November 14, 2017

Democratic Presidential Candidates for 2020

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Lists of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 have been rolling out. Some are obvious possibilities we've been talking about for years (e.g., Elizabeth Warren). I'm really hoping that some of the others are someone's idea of a joke (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey). There aren't any perfect candidates on any of the lists I've seen, and that is to be expected. My hope is that the Democratic Party will manage to come up with at least five strong contenders we can get to know throughout what is sure to be a heated (but hopefully fair) primary election.

It remains to be seen if the Democratic Party has learned anything from the 2016 loss or they way they handled the primary election that might be useful moving forward. I expect that the key question for Democrats well ahead of 2020 will be whether they can find any candidate who can manage to unite a seriously fractured party. To have any realistic chance of doing so, it seems like they first need to figure out what sort of party they want to be. Realistically, that probably needs to be at least partially figured out before the 2018 elections. Then again, candidates for Congress do have the advantage of being able to tailor their message to their state. That means that a Democratic candidate running for Congress in a more conservative state can still run on a more centrist platform without having to worry as much about alienating the left as a presidential candidate would need to.

The Republican Party is mostly united behind Donald Trump, and his base remains energized. For the Democrats to be competitive in 2020, they are going to need a candidate who will appeal to most of their voters and who can inspire them to actually show up to vote. I'm not sure there is anybody on the lists of potential candidates I've seen who will have an easy time doing this, but there are some who clearly won't be able to do it at all. Hopefully, they will be weeded out along the way and the field will become stronger.

Even as potential candidates begin to receive attention, it occurs to me that the party is going to need a compelling message that inspires enthusiasm. The "I'm not Trump" message was not sufficient in 2016, and I do not expect it to be sufficient in 2020. If the party thinks it can just come up with any run-of-the-mill "not Trump" candidate and that voters will support them, I fear we'll see a repeat of 2016. They are going to need a clear message that inspires voters. Now is the time for the Democrats to figure out what that message will be.