Democratic Candidates for 2020: The Early Field and Unifying the Left

Most progressives would love nothing more than a far-left candidate sweeping the Democratic primaries and riding into the general election with serious momentum to save us from four more years of this current administration. What is more likely is a tightly-contested race in which the media’s marathon-horse-race coverage will make voters gradually tired of each candidate. At the same time, nearly 61% of Americans disapprove of Trump, which creates an opportunity for all those disapproving to approve of someone else, on the horizon…which we can pin our hopes on. This is part of the problem. No single candidate who emerges from the Democrats will solve all of our problems. There is no “perfect” candidate.

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photo via Visual Hunt

On the left, we have to unify around the progressive policies (economic inequality, climate change, immigration, global diplomacy, education, prison reform, voting rights) that would benefit our collective future, rather than imagine a hero who will save us from the horrors of the world. That imagined hero doesn’t exist. Here’s a very simplistic breakdown of the field:

1. Kamala Harris

The far-right thinks: Too smart, female, brown, modern and too Californian.

The far-left thinks: She’s too tough on crime.

Watch her recent CNN Town Hall in Iowa.

2. Elizabeth Warren

The far-right thinks: Too smart, female, old, anti-Wall-Street, and too New England-ish (Harvard Professor, Massachusetts)

The far-left thinks: She’s not young enough.

3. Beto O’Rourke

The far-right thinks: Too good-looking, not religious or socially conservative enough, too empathetic, and too smiley.

The far-left thinks: He’s perfect (yet he has no record in politics)

4. Joe Biden

The far-right thinks: Too connected to those frightful Obama Years and Delaware is close to that bastion of evil, Washington D.C.

The far-left thinks: He’s establishment and centrist.

5. Bernie Sanders

The far-right thinks: Too socialist, secular Jewish, old, balding and New England-ish.

The far-left thinks: He’s too narrow-minded and doesn’t understand how to build a unified coalition.

6. Amy Klobuchar

The far-right thinks: Too female, and not churchy enough. Also asked Brett Kavanaugh tough questions about blackout drinking.

The far-left thinks: They don’t really think about her outside of the Midwest.

7. Kirsten Gillibrand

The far-right thinks: Too smart, female, and has turned as far-left as possible. Also was an actual New York lawyer.

The far-left thinks: She isn’t the modern feminist politician she wants to be.

8. Julian Castro

The far-right thinks: Too young, brown, progressive and smiley. Also, he doesn’t drink beer so how can they possibly trust him? Too San Antonio.

The far-left thinks: He should be making more noise.

By the way, Howard Schultz does not belong in this conversation.


Despite the obstacles these candidates likely face among the uneducated and disproportionately-Trump-approving folks living in the Midwest, the Plains, and the South, the Democratic Party has plenty of great candidates.

Trump’s 39% approval rating and the incoming Congress are both bigger obstacles for the Republicans than any potential Democratic nominee will face.

Many of those that support Trump are the same people that say they are tired of “Identity Politics.” Those who are over 60 and who used to consider themselves centrists (impossible at the current moment), seem equally opposed to “Identity Politics” because they are generally white and whiteness is not something they grew up considering. In 1965, the U.S. was 84% white. Today it is 62% white. That fact alone implies so much about the generational misunderstandings of our modern sense of America and American identity.

What they mean is that they don’t want to acknowledge that white Christian male is the only identity we’ve seen in our highest political position until Barack Obama…which is why the hate-fueled identity has risen into the mainstream.

What we need is unity among all Democrats. Identity is complex and fluid. When we think of it as a static, one-dimensional thing, we all lose.

Republicans would like nothing more than to turn the Democratic primaries into a free-for-all where the lowest-common-denominator wins, and where in-fighting dominates. The ground-rules for decency within campaigns were all-but-ignored in 2016. The left has to protect the process itself, restore a sense of unity and civility to the proceedings, and then organize around the candidate who survives to run against Trump in 2020.

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