In all the talk about who can win in 2020, what is missing from too many of the discussions is who will do the work on the ground and at the phones. President Trump inspires an almost rabid response in his base. This is a bad thing when you consider his policies and rhetoric, but in the world of electoral politics, it is a huge asset for him. Combine that with his ability to control the news cycle and raise money from the rich, it makes the path to victory much more difficult for the Democrats. The only way to beat him is to use old-fashioned human interaction.
In 2020, the Democrats must balance qualifications with the ability to get people out doing the work of knocking on doors, registering voters, making phone calls and getting the small, individual campaign contributions that make people feel like they have skin in the game. Throw out the loaded terms “likability” or “electability” when referring to candidates. This kind of talk ends up elevating white centrist males. Sure, there are some good candidates who meet that description, but so many of the people willing to put in the work are ready for a change, not simply for identity’s sake alone, but a change that brings new ideas and perspectives to the table. That’s who they will put their lives on hold to help.
For the first time, we have a large slate of candidates offering real relief for our problems and not just a return to the status quo. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a plan for nearly everything, including green manufacturing and childcare costs, and joins Sen. Bernie Sanders in pushing for sweeping relief for student loan debts. Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s Douglas Plan could be the most ambitious and real step to correcting racial injustice, followed closely by Sen. Kamala Harris’ proposed home ownership reforms. These plans offer hope, and hope gets people motivated. Look around. If you don’t think reformers like Warren, Sanders, Harris and Buittigieg have the capability to motivate young people to leave their jobs and homes to travel to Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin to talk to strangers for weeks on end, then you are out of touch.
However, not everyone agrees. A common sentiment among many boomers and centrists is that former Vice President Joe Biden can win by offering a return to normalcy that will convince the folks in the middle of the political spectrum to switch their votes from Trump to Biden. That requires buying into the myths that “economic anxiety” keeps a large number of Trump voters loyal and that many evangelicals are eager to abandon the “imperfect vessel” justification. What actually keeps his voters loyal is a combination of much more sinister factors combined with the simple truth that far too many of them stay uninformed by tuning out everything as “fake news” except the propaganda Trump and his cheerleaders at Fox News put out on a daily basis. Radical economic change, rather than tepid centrism, is way more likely to pull voters from the center to the left. Problem is, the right has done an excellent job of associating any type of economic reform that helps the little guy with full-blown socialism.
I understand the thinking of those who think Biden is the path to victory. I firmly believe he would have won in 2016 even though Secretary Hillary Clinton was the more qualified and the better choice. Just too many Trump voters cast a vote against her rather than a vote for him. Biden likely would have not faced the same problem, despite his association with President Barack Obama. It’s an association that, at times, has given him a pass that he does not deserve among the left. “Uncle Joe,” the cool and hip Obama sidekick, does not exist and never really did. Biden has always been a middle of the road guy who has a history of prioritizing the interests of big corporations over the poor and middle class and pushing for harsher drug sentences. This history has become all the more obvious and damaging as he is juxtaposed with candidates who prioritize relief from the crushing burdens of economic inequality and institutional racism in their campaigns.
If Biden does turn out to be the nominee, I hope the liberals and progressives rally behind him. I’m just not convinced his path back to the center is the path to victory. Instead, the Democratic Party should choose a candidate who centers racial and economic equality in a meaningful way. That’s the real kind of hope and change that inspires folks to put in the hard work to get the untapped progressive voters to the polls.