WHO WILL challenge Donald Trump in 2020?
It’s a question that Americans have been asking since before Trump even took office. The Democratic Party was in shambles after the 2016 election; it had bet the kingdom on Hillary Clinton, only to suffer a crushing and unthinkable defeat. With only one other serious contender during the primaries—one whom critics viewed as an outsider and a sore loser—Democrats were at a loss as to who would be next to take on Trump.
Four years later, they’re still at a loss, though their problem now isn’t that they’re lacking for challengers—it’s that they have too many. With a staggering 25 (active) major candidates, the 2020 Democratic primaries will offer voters the largest pool of candidates for any political party in nearly a century. These candidates come from all across the country, from Texas to Hawaii to Montana to Florida, and bring with them a whole spectrum of political experience: mayor, governor, representative, senator, former vice president—and for some, none. Perhaps Trump’s lack of prior experience has encouraged some of the lesser candidates that their own meager credentials are enough for the presidency. Still, when your opponent is widely viewed as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, it’s easy to believe that you’ll never have a better chance to win the White House. But defeating Trump will be anything but easy.
The Democratic nominee, whoever they are, will have to do just that—and this time, they will need to do more than just win the popular vote. After that, they will face the unenviable task of undoing the damage wrought by the Trump administration, including: mending the relationship between the press and the presidency; confronting the imminent threat of climate change; purging white nationalist movements from mainstream politics; repairing friendships with our international allies; addressing the opioid crisis; and reuniting immigrant families separated and detained in concentration camps. But before they can do any of that, they must win out over two dozen other hopefuls and convince the voters that they can win the general election.
To ring in the first Democratic debates, The Stanford Sphere has written up a tier list of all the major candidates. After many months of passionately trading political opinions amongst ourselves, our writers finally sat down and put it to a vote in an internal poll. How does Kamala Harris hold up against Elizabeth Warren? Can Mayor Pete beat Beto? Was there any love for Stanford’s own Cory Booker? And between Bernie Sanders, Mike Gravel, and Andrew Yang, whose dank memes reign supreme? Read on to find out.
D Tier: The Bottom of the Barrel
Joe Biden is the Hillary Clinton of the 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidates. This is not meant as a compliment.
Objectively, Biden is the most experienced candidate in the race; no one else comes close to matching his 36 years in the Senate, and his eight years as vice president to Barack Obama is as good a job qualification as you could ask for. But as Clinton proved, no one spends years in politics without making some terrible decisions, and Biden has more than his fair share. He led the charge behind the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which—despite laudable provisions such as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the Violence Against Women Act—has directly contributed to mass incarceration. He voted to repeal Glass-Steagall, an action that did not directly cause the Great Recession, but did help create the climate that made it possible. He also opposed desegregation busing in the 1970s, going so far as to call it “forced busing”—a term he borrowed from noted segregationist Strom Thurmond, at whose funeral Biden spoke. (In general, Biden seems to have a problem admitting that segregation was a bad thing, doubling down on recent comments about “civility” across party lines and then asking Cory Booker to apologize for asking him to apologize.)
Simply put, Biden is a man out of time. He’s a neoliberal holdover in a time when Democrats are trying to distance themselves from that flawed philosophy, and more damningly, a moderate who still believes in compromise even as Republicans play to take the whole board. Hillary Clinton had difficulty winning over not just younger Democrats, but also undecided voters who viewed her presidency as another four years of Obama. If she couldn’t defeat Trump, I have a hard time seeing how Biden can.
It’s safe to say that Michael Bennet is underrated. Even by us. If our writers voted for the candidates they thought most qualified for the Oval Office, it’s hard to figure why Harris—who literally prosecutes parents for truancy—got the nod over the decent senator from Colorado.
He suffers in part from sticking to his guns. Other centrists, Harris included, are claiming to support Medicare for All. Bennet has been outspoken in his opposition to single-payer and support for a public option, which—from this writer’s perspective—should be disqualifying. Still, Bennet is unusually clear-eyed about passing legislation in the post-McConnell era, and we’ll need him in the Senate for many years to come.
Should he be president? Will he be president? On both counts, it’s a hard no. But he may be worth watching. Ezra Klein has pointed out that Michael Bennet’s plan may resemble that of our favorite progressives after they’re forced to compromise. In a strange, disheartening way, Michael Bennet could be America’s future.
Eric Swalwell is a U.S. representative from California currently running for president. If you know that, you know more about Swalwell than most Americans. Congratulations!
