So, earlier this week, the Electoral College met in each state and decided that a wealthy, racist landowner who lost the popular vote by around 3 million should become President. You know, as the Founders intended.
Fine. That was always the most likely result, after an election day in which pretty much every prognosticator got everything wrong, and several states the Clinton campaign thought were “safe” narrowly selected Donald Trump.
There have been approximately eleventy gazillion thinkpieces from every possible political slant, all trying to figure out what happened. I will probably explore some of that myself, over the next few weeks.
However, one thing I want to mention is that the Democrats need to stop focusing on the Presidency. Yes, keeping the White House was incredibly important. And yes, getting it back in four years is even more necessary. But that said, a lot of the problems Democrats faced this year (and in years past), occurred because they tend to neglect the “downballot” races in favor of going after the top spot. There were US House races this year where Republicans ran unopposed! There was one in Texas where Hillary Clinton actually carried the district. The Democrats screwed themselves by not focusing on the local. Governor’s mansions are mostly Republican. Same with state legislatures. While Democrats are alternating between self-flagellation and absolute denial over Hillary losing Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the real groundwork for the defeat was at the local, county, and state levels, where Republicans kicked the asses of Democrats all over the country (and have for years).
I definitely believe that focusing so much on the top spot has hurt Democrats in the long run. Building an infrastructure from the bottom up is how a party holds power. Thinking ahead to the 2020 Presidential race is counterproductive and pointless, especially with all the work Democrats will need to do just to keep Trump in check.
Now, let’s talk about the 2020 Presidential race!
Okay, lemme explain.
This is mostly for me. I am gradually bringing myself to the reality of 4 years with President Trump. I’m preparing myself for a pretty shitty (and busy) time. However, before I dive into complete opposition mode, I’d like to take a look at the Democrats’ current roster. How deep is their bench? Who among current party members might make a strong Presidential candidate 4 years from now? Who might already be looking ahead to 2020?
This is mostly an exercise in political masturbation. It’s just for me, and anyone interested in pointless speculation.
Four years is a long time in politics. A lot can happen between now and then. Many of these names may not even be viable by summer of 2019, when they’re expected to start looking into running.
These are names that intrigue me now. I’d like to see where they’re at in three years. If one or more of them make some noise, I can point to this article and provide a big, loud “I told you so.”
In early 2013, I did something similar, although I didn’t make the mistake of posting it online. My top choice at that point was Martin O’Malley. I still stand by him as a good pick to run for president, even though his candidacy was derailed by bad timing and a disappointing lack of personality. I’m hoping that one of the people I’m listing here can do better than he did.
Except for maybe the top 3, these are in no particular order. They’re just names I’d like to see sometime in mid-2019, hopefully starting “exploratory committees.” A primary with these any of these individuals would certainly be interesting.
Anyway, here are some people I’m going to keep an eye on for the next four years:
Sherrod Brown – My personal favorite. I had rooted for him to run for President this year, and then hoped Hillary Clinton would offer the VP spot to him when she won the nomination. Brown was a US Representative from Ohio for 14 years, and then has been a Senator since 2006. He was also the Ohio Secretary of State from 1982 to 1990. Ideologically, he’s Elizabeth Warren, but with more experience and maybe a touch less charisma. He has expressed zero interest in running in the past, and will turn 68 the week before Election Day 2020. But 4 years, as I’ve already noted, is a long time.
Tammy Duckworth – The newly elected Senator from Illinois would no doubt receive some scrutiny for not having been born in the United States, but since her father was a native-born American, the issue would likely go the same way as it did for Ted Cruz, John McCain, George Romney, Barry Goldwater, and Lowell Weicker. Despite having less overall political experience than most of this list, her resume is beyond impressive. She was commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserve, and became a helicopter pilot, specifically because it was an opportunity for a combat role, something denied to women at the time. She served for years in the Reserve, then the National Guard. In 2004, while serving in Iraq, her helicopter was shot down by an RPG, and she lost both of her legs, and almost lost her arm. After the injuries, she was fitted with prosthetics, and requested to remain in the Army Reserve. She finally retired in 2014 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. A year later, she finished her PhD in Human Services. Meanwhile, she served from 2006 to 2009 as the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, was elected in 2012 and 2014 for two terms in the US House, and has now been elected to the Senate. She seems to hold positions that place her solidly on the left side of the party. She’s relatively young, and will be 52 next Election Day.
