KOLB: Are Democrats Set To Win 2020, Or Are They Facing A McGovern-Style Blowout?

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Charles Kolb Deputy Assistant to George H.W. Bush
Font Size:

Are the Democrats prepared to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, assuming he seeks reelection? While many Democrats are gleeful about their 2020 presidential prospects, others aren’t convinced.

Late last year, at a New York City economic-policy conference, I ran into a friend who held a senior Clinton White House position. He was certain that Trump — whom he dislikes — would be easily reelected. I disagreed: with low approval ratings and a quarrelsome, unpredictable personality, Trump was undermining his 2020 chances and making it difficult to repeat his electoral romp through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. He was alienating, not attracting, independent voters.

My friend countered that Trump’s base remained solid, and his fellow Democrats would probably do something foolish, like nominate an extreme progressive. In 2020, he expected another 1972 McGovern-style blowout.

He might be right — but I’m not sure. The Democrats seem much smarter than that. Potentially.

Trump has held office less than two years, and potential Democratic presidential candidates are already testing the water. There are liberal progressives like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  The former must now address allegations of sexual harassment and disparate treatment on his 2016 campaign, and former Harvard Law professor (“I’m gonna get me a beer”) Warren produced an embarrassing neo-populist campaign launch.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo is unlikely to head the 2020 ticket. Given New York State’s corruption and mismanagement history, plus his 2013 decision to terminate the Moreland Commission (which he initially appointed) when its anti-corruption investigation got too close to some of his campaign contributors, Cuomo’s presidential campaign will falter.

Then there are the bi-coastal, younger Senate progressives, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.  Booker could run as a pragmatic progressive. As Newark’s former mayor, he has experience running a complex, major American city. His unforgettable Spartacus moment at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, however, undercut his gravitas. California’s Kamala Harris has high state name recognition, but my hunch is that she will use 2020 for future positioning.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is flirting with another run.  Biden is undoubtedly the best-qualified Democrat in the 2020 field, but his health (he’s had two brain aneurysms) and his age — 78 on Inauguration Day 2021 — will be critical factors. Moreover, he’s considered a centrist in a party that is moving rapidly left.

The modern presidency is a young person’s game, a fact that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (now 76) must also consider. Ronald Reagan left office at a comparatively youthful 77, but with clear signs of aging and diminished concentration. Like it or not, there’s a realistic sell-by date for presidential hopefuls, and 78 is well beyond it. Trump is now 72 and will be 73 on January 20, 2021. While Americans should wish all 2020 presidential candidates excellent health, there is no reason for the country to court a future crisis by electing someone who might face serious health issues.

Among potential Democratic candidates, two people stand out as having excellent prospects for 2020 — although they are currently dark horses. By virtue of their backgrounds, they both project an “anti-Trump” persona by posing a distinct contrast to the current president’s temperament, experience, and gender.

These potential candidates are former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and New York’s junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. Hickenlooper (age 65) is a popular, successful two-term governor (2011-2019) who also served eight years as Denver’s mayor. He started in small business, as a brewer and restaurateur. He’s genial, optimistic, and, temperamentally bipartisan. I’ve met him a couple of times, and you just can’t help but like him. Moreover, his business experience and acumen are the precise opposite of Trump’s debt-driven, real-estate development deals, some of which ended in bankruptcy.

Gillibrand (age 51) holds the New York U.S. Senate seat once occupied by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Hillary Clinton. In the Senate, she has championed sexual-assault issues and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Since the Harvey Weinstein sexual-assault revelations, she has been a leading #MeToo campaign voice. If Gillibrand is on the 2020 national ticket, she will be a constant reminder of the recent Weinstein-type scandals.

Trump’s first presidential term is nearly half over, and much can (and will) surprise us between now and November 2020. In choosing their 2020 ticket, Democrats must balance two sets of issues: (1) age and experience versus youth and dynamism, and (2) centrist policy moderation versus the new, left-leaning progressivism.

The political posturing and preening will continue, as possibly dozens of candidates delude themselves about their electability. Hickenlooper and Gillibrand, in my book, bear watching. If the Democrats nominate them — or candidates like them — they could retake the White House in 2020.

Charles Kolb was deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy in the George H.W. Bush White House from 1990-1992. From 1997-2012, he was president of the nonpartisan, business-led think tank, the Committee for Economic Development.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.