Unlike some other lesser-known candidates, Gravel or Williamson, Swalwell doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. His claim to fame is his position in favor of gun control, presenting himself as the Gun Control Candidate. But it’s not like the other 24 candidates are very different; with the possible exception of Klobuchar, most of his opponents favor similar gun control plans.
So what sets him apart from the other candidates? That’s not a rhetorical question. If anyone knows, please tell me.
Former Congress member John Delaney may not be polling too well right now, which is especially embarrassing given that he was the first Democrat to throw his hat in the ring—all the way back in July 2017. But he has an oddly specific foreign policy plan: he’s a globalist (having supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership) with a whole host of foreign policy aims, including pressuring Chinese intellectual theft through soft power coalition-building, a two-state solution in Israel, and tougher terms on Iran.
Before turning to politics, Delaney was the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004. His business history gives some credibility to his political career: he co-founded Health Care Financial Partners to make loans available to smaller healthcare providers, as well as CapitalSource, a commercial lender providing capital to small and mid-size companies. Given his long history of empowering mom-and-pop businesses, he’s all for checking the power of large corporations. In fact, he supports increasing the corporate tax to 23 percent to raise $200 billion for infrastructure. But this likely won’t be enough to persuade Democrats—especially given his recent comments at the California Democratic Party State Convention, where Delaney was booed for saying that Medicare for All, while nice in theory, is “not good policy, nor… good politics.” Fortunately, Delaney’s opinion on the matter probably won’t carry him to the White House.
Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio is performing so poorly in the polls that it makes you forget he’s the mayor of New York City. His landslide wins for the office in 2013 and 2017 suggest that he is extremely popular in his city, but a survey among New Yorkers shows that they would rather not see him run—despite slightly preferring him over Trump.
Perhaps the biggest challenge ahead of de Blasio, aside from getting at least an integer in the polls—he averages just 0.3% support nationally—is strengthening his progressive platform. Although it may be said that his mayoral record reveals him to be a staunch progressive—his administration established universal pre-K, free school lunches, and paid sick leave—de Blasio’s vision of economic populism is no more special than that of Sanders or Warren. He initially endorsed Amazon’s decision to build its second headquarters in Long Island City, but quickly rebuked the company when it canceled its plans on the basis of the whole saga being an example of “the one percent dictating to everyone else.” Behavior like this makes us doubt his purported commitment to progressive values.
Despite the disheartening poll results, de Blasio is determined to stay in the race. “I was the underdog in everything I’ve been near,” he told the New York Daily News before announcing his candidacy. For now, though, he’s nowhere near.
Sun Woo Lee
Of all the interchangeable mid-range white guys in the primary polling in the low single digits, John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, is the only one who understands how to play the game. Before I started to research this description, I knew nothing about his policy plans (they’re unremarkable!) or his governing record (middling!)—just the supreme degree of weirdness he exudes. This is a man who ran a brewery before becoming mayor of Denver, the low-key weirdest of all American cities. This is a man who drank a glass of fracking liquid in order to prove some kind of political point. This is a man who went to see Deep Throat with his mom in order to cheer her up. This is a man who absolutely should not be president, but absolutely should get to tell weird stories about Colorado stuff to CNN anchors until we all die.
A cookie-cutter Democratic candidate, Tim Ryan has served 19 years in Congress. With his Rust Belt background, he appeals to liberal-minded working class Americans who want to revitalize the American Dream (as if that horse hasn’t been beaten enough). Despite a brief stint as a pro-lifer—Ryan voted for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which aimed to prohibit federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or danger of the life of the mother—he now staunchly supports a woman’s right to choose. Like many candidates, Ryan supports Medicare for All, but claims to have a “realistic” vision of getting there: private insurance would remain an option for Americans.
Notably, Ryan helped Adi Othoman, an undocumented immigrant, remain in the United States, repeatedly presenting a bill to Congress whereby Othman’s case would stay on the table. Unfortunately, after President Trump ordered ICE to increase its raids, Othman was deported.
Pitching himself as the pro-labor Democratic alternate-universe version of Trump who appeals to Rust Belt voters, Tim Ryan is a solid candidate. But we’re probably not going to going to see him move anywhere in our universe.
Former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak is the latest to announce his candidacy in an already crowded field. He has the stances you’d expect from a Democrat, and that about captures his draw as a candidate. With a campaign announcement overshadowed by the forthcoming DNC debates, it seems that the odds are Sestak-ed against him.
There are precisely two interesting facts about Sestak: that he attained the rank of three-star vice admiral in the Navy and that he is the current president of FIRST Global, the nonprofit that organizes all those high school robotics competitions. Unless you place heavy importance on experience in naval surface warfare or high-school robotics competitions, we recommend putting this Joe with the other one at the bottom of the pack.