Al Franken – In 1999, Franken wrote a satirical novel titled, “Why Not Me?” It was a look at a fictional version of Franken running for President in 2000. Obviously the humor was (in part) due to a politically inexperienced entertainer running surprisingly successfully for the highest office in the land. 17 years later, life imitated art, when a politically inexperienced entertainer ran surprisingly successfully for the highest office in the land. So, why not him? By 2020, Franken will have served in the US Senate 3 times longer than President Obama did. At least he will have his likely general election opponent beat in the experience category. He has been a generally reliable liberal voice and a serious policymaker. And after Donald Trump, it would be impossible to cast Franken as an unserious lightweight.
Cory Booker – This is a pick that will cause Bernie Sanders fans to roll their eyes in unison. Many progressives don’t trust him. Why is that? Booker holds solidly liberal positions on most issues. He has a track record of successfully balancing the budget, and turning around the local economy of Newark, where he served as mayor. He’s intelligent, experienced, and an excellent communicator. So what gives? Well, he also has a poor track record regarding education. He has been a strong advocate of expanding charter schools, and of school vouchers. School privatization activists have seen him as an ally, and conversely, many public educators have taken issue with his positions on schools. Booker also has enjoyed a relatively cozy relationship with Wall Street, and is often viewed as the kind of pro-corporate Democrat that has fallen out of style recently. However, after a few years of Donald Trump and his calamitous cadre of corporate capitalist cronies (sorry), even a relatively business-friendly Democrat like Booker may still appear populist by comparison. Plus, Booker will only be 51 next Election Day. At the very least, he should hold his own in debates during a primary race, and would ably represent the “establishment.”
Julian Castro – Castro has been discussed as a potential VP pick since before he joined Barack Obama’s cabinet. He reportedly came in second to Tim Kaine for Hillary Clinton’s running mate spot. Castro has been seen for a while as a rising star in the Democratic Party. He was a city councillor in San Antonio, and then later served as mayor. He was selected as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 2014. Castro has, like Cory Booker, received quite a bit of criticism from progressives as being too friendly to banks and corporate interests. Castro has argued that working with private interests is necessary in his position. While generally quite liberal, he would also be seen as an “establishment” candidate. Castro will have plenty of supporters and detractors on the left, but over the next few years, the supporters will likely increase. Plus, he’ll be 46 years old in 2020, and looks about 19, so that may be an advantage against what will be a 74 year old Trump.
Joe Biden – Let me start off with the obvious number one criticism. Uncle Joe will be 78 just a couple weeks after election day 2020, one year older than Reagan was when he left office. This will certainly be used against him, even by a similarly geriatric Trump. It’s not like Trump has any problem being counterintuitive in his political attacks. But Biden may arguably be stronger in a head-to-head matchup with Trump than anybody else. Yeah, he’s old, yeah he’s part of the establishment, and yeah, sometimes he’s a bit inappropriate. But he’s also experienced, effective, and charismatic. He has been a consequential actor in the Obama administration, which has not always been (historically) the case for Vice Presidents. For a guy frequently derided as a clown, he has a solid grasp of policy, is a knowledgeable diplomat, and is a good debater, having mopped the floor with Paul Ryan (who has often been treated as some sort of policy genius). Biden is also viewed as corporate friendly in the same mold as Obama and Clinton, and that combined with his age will be big marks against him. But at this very early point, Biden has to be considered the Democratic favorite.
Tom Perez – Soon to be former Secretary of Labor under Barack Obama, Perez was a dark horse candidate for the VP spot this past election. Called a racist by a handful of far-right extremists like Jeff Sessions (an actual racist, by the way), he had generally liberal views on social issues and criminal justice. He is definitely to the left of some of this group, but hardly out of the mainstream. Perez has only served in an elected position at the county level, he also worked for Martin O’Malley as the Maryland Secretary of Labor, and was an Assistant Attorney General during President Obama’s first term. He speaks some Spanish, which doesn’t hurt. His lack of elected experience might be a drawback, though he is currently running for Chair of the DNC, which is… sort of an elected position. Will be 59 by Election Day 2020.
