SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Outlook for Democrats in 2020 Currently Looks Bleak

Image result for sanders 2020

First: No. It’s not too early to discuss the 2020 election. The Iowa caucuses are only a year and a half away. Any presidential hopeful who hasn’t begun chatting up donors by now will find it nearly impossible to mount a viable campaign.

At this point insert the usual caveats that anything can happen, no knows anything, scandals happen, politicians get sick, a year is an eternity in politics.

Let’s speculate!

On the Right: Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee.

Impeachment? Republicans are knee-jerk loyal AF, so Democrats would have to initiate proceedings. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says impeachment “is not somewhere I think we should go.” Also, note the word “minority.” Democrats can’t do jack without taking back the House — far from a sure thing.

A serious Republican primary challenge? Most incumbent Republican presidents have nothing to worry about there but Donald Trump is not most presidents. You can imagine a right-wing version of Ted Kennedy’s devastating 1980 challenge to Jimmy Carter.

The GOP doesn’t have superdelegates so it’s harder for the RNC to fix the race the way Democrats did for Clinton in 2016. Still, I don’t think a serious (as opposed to symbolic) challenge will materialize from the three currently most-talked-abouts. Jeff Flake can’t raise enough dough. (Trump, on the other hand, already has a whopping $88 million.) Mitt Romney could self-fund but seems too bogged down in Utah’s primary race for Senate to have time to pivot for another presidential run in 2020. Ohio governor John Kasich is beloved by the Beltway media but not GOP primary voters. I could be wrong. But my political instincts say Trump will coast to renomination without a significant primary challenger.

On the Left: The Democratic nomination belongs to Bernie Sanders. If he wants it.

Neither the centrist-controlled Democratic National Committee nor its official mouthpiece the New York Times have learned anything from the debacle of 2016, when guaranteed-to-win Hillary Clinton lost to Trump because she and the party snubbed Bernie Sanders and the progressive wing of the party he represents. These days, they’re floating Elizabeth Warren.

Until 2016 progressives saw Warren as a Bernie alternative but then she lost her leftie street cred by endorsing and supporting Clinton.

“On her Western swing, Ms. Warren sought to strike a unifying chord. At a tapas restaurant in Salt Lake City, she said Democrats had to close ranks in 2018 in order to recapture the White House. “Perhaps most appealing to Democratic leaders,” wrote the Times, “Ms. Warren might please their activist base while staving off a candidate they fear would lose the general election. A candidate such as Mr. Sanders.”

Throughout the campaign, polls showed that Bernie Sanders would have beat Trump.

My gut tells me Warren doesn’t really want to run. If she does, she’ll have charisma problems. As Boston magazine pointed out last year, even the people of Massachusetts aren’t much into her. (Bernie Sanders has the highest home-state approval rating of any U.S. senator, 75%.)

Given a choice between Sanders and Warren, progressives will choose the reliable progressive over the accommodationist pragmatist. That said, Warren would make a fine veep option.

As mayor of Newark, then up-and-coming political star Cory Booker made headlines by rushing into a burning house to save a woman in 2012. But politics is a fickle mistress. In the “what have you done for us lately” category, Booker was chastised for tying right-wing Republican Mitch McConnell as the senator who received the most contributions from the big Wall Street banks who destroyed the economy in 2008-09. This won’t affect his standing among the corporatists who supported Hillary Clinton despite her fundraising in the Hamptons. But it makes him anathema to the progressive Democratic base.

Once again, Joe Biden is being touted as a possible Democratic candidate. But he has signaled that, once again, he’s funnin’, not runnin’. Yeah, but what if he does?

Biden would have no choice but to compete for centrist votes against Booker and California’s Kamala Harris. Though once known as more liberal, his vice presidency for centrist Democrat Obama, his focus on building a Southern strategy for the primaries and his disconnection from the left makes him unlikely to appeal to the Berniecrats.

Harris, a law-and-order “lock ‘em up” former prosecutor and California senator, seems to be running a Clinton-style identity politics-based campaign based on her double history-making potential as a woman of color. While it’s true that she hasn’t always been a lock-step establishmentarian, she has gotten much closer to banks, cops and other elites than ordinary Americans as she has considered how to market her policy positions.

Harris is canny.

Some say slippery.

