5/5 Bernie Sanders
America’s leading socialist won the New Hampshire primary without any of the confusion that surrounded last week’s Iowa caucuses (which still don’t have an official winner). On top of that the field of centrists who oppose him continues to fracture – with the Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar now jostling for space with the former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, former vice-president Joe Biden and billionaire businessman and former mayor of New York Mike Bloomberg. If that split endures, Sanders could end up winning the most delegates in the Democratic race – although perhaps not a majority. That would usher in a second round in which elected officials and party bigwigs, or “superdelegates” – many of whom seem terrified at the prospect of a Sanders win – get to play a role, raising the prospect of a hugely contentious battle at the end of the primary process.
4/5 Amy Klobuchar
The Minnesota centrist was this week’s surprise success story, jumping from single figures in the polls to win nearly 20% of the vote in New Hampshire and place third. Whether Klobuchar can keep this momentum rolling into Nevada and South Carolina is very much up for debate – like Buttigieg, she has negligible support among the minorities whose votes are crucial in those states – but for now she has been thrown an unexpected lifeline. She’ll try to make the most of it with another memorable debate performance in Las Vegas on 19 February.
3/5 Donald Trump
Voting to acquit Donald Trump in his impeachment trial last week, the moderate Republican senator Susan Collins said: “I believe that the president has learned from this case” and “will be much more cautious in the future”. Trump didn’t seem to get that memo. Instead he fired two of the officials who gave evidence against him in his impeachment – plus one guy’s twin brother for good measure. Then he tweeted that the sentence faced by his friend Roger Stone was a “horrible and unfair … miscarriage of justice”, after which the justice department reduced its sentence recommendation and the entire prosecution team resigned. As the controversy over the independence of his department snowballed, the attorney general, William Barr – a staunch loyalist – told the president Trump to stop tweeting about criminal cases because it was making his job “impossible”. Was this a plan agreed by Barr and Trump in order to take the heat out of the issue or the start of a damaging split with one of the administration’s big beasts? The jury’s out.
2/5 Michael Bloomberg
On the one hand, the billionaire continued to rise in the polls – he is now third nationally in polling averages – as he continued spending freely amid palpable media excitement about him joining the Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday (3 March). On the other, his record on race came under fierce scrutiny, with Trump tweeting (and then strangely deleting) a clip of a 2015 speech in which the former New York mayor defended putting “all the cops in minority neighbourhoods … because that’s where all the crime is”. Even before he formally kicked off his campaign, Bloomberg had apologised for his discriminatory stop-and-frisk policy, and was rising in the polls with black voters. But this clip reopened the issue, and was followed by the resurfacing of 2008 comments in which Bloomberg said the crash of that year was caused by banks ending a practice called “redlining” which discriminated against lending to minorities. Rival Elizabeth Warren said his comments meant he was unfit to be the Democratic candidate. “I want to be clear,” she said, “that crisis would not have been averted if the banks had been able to be bigger racists, and anyone who thinks that should not be the leader of our party.”
1/5 Larry David
TOUGH GUYS FOR TRUMP! pic.twitter.com/DbjZjGzLWU— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020
The writer and star of Curb your Enthusiasm came up with a typically witty and intricately plotted gag for the first episode of the show’s new season: Larry David buys a Make America Great Again hat to wear as a “people repellent” to get him out of unwanted social situations involving his liberal Los Angeles peers. The hat also works the other way – a biker furious at Larry’s dangerous driving instantly forgives him when David puts on the red cap – and it was this clip that Trump tweeted, summarising its message as “TOUGH GUYS FOR TRUMP!” While commentators were quick to accuse the president of not getting the joke, it’s more likely that he and his formidable social media guru knew exactly what they were doing – appropriating another piece of pop culture to his ends as he had with Game of Thrones and the Avengers, driving liberals crazy and reducing the joke to the reductive point that fearsome-looking bikers back the president. Poor David found himself unwittingly enlisted in the Trump 2020 re-election campaign.
0/5 Joe Biden
The man once expected to dominate the Democratic primary race lost his frontrunner status this week, limping in fifth in New Hampshire and rushing straight on to South Carolina, which may end up being his last stand when it votes on 29 February. Can he hold on to the African American vote that he has always seen as one of his great sources of political strength? In between he also has to compete in Nevada, where Sanders is looking increasingly strong. Biden also found time this week to call a voter “a lying, dog-faced pony soldier” – an incident that did nothing to calm worries about his temperament and acuity. He claims the line comes from a John Wayne movie, but another one comes to mind about the faltering Biden campaign: “Mister, you better find yourself another line of work. This one sure don’t fit your pistol.”