Opinion

Democrats Running in 2020 Will Have to Fight On Two Fronts—Trump and Their Own Party | Opinion

Nobody rang a bell. No one called out “And they’re off” in a mellifluous baritone over a loudspeaker as the bystanders cheered. Nonetheless, somehow, some way, somewhere between Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s announcement she had formed an exploratory committee and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg tossing his hat in the ring, the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination began.

The field is heavy on fairy tales, from Medicare for all being a workable policy that won’t bankrupt the nation to it being possible to rid the U.S. economy of carbon emissions without any notable decline in living standards. This fairy realm has already grown to seven dwarves and by the looks of it, may get as large as 101 Dalmatians. There are lots of men and women in line or lining up for the chance to take on Donald Trump two years from now. “The Resistance” that forms the core of the Democratic Party thinks him imminently and easily beatable. Then again, they thought the same about Reagan two years out.

The reality is different. Trump will be much harder to beat running for a second term than he was when he was a politically untested New York billionaire real estate developer seeking the GOP nod. The people who tried to stop him and failed, conversely, had mostly been doing this kind of things for years, had far more money at their disposal, and were a better, more traditional fit for the party and country they all wanted to lead. That includes Mrs. Clinton, by the way.

Trump changed campaigning—or, at the very least, became the first guy to really take advantage of what Barack Obama proved was possible in 2008 when he beat Clinton in the race for the nomination. Before the Internet, anyone who was thinking about running for president had to find ways to make themselves known to the American electorate. That meant traveling to key early states, getting on the network news, creating a favorable buzz, and collecting a coterie of press aides, political strategists, and powerful interests who were willing to back you in your efforts.

That’s still useful today, even required, but it’s not as helpful as it once was and it’s certainly not essential. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, blogs, podcasts and plain old email have made the process of establishing a national base of support both easy, and, until the time is right, undetectable. It possible for a candidate will one or two well-heeled backers to assemble an army of supporters from coast to coast and keep them under wraps until the opportune moment for an early surprise that fundamentally changes the dynamics of the race for the nomination. The possibility such a thing could happen, slim though it is because of the need for secrecy involved, means the days of covering running for president like it were a horse race are over.

The biggest problem the Democrats who want to replace Trump in the White House have is the way New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others have quickly risen to positions of leadership within the party’s electoral coalition. They’re the ones calling the shots. Barack Obama’s not in charge anymore. Neither is former Vice President Joe Biden. Or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, for the moment, is locked in a political death struggle with Trump over the State of the Union she may very well lose.

And social media clout is not just about popularity, either - it shapes policy and determines the wedge issues. Any Democrat who wants to occupy the Oval Office will be forced to take a clear position on Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to take the top marginal tax rate up to 70 percent. They’ll have to render an opinion on the “Green New Deal” that’s polling so well among millennials but means displacement and unemployment for many Americans who traditionally vote Democrat, and whose parents and grandparents voted Democrat because it was the party of the working class.

Wedge issues are known as such because they’re used to “drive a wedge” between an opponent or group of opponents and the voters they need to have behind them in order to cross the finish line first.

It’s not just jobs and economic issues where the liberal/left split in the national Democratic Party will cause problems for its presidential field. The values pendulum is swinging too. Catholic voters have been with the winning candidate in just about every presidential election. How many will stay with a Democratic presidential candidate who, for purposes of winning the nomination and keeping key parts of the coalition needed to win behind him or her, follows the lead of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and embraces the concept of legal abortion up through the end of the final trimester?

It’s too soon to say who the Democrat’s nominee will be. It’s premature to label anyone the frontrunner and it’s probably a mistake to presume Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s not a Democrat but ran so well in the party’s primaries in 2012, are the strongest candidates in the field. A lot has changed since 2016. Frankly, a lot has changed since 2008 when Obama made it cool to be a progressive once again. The smart play now is to watch and wait and see what develops.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

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