The 2020 presidential race, in many ways, started the day after President Donald Trump was sworn into office.
Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, flooded the nation’s capital and took to streets around the country to deliver a rebuttal to his inauguration. With Democratic party officials still largely shell-shocked from their surprise defeat, the grassroots swelled and seemed to say, “We got this.”
The president, with his particularly divisive brand politics, has united his opposition over the last year. After those men and women marched, they got to work.
Frustrated by the failures of the Democratic Party, they built their own local, grassroots organizations. Disappointed by the defeat of the first female presidential candidate, women by the tens of thousands raised their hands to run. Embolden by the president’s low approval ratings (and the fact that he lost the popular vote the first go-around) people who were disappointed in his election or his governing have anticipated and plotted their chance at a redo.
“We have seen levels of commitment and resistance that I have not seen in my lifetime and it is pervasive and preserving,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America told ABC News.
Still, while the left in particular appears mobilized and chomping at the bit to get someone else into the White House, the most successful 2020 candidates, at least for Democrats, may be those who wait to start running.
It is sure to be a crowded field that will be hard, but leading activists say voters will likely reward whoever is bringing the fight to Trump on a daily basis or offering clear alternatives for governing.
Plus, the political landscape will certainly be different the next few years. By the time the 2020 presidential race comes around, who knows how this often-chameleon president will operate.
“Democratic primary voters are more concerned about the damage Trump is doing today than they are about who will be the nominee in three years,” Jesse Ferguson, a democratic strategist who worked for the Clinton campaign and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told ABC News. “So the smartest thing a prospective candidate can do is focus on the here and now.”
While only one Democrat has formally declared, Maryland Rep. John Delaney, more than a dozen sitting lawmakers are flirting with the idea.
Hillary Clinton’s defeat not only resulted in months of soul-searching for democrats, it marked the end of political dynasty in their ranks.
One the lessons the party quickly learned was that they could not risk looking like they hand-picked the next nominee. Over the last year the Democratic National Committee has proposed new reforms to limit the party’s ‘superdelegates,’ expand primaries, and encourage open registration. All tactics designed to level and democratize the playing field as they look towards the next round of primaries.
Democratic elected officials know the race is wide open and members of congress and senators are acutely aware of the built in advantages that come with being on Capitol Hill. As showcased last week, when Senator Cory Booker’s aggressively cross-examined Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary, expect those with national pulpits to use them.
That said, voters’ remain skeptical, perhaps even disgusted, by Washington in general. If the flurry of headlines around a possible Oprah Winfrey run was any indication, Democrats and Americans writ large seemed tempted by the idea of another outsider candidate.
“People in red states and blue states and purple states are looking for one thing and that is someone who they trust who reflect an understanding of the very challenging and diverse lives we live,” Hogue continued. “What that looks like, we should have a rigorous debate about.”
She predicted that Democrats will in the end stick to their party’s basic platforms in 2020 and not, in fact, veer further to the right or center as some has predicted after Clinton’s lost. “One of the lessons of 2016 is that a fired up base is the key to victory,” she went on.
For those seeking an alternative to the president, maybe the answer will be an executive from the states. Someone outside the Washington beltway, but not new to politics or governing.
Democrats had some of their biggest victories in 2017, when they ran long-time, well-known local names.
“Boring can be beautiful,” Ferguson continued. “Voters are hungry for authenticity and competence. [Gov-elect Ralph] Northam did not have to be ‘Mr. Sexy,’ as long as he was ‘Mr. Solutions.’”
The results of the midterm elections in 2018 will surely set the stage for the 2020 presidential race too.
If, for instance, Democrats take back the House, will President Trump shift his style or change his methods?
How would Democratic voters react to their representatives making deals with this commander-in-chief, if Trump were open to it?
And what if Trump faces a Republican primary challenge himself? Does he dig-in or try to temper his tone and broaden his appeal?
By the time the 2020 presidential race comes around, who knows how this often-chameleon president will operate.
This story is part of a weeklong series examining the first year of the Trump administration.