With well-known names of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders holding big
leads in early polls, and massive media publicity being given to Robert
(“Beto”) O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, is it even
possible that the eventual Democratic nominee will be someone else,
perhaps a virtual unknown now in early 2019?
There will be at least 20 nominally credible Democratic candidates
trying to oust President Trump in November, 2020, even more than
the 16 who competed for the Republican nomination in 2016 when the
“impossible” happened, and Mr. Trump won an historic upset.
Recent history suggests that a surprise is quite possible, albeit very
difficult to predict with the names we now know.
There are now two relatively distinct themes within the Democratic
contest. One is the continuation of the more radical views of Senator
Bernie Sanders in his confrontation with Hillary Clinton in 2016. She
had represented a more pragmatic and traditional liberal policy
view, and had narrowly prevailed after a bitter primary/caucus
campaign cycle. Sanders had been a career-long socialist, but almost
took over the Democratic Party’s policy agenda.
The second theme so far in 2020 is really a continuation of the more
gently progressive agenda of the Clinton wing of the party, but this
cycle is voiced by former Vice President Joe Biden (who has yet to
formally announce his candidacy).
All of the other candidate represent so far variations of these two
contrasting themes --- although most of them lean to favor the more
radical issues of Medicare for All, open borders, abolition of the
electoral college, free college tuition, and the Green New Deal that
grew out of Sanders‘ 2016 presidential campaign. The Biden wing
of the party stresses environmental, gun control, pro choice, regulatory
and traditional entitlement issues that contrast with the conservative
Republican agenda. All sides in the Democratic nomination race seem
truly united on only one subject --- their visceral opposition to Donald
As in 2016, there are important secondary and personal issues that
differentiate the candidates. Mrs. Clinton would have been the first
woman president, but had various controversies arising from the time
she was First Lady and, later, Secretary of State. Sanders, a socialist,
then 75, had only briefly been a Democrat. In 2020, with so many
more candidates, the secondary and personal issues are even more
numerous and complicated. Actual age, or generational age, could be
an issue for Sanders, Biden and Warren in the senior range, and for
O’Rourke, Peter Buttigieg, and Tulso Gabbard in the youthful range.
Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson have no elective experience.
Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Karen Gillibrand, Julian Castro, Jay
Inslee, are unknown outside their states. Harris, Klobuchar, Terry
McAuliffe (not yet announced) and Andrew Cuomo (also not yet
announced) have controversies arising from their political past. And
most of the remaining hopefuls are virtually unknown.
Yet Barack Obama and Donald Trump, only a short time before their
first presidential races were unthinkable as nominees, much less as
presidents. Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Wendell
Willkie, and Harry Truman emerged suddenly as serious presidential
contestants. The recent record for early frontrunners is very mixed,
to say the least.
The debates, as they have been for over half a century, are often key
to a presidential nomination and election. Little is likely to be
resolved until they are underway.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.