-globalization, pro-worker schtick in the Rust Belt long before Donald Trump came along, and without any of Trump’s nativism, racism or xenophobia. And, look, it seems to work for him.

SB: Thank you, Ohio. You all showed the country that progressives can win—and win decisively—in the heartland. We carry a state that Donald Trump won by almost double digits.

MH: So, is Senator Sherrod Brown, who’s said he’s thinking about a presidential bid in 2020, is he the man to beat Donald Trump in the rust belt? The progressive Democrat who can win back white working-class voters?

Senator Sherrod Brown joins me now.

[music interlude]

MH: Senator, thank you for joining me on Deconstructed.

SB: Good to be with you. Thank you.

MH: Congratulations on getting reelected in Ohio. Given Hillary Clinton lost there to Donald Trump by eight points in 2016. And this year, your party lost a Governor’s race in Ohio, failed to pick up any House Seats in Ohio. How did you manage to get reelected to the Senate from Ohio? What’s your secret sauce? How is it that you connect with white working-class voters in that state in a way that other Democrats seem unable to?

SB: Well, there’s no secret sauce. I think it really is – we had good candidates this year. It’s a state that continues to get more conservative, but it’s a state that you know, it’s been pretty hard by globalization. But to me, it’s a career and a message of the dignity of work. We just don’t, in this country, respect the dignity of work. We don’t honor the dignity of work the way we should. And people increasingly believe that you know, they work hard, they play by the rules, they don’t have a chance to get ahead. And I talk about that and I legislate about that.

MH: But that’s been your message consistently for decades now and it’s worked for you in Ohio – three straight Senate victories, but let’s be honest, a lot of the new Democrats elected to the house in this blue wave aren’t as progressive as you. Many of them are pretty centrist. They ran very moderate campaigns. Has the party really moved to the left, moved over to the Sherrod Brown view of the world, do you think?

SB: First, I don’t see – I understand, I’m absolutely progressive and will always be – I don’t think, I don’t see the world and I don’t think voters see the world as sort of left to right. I think people want to know about their politicians. Are you, do you have my back? Are you on my side and I supported marriage equality for 20+ years. I’ve always been pro-choice and stood up for Planned Parenthood. I’ve always, always gotten an F, pretty much I think, always gotten an F from the NRA. So, you can’t do

this –

MH: The best F to get.

SB:  – You can be progressive without compromising on these issues and you can do it without caving to Wall Street, or caving to the gun lobby, or caving to Donald Trump.

MH: I’m wondering, do you agree though that a lot of Democrats elected to the House don’t share your, as progressive a view of the world as you do? That’s reasonable to say, I think.

SB: Maybe, maybe they don’t, I guess. I haven’t analyzed I mean, we unfortunately, I don’t mean to laugh at that at all. We haven’t, we didn’t have any new members in Ohio, new Democratic members of Congress. I believe my progressive politics are absolutely mainstream America and mainstream Ohio. I couldn’t win in Ohio consistently unless my progressive message aligned pretty much along the lines of the middle of my state not the political middle, but the values of my state. And I guess –

MH: That’s what I’m wondering: where did other Democrats in your state go wrong then what were they doing wrong that you did right? That’s why I’m trying to get to.

SB: Well, I think, they didn’t have a history of, you know, maybe it’s because I’ve been around a while, and voters know that I will fight for those issues. Many of them were outspent. Many of them just couldn’t break through the noise of who are

you running? That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. It’s a lean Republican state. I mean, I had to get 15% or so Trump voters, but you know, I was standing up on fair trade. President Trump just yesterday, blamed me for the GM closings. I mean, he just said I wasn’t doing my job or something which was a bit amusing because you know, there’s a republican governor and Republican president, Republican House and Senate, Republican Supreme Court. So, he had to find a Democrat to blame.

MH: Shock, horror, the president lies.

SB: Yeah, but I think more to that I thought, when I was asked that, I thought, you know, I was fighting against bad trade agreements. I was fighting for justice. I was fighting for marriage equality when this President, private citizen, billionaire, inheritor of great wealth was making his products overseas and then saying, “Make America great again.” So, I’d put my record up against his any day of fighting for workers.