Harris is the biggest threat to Bernie. Harris supports “the concept of single-payer healthcare, and bills to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, eliminate tuition and fees at four-year colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 and creating more campaign finance disclosure requirements for corporations, unions and super PACs.” Good stuff. Call her Berniedette?

But those are official positions. She doesn’t campaign on them. It’s like how Obama’s 2008 campaign website promised a public option on the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, but he never talked about it and then never proposed it in his healthcare bill. Good positions don’t get far unless they’re articulated loudly and repeatedly.

The Democrats are a 50-50 party divided between progressives and liberals. Three serious liberals — Harris, Warren, Booker and whoever else pops up between now and then — divvy up the liberal half. Bernie Sanders has the progressive half all to himself. So he wins the nomination —if he wants it.

I think he does.

In the general election? This is sad, and bad for America’s baby Left, but I think it’s true: Trump defeats Sanders. Not because he’s a self-declared democratic socialist though you can be sure GOP attack ads will be full of stock footage of old Soviet May Day parades. Also not because he’s too far left: he really would have beaten Trump in 2016.

Trump defeats Sanders because of the innate advantages of incumbency, the historical hesitancy to change horses midstream, Sanders’ advancing age and the sad fact that the DNC will never push for him as hard as they would have for one of their own: a Wall Street-friendly corporatist.

Again: anything can happen, no knows anything, scandals happen, politicians get sick, a year is an eternity in politics.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)



  • “On the Right: Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee.”

    Ted, I’m taking your point “[that] anything can happen” – I don’t think that Trump’s brain works properly anymore, so what I’m thinking is “palace coup” with Pence forcing our Lump in Chief to resign before the damage is total, probably before the midterms. Then Sanders will be up against a religious fanatic and the worst governor the state of Indiana has ever had to deal with. How that resolves itself I have no idea.

  • American Teacher
    July 17, 2018 4:43 PM

    The column makes no mention of Clinton. She still wants this. And she came close.

    • alex_the_tired
      July 20, 2018 7:42 PM

      Clinton came close only via a unique set of circumstances.
      First, she had the entire weight of her party violating its own rules to provide her with an unfair adventure against another candidate of her party.
      Second, she had all the superdelegates that came with thirty years of the political equivalent of quid pro quo.
      Third, she went up against a candidate that ran a remarkably disjointed campaign and who had no experience in politics or the military.
      Hillary vs. Trump was close. If it had been Hillary vs. Reagan or Bush, she would have lost in a landslide.

      I think Sanders should try to get Duckworth for his veep.

      • American Teacher
        July 20, 2018 10:53 PM

        Sanders does not have the social media following that Trump has; he does not have Trump’s remarkable personality; and his party is a mess.

        Like it or not, those factors count.

        Duckworth was born in Thailand. I don’t think she is eligible.

  • It is certainly true that neither faction in the Democratic party has done much to build up a successor, at least in the sense of creating name recognition for a fresh face, nor has one magically emerged who could appeal to both camps.

    Then again, however absurd this sounds, for the incumbent establishment faction a candidate’s relative obscurity may work in their favor ;-). Perhaps a plus for Kamala Harris.

    On the Berniecrat side, there seems to be indeed nobody who one could see getting the kind of mainstream appeal Bernie himself has achieved: neither any of the semi-established underdogs who hitched their wagon to the “Sandernistas” (Tulsi Gabbard) nor so far any of the homegrown activist-politicians (e.g. Nina Turner). Then again, without recourse to rather strong drugs, neither could have one foreseen Bernie becoming the most trusted name in politics. In this context the Octasio-Cortez phenomenon is perhaps a portent, if for the more distant future.

    On the upside, while Ted’s concerns are noted, even in this pessimistic scenario there will be quite decent chance of progressives being handed the face of the facade of democratic legitimization of state power. Interesting times indeed.

  • American Teacher
    July 17, 2018 6:40 PM

    Whoever the Democrats put up, it will be to no avail. They do not have the votes. Trump will win. People secretly adore this man.

  • Ted,

    While your amazing predictive powers have at times exceeded my own ( I also predicted early on that Hillary would find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory), I have to break with you here. Dems will lose if they put up a milquetoast incrementalist nominee like Booker or Harris — and your prediction that Bernie would lose plays into their narrative ( a disservice to Bernie).