Russ Feingold – This one isn’t happening, for a variety of reasons. Probably most importantly – he’s now lost two straight Senate races against horrible bigot Ron Johnson. By 2020, he will have been out of elected office for a decade. However, I just really like the guy. Bernie fans disappointed with their Democratic options probably couldn’t do better, ideologically. He’s a decade younger than Bernie, and holds similar positions. He might be the best option for fans of civil liberties, being the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act back in 2001. He’s been the strongest advocate for campaign finance reform, as well as financial regulations. He is as non-interventionist as it gets, from a foreign policy perspective. He’s relatively moderate on gun policy (much like Bernie), which should help a bit against the pro-gun ideologues. He was an advocate for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage back before it was cool. From the perspective of where he stands on the issues, Feingold is by far my favorite candidate. From an electability standpoint, I’m not so sure.
Kirsten Gillibrand – Seen by many (including herself) as something of a successor to Hillary Clinton, Gillibrand is currently serving in Clinton’s old Senate seat. Okay, so she’s literally a successor to Clinton. Like the former Secretary of State, Senator Gillibrand also started out as a lawyer. However, her professional beginnings included a stint as a corporate attorney for Phillip Morris, which will doubtless provide ammunition for primary opponents. She worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and was mentored by Clinton. Gillibrand was elected to the US House in a relatively conservative district in upstate New York in 2006, and again in 2008. When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, Gillibrand was appointed to her old seat by then-Governor David Paterson, then won a special election in 2010, and a “normal” election in 2012. She has been quite flexible in terms of her policy positions over the years, holding centrist views while in the House, and shifting gradually to the left in the Senate. While more of a populist now, she is still fairly conservative on civil liberties issues. Her flexibility (see: flip-flopping) may hurt her at the top of a ticket, but she might make for a solid VP choice. She’ll be 54 by November 2020.
Xavier Becerra – The longtime congressman from Los Angeles appears poised to become California’s Attorney General. He spent 24 years in the US House, is a fine public speaker, and holds agreeably liberal positions on most issues. He was also among those considered for a cabinet position under President Obama, and as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton. He may not be on anyone’s current list for 2020, but Democrats could do much worse. If he is able to use his new position to speak up as an opponent of Donald Trump, he may start to look more promising in a few years.
Kamala Harris – Newly elected Senator Harris is taking the seat vacated by retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, and is being replaced as California Attorney General by the person immediately preceding her on this list, Xavier Becerra. She’s relatively young, both African American and Asian American, and is a remarkably engaging speaker. She filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case DC v Heller, arguing that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to firearms, forever giving her a place in my political heart (but also providing plenty of ammunition for Republicans). Speaking of ammunition, as the San Francisco District Attorney, she dealt with some controversies regarding disclosure issues that would likely be used in a presidential race. Regardless, she has nothing that compares to the decades of graft and corruption that Trump brings to a political race, and perhaps Harris could be the one to capitalize on that.
Tim Kaine – America’s nerdy stepdad said, “Nope” when asked about running in 2020. Of course, minds change frequently in the world of national politics. With his overall experience, competence, and general decency, he would still be a solid choice. I will admit I grew quite fond of him during this year’s campaign, and I’m sad that the stepdad jokes won’t be replacing the Biden goofy uncle jokes in the White House. Tim Kaine isn’t mad about that, just disappointed.
Elizabeth Warren – My birthday twin (minus 33 years) is one of the best attack dogs against corporate malfeasance in America. An American public disaffected by Trump backtracking on all populist rhetoric may embrace Warren. She’s Bernie Sanders, but more telegenic, and friendlier to the Democratic political infrastructure. Warren will also be 71 by 2020. That may not hurt her against an older Trump, but could be a problem in a primary race. Nonetheless, if she wants it, she has a good shot at the Democratic nomination.
