(CNN) In 2016, Donald Trump did his best to tarnish his opponent Hillary Clinton with an email "scandal" that amounted to nothing. In his 2020 reelection campaign, Trump's team has worked to conjure a similar cloud of controversy over Joe Biden's son Hunter, all without producing evidence of wrongdoing.
But now that Biden is fighting to save his candidacy, the President may have to prepare for a complicated set of competitors -- including Michael Bloomberg, a deci-billionaire who is spending whatever it takes to win; Bernie Sanders, a "Democratic socialist" who won the New Hampshire primary and has the allegiance of many young voters; and Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, two fresher faces with growing support.
This week, Democratic candidates will appear in CNN town halls and face off in a debate in Las Vegas days before Saturday's Nevada caucus.
The previously "unelectable" Mike Bloomberg is being given a serious look by Democrats, wrote Joe Lockhart. The former New York mayor is "charisma challenged," has taken controversial stances, and in many quarters is seen as a symbol of the unaccountable one percent, Lockhart noted.
"Why are Democrats considering overlooking Bloomberg's baggage now to the point that he's currently running as high as third, according to a Quinnipiac poll? Because, in my view, rank and file Democrats are so invested in the imperative to defeat Donald Trump they may well be willing to ignore the issues that kept Bloomberg out of the race at the outset."
Bloomberg may soon qualify for his first debate, wrote his former aide Arick Wierson, but he should think twice before accepting. "Holding his own on next week's national stage would be a boon to the campaign, but the chances of him coming off as dry, lacking empathy, and somewhat mechanical loom large... Bloomberg is not exactly a warm and fuzzy guy. He has a good sense of humor, but it's dry and a bit racy, meaning it rarely comes out in a public forum. He can appear stiff -- possibly why President Trump has taken to Twitter to troll the former mayor, tweeting that he 'can't debate and has zero presence.' "
Bloomberg has been effusively apologizing for his "stop and frisk" program in New York City. Last week, a 2015 audio recording resurfaced, with the former mayor speaking about crime in minority neighborhoods, prompting Jill Filipovic to write, "These statements should be disqualifying for Bloomberg on their face: We definitely don't need another president who uses racist scare tactics and outlandishly false claims to justify his bad policy goals."
Biden, the Democrats' onetime frontrunner, still has a shot, argued Tara Setmayer, but time is running out: "Months of the Republicans' constant drumbeat of blatant falsehoods and character assassination against Biden and his son Hunter throughout the impeachment trial, without an aggressive strategy from Biden to get ahead of it, has apparently worked. Biden's inability to seize control of the narrative and effectively mount an offense may have mortally wounded his candidacy. If Biden loses South Carolina, it's over."
After Nevada, the Democratic primary heads south, beginning with South Carolina Feb. 29. "Come on down, y'all," wrote former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "Now that almost 2% of delegates have been awarded from two very white states, attention will quickly shift to my neck of the woods," he noted.
"There are states with major delegate hauls. And states where black and brown voters will play a huge role...ultimately, southern Democrats are pragmatists. They want someone who can beat Trump and restore sanity to the White House."
Oh, and the food. "The southern food culture is strong, from Texas, Memphis and Carolina BBQ to the Deep South's soul food to the shrimp and grits of the Low Country. So be prepared to eat."
The Justice Department's about-face came after Trump started rooting out those who testified during his impeachment hearings. Elie Honigargued that Trump's dismissal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman amounted to criminal witness retaliation.
"Trump himself publicly admitted that his purpose was to retaliate, directly mentioning Vindman's testimony as a cause for the move; Vindman 'reported contents of my 'perfect' calls incorrectly,' said Trump. When asked if Vindman deserves disciplinary action, Trump said that the decision lies with the military. And Donald Trump Jr. outright gloated in a tweet, delighting in the vengeful nature of the removals of two decorated military veterans."
It was too much for former White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, who defended Vindman's decision to protest what he considered an "illegal order." Peter Bergen wrote, "We have come to an extraordinary moment in the United States when some of the most senior retired military leaders in the country are publicly taking President Trump to task. Traditionally, such officers have not taken political positions, even in retirement."
Lev Golinkin, a writer and refugee from the Soviet Union, argued Democrats should be wary of rhetoric that compares the Trump administration's actions to those of dictatorship. "It's hard to explain just how absurd and insulting this is, especially for someone like me, who came to the US as a refugee from an actual dictatorship," he noted.
For more on Trump's White House:
Anushay Hossain: Hope Hicks's return is a sure sign of White House arrogance.
Merrill Brown: Conservatives see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Trump
Joe Manchin: The President is not a king.
Samantha Vinograd: Trump's Friday night massacre
Julian Zelizer: The most radical 2020 candidate
Frida Ghitis: Why coronavirus is an ethical minefield
Jeff Yang: Thank you, Andrew Yang
Michael D'Antonio: With viral meme, Trump gets a taste of his own medicine
Kara Alaimo: Who owns the right to your face?
Peniel Joseph: Debunking the mythology of Malcolm X
Stephanie Rousselle: What the French know about love