Seth Moulton is not the most interesting member of Congress from Massachusetts running for president. That’d be Elizabeth Warren, who at least has a social democratic plan for every issue under the sun.
Moulton is not the most interesting member of the centrist-leaning, “fiscal responsibility” New Democrat Coalition running for president. That’d be John Delaney, who at least declared his campaign in July 2017 for some unknowable reason.
Moulton is not the most interesting three-term congressman running for president. That’d be Beto O’Rourke, who at least was in a band.
Moulton is not even the most interesting young-ish Harvard alum with experience in consulting and the U.S.’s forever war in the Middle East. That’d be Pete Buttigieg, who can at least speak Norwegian. (Kind of.)
The one thing that Moulton has on the rest of the field? He’s the only candidate I’ve blocked on Twitter.
Steve, why? We love you—we’ve always loved you—but we love you where you are, Steve, and where you are is home. Of all the candidates running for president who should be running for Senate, your case may be the most egregious. You’re popular in a state, Montana, that Trump carried by more than 20 points, and you earned your popularity (surprisingly) just by being your affable, left-of-center self. You’re no Bernie Sanders, but you’re far from the average centrist, and you’re the only Democrat who’s won a statewide election in deep-red Trump country.
But if Steve doesn’t read polls, he probably doesn’t read the Sphere: Governor Bullock could be Senator Bullock; he’ll never be President Bullock. Which is as it should be—he’s built a whole campaign around fighting dark money in D.C. Bullock seems to think that opposition to super PACs is the ticket to victory in 2020, but if that’s the best he can do, he’d do well to take a look at the platforms of his competitors.
C Tier: The Long Shots
Marianne Williamson: spiritual leader, self-help guru, author, president? Probably not. Politically, Williamson is not terribly interesting, falling among the other leftist candidates with her support of the Green New Deal, college tuition reform, minimum wage increase, etc. Her rhetoric is what sets her apart. Her calls to reunite America in a spiritual awakening of love suggest that the current issues with America are deeper than just politics—and she may be right. When a large part of the nation is defending the cruel internment of immigrants and refugees—Williamson even went a step beyond AOC and compared ICE directly to Nazi Germany—perhaps America is as hateful as she fears.
Where Marianne Williamson truly shines is with reparations. The idea that the United States should apologize and provide restitution to black Americans impacted by the twin legacies of slavery and Jim Crow has been in the news recently, with growing grassroots support and a congressional hearing held on Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas. Among the 25 Democratic candidates, Williamson is shockingly not only the most supportive candidate of reparation measures but also the only candidate to provide a plan: $200 to $500 billion dispersed over a period of 20 years determined by a council. Whether or not this plan is a good one is irrelevant—the rest of the Democratic candidates ought to be ashamed at their lack of substance on the issue.
Also, anyone who calls out Meghan McCain is a friend of mine.
You probably haven’t heard of Wayne Messam, mayor of Miramar, Florida, and you probably won’t hear of Messam again after reading this article. Despite earning an errant Sphere vote, Messam faces many hurdles and is quickly losing energy. Messam’s platform is that of a standard progressive—student loan cancellation, stricter gun laws, etc.—but he’s elusive; his campaign website doesn’t even appear on Google. Moreover, his political experience just doesn’t seem to be enough: no major political party has nominated to the presidency someone whose highest previous position was mayor. Top this with a history of suspicious financial blunders, a lack of political clout, and Mayor Pete stealing his thunder, and Messam is a few weeks out from formally leaving the race. Don’t take my word for it—Messam says it himself: “I’m not one of the candidates you’ll see on the town halls yet. I’m still waiting for my invitation.”
You may remember Tulsi Gabbard from the 2016 Democratic primaries, when she resigned as vice chair of the DNC to endorse Bernie Sanders. Gabbard—the youngest woman ever elected to a state legislature and a representative from Hawaii since 2012—is best known for her foreign policy. Having served in Iraq and seen firsthand the limits of the American imperial project, she opposes regime change, foreign wars, and military intervention. For this, she’s among the most popular candidates in some progressive circles.
However, the reticence on the part of the Sphere comes from a number of concerning stances. On foreign policy, she supports both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (known for his Hindu nationalism and complicity in the 2002 massacre of Muslims as chief minister of Gujarat—an event that Gabbard describes as having “a lot of misinformation that surrounds [it]”). On other issues of note: her principle conclusion on the Mueller report is that it found “no collusion”; she supports extreme vetting of Syrian and Iraqi refugees; and she has a history of homophobia, including support for conversion therapy (though she has since evolved on the issue).
