Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer expressed confidence that President Donald Trump's re-election rests on voter perception of their economic well-being rather than fallout from reckless foreign policy leading no further than House impeachment.
The Democratic Party's endless debating and congested primary continued to be a gift to Trump as candidates aspiring to take on the president push each other deeper into leftist corners, Fleischer said. The former spokesman for President George W. Bush also said Trump's radioactive in-your-face personality, the country's cavernous political divide and the persistent loathing by moderate- and low-income Americans of establishment politicians suggested Democratic socialist rebel Bernie Sanders couldn't be counted out, yet.
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"President Trump's success will rise or fall based on whether economic growth remains strong," Fleischer told more than 600 politicians and business leaders Tuesday night during the Kansas Chamber's annual dinner in Topeka.
He said Sanders, the U.S. Senate independent from Vermont, possessed a loyal following appreciative of his deeply principled views on public policy.
"I bet Bernie Sanders will win Iowa and New Hampshire," Fleischer said.
Sanders is at home in those two states, where at least 93% of Democratic primary voters are white, he said. Sanders' challenge stiffens in South Carolina, Fleischer said, where voters of color make up two-thirds of Democratic primary participants.
Former Vice President Joe Biden's affiliation with former President Barack Obama is keeping his campaign afloat, but Fleischer compared Biden to the paper wrapper on a straw that became progressively flimsy as it took on water. He said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, fit the mold of the modern Democratic Party but still had difficulty shaking perception of her as calculating and insincere. And, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the third or fourth choice of too many voters.
Fleischer, who conducted daily White House briefings from 2001 to 2003, said Trump's pressure campaign to convince Ukrainian officials to taint Biden with an investigation scandal was inappropriate and unpresidential. Trump, however, didn't engage in conduct meriting ouster from office by the Senate or impeachment by the House, he said.
"It is wrong to use the power of the presidency to investigate political foes," he said. "Of course, it's not a crime. People have lost their minds."
The proper forum for resolving disputes about Trump's leadership and fitness for office is the ballot box, Fleischer said. It is better to allow 135 million voters to make the call rather than 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate, he said.
Fleischer said Trump did the unprecedented in 2016 by winning without having previously been elected to public office or having served as a military general. He prevailed after calling Mexicans rapists, claiming falsely that New Jersey residents celebrated 9/11, attacking Sen. John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam and bragging like a lout in an X-rated Access Hollywood tape.
"Normally," he said, "any one of those statements would have doomed a politician."
Instead, Fleischer said, 63 million people chose a flawed and crude man and sent him to knock heads in Washington, D.C. Voters in swing states turned away from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who couldn't replicate the Obama buzz. They were eager for an outsider to challenge a political establishment viewed as indifferent to struggles of people stiffed by an economy that sent jobs to China or Mexico and left them unemployed or in positions paying half their old salary, Fleischer said.
"They thought Donald Trump heard them," said Fleischer, a contributor to Fox News. "To this day, they see Donald Trump as someone who will fight for them."
He said Trump carved into the Democratic base in his first campaign by behaving as an independent. The Democratic nominee in 2020 must be attuned to quickening the pulse of African American and Hispanic as well as young and single voters, he said.
"This has huge implications for the Democratic Party without Barack Obama at the top of the ticket," he said.