MH: So, on that note of putting your record up against his. The 2020 Democratic campaign is about to kick off in earnest in a few months’ time with people declaring whether they’re running or not. At least 20 Democrats or more might run for the nomination. Will you be one of them Senator Brown?

SB: I don’t know. I really never – I was talking to Senator Casey about this today. I’ve never really thought about seriously by running for president ever. I mean people said you ought to run. You hear that as a politician all the time, if you can put a sentence together, somebody will tell you to run for president. But since the election it all changed and I heard from, we’ve heard from – my wife and I have been overwhelmed by how many big-name Democrats and just activist, labor leaders, labor activists, voters, whatever in Ohio and across the country have said “You really should think about running for president.” And so. we’re thinking about it. I don’t know.

MH: And you told BuzzFeed a couple of weeks ago, that if there is somebody else that can carry your message, your pro-worker message, you’d be “less likely to run.” A lot of progressives, lefties listening to this podcast might say, “Well, surely Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren could and probably will carry that message.” They have bigger national profiles than you do. So, why not get behind one of them instead of running against them?

SB: Well, because I don’t know – A lot of people generally say the right progressive things, but I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know that I mean, maybe I carry it differently. I guess, I don’t know and I’m not close to throwing in with anybody yet. I want to continue to talk about this message. And when I start hearing people talk like this, not that I’m the only way that can do this, but then I’ll kind of assess where to go. It’s a personal decision. My family is affected in a most personal way by any of this, and I’ve got to sort of think it through.

MH: You’re not worried about splitting the left vote between a few good left candidates?

SB: No, I don’t think – I mean, there are, most voters in the Democratic primary are progressive. And even the people that you might call sort of centrist, are progressive on most things. I mean, you know, some people are maybe for single-payer, Medicare-for-all other people are for Medicare at 55, voluntary until you get to Medicare-for-all. So, I think those differences aren’t as great as the media and some politicians want you to think they are.

MH: And despite having one of the most progressive voting records in the Senate and voting alongside Senator Bernie Sanders on a whole host of issues in 2016, you endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, not Bernie. Some reports have suggested that left him pissed off at you. Do you regret that endorsement of Hillary given the way the election worked out especially in your state of Ohio?

SB: No, I really don’t regret because I think it was a difficult race for Bernie if he had been the nominee. I think, what I regret is not working earlier with Hillary on this dignity of work and maybe we could have had a little more influence in the campaign and especially, in Wisconsin, and Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and Ohio. If I have regrets, I mean, my regret is that she didn’t win. Of course, we all think that. 

MH: I think that’s a regret for a lot of people.


SB: – The damage that this president’s done.

MH: Yeah, and obviously you’re going to be pushing that message if you do run in 2020, as I suspect will Bernie Sanders and others. One of the things Bernie’s pushing is Medicare-for-all. You didn’t support the Medicare-for-all act that he sponsored with I think, 16 other Democratic senators last year. How come? And do you think that will hurt you in the primaries, given everyone from Cory Booker to Kamala Harris have backed it? 

SB: Yeah. Yeah, I know most of the people running for president have been for Medicare-for-all. That’s sort of become a litmus test. First of all, I co-sponsored a Medicare-for-all bill ten years ago, fifteen years ago. Second, I’ve been the leader on the Medicare, voluntary Medicare at 55. I don’t think Medicare-for-all is going to happen now. I think Medicare at 55 can happen, and if you do Medicare at 55 and you do it right, it eases the transition.

The easy political position is I’m for Medicare-for-all. Well, but the practical position to make Medicare-for-all happen is you do Medicare at 55 voluntarily. We missed by one vote. I wrote that provision. We missed by one vote in 2008 until Joe Lieberman sold us out. We missed getting that as part of the Affordable Care Act. History would be very different if my Medicare-for-all provision, my Medicare at 55 provision had stayed in the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, it didn’t. I want to find a way to make it happen. 

