As the midterm hoopla winds down, inevitably, the drama surrounding the upcoming Democratic presidential primaries begins to heat up. Previously we have reviewed the candidates most likely to be favored by the party establishment, as well as those who are most likely to run as political outsiders. But every playground has those who finish last or fail to be picked by either team. And here we are with potential Democratic candidates. In a field promising to be as large and divided as the 2020 Democratic primaries, the misfits may not get off the bench, but they may still end up wrecking the game. Let’s have a look at some of these players and their strategies going forward.
While the establishment focuses on current senators, and the outsiders court billionaire activists, this potential peanut gallery of “middle-of-the-road” candidacies could also produce some of the more interesting—if not politically viable—candidates in the upcoming presidential race. Although most have more Quixotic bids, they could all do much to add to the drama and, at least,force consideration of their potential in a vice presidential role?
HUDdling Up for a Run?
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro made waves with his keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, with many drawing parallels between his speech and Obama’s speech at the 2004 DNC.
As a young and outspoken Latino Democrat from deep-red Texas, he too was the source of much speculation as a possible running mate in 2016. He has kept low profile since that election, however, while other minority candidates such as Kamala Harris and Cory Booker get all the attention for 2020.
Although all signs point to his intention of running, it is likely that Castro could find himself upstaged in the inevitable “Minority Olympics” that the 2020 primaries will become. Because although Castro is Hispanic, he is still a straight male, whereas someone like Kamala Harris is both a woman and a member two separate racial minorities. It’s just a question of what’s more sexy to the identity politics soaked voters in the Democratic Party.
At the same time, Castro’s unusually low profile over the last two years (and even while he was still HUD Secretary) could prove to be a hindrance. While he has been quietly mulling a run, others like Harris have spent the interim loudly filling that energy vacuum and earning the support of the same party leaders that Castro would need in order to have a chance.
A Hawaiian Hail Mary
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, by far the youngest of the potential contenders, has long been seen as one of the more surprisingly moderate Democrats in Congress. She has expressed a willingness to work with the Trump Administration, and shares the President’s skepticism of free trade and opposition to a hawkish foreign policy approach, especially in the Middle East.
Although these moderate stances, as well as her youth and status as a veteran, could give her a broader appeal to the American electorate, these same factors would undoubtedly make her rather unpopular with the far-left base. Barring a sudden shift to the left in order to appease these people, Gabbard most likely could never win the support of the grassroots in 2020.
The Beto Male
A very recent entry into 2020 speculation is Democratic Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke of Texas. Although O’Rourke came shockingly close to unseating Ted Cruz, he still lost after raising more than $70 million in the most expensive Senate race in American history. Nevertheless, he has undoubtedly established a national profile as a result. Like Castro, O’Rourke would market himself as a symbol of Democratic hope in a Republican stronghold, while also emphasizing his own youth.
Towards the end of the race, it was reported that O’Rourke had no intention of sharing any of his campaign wealth with any of his fellow Democratic Senate candidates around the country. Aside from the irony of a Democrat refusing to share the wealth, this move also led to speculation that perhaps O’Rourke never truly intended to win, but his failed Senate race was instead a prelude to a 2020 campaign. Not even 24 hours after his loss, there were already glowing puff pieces hyping up a possible run against Trump.
Of course, as in his attempt in Texas, a national run would most likely be a failed longshot. And, since he—like Elizabeth Warren—is a white person parading as a minority, he would also likely suffer in the race to be the most oppressed person on the debate stage. As a result, he probably wouldn’t even have a fair shot at landing the VP slot.
The Other Ryan
If the Democratic Party leadership had any semblance of a collective brain or a hint of common sense, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio would be their top candidate. Nominating Ryan would take seriously the advice of a wise New York Times op-ed penned in July 2017, imploring Democrats to return to its more centrist status from the days of John Kennedy or Bill Clinton, rather than continue moving further to the left.
Ever since the 2016 election, Ryan has been among the earliest and most vocal critics of the Democratic leadership. Declaring that the party had “forgotten the middle class” and became a “coastal” party, Ryan mounted a surprisingly impressive bid to unseat Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as House Minority Leader after the 2016 election, where he garnered nearly one-third of all House Democrats’ votes.
