Earlier today, we – me and forecaster extraordinaire Harry Enten – put out our first rankings of the 2020 field. (For more details on who ranks where, read our full write here.)
The process of ranking the 10 people most likely to be the Democratic nominee against President Donald Trump in two years’ time got me to thinking about the unanswered questions kicking around within the party – questions that won’t get resolved until the 2020 primary fight (and might not get resolved even then.)
Here are a few to consider:
1. Do Democrats want to nominate their own version of Trump? Or the opposite?
If the former, outsider candidates like Mark Cuban or Howard Schultz are more intriguing. If the latter, then an institutionalist (Joe Biden is at the front of that pack) might hold some allure. Or maybe a woman (Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris) to shine a bright light on the incumbent’s past statements and behavior.
2. Is there a “too liberal” candidate in the field?
At the moment, the way to win in the Democratic Party is to get as far to the left as possible. It’s why you’ve seen several likely 2020ers get beyond Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s pledge to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). The question is whether that produces a candidate who might not be the party’s best chance of beating Trump.
3. A senator? Really?
The top of the Democratic field is absolutely lousy with senators – and former senators, like Biden. But only two presidents since 1960 have been elected straight from the Senate: John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. And the 2020 field doesn’t look to have someone with that natural political ability just yet.
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4. Trade wars
In the 2008 primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, one of the main points of disagreement was their views on trade. Obama bashed Clinton on her past support for NAFTA while she sought to distance herself from it. Where is the party now on trade – particularly with Trump’s oft-stated suspicion about international trade agreements and the fact that he is president now because of three Midwestern states where free trade has hurt the economy.
5. Fresh faces or trusted hands?
The three candidates polling best right now in hypothetical Democratic primary surveys are Biden (age 75), Bernie Sanders (76) and Elizabeth Warren (69). Is that the right contrast with the 72-year-old Trump? Or would Democrats be better off skewing younger and more in line with their party’s base? If so, keep an eye on New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (49) or Gillibrand (51).
The Point: Because Trump is Trump, he sucks up all the oxygen in every room. Which means that the story about the issues still facing the Democratic Party get glossed over. They shouldn’t – they are real and will need to be addressed in order for the party to make Trump a one-term President.