We have nearly a full year until the Nevada Democratic Caucus, yet the campaign is already heading into full swing. Multiple presidential candidates (and prospective candidates) have already made visits, and we’ve had the opportunity to see a couple of them in person. We’ve begun to notice how a key question is dividing the field. And as we await the next round of candidates (and likely future candidates) to visit our fine Silver State, we might as well ask the question and examine the candidates’ answers.
The central question: “Go big or go home”?
In these first few weeks of the 2020 election cycle, we’ve begun to notice a growing divide among the Democratic hopefuls: While some caution the party faithful to be more “realistic” and “pragmatic” with their policy goals, others have encouraged grassroots activists to aim for the stars while they themselves release lofty policy papers or discuss “YUGE!” ideas on the campaign trail.
In Henderson last Saturday, we saw some of the former with U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responding to a question on “Medicare for All” single-payer health care with this simple answer: “I want to help people now.” While his drive for economic justice and “dignity of work” seems to fit neatly alongside the passionate calls for economic justice being made by fellow Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), he implied that his suite of proposals to improve upon the Affordable Care Act, such as lowering Medicare’s eligibility age to 50 and adding a public option onto the insurance exchanges, is far more likely to become law within the next decade than “Medicare for All”.
But I believe the biggest risk in this election is failing to empower the millions of people who feel the squeeze of an economy rigged against them and the deep frustration of a failing political system that produced Donald Trump in the first place. So let’s change it.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 25, 2019
Yet six days prior, Warren herself gave a pre-buttal when she urged supporters at Springs Preserve, “Don’t [settle for] little pieces here and there. Build it on structural changes. This is the time to dream big, fight hard, and win.” While she and Brown aren’t far apart in their Congressional voting records, they’re much further apart in advocating a vision for America’s future. While Brown joins other Democrats, such as Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D), in preferring what I call a “go home” message of Democrats providing a more approachable platform to persuade swing voters, Warren advocates “going big” with ambitious policies to excite progressive-minded voters: single-payer health care, universal child care, some type of “Green New Deal” to take on climate change and create jobs, and a “wealth tax” to pay for it all.
We know Democrats oppose Trump, so now it’s time for them to define what they support.
Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) became the latest candidate to test his appeal here in Nevada yesterday. During a rally in North Las Vegas, Booker asked, “So is this election going to be about what we’re against? Or is it going to be about what we’re for?”
Like Warren and Sanders, Booker is building his campaign on a foundation of big, bold progressive policies. In addition, he’s trying to distinguish himself as someone with a positive vision rather than just “checking boxes” with a list of everything and everyone he’s against. And in his own rebuttal to the “go home” pragmatists who prefer a campaign of small, approachable policy fixes, Booker declared, “If this election becomes something small, then we will lose the opportunity to create transformative change.”
In the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats mostly defined themselves by who and what they’re against. Whether it’s been Trump’s anti-immigrant regime or his attempts to thwart Robert Mueller’s investigation or his efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Democrats have often found ways to stand out by standing against Trump. But now that these Democrats are running to defeat and succeed Trump, they can’t just say they oppose this or that terrible thing Trump says or does. If they want to avoid the same fate that befell Hillary Clinton in 2016, they’ll need to find out how to stand out and break out from Trump’s usual Sturm und Drang.
So have we just figured out the right answer to that first question?
Disclaimer: I’m a survivor of 2016 election media coverage. That was my first presidential election working as a full-time blogger/writer, and that election taught me so many lessons on how our political system really works… Including the media. I witnessed first-hand how Trump controlled the narrative throughout the election cycle having political rivals and media figures continually respond to whatever he was tweeting at the time.
Trump repeatedly pulled publicity stunts to grab the media’s and the public’s attention. His Republican rivals often responded by attempting to “out-Trump Trump”, only to lose to him during primary/caucus season. Clinton then responded by attempting to make the general election a referendum on Trump’s words and behavior, only to lose the Electoral College to him by allowing him to convince just enough voters that he would really do something about their “economic anxiety”.
Climate change is an imminent threat to our planet unless we correct course. It’s within our power to do so. Now is the time. pic.twitter.com/q1mToVv6GE
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 18, 2019
So how do the 2020 Democrats avoid that very same fate? It may ultimately come down to a little thing called “the vision thing”. In the next year, these two-dozen-plus Democratic hopefuls have the opportunity to prove to party faithful that they don’t just oppose Trump, but they also have a message and a platform worth supporting.