Now, there is just as much speculation around a possible presidential bid for the young Ohio moderate as there is a possible re-run against Nancy Pelosi, though this time for House Majority Leader. Ryan, in the same mold as men like former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer or former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, appeals to middle- and working-class Americans while carefully avoiding the toxic rhetoric of identity politics.
Ryan’s message undoubtedly would maintain a focus on economic policies that would benefit Middle America, and thus could still realistically run as more of a populist than a traditional politician, like his fellow Ohio Democrat, Senator Sherrod Brown.
But the elephant in the room with a possible Ryan bid, once again, is his obvious status as the one thing the far-left hates the most: A straight white male who is not an avowed socialist. And that is why men like Ryan, Schweitzer, Webb, or others who are trying their hardest to cling to the Clinton-era Blue Dog Democrat brand could almost certainly never win a presidential nomination in this current climate.
And, of course, there’s the one name that just will not go away. Like a pesky insect in the summer heat, a most infuriating itch, or a wildly contagious disease, Hillary Clinton’s name just keeps coming back no matter how many times you try to purge it from our political discourse. The latest resurgence of the Wicked Witch of DC comes from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, in an op-ed penned by former Clinton strategist Mark Penn and former New York politician Andrew Stein.
The piece reads almost like satire at first, listing all of the different ways that Hillary has changed her positions and persona each time she has been in the spotlight: First, she was a progressive who touted healthcare-for-all as First Lady, then a moderate who was elected to the Senate but lost in her 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nod. Then she returned to being a progressive in 2016, only to lose moderate voters in the Midwest. Now, for 2020, the authors claim she plans to run again and win by… still being a progressive?
By highlighting her inauthenticity and unlikability, this piece inadvertently proves exactly why Hillary keeps losing. The op-ed even laughably claims that her age and health are not at issue because she’s a whopping one year younger than President Trump. Seriously?
The authors also try to invoke an historical comparison to prove that their idea is not so far-fetched: If Richard Nixon came back from defeat, then so can Hillary!
Never mind the fact that Nixon lost by a much closer margin in 1960, in an election that some still believe may have been rigged. And when he did return in 1968, he did not face off against the same man who beat him eight years earlier, the charismatic John Kennedy, but instead the much weaker candidate of then-vice president Hubert Humphrey. The last time there was ever an exact presidential rematch was 1956, when Democratic Adlai Stevenson faced off against President Dwight Eisenhower; he lost by an even larger margin than he did in 1952.
As some have already noted, this attempt at stirring the political pot is most likely just a last-ditch effort by its two authors to maintain some semblance of relevance as both are long past their primes; Stein last held office in 1994, and has since been indicted for his involvement in a Ponzi scheme, while Penn’s entire reputation revolves around his relationship with the Clintons.
On top of this, the possibility of Hillary Redux, has quickly generated doubt and discouragement even from the Left; a possible third run was shot down not just by one, but two CNN op-eds, while a piece by the Charlotte Observer summed things up pretty nicely in its title: “That’s one way to keep Trump.”
If nothing else, there is no denying that the stigma of losing to Donald Trump will hang heavy over any possible resurrection of Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations, and will even be the source of criticism by her fellow candidates. Combine this with the DNC’s deliberate reduction of the power of “superdelegates,” which carried Hillary over the finish line in the 2016 nomination, and a third run by Hillary Rodham Clinton will be dead on arrival.
Once more, the 2020 Democratic field will come down to the establishment versus outsiders. But rather than being a one-on-one battle between two candidates, with each side represented by only one candidate, each (as was the case in 2016) may expect many more candidates to try to claim the mantle from both sides.
“Also ran” candidates, like Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, will find themselves contributing to nothing except the size of the primary field, with the further likelihood that the debates, like those of the 2016 GOP field, will also be divided into two parts of upper-tier and lower-tier candidates.
Can any of these candidates beat President Trump?
The short answer to that? No.
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