The Democrats’ uphill battle to 2020

Tyler Sabloff | Senior Forum Editor

Over winter break, the first batch of Democratic hopefuls announced their candidacy for president of the United States. With that, the 2020 presidential election is officially ON…644 days before the actual election. For many, President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings and proverbial ass-kicking by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the shutdown make it seem like a clear victory lap for the Democrats to retake the highest office. Though their prospects look hopeful, I would plead the Democrats to tread very carefully: They could easily lose sight of their common goals and fall flat on their faces again.

The biggest challenge facing each candidate in a field this crowded is standing out. We saw a similar situation in 2016 with the Republicans, where Donald Trump was the standout for being, well, Donald Trump. With no candidate appearing out of left field as of yet, much of the candidates’ abilities to stand out will be based on their past records. However, for many candidates, their first step at this is sifting through the missteps of their past. The likes of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have already publicly apologized for past homophobic and hardline anti-immigrant rhetoric, respectively. And we’ll likely see Joe Biden address his conduct during the Anita Hill hearings and Bernie Sanders on the reports of sexism, racism and sexual assault in his 2016 campaign (if they end up running).

Once each candidate has taken their turn to air out their dirty laundry, it will come down to comparing each candidate’s merit for the job. And I warn the candidates: Be very careful how you handle each other. Kamala Harris and Pete Bettigieg are not each other’s enemies and should not treat each other as such in the primaries. The Democrats all have one common goal, and that is to get Trump out of office. Losing sight of that fact could easily end in catty, petulant attempts to undercut each other in debates, severely wounding whoever the eventual nominee is for the general election. The Democrats need to stay unified to win.

The Democrats also have a tendency as of recent to rely on those politicians who have been in the public eye for a long time. Experience itself is not a bad thing, but public perception is fickle, and too much could easily become a deterrent. Call it “the Hillary Clinton effect”—the more experience you have, the more suspicious the public becomes of your entwining with the toxic perception of Washington. This is why so many candidates *cough* Trump *cough* campaign as against or apart from “Washington insiders/elites”. Claire McCaskill’s campaign ads in the 2018 midterms railed hard against Pelosi, positioning McCaskill as an anti-Washington insider. So, for Democrats, their challenge is to find a candidate with plenty of experience, but not too much.

Public salience and name recognition can also bring a lot of baggage. And by baggage, I don’t just mean track record. I also include bags under the eyes. Some of the candidates announced or predicted to run are really, really old. Biden, Bloomberg and Bernie are all well into their 70s, nearing the octogenarian club. This might just be a pet peeve of mine, but I would really like our next president to be one with hair that still has pigment or isn’t duct taped to their scalp. OK, that might be a little crude, but there are so many promising younger politicians who could do the job fantastically that are being pushed to the margins for the same people that have been in the political and public sphere for decades. The reality of the America in which these older politicians grew up and worked their way up in is far different than the one we currently live in, and the one people in their 40s and 50s grew up in. I am of the firm belief that the presidency could use some new blood from a new generation. So to those older hopefuls, thank you for your years of service, but it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders to lead this country into the future. In short: “thank u, next.”

Now let’s talk about Trump for a little. His approval rating is low, but it’s not low enough to sit back comfortably. It’s wavered around 40 percent for most of his presidency, which isn’t far off from many of his predecessors. Reagan, Clinton and Obama were all roughly around the same approval rating at this point of their term, and they all got elected for a second term. So yes, Trump is technically more disliked than liked, but it’s not to the point of being a lost cause. To his key base, not much has changed, and his support among Republicans has only increased since being elected. Oh, and that pesky electoral college, which basically throws popular statistics out the window, is still a thing.

The Democrats are in a good position to win in 2020 but not a good enough position to be completely self-assured. And with 644 days between now and the finish line, there are many opportunities to trip and fall along the way. So my warning to Democrats: Tread lightly. Be smart and play the game of politics very cautiously.

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