Seth Moulton eyes Trump’s national security voters in 2020 presidential campaign

Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who announced for president on Monday, said in an interview that he believes Donald Trump will be more difficult to defeat than many Democrats expect, even as he argued that his own national security credentials open the door with some of the president’s supporters—and help him stand out in an ever-expanding primary field.

“A lot of people are still planning to vote for him. And that’s a reality we have to confront as Democrats, that there are a lot of Americans who are still frustrated with our party, our leadership,” Moulton told McClatchy.

“There’s a feeling that there’s a hole in this race,” Moulton, a third-term congressman and decorated Marine veteran who served in Iraq, continued. “That we aren’t talking enough about how we’re going to make the country strong and secure.”

Moulton, who is not well-known in some of the early states compared to many of his rivals, hopes that his own emphasis on those issues will help him break out in a diverse and crowded field. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has his own lengthy national security and foreign policy resume, is expected to launch his campaign as soon as this week.

“I believe we need a next-generation leader who’s tough enough to take on Trump,” Moulton said. “I have immense respect for the vice president, and he has been a mentor and a friend. But I’m proud to be running in this race myself.”

Moulton played a significant role in boosting other Democratic veteran candidates in competitive midterm contests last cycle. But the congressman, a longtime advocate for new Democratic House leadership, also angered some activists with his pointed criticism of now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has drawn praise from many her party for effectively fighting back against Trump.

Moulton conceded that “she’s doing a great job taking on Trump,” but insisted that he hasn’t heard backlash in the early-voting presidential primary states.

“If it’s a question of whether I’m willing to stand up to the establishment in Washington, the answer is, absolutely,” he said. “It will make me a stronger nominee against Trump that I’m willing to take on Washington.”

Moulton’s announcement Monday, made through a video and an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” here in New York, makes him the 19th Democratic presidential hopeful to enter the race.

He joins several other House members in the 2020 field, including Reps. Eric Swalwell and Tim Ryan, and veterans including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has controversial foreign policy views, especially on Syria.

Moulton and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, another veteran in the race, both advocate for a national service program.

Asked about that, Moulton replied, “I’m delighted to see other candidates talking about this, but this is something I’ve been talking about for a long time.”

His campaign will “be releasing a robust plan that I think will differentiate me from the field,” Moulton said.

After a round of media appearances in New York Monday, Moulton is set to head to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa, California and Nevada over the coming week.

In South Carolina on Wednesday, he is slated to do a beach clean-up and meet-and-greet with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3137 in Isle of Palms, followed by a virtual town hall in Charleston.

“We’re going to start with veterans and college students and build out from there,” Moulton said. “We’re going to start with that strategy everywhere. South Carolina is a great example of a state with a vibrant veterans’ community. The response on the ground has already been strong. A lot of veterans encouraged me to get in this race and to run.”

He said he expected to start rolling out endorsements later this week or next.

Moulton is a white man running in a party that prizes diversity, and some Democrats and particularly college students say they are inclined to vote for a woman or person of color this cycle. Asked to respond to that, Moulton pointed to his time leading diverse platoons in the military.

“My job was to get them united behind a common mission for our country,” he said. “In many ways I think that’s the job of the next president of the United States ... in such a divided time in our nation’s history.”

Katie Glueck is a senior national political correspondent at McClatchy D.C., where she covered the 2018 midterm contests and is now reporting on the 2020 presidential campaigns. Previously, she was a reporter at POLITICO, where she covered the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections as well as the 2014 midterms. Her work has also appeared in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Washingtonian magazine, Town & Country magazine and The Austin American-Statesman. She is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a native of Kansas City.