Though the 2020 presidential election is not happening in the immediate future, there has been a recent surge in announcements pertaining to the event. Whether it’s exploratory committees or official declarations to run for president, there is a stunning amount of Democrats scrambling to get their name out for the primaries. Despite the fact that the American public is faced with a wide array of Democrats to choose from, there are a few notable favorites amongst the party already. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Kamala Harris of California have definitely gained the most traction so far. Since Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are leading on a CNN/SSRS poll but haven’t officially declared candidacy (though Sanders is speculated to launch an exploratory committee soon), the runner-ups on the polls are Harris and Warren as names that people are “very likely to support for 2020.”
With many left-leaning figures bracing themselves in an attempt to unseat President Donald Trump, the biggest hurdle the Democratic Party faces right now is their lack of a clear frontrunner, despite having a disproportionate ratio of candidates compared to their counterparty. The inability of the Democratic Party to produce a strong candidate combined with the deafening silence from Republican challengers only further indicates an unpredictable election come 2020.
At the same time, the Democratic Party faces the possibility of not winning the White House if the highest polling Democrats are not even officially running. This leads us to Harris and Warren. Both candidates advertise themselves as bold progressives, yet have drawn criticism for their views and statements in the recent past.
As Attorney General of California (AG), Harris caught backlash for her strong stance on incarceration at a time when public attention was being shifted towards the issue of police brutality. Though she gained support for requiring body cameras for police agents under her office, Harris didn’t support a bill that would have required attorney generals to investigate police shootings. In addition to these contradictory actions, her office didn’t follow orders to “promptly” release nonviolent prisoners due to issues of overcrowding. Her office’s defense was that reducing the prison population would hurt California’s ability to fight wildfires by shrinking the pool of forced labor. Harris, however, seemed to dodge criticism for this by maintaining she was unaware of the comments her office made in terms of backing up their lackluster decarceration efforts. Still, there are other ballot initiatives that would have given Harris the opportunity to show the public her stance on criminal justice; instead, she refused to take positions on progressive policies aimed at reducing prison populations.
Trying to campaign towards the left in spite of her past actions may become a reason to give Democratic voters pause when deciding who wins the primaries. However, there are still policies she endorses that line up well with the party’s platform, such as Medicare-for-all and tax cuts for the middle class, and her Twitter following of 2.3 million and counting will undoubtedly give her the platform needed to appeal to younger audiences. Perhaps the way she’s evolved on certain issues coupled with her commanding presence on social media will be able to propel her forward in the race, despite a few hiccups she may face when asked to address her days as attorney general.
Warren follows Harris closely in the polls and has drawn widespread support among her party, but she, and many other Democratic candidates, tend to have an issue in terms of appealing to voters outside of their target demographic. Harris seems to be an outlier given that she has a more centrist background, but since she is trying to appear more progressive, many are upset at her inconsistency in policy. However, Warren, like many of her competitors, have advertised similar policies: taxing the extremely wealthy, Medicare-for-all and trying to curb climate change. The most pressing issue in publicizing such similar, left-leaning messages is the inattention to swing states, many of which cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election. Given the overwhelming amount of Republican votes from the 2016 electoral college, trying to set more moderate and varied agendas that can capture the attention from both sides of the ideological aisle seems to be a balancing act Democrats must perform.
Additionally, what seems to be plaguing Warren’s campaigning efforts is the notorious DNA test she took in attempts to quell Trump’s questioning of her alleged Native American heritage. Instead, doing so only led to outrage from the Native American community and further mockery from conservatives. Taking a closer look at the more popular Democratic candidates goes to show that the main problem with the Democrats is that many may be too far left for swing states, and the candidate who presents a more moderate approach is being scrutinized for not having a firmer stance on progressive issues. And, with so many names to choose from, the ones who haven’t been able to make as big of a media impact as Warren and Harris will find themselves in a struggle to get their name out to voters.
While up until this point there has been one possible competitor from the GOP against Trump, it’s still far too early to think about how the Republican primaries will play out. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has launched a presidential exploratory committee and has openly voiced opposition to Trump and his “compulsive” behavior. Formerly identified as Republican, then Libertarian, then Republican again, Weld’s stances so far have tended to run more center-right. Though he indirectly took a jab at the shifting nature of the Democratic Party by stating “we need the opposite of socialism,” he still has proclaimed the need to focus on more liberal issues such as preventing climate change. Given the way key issues have become overly politicized in today’s environment, such as abortion, immigration and climate change, it’s unsure how well Weld’s agenda will sit with members of his own party.
Since the sitting president is from the Republican Party, however, Trump faces the incumbency advantage: a phenomenon in which presidents are usually voted into a second consecutive term. Yet at the same time, with a president who has faced record lows in approval ratings for their first term, it’s disappointing and frustrating to see a display of inaction from the Republican Party in terms of challengers. Despite the fact that there has even been an anonymous letter written and published about being part of the “resistance” within the Trump administration, it’s astounding to see the lack of effort from the GOP as they have yet to even declare an official contender to take on Trump. In addition to the supposed opposition coalition within Trump’s own inner circle, we’re starting to witness an erosion in Trump’s base. This has only been spurred on by the recent national emergency declaration that was made in order to get the border wall constructed. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as about a dozen other Republican Senators, expressed concerns about the actions Trump has taken in order to get his campaign promise fulfilled.
As the presidential race for 2020 kicks off, there’s already a pool of candidates that are breaking boundaries and ready to challenge Trump. But having gotten to a point of increased partisanship, there’s no telling which way the presidential pendulum will swing towards. A Democrat could be the underdog that snatches the electoral college, especially given the record-breaking midterm elections that gave the Democrats House majority. Yet at the same time, Trump has received funding for the wall, which posed as his signature campaign headliner. Although there’s an overwhelming amount of declared candidacies, Democrats might need to add a stronger candidate to the mix. And while Republicans might have the upper hand with the White House already in their grip, their facade of appearing as a unified party is crumbling fast and time is running out for a stronger Republican candidate to enter the race. What’s certain for now is this: 2020 is anybody’s game.