    Women (the gender gap), independents, and even moderate Republicans are running from Trump as fast as they can, so any Dem stands a great chance of winning — especially Bernie. Many Trump voters say they would have voted for Bernie (ANYONE who would shake up “the system”, vice Hillary).

    The only silver lining in your prediction is that you drill home the point that Bernie (or any Dem) will have to work his/her ass off to win — and avert the dystopian apocalypse that another 4 years of Trump would usher in …

  • American Teacher
    July 18, 2018 9:03 AM

    White liberals are running from the Democratic party in droves. From Permit Patty to Sidewalk Susie, they are awakening to the pernicious effects of their social policies.

    They may not be able to bring themselves to cast a ballot for Trump. They will throw their vote away on a third-party candidate who has no chance.

    Trump’s popularity is sorely underestimated. He will win.

  • alex_the_tired
    July 18, 2018 9:13 AM

    American Teacher comes close to the reality about Trump. It isn’t that people secretly adore him though. It’s that people prefer his noncentrist behavior. People want someone to lead, even if the leader is going in the wrong direction. HRC stood for nothing except a lot of campaign PR blather (which kept changing year after year through her career). After 30 years of Clintonian triangulation, a lot of people simply stopped caring about picking the lesser evil because they can see the future coming and it will be harsh. No retirement, no healthcare worth a damn until they’re so old the cumulative damage will prevent full recovery, housing costs through the roof, etc.
    I’m not saying Trump was ever going to fix that, but voting against HRC was the action of fully fed up people. If Sanders runs, he will win. Three crucial details.
    1. Trump is becoming more erratic. His presidency was astonishing in that his election defied all the standard blathering of the wonks. So the incumbent factor will not apply.
    2. Sanders is old. But he isn’t a doddering fool. His veep selection will be crucial. He needs a female progressive, preferably from the Midwest or South. Military service would be a plus.. everyone will know that voting for Sanders will be a dry run for the first female u.s. president.
    3. Trump’s economy, as Ted points out in another post, is service jobs. Every time Trump brags about the economy, Sanders and the people at home will be saying that wages are stagnant and healthcare is exhorbitant.

    I’m not counting Sanders out.

  • American Teacher
    July 18, 2018 9:30 AM

    If polls are to be believed, Trump’s popularity is on the rise.

    And then, there are all the people who would never admit, for one reason or another, to voting for Trump. I’m one of them. So are a lot of my friends. The rest have no clue as to how we think.

    • alex_the_tired
      July 18, 2018 12:07 PM

      At this time I think it’s quite possible that Trump will be the last Republican president.

      • American Teacher
        July 18, 2018 12:57 PM

        Not the last although let’s just admit it: a Democratic majority is why Democrats have pushed untrammeled immigration to the United States.

        Now, with all the light Trump has shone on our immigration policies, even senators from blue states who never miss a photo-op with a migrant are getting push back from citizens.

        The guy after Trump will be hardcore.

  • Thanks for the speculation, Ted ! One thing seems certain, the few editorial cartoonists left in the US will not lack for material. And given that Gospoding Putin seems to be in good health, they can continue that fine old US traditon of whinging about those dastardly Russians while drawing the same familiar figure at least until 2024…. 😉


  • aaronwilliams135
    July 21, 2018 5:14 AM

    Who’s your favorite wish-he’d-run celebrity?

    Stephen Colbert? Donald Glover?

    And what’s up with that? Why don’t these guys run?

  • American Teacher
    July 21, 2018 6:11 AM

    Both Trump and Sanders are tremendous fundraisers.

    But the United States is not about to march happily left. There is a reason there are 33 Republican governors and 32 Republican-controlled state legislatures.

    Trump will win.

  • I recently read a great book called Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate:An Economist’s Travelogue by Michael Yates
    This came out in 2007, yet it described perfectly the disgruntlement throughout the land, especially in the post-industrial waste land, from where the Trumpists arose. The Marxists were ahead of the curve in observing this(Monthly Review is a “Marxian” magazine, and Yates is an editor of it). It also has some good travel tips for those who want to maintain their health by avoiding on the road fast food and other restaurants by using a hot plate. Also, if you are traveling where Yates & his wife went, he has some good suggestions of things to do.

  • Here yet another reason why the outlook is bleak for the so-called «Democrats» (DNC version) in 2020. Those in the US searching for an alternative to more-of-the-same militarisation of that country’s politics are hardly going to find it there….