MH: It’s not the first progressive thing Joe Lieberman has screwed up. Just on the Senate right now, do you really think Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is the right guy to be in charge of your party? We had this recent New York Times bombshell report which suggested he was pressuring Senator Mark Warner to back off from Facebook, which gives him more money than any other member of Congress. We’ve heard him say he’s okay with funding Trump’s border security to the tune of 1.6 billion dollars. Don’t you need a person leading the Senate Democrats right now who’s willing to fight Trump like yourself and not roll over?

SB: Well I think that, I mean, of course we do, and I think Pelosi is that person. I think Schumer is that person.

MH: Really?

SB: And we are of one mind. We all voted no on the tax bill. All but one voted no on the Supreme Court.

MH: So, you’re okay with 1.6 billion dollars for Trump’s border security?

SB: No, of course not –

MH: Well, that’s what your leader’s proposing.

SB: I’m not going to agree with what any leader wants to do. But I agree mostly and I think Schumer’s capable and strong, and a good leader in that way. There will always be differences. I’m not going to take a shot at the leader or criticize the leader just because I disagree with him on a handful of things, even though I do.

MH: How much money do you think Chuck Schumer should be giving Trump for the wall?

SB: I think it should be zero, but I also think if we could get DACA, you do things to get DACA. I mean, there were a lot of things you need to accomplish in a big negotiation. I’m not going to pick off one at a time and say do this. Don’t do this. Don’t count me in if I don’t.

MH:  Senator Brown, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for us. 

SB: Thanks, I enjoyed it. Thanks so much. See you. 

MH: Bye-bye. 

[music interlude]

That was Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. To talk about his chances in crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field, which could see as many as 25 or even 30 people running for president, phewph. And to talk about the left’s approach to the 2020 race in general, I’m joined by my colleague Ryan Grim, D.C. Bureau chief for The Intercept, who’s writing a book about the left insurgency within the Democratic Party, and Claire Sandberg, former digital organizing director for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries and former deputy campaign manager for Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El Sayed.

Thank you both for joining me on Deconstructed. 

Ryan Grim: You got it. 

Claire Sandberg: Great to be here. 

MH: Ryan, let me start with you. Is Senator Sherrod Brown the man to win back the Rust Belt for the Democrats in 2020?

RG: Well somebody has to be. That’s where the path goes to the White House, you know, if they don’t win, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, then they have no shot. They can lose Ohio and frankly, I think, even Sherrod Brown, who’s won three times in Ohio would have a difficult time beating Trump. Now, it depends on how the economy is going and everything else and how much organizing and energy there would be behind him. But you know, that message of fighting for working people, you know, has to be central to anything they do there, you would think. 

MH: Yeah, it’s a message he coined long before Trump came along and without the racism and xenophobia.

RG: Right.

MH: Which is helpful. Claire, you’re in Germany right now where you’re working with other left parties. When you look back – you’re going to be back in the U.S. soon. And this race is going to be in full swing very soon – is Sherrod Brown a contender? 

CS: Well, you know, it’s going to be a very crowded field and I suppose I don’t want to take any bets with too much certainty right now. But I really don’t see it happening. I think that in terms of the level of name recognition, support, money, volunteers, enthusiasm. I don’t know how he can build that level of support especially with a super Tuesday that includes California. And we’re kind of speculating about who could win in a head-to-head matchup against Trump, but you have to get through the Democratic primary first. And I think that you know, every poll that’s come out so far has shown that the two candidates who are leading the field are Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the candidates who Democratic primary voters are the most familiar with. And I don’t see how someone like Sherrod Brown could come in when he is not the preferred candidate of the establishment, and also doesn’t have the small dollar donor base or volunteer base and is not going to meet a lot of progressive litmus tests.

MH: Ryan, is Medicare-for-all going to be the litmus test for every Democrat running in 2020?

RG: Well, as we heard him say weirdly, you know, he says he supports Medicare-for-all but he didn’t want to – and he talks about how he signed a Medicare-for-all bill, you know decades ago. 

MH: But he’s pragmatic.

