The 2020 Democratic Bench

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

It’s never too early to speculate. The Democrats are fired up for the 2020 Presidential election in a way they haven’t been in years. The pall of Hillary Clinton’s loss to the supremely unqualified, fraudulent shell of a candidate that was and is Donald Trump hangs over the party as a constant reminder of a nightmarish reality, brought about by an unimaginable string of unforced errors, miscalculations and unpreventable random outside events that conspired together to produce the greatest upset in American political history.

Is it hyperbole to say that never in the history of Democratic politics has an election loomed larger and more important than 2020?

There are three 70-something nationally-known potential 2020 Democratic candidates right now, but to any objective observer, they seem stale, predictable and shop worn. It’s unlikely that Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren could put together a support coalition across the generational boundaries that would prove strong and vital enough to constitute an actual winning majority. Are any of them a surprise in any way? Do any of them hold even one position on any issue that isn’t already known in advance by everyone? Do any of them inspire the undecideds or strike fear into our international adversaries?

Warren, in particular, may not even live to fight until 2020. Although her national standing is quite high among the hard-core far-Left wing of her party, her personal shortcomings, shrill unlikeability and hypocrisy are becoming increasingly apparent even to her MA base. It’s widely felt that a strong MA Republican Senate candidate, with good funding and a sharp communications strategy, will give Warren a very difficult time indeed in 2018. From her living the lifestyle of a privileged 1%-er while railing against “the rich,” to the embarrassingly shallow understanding of foreign policy she demonstrates whenever she speaks at length on the subject, to her deception of her ethnic background as a “native American” that she used on her application to Harvard, she’s a “target-rich environment,” ripe pickings for a sharply-run opposition campaign. As Republican Charlie Baker’s overwhelming election to the Governorship showed, MA will elect a Republican if the Democrat is deemed personally unworthy, unknowledgeable or out of touch. Warren is arguably all three. As a MA resident, I can see that Warren’s 2018 Senate re-election is far from a sure thing.

So if the 70+ sect is not properly equipped, who is? Where will the Dems turn?

Two names jump out as possibilities: VA Governor Terry McAuliffe and MA Congressman Seth Moulton. There are others, no doubt, and some that no one has even thought of yet. But let’s look at these two for starters.

Terry McAuliffe

Currently the Governor of VA, McAuliffe is a long-time Democratic operative and high-profile figure in the Party. A prolific fundraiser and rabidly partisan but highly effective public speaker, McAuliffe was co-chair of President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, Democratic National Chairman from 2001 to 2005 and chair of Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. He won the VA Governorship in 2013 by a close 2-point margin over former VA Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. As governor, McAuliffe has maintained his high profile, making a dramatic national splash with his declared intention to restore the voting rights via Executive Order of more than 200,000 ex-felons in Virginia—a naked attempt on his part to “stack the VA voting deck” in the Democrats’ favor. His order was overturned, but the very fact that he would even think of doing this is a testament to his aggressive creativity with regard to hardball partisan politics.

McAuliffe’s persona can come across as a bit of a “used car salesman” to those pre-disposed to viewing him negatively, but few Democratic politicians have their base more squarely in their sights. Even more importantly, McAuliffe’s opportunistically-contrived reasonableness (he recently gave Donald Trump a “Gentleman’s C” when asked to grade him so far, in contrast to virtually every other Dem who’d have unhesitatingly said “F”) will get many undecided voters to think, “Hmmmm…not so bad,” which is the key to any hope for victory. He’s a tough cookie who knows the ropes. Republicans should not underestimate him.

Seth Moulton

A 2001 Harvard graduate, Moulton joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and served four combat tours in the Middle East, earning the Medal of Valor and Bronze Star for bravery under fire. He won his Congressional seat in 2014 and takes all the perfectly-Democratic positions on gun control, women’s/LBGTQ rights (yes, including “Q”—perfect), the environment, healthcare, student loans, etc. Perfectly positioned, on every single issue.

As this Boston Globe article shows, there is some talk right now of his candidacy in the next Presidential election. Granted, in 2020 Moulton will only be 42 and assuming re-election to the House in 2018, will have just six years under his belt as a junior elected representative. Nonetheless, his personal résumé is nearly unimpeachable with regards to his military service credentials, his having “saved” a Democratic seat from the failings of a corrupt incumbent and his central-booking rugged good looks. If he’s not the Democratic nominee in 2020, a surefire sign of the Democratic establishment’s opinion of Moulton’s potential as a future high-office candidate will be whether or not he is accorded a prime speaking role at the 2020 Democratic Convention. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were similarly groomed before they achieved main event status.

President Trump is not yet six months into his first term. If three years from now his presidency has been even modestly successful at growing the economy, improving health care, reducing taxes and curtailing illegal immigration, he will prove to be an extremely tough candidate to beat. Although truly hard-core anti-Trump far-Left Democrats will never cede even a micrometer of legitimacy to his presidency, an electorally-significant fraction of the so-called “swing” electorate will have acclimated to his presence and will, in fact, vote on 2020 results rather than a by-then-irrelevant cartoonish cliché from 2016.

However, as interesting as these two potential Democrats may be, absent the next coming of JFK, the Democrats’ chances in 2020 rest more on President Trump’s actual first term performance than the inherent attractiveness of their candidate.

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