The Democrats are already in full swing for the U.S. presidential election of 2020. The Democratic primaries will be unprecedented crowded with candidates. But a front runner is not in sight. Democrats argue that Donald Trump is a threat to American democracy
Hans Izaak Kriek*
The Democrats are already in full swing for the U.S. presidential election of 2020. The Democratic primaries will be unprecedented crowded with candidates. But a front runner is not in sight. Democrats argue that Donald Trump is a threat to American democracy.
But at the same time, the party’s identity is up for grabs, as a vast and historically diverse crop of candidates brings big, new ideas to a demanding, divided base.
“The Democratic Party is going through a very large transformation,” says party operative Simon Rosenberg, who’s backed the winning candidate in every primary since 1988 but has no favorite this time. “The era of Clinton and Obama is ending and ceding to a new set of dynamics. A new Democratic Party is being forged in front of our eyes.”
Let’s have a look on the candidates so far:
Elisabeth Warren, senator Massachusetts. Advantages: A clear, progressive policy vision combined with a compelling personal story. Disadvantages: Big business loathes her, she is probably too liberal for moderates, and the flap over her Native American heritage doesn’t help.
Cory Booker, senator New Jersey. Advantages: A social media darling and skilled speaker, the Rhodes scholar is pitching himself as a unify candidate. Disadvantages: Has run for federal office only once, after a mixed record as mayor of Newark (NJ).
Julian Castro, former HUD Secretary. Advantages: The ex-Housing and Urban Development chief and former mayor of San Antonio will draw votes in the increasingly blue Southwest. Disadvantages: Cautious and soft spoken, he could have trouble standing out.
Kamala Harris, senator California. Advantages: The charismatic Californian appeals to the party’s anti Trump fervor and desire for diversity. Disadvantages: Elected in 2016, she is untested on the national stage, and her record as a prosecutor will be questioned.
Bernie Sanders, senator Vermont. Advantages: Earned dedicated grassroots following in his surprisingly strong 2016 campaign. Disadvantages: This time he won’t be the only far left candidate or the only alternative to a single front runner.
Amy Klobuchar, senator Minnesota. Advantages: Hails from lowa’s next door neighbour; respected on both sides of the Senate for her policy chops. Disadvantages: Her campaign launch has been dogged by allegations that she bullies staff.
Undeclared are Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman Texas; Sherrod Brown, senator Ohio; Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, once a Republican. Two exploratory committee people were mentioned: Kirsten Gillibrand, senator New York and Pete Buttigieg, mayor South Bend-Ind.
Uncertain is of Joe Biden, former Vice President will run for the next presidency. And what about Hillary Clinton? Rumors go that she’ll try again for running a presidency, and also stories in the main stream media said Michelle Obama would run. Maybe fairytales?
More than anything—more than policy or charisma or age or race or gender—Democratic voters say they care about whether a candidate can beat Donald Trump. The problem is nobody knows how to beat Trump in an election, because nobody’s ever done it.
Trump’s 2016 opponents tried everything. His Republican primary rivals tried ignoring him. They tried reasoning with voters, pointing out that he wasn’t a traditional conservative. Some tried ridiculing him; Marco Rubio insulted the size of his hands.
Ted Cruz tried aligning himself with Trump, which was good enough for second place. In the general election, Hillary Clinton pounded Trump’s character and warned that he posed a danger to U.S. security.
Like Cruz, Clinton built a data-driven, voter–targeting operation with expensive staff, offices and technology, but these state-of-the-art campaign organisations were no match either: Trump beat Clinton with little more than a Twitter account, a personal jet and perhaps a little help from abroad.
The shock of Clinton’s defeat left Democrats feeling gaslight and insecure. Nothing made sense; Trump seemed impossible, maybe invincible. Democrats were second–guessing themselves a lot.
They didn’t trust their own political instincts. Trump wasn’t on the ballot in 2018, but the Democrats’ success in taking back the House of Representatives. But different than other Presidents like Obama and Bill Clinton, Trump kept in his first mid-term elections the Senate and the Republicans even won seats. Also, Obama and Clinton lost in their first midterm elections many more House seats than Trump did.
So far, the 2020 contenders are performing variations on the 2018 playbook: trying to define themselves on substance, issues and policy rather than competing to articulate the most savage indictment of Trump.
Amy Klobuchar, in her announcement speech, said she was running to “take back our democracy.” Kamala Harris insisted, ‘America, we are better than this.’ But the problems they pledge to solve tend to be traditional liberal priorities, like getting money out of politics and making health care more accessible. Demographics are also on the mind of anxious Democratic voters.
Some worry that Trump’s skill at tapping voters’ latent misogyny would make it a mistake to nominate another woman. Others fear his race-baiting would hurt an African–American or Hispanic nominee. And Democrats’ decades-old debate over the relative importance of blue-collar whites and lower–propensity minority voters rages on. Trump seems to delight in ridiculing Elizabeth Warren, while White House advisers say he most fears Joe Biden as an opponent.
And what if Trump isn’t on the ballot? House Democrats have begun hearings into the President’s affairs. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling may be nearing completion.
Impeachment proceedings appear possible, even likely. But Bill Clinton came out of an impeachment procedure more popular than ever. What will happen in the Republican party? Trump has already two challengers.
Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld and Senator Mitt Romney, also a former governor of Massachusetts. Indeed, The President enjoys strong support from most Republicans, but a recent poll found a third of GOP voters open to an alternative.
For now, most Democratic voters are watching the new 2020 candidates and weighing which ones seem best poised to vanquish the President. But electability is in the eye of the beholder. In my experience, people tend to decide who they like, then rationalise how that person can win. That’s what they mean by ‘electability’.
*International political commentator for European Business Review and editor-in-chief of Kriek Media