Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) came out and said what many Democrats are already thinking about the 2020 presidential election. “[W]e must reject the premise that this is a fight between moderates and progressives. We are going to nominate a progressive,” he emphatically stated in a tweet storm on Nov. 24.
2nd, we must reject the premise that this is a fight between moderates and progressives. We are going to nominate a progressive.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) November 24, 2018
Emboldened by the surprisingly strong showings of radicals Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams in gubernatorial races in Florida and Georgia and flaky Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) in his race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in Texas, many progressives see no need to rein in their messaging for 2020.
Schatz says he’d like to see the most crowded Democratic field imaginable. “[E]veryone who wants to run should run,” he tweeted. “Primaries can and do strengthen the party.” And already would-be candidates are scurrying to get in on the progressive casting call. A few are hoping to navigate the line between practical politics and the hard-left ideological mandates of the grassroots party base. That will prove to be a tough dance indeed.
“…right-wing ‘populism’ is racism and misogyny.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) believes he brings a proven liberal record combined with the ability to reach out to the blue-collar workers that Hillary Clinton abandoned in 2016 with disastrous results. He told Politico he is considering a 2020 run. Brown secured a third term on Nov. 6, and some Democrats see his campaign style as a blueprint for electoral success. Brown’s particular gimmick is to position progressivism as authentic populism minus the “racism” of President Trump.
“[T]rue populism is looking out for the little guy no matter where she works and no matter who he is; we’ve let them steal that away,” the senator told Dissent Magazine in a 2017 interview. “We went through a period where we let the right steal the flag and steal religion, at least Christianity. And we’re going to allow them to steal the term ‘populism’? I mean, right-wing ‘populism’ is racism and misogyny.”
Brown hopes he can placate the leftist grassroots with this kind of social justice blathering while appealing to working-class Americans at the same time. Pragmatic progressives may buy in to this strategy, but good luck finding enough of them during the primary voting season. And even if you do, will blue-collar workers be put off by Brown’s richly ladled identity politics seasoning?
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) visited 24 states during the midterm season in support of Democrat candidates nationwide, hoping to garner favor for his potential 2020 run. He’s going for the young Obama-ish “uniter” progressive angle, but this isn’t 2008. Such a stance may very well fall flat amid the starkly defined divisions plaguing America today. NJ.com covered his trip to Iowa in October and found that Trump-hating Democrats were not buying such squishy Barack-speak as: “the lines that divide us are nowhere near those that unite us.” They also saw Booker as a relentless self-promoter.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is another name being mentioned by the “pragmatic” progressive backers. She told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Nov. 25 that she is “still thinking about” a 2020 run but hasn’t decided. “People are talking to me about this I think, in part, because I have worked really hard to go not just where it’s comfortable but where it’s uncomfortable,” Klobuchar said of her appeal to voters who reside outside the usual Democratic bubble.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar says she is "thinking about" a 2020 run but has "no announcements."
"People are talking to me about this I think, in part, because I have worked really hard to go not just where it's comfortable but where it's uncomfortable," she says https://t.co/4uKiszONSK pic.twitter.com/3dYyRscaoO
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) November 25, 2018
But her name recognition is low on the national level, and she lacks the charisma and sizzle Democrats are clearly yearning for, as seen by their irrational love affair with the thoroughly underwhelming yet supposedly Kennedy-esque O’Rourke.
Way-too-early polling on the 2020 Democrat field shows the older generation, armed with stronger name recognition, well ahead of the pack. A Politico/Morning Consult poll has former Vice President Joe Biden at 26% and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at 19% as the only two candidates with double-digit support. Other more established figures, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and billionaire Michael Bloomberg are all in the mix as well.
Which begs the question: Will the sheer size of the field further hinder the chances of a lesser-known “practical” progressive to claim the nomination of a party that moves further to the left by the day?
Can such an approach fly in a crowded primary within a party that demands rigid adherence to identity politics? The older senators plotting 2020 runs fully realize the makeup of their party and are acting accordingly. Warren, Sanders, and Gillibrand have all been particularly shameless in their appeals to angry social justice warriors fighting “systemic racism.”
But working-class voters don’t want to hear about Black Lives Matter. They want to hear about jobs. The unsolvable problem with “pragmatic progressivism” is that it can never make it through a Democratic presidential primary season without being torn to shreds by the howling leftists who make up the grassroots Democratic voting base.
Democrats had better hope those four million votes Andrew Gillum accumulated in Florida are a harbinger of the future and not a mirage. Even if they are, it won’t help them in flyover country in 2020. As long as the Electoral College is still in existence, it’s tough to see how unrestrained progressivism can be a winning strategy for Democrats in a presidential election.