The Democrats and 2020 | An Identity Crisis Unfolding
With twenty months left on the clock until the presidential election, it might seem rather premature to start discussing potential candidates from within the Democrats to lead the fight for the White House. However, with the Democrats already appearing to show signs of fragmentation through the stream of campaign announcements by different figures with varying ideas, I feel it is now time to talk 2020 and whether the Democrats can even stand a chance of winning.
Fallout of 2016
The impact of the 2016 presidential election was shock-worthy. It was widely expected among mainstream political pundits, pollsters, and figures across party lines that Clinton would clinch the presidency by a reasonable margin. There had been controversies from both Clinton and Trump, but Clinton’s victories in the debates and optimism over winning states such as Wisconsin clouded the reality of what would be an unprecedented event. In the end, Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million, but Trump won the majority of electoral votes, having also won important battleground states such as Florida.
Clinton’s defeat was a hard slap in the face for a party that was in total belief that Trump would lose, and the Democrats would have control for another four years at least. However, this was not the case as we know now. And because of that, the Democrats have found themselves without a clear identity or leader to bring the party back together. What unites the party these days is their disdain for Trump and his administration, but that masks the fundamental problems of where the party will be and what identity they will have over the coming years.
Who can lead the Democrats?
What remains are divisions between the centrist and progressive factions of the party. And with the likes of Obama, Clinton and, for now, Biden out of the picture, the centrist wing of the party appears to lack a clear leader. In contrast, the progressives have leaders such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and in the near future perhaps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose name is quickly becoming recognised as a future star of the party. The left of the party is rising, and the centrist factions do not have an answer to that. Is it time for a progressive figure to lead the party? I believe so. Elizabeth Warren serves as the ideal example of a progressive that is experienced and offers something different. Increased taxation on corporations, stronger antitrust laws, expanded representation for workers on company boards, and even the decriminalisation of marijuana, all reflect a distinct breakaway from traditional flirtations with big businesses and middle-of-the-road approaches to the economy. The age of Obama and Clinton has now passed, and for the Democrats to stand a chance, there needs to be a fresher face to lead the party to victory.
The role of Joe Biden
Despite my desire to see a progressive candidate lead the Democrats, it will not be as simple as that unfortunately. Whilst Elizabeth Warren, among other more progressive candidates such as Tulsi Gabbard, will offer fresher ideas, the importance of reputation is still crucial. That is why Joe Biden remains such a wildcard at the moment. Biden is the former Vice President, part of an administration that served the country for eight years, and his name and reputation is almost universal. With the likes of Obama and Clinton now out of the way, Biden is the de facto leader of the centrist wing, and perhaps the de facto leader of the Democrats – should he choose to assume that role. Despite not announcing a campaign, Biden currently leads the most recent polls, and a recent pollpublished by CNN, in conjunction with SSRS, shows that Biden has the lead over figures such as Sanders and Warren, and even Donald Trump, with 50% of adults being very or somewhat likely to vote for him.The point being that until Biden makes an announcement on his political future, none of these candidates, such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, or Tulsi Gabbard, will be definitive frontrunners.
Compromise is the age-old tactic used in democratic politics around the world. It is no different with the Democrats, and it might just be the lifeline they need in preparation for 2020. If Biden decides to run, I think it is safe to say he will be a frontrunner, if not within the strongest chance of securing the nomination. If none of the other candidates, particularly those I feel would offer the best vision, such as Warren, fail to make an impact in the debates, then it is time to switch to another proposal. In this scenario, Joe Biden becomes the presidential candidate for the Democrats, but he decides to appoint a progressive as his VP. In this situation, I would argue for Elizabeth Warren to assume the role. She already expressed in 2016 that she was ready to become a Vice President, and with another several years of political experience now under her belt since, she would make the ideal candidate to partner Biden. They will have immense experience, they can compliment each other on the philosophy of the party and their administration, and it would help to unify the Democrats, which is the main focus of my thoughts in this article. Unity is important, and with the number of Democrat candidates growing, there needs to be unity somewhere before it is too late. Granted, it is important to let these candidates have their say and offer their visions, particularly for the reason of searching for what the party wants post-2016. But success will not come from disunity, especially against Trump who despite not being the favourite among many, will likely face little to no opposition from within the Republicans due to being the sitting president, and still generates a level of support that will concern the Democrats. With 88% of Republicans approving of his presidency currently, it is unlikely he will be challenged.
However, Trump’s poll ratings are not brilliant. A recent pollby the Washington Post shows that 58% of respondents would not vote for Trump, though most of his opposition in this case comes from Democrats or Independents, while most Republicans would vote for him. Meanwhile, Trump’s approval ratingsare not impressive, with 40% approving of his administration at the moment, according to a collection of polls collected across four years. He began as one of the most unpopular presidents in modern times, and he continues to be just as unpopular. It is safe to say that his administration is a hire-and-fire brand at this point, with the Brookings Institution reportingthat 65% of his senior advisers have left their posts since 2016. That is not good for stability at all, and it will be difficult to find high-profile advisers and officials that will back him in 2020 as much as some of them did at the beginning of his presidency. And whilst he has had some success in appointing two Supreme Court judges and passing a significant tax reform bill, he failed to scrap ‘Obamacare’, and he has failed to reach the other side yet on the investigation into his campaign’s alleged links to Russia in 2016 which still haunts his presidency.
Having said all of this, the point I want to make is that the Democrats stand a good chance of winning in 2020. Trump will probably be made the Republican nominee unopposed, and most Republicans appear to back him to run for re-election, but his administration is teetering on collapse. Resignations, broken promises, poor approval ratings, and the infamous investigation into campaign links with Russia all suggest the fight will be a close one, if not in the Democrat’s favour at this stage. But the problem is that the Democrats lack a clear identity because of what happened in 2016 and now the infighting over where the party goes next. Does it adopt a similar style to 2016 in nominating a big name with middle-of-the-road ideas, or does it gamble on someone less known but with different ideas? Perhaps the answer is a compromise in the form of a Biden-Warren ticket, or some other combination that encapsulates centrist and progressive elements, creating the ultimate, and hopefully unified, party that can win the election in 2020. Time will tell, and there are still many unknowns to factor in. And as this article demonstrates, I do rely on polls, which is not the best idea considering the upset of 2016. But it offers an indication of how American politics is shaping up in preparation for 2020, and I hope the Democrats find their way before it is too late. It is time to end the Trump administration, and usher in a new era of democracy.