RG: He’s pragmatic and he wants to get there – and that gets to the problem that Claire identified which is, it’s hard to envision who the voters are who are going to choose Sherrod Brown when they have these other options that she laid out. Particularly, when he doesn’t have the money, doesn’t have the small dollars. He doesn’t have the big money, doesn’t have establishment support. So, the only thing he has is this idea among – well, he’s got a lot of labor support – but he’s got the idea among Democratic voters that oh, this is the you know, this is the pro-worker, white guy from Ohio that we need to take on Donald Trump. And so, I think he will get get some votes out of that. He’ll get some votes for that raspy voice, people absolutely love that. 

MH: He’s got a very distinct voice.

RG: But to Claire’s point—

MH: And he’s been coming his hair recently I notice, this is a podcast so you can’t see but in some of his TV interviews–

RG: He’s been combing his hair, so I don’t know which way that cuts. But to her point and implicit in it was that somebody like a Beto O’Rourke, who does have the small dollar donations can be seen by Democratic voters as surging because he’s brand new on the scene. Whereas Sherrod Brown’s been around for three terms plus his previous career.

MH: Good point $64,000 question to you, Claire. You worked for Bernie Sanders in 2016 in those primaries. He came second. Is he going to run again in 2020? 

CS: I think so. All signs point to yes, and I hope he does. 

MH: And when he does, what kind of position is he going to be in? There was a Huffpost piece this week about his climate town hall. Bernie does these town halls on Facebook these days, which are getting lots of ratings, and he did one on climate change on Monday with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Bill McKibben, and others. And then HuffPost posted a piece saying “Bernie Sanders stakes out forceful climate stance, leapfrogging the 2020 field” and saying this will work well what he did on Monday with millennials, with some members of the Democratic base who want the party to take climate change more seriously. When the 2020 race kicks off officially – it’s unofficially already kicked off – what kind of position will Bernie be in? Top two, you think?

CS: Absolutely, I think that he’ll be in a very strong position and when you look at the town hall on climate change – which not only is a reminder that he is regularly beating CNN in the ratings with Bernie TV and all the videos that he’s doing – there are a lot of people who are pointing to the California primary being moved up as an indicator that he can’t win. I don’t see it that way. I actually think that with bigger states having their primaries earlier, the candidates who have high name ID, who are able to raise a lot of money through large dollar contributions or small dollar contributions, and who have volunteers who are ready to go are going to be in the best position. It’s going to be very expensive and the Bernie campaign before we even had boots on the ground in 2016, in California, had already had literally thousands of volunteer events and those volunteers haven’t gone away. 

MH: Yeah, and I think you’re right about the volunteer factor. People underestimate how many people, not just dollars, but how many human beings are required to run an election campaign and Bernie Sanders does have an army of human beings who want to come out for him in a way that perhaps other progressives and other candidates don’t. And Ryan’s mentioned Beto O’Rourke, he clearly has an army of people ready to go travel from around the country if he gives a signal such is his popularity. Just sticking with Bernie for a second, Ryan. You’ve covered a lot of presidential campaigns. He would be 79 years old January 2021, if he were to win. Is that going to be a problem for him the age issue? He’ll be the oldest ever president to be sworn in.

RG: It will be used but I think Donald Trump has lowered the bar so effectively on everything that any criticism that you can level at anybody, people start to deflect and say well, Donald Trump. 

MH: Yeah, and Donald Trump himself will be 75, it’s not like the Republicans are putting up a young candidate.

RG: Right, and so, then you refocus, you know once you can dismiss that criticism because Trump then you refocus on the positives of whatever candidate that you’re talking about. And I do think Claire’s right that like, in Washington people are under-estimating Bernie Sanders’ chances, both for the reasons she laid out and then some other engrained ones. And I think they’re over-estimating Joe Biden’s, you know, he has consistently shown himself to be a poor campaigner. He doesn’t wear well under the spotlight.

MH: He ran for president. We saw him in those debates. He was awful.

RG: Twice, yeah. He dropped out for plagiarism and he’s 88. 

