Handicapping 2020 in 2017
by Kevin Kelton
Everyone’s favorite political game is handicapping the 2020 Democratic primary race. So here’s my humble take. While he’s not my first choice, my instincts tell me that Bernie Sanders will be the nominee. Here’s why.
I think Al Franken got knocked out today, not that I think he was ever a real contender, and I just don’t see anyone from the second tier (Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Andrew Cuomo, Kirsten Gillibrand) generating wide excitement these days. When people start to think about a matchup with Trump, they are going to want to see him spar with someone as bold and colorful and unorthodox as him. A conventional candidate like Martin O’Malley or Andrew Cuomo or even Cory Booker isn’t going to excite the imagination of the media or the masses the way a Trump-Sanders matchup will. Of course it *could* happen that someone strikes lightning in a bottle, like Obama and Sanders did in ’08 and ’16; I just don’t see it this time around — not from anyone in this field or anyone likely to show up.
That leaves Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. Frankly, I am not hearing any groundswell of support for Warren these days. Are you? I’ve been watching the threads in Open Fire when 2020 comes up and I don’t see anyone passionately pushing for her. It seems that, like Chris Christie after 2012, Warren’s window of opportunity may have passed. She’s just not the darling of the left anymore, and center-left Democrats don’t seem to trust her. I think Joe Biden could make a strong run (and I’d probably support him), but I sense that his sheen in the party is fading, too.
Now to be honest, Sanders is also a less compelling figure than he was in 2016. Like Ali without Frazier, Bernie just seems smaller without Hillary in the ring. But the difference is, Sanders’ base of support — which was pretty wide and incredibly devoted — is still out there. Everyone who was chomping at the bit to nominate him last time will be just as excited again, and their small donor money will be there, too. So he goes into the primaries with a national organization, tons of enthusiasm from millions of supporters, and money that he can raise regularly without pandering to special interests or corporate donors. All this while Warren, Biden, Cuomo, and Booker are competing against each other for the same finite landscape of big money Democratic donors. Plus the DNC is sensitive to the idea that it was somehow unfair to Bernie last time, so they will bend over backward not to get accused of that again.
And finally, in the irony of ironies, Trump’s obvious and deep ties to Putin and the Russians will negate Bernie’s biggest liability: that he’s a socialist. The fear of communism seems to have waned, and what would have been an albatross around Sanders’ neck in 2016 will be a minor issue against the Trump-Putin ticket.
Please note: this isn’t me stating a preference; Bernie would not be my first choice. It’s me making a prediction. And I reserve the right to change my prediction as news and circumstances evolve. But my best guess now is that it will be Trump v. Sanders.
Of course, my best guess in 2016 was that we’d all be guessing who’ll be running against President Hillary Clinton in her re-election bid. A really bad guess, but at least I was in good company when I made it.