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Bernie Sanders has upped his game, but does it matter?

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Pasadena, California, on
Sen. Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Pasadena, California, on May 31, 2019. Copyright David McNew Getty Images file
Copyright David McNew Getty Images file
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — Both can be true: Bernie Sanders is running a better campaign than he did four years ago, and he's in worse shape to win the Democratic nomination than in 2016.

The better campaign: Sanders has more aggressively worked on his shortcomings with African-American and Latino Democrats.

And today he delivers a speech on why democratic socialism is the only way to defeat to oligarchy and authoritarianism (more on that below).

But here's how he's in worse shape: He's one of some 20-plus Democrats running instead of Hillary Clinton's main competition.

He and Elizabeth Warren are competing on much of the same turf (see Data Download below).

The 2018 midterms proved that Democrats can win tough races without democratic socialism — look at Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, or Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan or Abigail Spanberger in Virginia.

And maybe most important of all, the Democratic memories about 2016 - the fights with the DNC, the chaos at the Philly convention, the dispute over superdelegates — make it harder to win over a party that wants to move on from that last presidential campaign.

"Loser" vs. "Childishness": Trump and Biden brawl in Iowa

Trump vs. Biden in Iowayesterday pretty much played out as expected.

Before departing for the Hawkeye State, Trump called Biden a "loser" and someone who never won "more than 1 percent except Obama took him off the trash heap."

More: "Now, I have to tell you, he's a different guy. He looks different than he used to, he acts different than he used to, he's even slower than he used to be."

And when Trump got to Iowa: "Sleepy Joe. He was someplace in Iowa today, and he said my name so many times that people couldn't stand it anymore."

Meanwhile, here was Biden on Trump: "By the way, I was pleased to know that his alliance with Kim Jong Un where he and Kim Jong Un thought that maybe I shouldn't be president."

Also: "Whoa. You know, he doesn't do any of the right things. Instead he gets up in the middle of the night while he is at Normandy and tweets an attack on Bette Midler? The mayor of London because he's Muslim. The Speaker of the House who is there with him at Normandy. Stunning display of childishness and the whole world watched."

Buttigieg makes his case

As Trump and Biden traded verbal punches yesterday, Pete Buttigieg took on both men — directly regarding Trump, indirectly regarding Biden — in his foreign policy speech at Indiana University.

"Faced with this moment of great challenge and possibility, it's not enough just to say we won't conduct foreign policy by tweet," Buttigieg said, per NBC's Jonathan Allen.

"Nor would it be honest to promise that we can restore an old order that cannot, in any case, meet the realities of a new moment. Democrats can no more turn the clock back to the 1990s than Republicans can return us to the 1950s."

As Allen reminds us, Biden served as ranking member and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1990s and early 2000s.

2020 Vision: FDR = democratic socialist?

At 2:00 pm ET, Bernie Sanders will give a speech from DC on democratic socialism - and how it's the only way to defeat oligarchy and authoritarianism.


Sanders ties Franklin Roosevelt to democratic socialism, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks.

"It is the path that I call democratic socialism. Over eighty years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped create a government that made huge progress in protecting the needs of working families," Sanders is expected to say, per NBC's Shaquille Brewster.

"Today in the second decade of the 21st century we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion. This is the unfinished business of the Democratic Party and the vision we must accomplish."

Historians, however, point out that FDR was a capitalist, though he believed capitalism needed to be saved after the Great Depression.

FDR also was criticized from the left — hello, Huey Long — for the New Deal not going far enough.


And as the New York Times' Jonathan Martin reminds us, Roosevelt had a socialist opponent in 1932 and 1936: Norman Thomas.

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden remains in Iowa, traveling to Eldridge and Clinton before hitting a fundraiser in Chicago… Bernie Sanders delivers his address on democratic socialism in DC… Jay Inslee stumps in New Hampshire… Beto O'Rourke appears on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert… And Eric Swalwell discusses gun violence in Las Vegas.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 29 percent

Twenty-nine percent.

That's the share of support that both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are pulling from Democratic primary voters who describe themselves as "very liberal" in the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

That's compared with 16 percent of very liberal Democrats who say they support Joe Biden and 12 percent who support Pete Buttigieg.


It's been apparent that Warren and Sanders are battling over voters in the same progressive lane, but the fact that they've got exactly the same share of support in the progressive wing of the party hammers home that neither has a lock on them yet.

Sanders does lead Warren and the rest of the Democratic pack among voters under 50, pulling about 32 percent support, compared with 18 percent for Biden and 16 percent for Warren.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: The times … they are a-changin'

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we took a look at new polling that shows how Americans' views of gender and transgender rights are evolving (fast.)

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Trump may be having second thoughts about his proposed choice of Patrick Shanahan as the next Defense Secretary.


Representatives of 22 different foreign governments have spent money at Trump properties,according to a new NBC News review.

What's going onwith the protests in Hong Kong?

Donald Trump Jr. will be interviewed behind closed doors by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And Jon Stewart is in the news for his criticism of no-show lawmakers at a 9/11 victims fund hearing.

Trump agenda: What's going on?

Trump has been boasting about a new deal with Mexico. The New York Times lays outwhat we know and don't know about what's going on.


AG William Barr sayshe'll tell the president to assert executive privilege for documents in the Census fight if the House holds him in contempt.

POLITICO profilesnew White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

The Washington Post asks: What does Trump really think about what he calls "the I-word."

2020: Beto's new plan

Beto O'Rourkeis proposinga new plan to protect LGBTQ rights.

Kamala Harris says her DOJwould have "no choice" but to pursue obstruction charges against Trump.


Pete Buttigieg sayshe's work for repeal of the post-9/11 war powers resolution.

Democratic candidates are joining striking fast-food workers this week.

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