MH: Oh, yes plagiarizing Neil Kinnock, British Labour party leader. 

RG: Was it good? Was it a good riff?

MH: It was good when Neil Kinnock did it. The problem that Biden has of course – I’ve made this point before and I keep making it – is I don’t see how in an age of MeToo and Black Lives Matter, the guy who gave us Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, and gave us the mass incarceration. 

RG: It was called the Biden Crime Bill. 

MH: Yeah, so I don’t see how he gets past that in the primaries, but maybe he does. He’s got the Obama machine behind him. Although the Obama machine might go to Beto.

RG: A lot of them will.

MH: A lot of them are loving Beto.

RG: He’s Texas, white Obama. 

MH: The white Obama. Claire, let me ask you this. You’re obviously a Bernie supporter. You worked for Bernie and you made the case very eloquently for why a Bernie run would be both viable and one of the favorites from day one. Elizabeth Warren is seen as a favorite, a darling of the progressive wing of the Democratic party. How much of a threat does she pose to Sanders? How much is the left vote going to be split between Sanders, and Warren, and maybe, Sherrod Brown?

CS: I don’t think that Warren is going to be as competitive as people think that she is going to be because the controversy around the Native American ancestry is not going to go away. And it actually goes right to Trump’s point about undeserving people of color, skipping in line. It’s a wedge. It’s a cudgel he can use over and over again. I don’t think that the left is going to embrace her in the same way that they would embrace Bernie and I just don’t see it happening. I also don’t see – I think Beto is someone who is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and also the new Democratic Caucus, and who is the second top recipient of oil and gas contributions after Ted Cruz in the entire Congress.

MH: Although to be fair those are individual contributions not PAC contributions.

CS: Sure.

RG: Also, not to defend Beto, but I think that was about four hundred grand out of, he raised what, like a hundred?

MH: He did raise a lot of money. But I take your point.

RG: It’s the biggest employer in Texas—

MH: There are question marks about his progressive condition. 

RG: There sure are but I think if you went across the – looked at every industry because he raised multiple times of what anybody else did in the last two years.

MH: He’s clearly going to be a very interesting candidate and very viable, if he runs given the name recognition, the energy, the enthusiasm. I think he and Bernie have got that going for them. They’ve got people who literally will you know fly around at their own expense to campaigns and volunteer.

RG: The question will be how much of Beto’s enthusiasm was anti-Cruz enthusiasm and does that translate?

MH: I mean, everyone’s got anti-Trump enthusiasm. Elizabeth Warren, Ryan. Claire makes a very good point about some of the controversies she’s been involved in. I mean, I cringed when I saw the Native American ad. I wish you hadn’t done it. She was actually very successful at getting under Donald Trump’s skin. By doing that, I felt like he had got under her skin. On the other hand, as you pointed out earlier, Trump has lowered the bar in a sense. He’s not just lowered the bar. He also has turned scandal into something else. So, when you look at scandals, Native American ad doesn’t really feel that big. Will it even be remembered come March or April given what an impressive political figure in my view, she still is across the board?

RG: Like Claire said it’ll still be used during the Democratic primary and it’s something that’s, you know, become attached to her. I think that if she had run in 2016, I think she would have beaten Hillary Clinton. I think Sanders wouldn’t have run. He was, you know, he was waiting for her to decide and she decided not to so he jumped in. I think she actually would have beaten Clinton and would have beaten Trump. The window, you know may have – you know, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the window is closed. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But you know, we’ll probably get to find out. 

MH: Yeah, I wouldn’t underestimate her. I consider her to be a very impressive politician—

RG: Extremely impressive.

MH: —and if Bernie wasn’t in the race, I think, that is naturally where all the lefties would go. Claire, let me ask you this: you mentioned how you know, the bar is moved and Medicare-for-all even, you know, you’ve got everyone from Gillibrand to Booker to Harris, Kamala Harris.

Everyone signing up for this one when Bernie brought it after, there was a time when no one wanted to touch it. Given the 2020 primaries around the corner, is this a golden time for the left and the Democratic party, is there lots of choice? Is this a good thing that lots of people are running and trying to win over lefties for the first time in a long time?

