Way Too Early Thoughts on the 2020 Presidential Election
Two and a half months ago, the 2018 midterms turned the tides in American government, giving the Democratic Party the opportunity to take substantive steps towards stemming the actions of the Trump administration. But it’s time we turn our heads towards the next electoral step: removing Trump from office altogether. While there are two other ways for the Trump presidency to come to the end, in the form of resignation and impeachment, both of which are quite real threats to the Trump presidency, we cannot rest our laurels on the office of Robert Mueller. With eight candidates having already announced their interest in the presidency, including big names such as Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, there are several questions we should ask before the primary race really gets going.
What policies do we want our nominee to support?
How do we want our nominee to sound?
What values do we want them to prioritize?
What experience do we want from our nominee?
However, the question we shouldn’t be asking, and certainly shouldn’t be prioritizing, is this: which nominee is best prepared to defeat Donald Trump?
While it’s imperative (now more than ever) that the Democratic nominee be capable of defeating the incumbent president and sustaining themselves through a long, tough election cycle, the party must avoid losing the forest for the trees. Specifically, the Democratic Party will find itself in a difficult position, come 2020, if we spend the coming months from now until then debating like
ability and electability as opposed to substantive policy goals and solutions. So far, we’ve seen candidates step forward with promising, bold ideas. But we’ve also already seen candidates step forward with the wrong message, arguing that their position close to the world of Trump voters qualifies them for the highest office in the land because of their ability to take said voters away from the president.
Consider, for example, presidential longshot Richard Ojeda, a Democratic State Senator in West Virginia who recently lost a congressional race in West Virginia’s third district by 12 points – a district Trump won by 49 points in 2016. Ojeda wants to run on a certain brand of Democratic populism, arguing that the elitism of the party in recent decades has doomed it to failure, leading to the rise of Donald Trump. Ojeda focuses his brand on labor politics, and he was a strong supporter of West Virginia’s teachers who protested their working conditions and pay, amongst other complaints, in 2018. As reported by Vox, Ojeda characterizes himself as, “a working-class person that basically can relate to the people on the ground, the people that are actually struggling.” Ojeda’s position openly criticizes people, such as Kamala Harris and Kristen Gillibrand, who have built their star power through illustrious careers in politics. While, maybe (emphasis on maybe), this approach could help Democrats win through voters Trump converted
or turned out, Ojeda is missing the point. He’s missing what Democrats need to look for in our candidates and have seen in announcements by candidates such as Kamala Harris and Julián Castro. He’s missing the bold policy proposals, the big ideas, that answer the two most important questions any presidential candidate needs to answer: why me? And why now?
Kamala Harris published her candidacy announcement on Medium and included the statement that I’m most interested in hearing from Democratic nominee, one’s that has been echoed by Elizabeth Warren, Kristen Gillibrand and Julián Castro. Harris said, “I want to be clear: ours will not be a campaign against our current president. It will be a campaign FOR the very future of our country. FOR the people.” She went on to list a series of policies she’s supporting: reducing college debt, increasing taxes on corporations (and decreasing them on the middle class), and fighting for-profit prisons and mass incarceration. Similarly, Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro spent the bulk of their announcements staking out their claims to bold, progressive policy solutions. And yet, despite multiple personal and disgusting Twitter attacks directed her way by the president, Warren has spent little time so far addressing, directly, why she is best positioned to defeat Donald Trump. Ojeda, however, and certainly more to come, stake their entire claim on their ability to beat Trump at his own game. That shouldn’t be, can’t be, our message as a party.
Broadly, the primaries should serve as an opportunity to consider, thoughtfully and intensely, which party best represents the goals of our party. It should serve as an opportunity to elect as our nominee the candidate that will best help reverse the actions of the current administration and promote progressive values, not as an opportunity to bash the most unpopular president in American history. If we just elect Anti-Donald Trump, we are doomed to fail. But if, instead, we find and elect our own voice, we can not only take back the White House, but we can begin to build a lasting progressive coalition positioned to move this country forward.