Marisa Wright: The ideal 2020 candidate

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 5:41pm

Now that the midterm elections are over with and Democrats won the popular vote in the House by the largest margins since Watergate, it is safe to turn our attention to 2020, albeit a bit early. Despite some rumblings from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the Republican presidential nominee for president will most likely be Donald Trump. On the left, though, a competitive race seems to be shaping up, giving Democratic voters as many choices as required to choose their ideal 2020 candidate.

Of course, there will be some in the media who push a Democrats-in-disarray story both because it is easy and because it conforms to a long-held narrative about the Democratic Party’s inability to truly be inclusive of fiscal conservatives and social progressives at the same time. There will undoubtedly be think-pieces analyzing party infighting about whether to move toward the middle or the left. While we should absolutely have serious policy debates on questions such as the merits of Medicare for all versus public option health insurance, the Democratic Party has always been a big tent party filled with voters from left of center to the far left. And that’s okay. It simply means we have more voices and perspectives contributing to the effort to solve our country’s problems and help as many Americans as we can.

In 2020, we unquestionably need a nominee who aligns with the party’s values as we define them in the coming months, but they should also have the ability to unite the country through inspiration and a vision of hope. While fear is a very powerful motivational tool—especially in politics as evidenced most recently by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign— hope and change the old adages of President Barack Obama, are exactly what so many Americans are deeply craving for our country.

While there haven’t been any major announcements of presidential bids quite yet, there is ongoing list of people dipping their toes in the water, gathering advisers and pollsters to make their decision and shying away from the question on Sunday shows. These candidates cover the entire spectrum of the Democratic Party, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. All of these potential candidates have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it would be futile to guess which ones will appeal most to voters in 2020.

A few names missing from the list are Sen. Bernie Sanders, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and venture capitalist Tom Steyer, who have all expressed interest in running but do not actually have any stake to the Democratic Party.

It is important that the party does not over-adjust itself in an effort to learn something from the 2016 election; it would be unwise to choose a candidate whose identity and policies capitulate in an attempt to appeal to Trump voters. Though it was heartbreaking to witness Andrew Gillum of Florida, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, and Beto O’Rourke of Texas lose their exciting campaigns, it is important to remember those exciting and progressive candidates came closer to winning their elections than any of the previous bland, moderate candidates had in recent history. If then-Georgia State Secretary Georgia Brian Kemp hadn’t disenfranchised tends of thousands of Black and Democratic voters, Stacey Abrams would be the governor-elect of Georgia right now. The lesson from these races is not that we should run more moderate candidates, it is that we need to do a whole lot of work to end the effects of gerrymandering, voter suppression and disenfranchisement. And we must remember this for 2020.

Only a candidate who instills a sense of hopefulness about this country’s ability to fulfill its founding promise will excite enough voters, enough Americans, to triumph over division and fear to win the presidency. This sense of hopefulness will come from the alignment of the candidates’ personal stories and their visions of the future. Their policies will need to be big and bold, their rhetoric skills genuine and uplifting.

We should refrain from declaring that we cannot nominate another Black man or woman, or white man for that matter, just because of history. If Beto O’Rourke, a conventionally attractive, white, straight man, is able to connect to voters and deliver a message of hope better than any other candidate, then he should be the nominee. However, we should also consider how being a conventionally attractive, white, straight man allows him to connect to voters more easily than someone who is not those things. Take Kamala Harris, for example, who is a Black woman. Because we have seen people similar to O’Rourke as president in the past, it is much easier to imagine him as president. And because we have never seen a Black female president, it is much harder to imagine how she will lead and govern, and people tend to turn away from that which they cannot imagine generally out of misguided fear and uncertainty. Sometimes, though, leaning into that is exactly what leads to the very best results; perhaps having a literally brand-new type of leader is exactly what this country so desperately needs. As a party, it is important that the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 — or at least, the ticket — is representative of the party’s own demographics.

There is no one magical candidate that can appeal to every single American and solve every single issue. But there is a candidate in the sea of hopefuls who will inspire us to be active in the democratic process, who will try to unite rather than divide us, who will remind of us all of the greatness of this American experiment. And she should absolutely be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States in 2020.

 

Marisa Wright can be reached at marisadw@umich.edu.