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They’re all the same out-of-touch, establishment leaders making the same bad decisions, argues Seth Moulton: the military leaders he disagreed with when he was in the Marines; the congressman he beat in a primary to win his Massachusetts seat in 2014; the House speaker whose leadership he’s challenged in recent years and who’s refusing to impeach Donald Trump; and the Democratic National Committee, which won’t give him a spot in the presidential debates next week.

To the congressman, not making the stage in Detroit is both a validation of his (proud) contrarianism and the beginning of a new phase of his grasping 2020 campaign.  

“I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve challenged the establishment that people across the country have said, ‘Thank you—thank you for being willing to go up against the Washington establishment,’” Moulton told me in an interview this week for the Radio Atlantic podcast. “I still have yet to meet a voter who’s said, ‘Seth, I just wish you’d be a little bit more establishment. I wish you would just do what all those people in Washington tell you to do.’ That’s not what Americans want, and my job is to represent the American people.”

His campaign, so far focused primarily on national-security and veterans’ issues, has settled on an argument for why he won’t be at the debates: It’s not because he didn’t meet the minimum qualifying criteria. Rather, it’s because Democratic leaders are trying to shield the other candidates from him—just like, he feels, they’re effectively shielding the president from impeachment.

“I think, in the light of history, the Democratic Party’s failure to take action on this will be viewed very poorly,” Moulton said. “When my nine-month-old daughter is reading about this in her college history books 20 years from now, I don’t think we’ll look strong or right in the light of history that we just failed to uphold our constitutional duty to uphold the law.”

He described how Trump’s leadership of the military in particular makes him “extremely” worried: “There’s nothing that fundamentally concerns me more.”

For all his talk, Moulton knows he’s a long shot, and he told me he’ll eagerly run for his House seat again if and when he pulls the plug on his presidential bid. But he’s still itching to go up against Trump, whom he accused of “putting American lives at risk.”

His own profile—that of a Marine decorated for his experience in combat—is the profile of “someone who can go up on that debate stage, and ask him about his bone spurs,” Moulton said, “and appeal to the Americans who are disturbed by the fact that this purely unpatriotic draft dodger is hugging the American flag and trying to represent the troops at the same time that he’s failing at his duties as commander in chief.”

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