Democrats were distraught in the wake of the 2016 election.
Hillary Clinton’s defeat was stunning enough. But the fact that she lost to Donald Trump led Democrats to question whether they had fundamentally misread the American public, and whether their party and its message needed a total overhaul.
Then Trump actually became president.
Suddenly Democrats’ gloom lifted – even as Trump’s poll numbers sagged. And candidates willing to take Trump on began to emerge – more like pour – out of the woodwork.
“Presidential buzz seems to be building around an unusually large and varied group of Democrats and famous names from outside of politics – a parlor game that includes pretty much every current Democratic senator and governor, mayors and House members, barons of the business world and, of course, the occasional wild-card celebrity. The Hill newspaper recently tallied 43 people who might run against Donald Trump.”
Now, simply because lots and lots of candidates are considering the race doesn’t mean Democrats have solved all of the problems the 2016 campaign exposed. Democrats still have to litigate out whether it’s Joe Biden’s party or Elizabeth Warren’s party going forward. And there are lots and lots voices who want to have a say in that debate.
But what Trump’s performance in office has done is give Democrats’ hope. And, in the immortal words of Andy Dufresne: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Here’s my updated look at where the 2020 field stands today. The candidates are listed alphabetically within their respective tiers. For the purposes of this piece, I am taking people at their word if they say they aren’t running. So, you won’t find Mark Zuckerberg or John Hickenlooper or Kirsten Gillibrand or Sheryl Sandberg on this list.
Don’t see your favorite candidate? Never fear! There’s still (lots of) time!
1st Tier (If they run, they have a real chance to win the nomination)
Uncle Joe put any chatter that he’s not thinking about running in 2020 to rest over the last few weeks. Opening a PAC to sprinkle money around to candidates – and fund his own travel to key states – is the leading edge of an effort to ensure Biden is at the front of the line, and has the right of first refusal. He’s got that for now.
“He hasn’t made up his mind,” former Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told Tumulty of the Vermont independent. “He’s open to it.” Got it.
Warren, more so – to my mind – than Sanders, is the face of liberals nationally. I don’t think that means Sanders would stand down for Warren, but it’s hard to see how the top tier could fit both of them.
2nd Tier (Have potential to be a major contender but not there … yet)
In the first kind of, sort of 2020 candidate cattle call last month at the Center for American Progress, the New Jersey Senator was given the closing, keynote spot. (You can watch his speech here.) That elevated role speaks to his status as the brightest, youngest star in the current Democratic firmament. And Booker’s latest response to the possibility of a 2020 bid leaves some wiggle room: “I always say I’m running from the president, not to the president right now. I don’t know what the future holds, but at this time in my life, I want to be a fierce truth teller. Let’s not focus on 2020; let’s work on the injustices that exist now.”
The New York governor is preparing to run for a third term next November – New York doesn’t have gubernatorial term limits – but continues to entertain the possibility of a presidential bid in 2020. “We need to win back the middle class while pushing progressive values,” said Cuomo, sounding entirely like a presidential wannabe during a visit to DC in February for a National Governors Association meeting.
Buzz around the possibility of a bid by the comedian-turned-senator is growing – particularly as he moves around the country promoting his new book. Franken’s appeal? He is Trump’s equal (at least) as a performer, but also has a solid policy core.
The newly-elected California Senator insists she isn’t spending any time thinking about the possibility of a 2020 bid. But she did make time in her calendar to speak at the CAP cattle call last month. In her speech, she focused on criminal justice reform, noting: “There’s a real opportunity to reach parts of America that feel overlooked and don’t realize how much they have in common with people who look very different.”
It remains to be seen whether Democrats in 2020 want to totally and completely move on from what happened in 2016. If they do, Kaine, who shared the ticket with Clinton, will have a hard time. If not, however, lots of the things that made him attractive as a VP – governor and senator of a swing state, bilingual, etc. – would also make him an appealing presidential candidate.
McAuliffe is bumping up hard against Virginia’s one-term limit. He’ll be out of office in early 2018 and is looking for something to do. And, unlike most of the people on this list, the Macker isn’t pretending he doesn’t want it. “I’d like to be Tom Brady’s backup quarterback, I’d like to be the Pope too in the future,” he told ABC in late March. “You know my personality, go big or go home.”
The Connecticut Senator won’t have room to run if Sanders and/or Warren do. But, if they don’t – and neither is a sure thing – he could well slot into the leading liberal role, given his outspokenness on gun control in the wake of Newtown and, more recently, his vocal opposition to the Trump presidency.
3rd Tier (It’s not IM-possible)
Bullock was in Washington last month for the CAP cattle call. Which means he wants to be part of the great mentioned. The issue for Bullock? Money. How does he raise enough to compete with already-better-known people in tiers above him?
The Los Angeles Mayor wants to run for something in the next few years. The governor’s race is open in 2018 and there continue to be some whispers that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) isn’t a sure thing to run for reelection next November either. But it sure seems like Garcetti has his eye on a run for president. Not only did he speak at the CAP conference, but he also gave a very vague answer to Politico – “I’m not focused on running for president” – when asked about 2020.
I’ve moved the Washington governor down a tier from the last ranking I did because there continues to be no obvious movement – behind some allies in Washington pushing his name – that would suggest Inslee is actually interested in the race. I still think Inslee is an interesting profile, however, and he continues to go after Trump hard.
The Minnesota Senator has a Franken problem. Her home-state colleague is buzzier right now. Of course, it’s a very long time until anyone votes, and Klobuchar is already aggressively stumping like a 2020er.
Landrieu’s speech on the removal of several status of Confederate generals in his hometown of New Orleans was terrific – and rightly won him considerable national attention. But, it’s still tough to run for president as a sitting mayor of New Orleans.
Moulton is one of the young up-and-coming Democrats in the House. But, that’s probably where he’ll stay for now.
The former Maryland governor isn’t giving up the dream of being president just yet. He’s been back to New Hampshire, conducted a poll in Iowa and has been one of the most high-profile pols supporting Archie Parnell’s long-shot bid in South Carolina’s 5th district. Those are not the actions of someone who is done with all of this.
Tier-less (Rich businesspeople who’ve never run for anything before)
The Dallas Mavericks owner is playing it coy, sort of, when it comes to the possibility of running for president. “None. None,” he told the Washington Post about his interest, before adding: “But at the same time, sometimes you got to do what you got to do.” I mean…
The Starbucks founder is clearly interested in doing more in public life. In fact, he considered running for president in 2016 against Clinton. (I did not know that!) His interest in elected office coupled with a rags-to-riches life story and an estimated net worth in the billions makes Schultz intriguing.