A mosaic of the many potential Democratic 2020 presidential candidates. Photo: Associated Press
As the dust settles after the 2018 midterm election, all eyes are once again on the Democrats as they endeavor to successfully oust President Donald Trump. Given Democrats’ relative success in the recent midterm election, it is not surprising that the Democratic field is poised to one of the widest yet. However, if a Democratic candidate is to emerge victorious against Trump, he or she cannot be only, as my state’s newly elected governor Gavin Newsom says, “resistance with results,” but a candidate who actually stands for a unifying ideology that supersedes “ Trump is bad, so vote for me.”
In an earlier piece of mine, I argued that centrist, moderate candidates would likely be the toughest opponents for Republicans to defeat. One example in particular was and is Democrat Conor Lamb, who infamously defied expectations by winning in a Trump-leaning Pennsylvania district in a March special election, and cruised to victory in the midterms. While Lamb isn’t ready for the scorching spotlight of a presidential run, he represents the most likely path for Democrats to regain the White House in 2020; Democrats need a candidate who is not created or defined by opposition to President Trump but holds nuanced, left of center populist positions is clearly the most likely to take the White House.
The likely field of candidates for 2020 can be broken up into three categories: the old guard, the progressive newcomers, and the insurgent outsiders.
The old guard consists of the Obama-Biden wing of the party. Though many in 2008 viewed this wing as bleeding-edge progressive and liberal, the changing demographics and values of the Democratic party have turned the Obama wing into the party’s conservative faction, whose most popular (but not necessarily most viable) candidate is former US senator and vice president Joe Biden. Many believe that Biden is the centrist candidate that Democrats need to restore the “blue wall” in the Midwest that Trump demolished in 2016. Biden no doubt has blue collar appeal, but Biden is 76 years old and is thus old news to forward-thinking Democrats. Biden has already run for president twice and lost badly each time, never coming even close to securing the Democratic nomination. If Biden is successfully nominated, Trump will tie him to the very rural decline under the Obama administration that got Trump elected in the first place, thereby all but guaranteeing his re-election.
Other potential candidates in the old guard include New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Brown, who has indicated his interest in running, hails from a prominent swing state, and won re-election for his 3rd term with broad bipartisan support, would fare better in the Democratic primary than solidly establishment Cuomo. He even has the credentials to defeat Trump due to his rust-belt appeal and his efforts to be more than exclusively anti-Trump; however, in today’s hyper-progressive Democratic party, Brown is unlikely to get in the nomination–Trump and the Republicans will be dodging a bullet here.
The largest number of candidates hail from the progressive wing, largely because the party has moved further left. These progressive newcomers are headlined by senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the notorious 2016 runner-up.It is because of the current popularity of the progressive wing that I also predict that it is most likely that a progressive will end up facing Trump in 2020. While Harris and Warren are sure bets with solid Democratic voters, who represent the majority of Democratic primary voters, they do not hold enough appeal in 2020’s swing states; either of them leading the ticket in states like Michigan or Pennsylvania, spells certain defeat for the Democratic party.
The final group of potential candidates are the insurgent outsiders, candidates who are not deeply embedded in the Washington Beltway and do not have established allegiances to either wing of the party. These include uber-leftist billionaire Tom Steyer, former Virginia governor and my dark horse pick Terry McAuliffe, and former Republican turned Democrat mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg. These wildcard candidates have the means to finance expensive national campaigns on their own, thus giving them a significant edge in a contested Democratic nomination that is bound to be the most expensive in history. While Steyer would be washed out by the rest of the swarm of progressives in a contested nomination, McAuliffe or Bloomberg could emerge as the favorite by picking off enough progressive votes while emerging as the conservative wing’s champion. In a general election, either McAuliffe or Bloomberg spell trouble for President Trump, with each having the ability to unite both Democratic wings, compete for undecided rust-belt votes, and even win over Republican anti-Trumpers.
The Democrats have their most important choice of the century to make in 2020. If they are to build on their success in 2018, they need a fresh face, a candidate who is about more than simple opposition to Trump and holds centrist positions more in line with the country as a whole. While Trump is the current favorite for 2020 due to strong rust-belt support and the incumbency advantage, if the Democrats nominate a new, centrist candidate, they have a significant chance at re-claiming the White House.