CS: I think it is a good thing. I think it’s a very good thing. I think that seeing all of the prospective 2020 candidates, well, except for Sherrod Brown in the Senate support the Medicare-for-all bill was very encouraging and it’ll be very interesting to see whether they support whatever Bernie does on climate and a green new deal because I think that that is – it’s a bigger political risk to take in many ways. But I think that the question that the left has to ask is are we going to accept box-checking and signing on to some litmus tests, or do we want a real champion who is going to fight? I mean, I think one of the key distinctions between Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, for instance, is that as she said many times, she believes in markets down to her toes. The climate bill that she just put out was a market-based approach and I think that there are, there’s an opening right now for a progressive movement in this country to offer solutions that are driven by government action and that are about fundamentally rebalancing power in our society. And I think that that’s what I hope the left looks for, less of the personality-driven politics that I see animating the Beto phenomenon for instance. But maybe I’m being more aspirational than others.

MH: Sorry to break it to you, Claire. There’s going a lot of personality politics in 2019. I can assure you but I take your aspiration very seriously. Claire, you’re a Bernie supporter. You worked for Bernie. You want him to run but is there a wild card in the pack? Is there someone we’re not thinking of who could come out and surprise us all in that race even up against Bernie, your candidate?

CS: You know the one candidate who I am going to be watching besides Bernie, obviously, is Kirsten Gillibrand, who I think has obviously, took a number of incredibly odious positions early on in her career, but has most recently, been the one who voted against the most Trump appointees, was the first U.S. Senator to come out for abolishing ICE and for jobs guarantee, And it’ll be interesting to see if she just goes full throttle as a left candidate and really runs on ideas like a jobs guarantee. Because I think that actually we tend to overestimate the extent to which politicians can go back on their promises and Donald Trump is obviously having a real time of it right now trying to get that wall built. So, if she runs on a jobs guarantee, I think she would have to deliver on that if she became president. So, that’ll be something that’s interesting to see.

MH: And she’s been a big champion of the MeToo movement as well. One last question to you, Ryan. A lot of people say, “Oh, Trump might get reelected,” and he might get re-elected. We shouldn’t underestimate that point but you know, there’s no Democrats who can beat him. I often hear a lot of negativity on the left as well. Oh, there’s no good candidates. I don’t buy that, actually. I think we’re too cynical now about politicians. If you compare it to 2016 when you got Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley and Lincoln whatever his name is. Now, you’ve got some very serious candidates whether you agree with all their politics or not, Senator Kamala Harris is a very serious candidate, a very serious contender, would make a good president whenever you think of politics across the board. 

You could say the same about Senator Cory Booker. I disagree with a lot of his positions, but to say he’s not a serious candidate I think, is absurd. There are a lot of interesting people, Senators, Governors, former members of Congress who are going to be running. Far too many people are going to be running but a lot of them are strong candidates, aren’t they?

RG: A, it shows what a mistake of the party leadership made in 2016 by clearing the field for Hillary Clinton, but B, I agree if you look at the midterm results, Democrats received roughly as many votes in the midterm elections as Donald Trump did to win the White House, which is absolutely extraordinary because there’s always a significant bump from the midterms to the presidential year for Democrats. So, if they can keep this enthusiasm going and and even, you know, drive it up with the extra two years they have to continue organizing, then the states where they romped in 2018 – Wisconsin, Michigan and, Pennsylvania – are very much winnable in 2020.

MH: Regardless of the candidate.

RG: Regardless of the candidate. They could drag anybody’s old bones across that line. 

MH: On that note, Ryan, Claire, thank you so much for joining me on Deconstructed. 

RG: Thanks, Mehdi. 

CS: Thank you.


That’s our show. Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept and is distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever.  If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at

Sadly, this will be our final show of season 2. We’re taking a few weeks off, but we will be back in the new year. We have some truly exciting plans for 2019. Until then, thanks for listening. Happy Holidays. 

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