Tulsi Gabbard – Tulsi Gabbard is an interesting case. She is Samoan, is the first Hindu Congressperson, is by far the youngest person on this list, and has close ties to Bernie Sanders. She isn’t afraid of criticizing her party, whether it was President Obama on Syria, or former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on, well, everything. Gabbard is a highly-decorated Iraq War veteran and currently holds the rank of Major in the US Army. She served two years in the Hawaii House of Representatives, 2 years as a Honolulu City Councillor, and has been a member of the US House for 4 years. She holds political positions consistent with Bernie Sanders and progressives of his ilk, but has on occasion raised eyebrows for rather lukewarm positions on gun laws, and borderline Islamophobic rhetoric. Her attacks on President Obama for not using phrases like “Islamic extremism” were surprisingly unnuanced and bellicose. Some on the right have praised her for these stances, as well as her stated willingness to work with Donald Trump. Nonetheless, on 95% of the major issues, she stands on the left side of the party. She has a unique story, is quite young, and possesses a lot of charisma. Oh yeah, and Google really wants me to look at pictures of her surfing.
John Hickenlooper – At one point, the common wisdom was that state governors had the best experience to transition into the Presidency. Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush II all seemed to confirm this. But most of the major party nominees since W have lacked gubernatorial experience (save for Romney), and it’s mostly been Senators or corrupt businessmen who have gotten the nod lately. But for those who dig that executive background, Hickenlooper has been a largely successful governor of a purplish state since 2010, and may be the best possible option among a rather scant list of Democratic governors.
Bill de Blasio – I like him, but he’s going to struggle just to get re-elected as mayor of New York. Perhaps he can turn things around over the next few years, and present himself as a possible challenger. On the issues, he definitely stands with progressives in the Democratic party. But his current record is a mixed one, and his present issues are enough for me to mark him as “tentative” for now.
Martin O’Malley – Jason Whitlock had Jeff George. I’ve got Martin O’Malley. Like Jeff George, O’Malley is probably better on paper than in reality. But looking at that paper – O’Malley is ideal. He’s quite liberal, intelligent, and experienced. He served 8 years as the mayor of Baltimore, and 8 years as governor of Maryland. Just based on the numbers – crime rates, educational achievement, economic progress – his 16 years in those offices were a resounding success. But as mayor of a city with major racial tensions, his record on policing and addressing racial disparities was less than exemplary. To his credit, he was able to acknowledge that as governor, and even moreso as a presidential candidate. His plans to address systemic racism were by far the most comprehensive of the 2016 primary season. Like I said, I will always pull for the guy. But I think he may have arrived on the national political stage a few years too late.
Someone Else – “I’m someone else!” “He’s right!”
I should probably note that this list is primarily who I would like to see run for president. I don’t necessarily think all of them would make great presidents. I believe Hillary Clinton would have been a much more effective president than Bernie Sanders, even though I supported Sanders in the primary, and generally preferred his positions to Clinton. Sometimes the strength of a candidate versus an elected official is such that they can affect the nature of the debate itself. Bernie Sanders definitely helped push Hillary Clinton to the left on several policy positions, and was able to garner outsized media coverage compared with his actual support (despite what some of his more conspiracy-minded supporters believe).
Based on Trump’s disinterest in clearing up his blatant and seemingly endless conflicts of interest, his initial bizarre cabinet nominations, and his continual lies – it should not be difficult to mount a solid argument against him in 4 years. Or against Mike Pence, assuming Trump manages to stumble straight into impeachment. “Drain the swamp” was a constant refrain over the last few months, with Trump railing against Goldman Sachs, military leaders he claims to know more than, Wall Street, and “the establishment.” Then Trump surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs, generals, Wall Street, and “the establishment.” As noted above, even corporate-friendly Democrats will be able to position themselves as populists next to Trump.
I have no real clue what’s going to happen over the next four years. That unpredictability is part of the problem with Donald Trump as president. I do know that liberals, progressives, leftists, and centrists will all need to focus on the here and now. Don’t worry too much about 2020. There will be much work to be done over the next few years.
But keep the aforementioned names in the back of your mind, so at the very least, I can get an “I-told-you-so” in 2020.