The election of Donald Trump has stunned the Democratic Party which finds itself at a crossroads. Which path they take will be interesting to watch in the coming years. The so-called Obama coalition upon which Clinton was counting on failed her in 2016. In Democratic circles, there is talk that she perhaps placed too much emphasis on the female vote and that she lacked a strong message or electoral strategy.
Based upon exit polls, her performance among blacks under the age of 30 revealed that 8% voted for a third party candidate, and among Hispanics under the age of 30 another 5% voted third party. Those millennial minorities that showed up and voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 abandoned Clinton. It turns out that they were truly the “Obama coalition,” not the Democratic Party coalition. As an aside, blacks largely ignored the accusations about Trump’s alleged racism.
Furthermore, although a declining proportion of the American electorate, Obama won union voters by 18 points over Romney in 2012, but Clinton won by only 8 points in 2016. The economic populist message by Trump was simply better than the tired identity politics of the Democrats. As a result, there are now some within the Democratic Party blaming Clinton for being too numbers-driven. Of course, that is to be expected given the fact her campaign manager, Robbie Mook, is considered a “numbers guru.” Whether the Democratic Party has forever lost the blue collar white vote remains to be seen. If Trumpism fails, they may just flock back to the Democratic Party. Support for Trump is not written in stone.
But equally important, some Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief now that Hillary Clinton is, for all intents and purposes, political toxic waste. She may spend years in the wilderness and emerge a voice for something, much like Gore reinvented himself as a radical environmentalist after his loss to Bush in 2000. The question becomes who will emerge as a Democratic candidate and/or Party leader for 2020.
Obviously, Barack Obama will remain a viable voice. No one expects him to retire to Hawaii and take up painting landscapes like George W. Bush. He is still a young enough ex-President to go out and campaign and he leaves office with his highest approval ratings since his inauguration. However, 2016 proved that not even he could stop Trump’s momentum in states like North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan- all states he won in either 2008 or 2012, or both years.
Importantly, the Democratic Party needs someone who will stop the negativity regarding what they refer to as “fly over country.” So called “blue walls” are great until one brick falters. This is very important considering the fact that Trump beat Clinton 2:1 in the rural vote. All that red on electoral maps has been overlooked by Democrats through their emphasis on demographics and identity politics and population centers that often share precious few values with all that vast red space.
So who? The answer lies in which path the Democrats take. If they veer to the left, there is no shortage of names inevitably being bandied about. Naturally, it all starts with Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the progressive Left. But, she will be 71 come 2020 and likely to be the Bernie phenomena of that year. Some have mentioned newly elected California Senator Kamala Harris. If it worked for a do-nothing Senator like Barack Obama in 2008, anything is possible. Also, the Democrats like to be a party of “firsts” and nominating a black female candidate would not be out of the question. What the hell- you knock out two birds with one stone.
Another liberal possibility is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, but given her closeness to Hillary Clinton some Democrats might cringe now. Speaking of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been mentioned, but nominating a claymation figure might also be out of the question. Besides, Americans have a innate disdain for political family family dynasties (see: Clinton, Bush).
The final two on the left would be Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Michelle Obama. But, Brown- who has a propensity to pull too many Al Gore-inspired speeches- may be too leftist for Americans. As for Michelle Obama, she was probably the best weapon Clinton had in 2016 with astronomical approval ratings, but (1) she failed to deliver the goods and (2) that political family dynasty thing. Finally, there is Al Franken. If the idea sounds silly, if a TV reality show star can win in 2016, then a comedian and comedy writer also has a chance. However, after the airing of the first commercial showing Senator Franken sleeping or picking his nose digging for gold during a hearing or on the Senate floor may torpedo those aspirations.
As for “centrist” Democratic possibilities, there are a few. The first obvious one is the traditional one- Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Clinton’s running mate. Although many have mentioned that his stock has risen, he was rather low key on the campaign trail and he did very little besides parrot Clinton’s losing campaign lines in his lone debate against Mike Pence. Governor John Hicklenhooper of Colorado may be looking for a job come 2020, but gun control may come back to haunt him.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley may have had a chance, but his waffling from “all lives matter” to “I really didn’t mean that…I’m sorry African Americans” may have doomed his future. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has also been mentioned. While he may have charisma, he is rather bland. His margin of victories in a blue state have left something to desired also. Considering that the Democratic Party is moving increasingly left, Booker may be too centrist for them in 2020.
Former Texas Congressman and HUD director Julian Castro is a possibility. He is, in effect, the Marco Rubio of the Democratic Party- young, charismatic and Hispanic. But, HUD is hardly a household name and House members running for top dog usually does not end well. Hence, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who has an intriguing resume, would likely not fit that leftist slant. However, she did show some principle in her opposition to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her support for Sanders may have some Democrats looking beyond her centrist tendencies.
There are two final possibilities: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin who hails from a coal producing state and is highly popular. He has shown a tendency towards bipartisanship. Frankly, I think Mitch McConnell is a dolt for not trying to woo him to the GOP side.
However, I believe the one person who would likely give Donald Trump a very serious run for the money in 2020 (assuming Trump seeks reelection) would be Montana Governor Steve Bullock. This a Democratic Governor in a red state who sports a 61% approval rating. He is moderately liberal, but does not come off as a “liberal.”
Whatever happens, it is kind of fun to see the hand-wringing within the Democratic Party and all the blaming and finger-pointing especially considering the fact that everyone and their uncle expected this from the GOP in response to an anticipated Donald Trump defeat. Although many true conservatives may worry about a Trump presidency, seeing the Democrats in a state of disarray is one good thing that emerged from Trump’s victory.