The White House considers Gov. John Hickenlooper a potential challenger to President Donald Trump in 2020 and has hired consultants to “scour” his background, according to a report in the New York Post.
The story by Post reporter Aaron Short relies on anonymous sources “close to the administration,” and has the salacious whiff of a tabloid expose, but it also appears to have set off a Twitter spat on Sunday morning between Trump and brash billionaire Mark Cuban, one of the other three “outspoken Democrats” pegged along with Hickenlooper.
Chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, the former Brietbart News publisher credited with resurrecting Trump’s campaign when he took over as CEO last summer, is supposed to have tasked consultants with investigating Hickenlooper, Cuban and two Democratic senators, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown — think Columbo without the raincoat — and Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, a young thorn in the Republican administration’s side.
“The White House political department wants people to start looking into them,” a source close to the White House told the Post, adding, “Trump is obsessed with running for re-election.”
Some names were prominent by their absence from the list, Short wrote, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — “too old” — and both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, because they’ve supposedly been “tainted by corruption.”
Among the four potential challengers, Hickenlooper and Brown were both said to have been on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s short list for vice president. (Hickenlooper, Brown, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Warren, Booker, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro reportedly went through a grueling vetting process and met with Clinton right before she announced Kaine was her pick.)
The Post’s sources say Murphy and Brown are seen as “viable threats,” with the ability to kick-start fundraising and rapidly assemble an army of supporters.
Hickenlooper “is seen as a less-combative rising star,” the Post reports.
Short’s account reserves the most ink for a discussion of Cuban, considered the White House’s “biggest fear” because his appeal — like Trump’s — can cross party lines. “He’s not the typical candidate,” a second source quoth, noting that the reality TV star and Dallas Mavericks owner could pony up some serious cash for a run.
The tabloid’s portrayal of the Cuban threat, so to speak, might have irked Trump, who fired off an insulting tweet before dawn on Sunday.
“I know Mark Cuban well. He backed me big-time but I wasn’t interested in taking all of his calls. He’s not smart enough to run for president!” Trump wrote.
Cuban replied to Trump’s tweet with a succinct “LOL” about a half hour later. About an hour after that, he tweeted that he had no idea what had prompted Trump’s attack: “I don’t know. But isn’t it better for all of us that he is tweeting rather than trying to govern?”
As for Hickenlooper’s spot on the select White House target list, the governor didn’t appear to be too concerned — he was traveling on official business in California and unavailable for comment, said a spokeswoman, and probably hadn’t even seen the Post report.
But even a “less-combative” challenger has a background worth scouring, right?
Except that Hickenlooper hasn’t ever hidden the fact he’s exceedingly human — the word “quirky” was officially banished years ago from any Hickenlooper coverage because of its omnipresence — and that’s a key element in his appeal.
Bannon’s minions could save a lot of legwork by ordering a copy of the governor’s candid — some would say bracingly refreshing — memoir, “The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics,” co-written with former speechwriter Maximillian Potter and published last spring. (Spoiler: the title refers to a favorite Hickenlooper joke, and the answer is “giddyup.”) A highlighter will come in handy as Hickenlooper recounts marital woes, his experiences smoking pot and the nude selfie he once took in a bathtub. And then there was the time he took his mother to see the X-rated movie “Deep Throat.”
Suffice it to say that the Trump team will be able to find plenty of oppo research about Hickenlooper — maybe even the Running of the Pigs and the fancy suits he tried on when he was running for mayor — but they might also find that it isn’t any secret.