It’s been another wild week in American politics, with a Democratic debate shaking up the field again and Donald Trump tangling with the justice system in multiple dramatic ways. But who’s up and who’s down as Nevada gets ready to vote in the primary race on Saturday?
The best week: Elizabeth Warren
It feels like each Democratic candidate is being given a chance to shine, and this week it was Elizabeth Warren’s. Shedding her usual professorial demeanor, the leftwing Massachusetts senator tore into billionaire businessman Mike Bloomberg as he struggled to shake off numerous scandals this week. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians’,” Warren said at the beginning of Wednesday night’s debate in Las Vegas. “And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.” Warren saw her best day of fundraising yet following the debate, and will be hoping to see the same kind of boost rival Amy Klobuchar got at the ballot box following her strong debate performance in New Hampshire. The Massachusetts liberal is neck and neck with Pete Buttigieg for third place in Nevada on Saturday – if she can overtake Joe Biden and reach second she may give her campaign a new jolt of energy.
A good week: Bernie Sanders
The leftwing Vermont senator is now firmly in pole position, with a 14-point lead going into Nevada and an 11-point lead over the rest of the Democratic field nationally. Will the Democratic establishment now unite behind a centrist who could block Bernie Sanders’ progress? If so, they need to get their act together fast. If Sanders wins, will Democratic elites fall in behind a man who has never joined their party and whom many see as a cuckoo in the nest? Maybe they’ll be forced to – polling shows Democratic voters aren’t worried about Sanders in the way the party’s bigwigs seem to be. Could this unapologetic socialist beat Trump? That’s the great unknown. But as Sanders is fond of pointing out, he consistently polls ahead of the president nationally and in some swing states. Sanders backer congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested this week he could end up compromising on his sweeping healthcare proposals – perhaps baby steps towards an eventual rapprochement between Sanders and the party hierarchy.
Not a great week: Roger Stone
Well, he didn’t get nine years in jail … but Trump’s longtime friend and aide will not have been delighted with his 40-month sentence for lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Roger Stone remains free while he appeals against the sentence, and Trump – who was criticised by his own attorney general for interfering with the case – said on Thursday he wanted to see that process “played out” before getting involved formally. “I would love to see Roger exonerated,” Trump said, leaving open the possibility of a pardon if his friend is not. Trump showed again this week how willing he is to use that power, issuing several pardons and commutations to people found guilty of public corruption – and perhaps paving the way for an eventual more controversial one for Stone.
A bad week: Mike Bloomberg
Political junkies were openly slavering at the prospect of the former New York mayor joining the Democratic field on the debate stage for the first time this week – something only possible because the party changed its rules on qualification. Yet it came after the unearthing of controversy after controversy about Mike Bloomberg – from his alleged sexist and misogynistic remarks as a boss, to anti-trans, anti-black and anti-Latino remarks and continued ill feeling about the discriminatory impact of his policing policy. His fellow Democrats hit him again and again during the debate, with Warren leading the charge. In response he was stiff, high-handed and somewhat testy. “None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” he said about staff who had signed non-disclosure agreements – which sounded perhaps less exculpatory than he imagined. Sanders even managed to point out that Bloomberg, like him, had had heart problems. “We both have two stents!” the socialist senator exclaimed memorably.
A could-be-better week: Stephen Miller and his wife
The level of partisanship in the US being what it is, the New York Times including the wedding of Trump’s controversial immigration adviser to Mike Pence’s press secretary in its soft-focus high-society nuptials column was never going to pass without comment. The two “both work in the Trump White House”, the article noted benignly, although a link to a piece about “The White Nationalist Websites Cited by Stephen Miller” did sort of give the game away. As liberal Twitter expressed its outrage, comedian Samantha Bee set up a registry sending gifts to immigration charities in the couple’s honour – which was then contributed to by Stephen Miller’s uncle, a frequent critic of his nephew. Miller has been the driving force behind Trump administration policies such as the Muslim ban and family separation at the border, and is thought to be the speechwriter behind some of Trump’s most alarming nativist addresses.
The worst week: a man who has a life-size emotional support cutout of Trump
The US transportation department has proposed a crackdown on some of the more outlandish emotional-support animals people have been taking with them on planes, including peacocks, ducks, pigs and iguanas. But no one said anything about life-size cutouts of Donald Trump, until Nelson Gibson of Florida took his with him to a doctor’s appointment. “They told me it was too much and it wasn’t a rally,” he lamented to TV station WPBF, after having happily got away with bringing a picture of Trump and a small cutout of himself with the president to previous appointments.