Partner Terry Sullivan Joins Politico Magazine to Discuss the 2020 Election Alongside Former Campaign Rivals

April 28, 2020

‘Smoke-Filled Zoom’: Handicapping Trump vs. Biden in the Middle of a Lockdown

Four veteran GOP campaign managers gathered—virtually—to predict an unprecedented race that’s been blindsided by a pandemic and an economic collapse.

The Covid-19 pandemic is changing a lot of things, fast—and one of them is American politics. Everything from campaigning to the way we vote is suddenly up in the air. And that’s on top of a primary season that was already one of the strangest in memory.

What does it mean for President Donald Trump, for Joe Biden’s chances in November, and for the country? Should Biden hide, or come out swinging—and which VP choice would give the Republicans the most to worry about?

To find out, we reconvened our expert panel of four of the Republican Party’s 2016 campaign managers: Danny Diaz (Jeb Bush), Beth Hansen (John Kasich), Jeff Roe (Ted Cruz) and Terry Sullivan (Marco Rubio). When we first gathered last June over drinks and cigars in a smoke-filled room in Washington, the group explored the parallels between the 2016 and 2020 primaries, what made Joe Biden Trump’s toughest opponent in the general election and why Kamala Harris was the “best political athlete” in the race. A few months later, we reassembled the panel—without Hansen, whose flight was canceled—in Austin, Texas, at the Texas Tribune Festival. Biden was slipping, Warren was soaring, and with some two dozen candidates still in the race, the Democrats appeared headed for the type of nasty, protracted primary that Republicans endured four years earlier.

Now, some two months into the norm-obliterating coronavirus pandemic, we gathered for a third time. But with one big change: We did it virtually. There were still drinks and cigars, but we were enjoying them in five different states and multiple time zones. Think of it as a smoke-filled Zoom.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the panel zeroed in on some big-picture worries and some tactical details, including why Covid-19 threatens to tank turnout this November, fears about Trump’s behavior if the election results are uncertain, and the one thing everyone agrees on: Whom the Democrats should nominate for vice president.

Watch the conversation here.