The race to win the Democratic presidential nomination continues, with the large selection of candidates narrowing ever so slowly. There are 14 candidates still vying for the nomination, although the most recent debate in Los Angeles, California, only had seven. The remaining politicians are all trying their hardest to make their presence known for the upcoming Iowa caucus on Feb. 3. Throughout the campaign, hot button issues have been debated and discussed, including but not limited to universal healthcare and climate change. But the one thing that unites most of them is this — President Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020.

Of course, this is a no-brainer. They want to win the Oval Office, and he’s the opponent. But there is more substance to it than just that. One of the biggest concerns for the Democrats is focusing too much on Trump specifically. Beating Trump in the upcoming election isn’t enough to stop his malignant brand of absolutism and demagoguery. In the sixth Democratic debate, the question of “Who can beat Trump?” was discussed a lot. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Mn., succinctly demonstrated the fixation with her line that the Democrats “should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won and been able to show they can gather the support (they) talk about with moderate Republicans and independents, as well as a fired-up Democratic base.” She cited her Midwestern ties to bolster her claim of electability. Former Vice President Joe Biden can be quoted in his campaign announcement warning that “if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.” The problem is that he already has, and that none of the problems that gave rise to him in the first place are being addressed. Trump is a symptom of the country’s real problems, and his shadow will loom over us until we tackle the source.

As painful as it is to look back at the election cycle in 2016, it’s unfortunately a must in forming a strategy not only for 2020, but for the future presidencies to come. But rather than looking at the strengths of the opponent, more focus needs to be put on the Democratic inadequacy.

One of the biggest failures for the Democrats was in the Rust Belt, the group of Midwestern states that have taken the biggest losses from globalization and automation. The swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin turned red and gave candidate Trump the electoral votes he needed to win. The margin of victory? Less than one percent in all three states. His win wasn’t a guarantee. The win in Michigan can be chalked up to decreased participation in urban areas, and increased participation in rural ones. Trump was able to appeal to the disgruntled workers of the Midwest, allowing them to channel their anger towards things like immigration and “the left” (despite neither of those things really causing their problems). Wayne County voter turnout dropped by 4 percent, while the rest of the state’s turnout went up by 3 percent. Winning back these states is in reach for the Democrats, but they have to inspire voter turnout. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed, it’s hard to inspire the politically diverse constituency of potential Democratic voters to turn out and vote, leading to a 20-year low in 2016.

It’s hard to say exactly how the loss could’ve been avoided, but Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,’s primary wins in the Rust Belt could’ve been the canary in the coal mine for the loss in 2016. Sanders appealed to voters by promising the same things Trump did — economic security in an increasingly unequal world. It shows that it’s not impossible to gain support for left-leaning policies in the more rural and industrial areas of the country. Bernie is again trying to appeal to the Rust Belt with policies that promise better conditions and combat economic inequality. The unfortunate reality of the situation, which many of the current Democrats fail to recognize, lies in the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots. Demagogues like Trump will utilize the inherent uncertainty and fear of job loss and declining conditions to gain support, and inevitably worsen the conditions they said they would combat.

The hypothetical situation of a competent candidate armed with the gaslighting techniques the Republicans learned over Trump’s first term is a scary one. Lying and fearmongering are now common in the Republican party. Trump’s brazen lies to the American people to inspire confidence would be much more pernicious and believable if they weren’t undermined by his less-than-stellar public image. Regardless of whether Trump is removed or not, the situation of a fearmongering Republican candidate appears more and more likely.

As I’m sure most of us know, President Donald Trump was formally impeached by the House of Representatives this December, which leaves the process in limbo with regard to his trial for removal. It’s unclear when the trial will actually happen, as Senate members are seemingly reluctant to proceed with the trial. Removal seems unlikely, with a supermajority needed with a reluctant GOP, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely implausible. Whether the competent candidate be Vice President Mike Pence or someone else in the future, things will end poorly. What comes after Trump is just as important as what to do with him now, and that foresight is being lost in the whirlwind that is the 2020 election. Unless we want another fearmongering despot to rise to power, we must recognize the problem and fix it before it’s too late.

Sam Fogel can be reached at samfogel@umich.edu.

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