Designing the Democratic Candidate for President

The Trump presidency is ripe for coming to an end, but only if the Democrats can get themselves together to nominate a winning candidate. What should that candidate look like? I have no favorites in either the sense of “someone I like a lot” or “the most likely to win the primaries.” So I will design my own. Of course this doesn’t necessarily predict who will win the nomination, but it is just my musings on who should.

If the Obama and Trump elections tell us anything, they tell us that the electorate is looking for someone out of the ordinary. They are not looking for politicians who have been around long enough to be entrenched in Washington (sorry Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.) My candidate must first of all have a fresh face. They cannot have served more than six years in Washington. Kamala Harris was elected senator in 2016; Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren in 2013: Amy Klobuchar senator since 2007; Kirsten Gillibrand senator since 2009; Tulsi Gabbard congresswoman since 2013, Eric Swalwell congressman since 2013, Beto O’Rourke and Tim Delaney congressmen 2013-2019;  Tim Ryan congressman since 2003. Those with political experience at state or local level but no elected Washington experience: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gov. Jay Inslee, Mayor Wayne Messam,  former mayor Julian Castro (HUD secretary under Obama.) Those with no political experience but running (hey, Trump won didn’t he?) Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang. I may have left some out, more made enter the race, and someone else may have declared while I was writing this, but that seems to be the current list.

They have to be seen as the advocate for the working class. Trump was elected by and large because of the support in Key states he had among this group. That means addressing the issues that matter most to them: worries about job security, stagnant wages, health care, and other bread and butter issues. Trump has betrayed this group or offered them false solutions like blaming immigrants, saying he will prevent their jobs from being shipped overseas, or declaring that he will bring back the coal industry. They are still looking for a person who will be on their side. The Democratic candidate must convince them that he or she is that person.

The Democratic person must be the anti-Trump not just the non-Trump. Trump won by being seen as candid and combative. The candidate who defeats him will be seen not just as a nicer person but a warrior who can combat the entrenched corporate and special interest in Washington. Someone who will really drain the swamp and do the things that Trump promised to do but didn’t.

They must attract strong minority , LBGT, and female support while not alienating white support. This is less of a tightrope than you might think. Many things that are good for the minority communities are also good for the majority community. However, the candidate cannot be seen as pandering to either community. For example issues like reparations will not gain more African American support than it will lose white support. Issues like health care will gain support in both communities. Unfortunately, I am pessimistic that casting things as issues of social justice will appeal to enough Americans to elect a president. I have too often been disappointed that the American electorate will do things for others than themselves.

The candidate must re frame the binary as not left vs. right or Republican vs. Democrat, but as helping the common person rather than the 1%. For example health care cannot be called socialized medicine but rather health insurance for all. If they can reject the Republican frame of socialism vs. individual freedom and make the argument about real, concrete issues rather than ideologies, the most “progressive” policies can get popular support. The Democratic candidate cannot be seen as a left wing ideologue.

Each candidate will develop some Republican or media shorthand description and each must not allow that to be the only or predominant picture.  Ask HillaryThe argument that a woman or a minority person cannot win is simply not true. If one such candidate can accomplish tasks like those I’ve set out, that person can win. Women especially fit the mold of “none of the usual suspects (candidates”) that the electorate that switched from Obama to Trump wants in office. We have seen that those pundits that make predictions or offer advice based on the old politics rather than the new ones, are often wrong and surprised by the outcomes. The issue is not whether the Democrats move toward the progressive wing of the party or appeal to the center. The issue is whether the candidate can woo people with real, concrete issues and inspiring rhetoric. Grassroots organizing and campaigning will be key and the Democratic candidate who can get a message across beyond the media narrative, will be in a strong position to win. For example, if the media’s representation of Elizabeth Warren as a hectoring schoolmarm is allow to stand rather than her protection of the consumer, anti corporate message, then she will not stand much of a chance.

Obama did it with hope and Trump did it with fear of more loss. We will see what prevails in 2020.

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