Guard Against Overconfidence in 2020!

By every metric, Donald Trump is clearly unqualified to be president. He is a reprehensible con man with no regard for the norms of governance or our country’s highest values.

But please guard against overconfidence. Odds are high that Trump will be impeached, but low that he will be convicted in the Senate. He is still adored by too many low-information and rage-filled Americans who see their economic and social positions threatened by immigrants, minorities, and liberals. This resentment has been burned into their brains for decades by rightwing radio and Fox. Plus, millions of conservative evangelicals see him as their savior. Literally.

Almost all of the forces that aided his upset in 2016 will still be in play in 2020: voter suppression, Russian interference, big money, third-party candidates, xenophobia, racism and misogyny. There’s also the likelihood of huge rifts in the Democratic Party (on FB posts, I see too many Bernie supporters saying “no way” to Biden or Beto or someone they deem “corporate” or “centrist”). 

The winning formula for 2018 was to stay on message. MOST people want affordable and dependable healthcare, quality schools for their kids, a living-wage job, clean air and water, and safe neighborhoods. In a Republican district – Illinois CD-14 – Lauren Underwood, a 33-year-old African American nurse, went door-to-door on these issues and unseated a four-term GOP incumbent.

But local, midterm races and presidential elections are far different animals. Turnout, coverage, scrutiny, intensity, polarization, bigger money and higher stakes make even-year elections fraught with perilous unpredictability. 

We are nation sharply divided and extremely unsettled. 

Take nothing for granted. Especially that Trump “will be in jail” or “is such a clown he can’t be reelected.”

I still believe that “when Democrats vote, Democrats win.” Had Dems turned out in their usual numbers for Hillary in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Donald Trump would not be in the White House. Too many bought into the ridiculous memes about her or assumed she would win or voted third party. 

All things being equal, if we stay united in 2020 and field a strong nominee IN BOTH SUBSTANCE AND STYLE, one could argue we’d win Hillary’s states, plus Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and maybe Ohio. Of course we want to challenge Trump everywhere (Stacey Abrams showed we can compete in Georgia) and want to expand the map. But here’s my new mantra:

“IT’S THE MIDWEST, STUPID!”

More specifically, can we reach enough alienated, white, blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt to make 2020 a romp?

I’m not worried about the Democratic message. I think we will speak to, and connect with, a majority of voters on healthcare, jobs, schools, clean air, gun safety, and a sane foreign policy. 

And as a majority party in Washington, we CAN achieve better health outcomes, stronger public schools, big-ticket infrastructure, renewable energy advances, comprehensive immigration reform, greater social justice, expanded voting rights, and world leadership on climate change and human rights.

Honestly, I see little or no chance for overturning Citizens United (a constitutional amendment is a virtual impossibility and a legislative fix would be voided by SCOTUS) or significantly cutting the Pentagon’s budget (never happen) or enacting single-payer (won’t get near 60 votes in the Senate), but we should campaign on principle and hope for smaller victories – a public option, lowering the Medicare age to 62. 

What concerns me more is our nominee’s style. A recent opinion piece was scarily true: Trump is entertaining, Democratic candidates are boring. 

In a perfect world – or in a country with a more educated, enlightened citizenry – we would have figured out healthcare for all, affordable college, and less dependence on fossil fuels decades ago. The Trumps and the Roger Stones of the world would already be locked up. And Alex Jones would not have an audience in the millions. 

Too many American brains are drenched in hyper-capitalism, beguiled by conspiracy theories or short-circuited by well-honed appeals to blame the other. In this soup, our 2020 nominee will be in a knife fight with Trump for an increasingly smaller slice of determinative voters. 

That said, I’m stoked about our forming field. (My preferred choice would be Barack Obama, but the 22nd Amendment says no.)

While it’s easy to selectively trumpet our favorite person’s strengths, it’s far better pre-convention strategy to be clear-eyed about the opposite. So here’s my list of weaknesses. And again, the emphasis is mostly on style and how each can reach those critical white, Midwest voters without losing too much of the Democratic base.

Joe Biden: Too old.

Michael Bloomberg: Too corporate.

Cory Booker: Speeches seem overly dramatic. Too closeted.

Sherrod Brown: Looks a bit frumpy. Irritating gravelly voice. Does he really have a passion for running?

Pete Buttigieg: Too inexperienced. Looks like a high schooler.

Julian Castro: Is mayor and HUD Secretary enough prep for the Big Seat?

John Delaney: Who?

Tulsi Gabbard: Too anti-gay and unconvincing in her walkback. Way too pro-Trump.

Kirsten Gillibrand: Insecure white men who loathe #MeToo see her as the embodiment of it. Many liberals blame her for casting out Al Franken. Caught in the #MeToo middle.

Kamala Harris: West coast liberal. The perfect candidate for Fox’s racist and misogynist audience – a twofer! Can she play in Peoria? As Cali AG, too harsh on immigrants. 

John Hickenlooper: Too unknown. Maybe too centrist.

Eric Holder: Too yesterday.

Jay Inslee: Puts people to sleep faster than Jeb Bush.

Amy Klobuchar: Can she energize people of color?

Terry McAuliffe: A Virginian means growing odds of a blackface scandal.

Jeff Merkley: No pizzaz.

Beto O’Rourke: Too inexperienced. Lost to Ted Cruz. White privilege.

Bernie Sanders: Too old. “Communist.” Too loathed by millions of Democrats who blame him for dividing the party in 2016. And he should at least LOOK like he bathes or brushes his teeth. 

Eric Swalwell: Too stiff. No one can pronounce his name. Well, maybe Pete Buttigieg can.

Elizabeth Warren: Too preachy and scripted. Schoolmarm. Another liberal from Massachusetts. Pocahontas.

Right now, I see Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Sherrod Brown and Amy Klobuchar as our best bets. Maybe with Stacey Abrams as VP?

But the challenge has just begun!