Cory Booker may be the friendliest candidate in the race. The New Jersey senator, former mayor of Newark, and Stanford alum—he worked at The Bridge, so props to that—has built a reputation for shoveling constituents’ driveways, rescuing animals from the cold, and saving a woman from a burning building. The affable senator’s campaign is centered around optimism, unity, and not much else—his campaign website lacks a policy section.
His friendliness extends to the pharmaceutical industry. In 2014, Booker received $223,350 in contributions from Big Pharma, more than any other candidate. His coziness with lobbying groups doesn’t stop there: apparently, he and the president of AIPAC “text message back and forth like teenagers.” Booker has also come under scrutiny for his relationship with Mark Zuckerberg. In 2010, the Zuck pledged one hundred million dollars to spur charter school development in Newark; on an unrelated note, Booker is one of the most vocal critics of a proposed breakup of Big Tech monopolies.
Ultimately, America will have to decide: Are we as a nation ready for our first vegan president?
B Tier: The Middleweights
Mayor Pete appears to have done the unlikely—shot to the top five in a preposterously overcrowded primary with only mayoral experience in his pocket. And why not? He’s down-to-earth, nice, and, my God, smart. He’s got some progressive ideas—he’s pro-choice, supports the Green New Deal (although his only significant proposal is government-subsidized solar panels), and wants single-payer healthcare—but at the same time, Buttigieg doesn’t think jailed felons should vote, dreams of mandatory military service, and opposes free college tuition.
Buttigieg’s résumé reads like that of a technocrat: Harvard-educated, Rhodes scholar, former McKinsey employee, a Joyce fan, a pianist who speaks seven languages (though none very well). His background is meant to appeal to the highly-educated, ambitious, progressive, logical: those who know what’s really right for America. Obama’s campaign ran on hope, Trump’s, famously, on making America great again. Buttigieg’s campaign runs on this rationale: Why wouldn’t you vote for such groomed intelligence and competence against the unintelligence and incompetence of Trump? Yet it’s exactly this disturbingly clean, preened, rational exterior that not only makes for an ineffective politician when emotions inevitably overlap with politics—see his paltry performance this weekend in response to a police shooting in his city—but is yet another example of Democrats not learning the right lessons from 2016.
Defeating Trump will require an unconventional candidate, but “unconventional” has somehow translated into candidates without the necessary experience but with the right presentation and plenty of “promise,” like Mayor Pete and Beto O’Rourke. Buttigieg’s promises of intelligence and competence are meant to convince us that he can not only beat Trump but create a sustainable, effective, new American political era. It’s not likely Buttigieg can do the former, but it is certain that he cannot do the latter: Buttigieg is merely a repackaging of the broken-record discourse that’s been coming from the Democratic Party since Trump was elected.
So it’s not that his name is hard to pronounce; it’s not that a gay president would be too radical for the country. It’s that Mayor Pete is a just-fine candidate running a platform that hasn’t even diagnosed America’s problems correctly. And in a field of powerhouse candidates who can actually read the pulse of America, that’s not enough.
Andrew Yang is what happens if you turn a series of TED Talks into a presidential campaign— Silicon Valley-style humanism that places its faith in the saving grace of venture capital, the Enlightenment, and, of course, evolutionary psychology. The #YangGang has gained some notoriety for attracting racist white dudes, which Yang claims to be surprised by despite his appearances on shows by racist white dudes. But reducing Yang’s platform to an online meme curiosity isn’t fair either. To his credit, his attention to the economic despair of the working class is resonating with people alienated by our political institutions. A central concern of his campaign is the rising tide of automation, which has already displaced millions of jobs and will put a third of all Americans at risk of permanent unemployment.
Yang’s much-publicized solution to the automation crisis is a Universal Basic Income (which he rebranded to “The Freedom Dividend” to appease conservatives) for every American adult—a thousand dollars a month, no strings attached, funded by taxing companies that benefit most from automation and dismantling the existing welfare system. Some may embrace this palliative solution for its ability to restore hope to the economically displaced; some may rebuke it for its lack of a challenge to a fundamentally unequal economic structure. Looking at the 75 other policies on his website, they are a combination of Democratic orthodoxy (Medicare for All), Third Way centrism (opposes wealth tax) and Very Andrew Yang Ideas (fight climate catastrophe through geo-engineering, celebrate paying taxes as a federal holiday, give every cop a body camera).
Despite Yang calling himself “the opposite of Donald Trump”, both position themselves as entrepreneurially spirited alternatives to an out-of-touch political establishment. Can Yang disrupt the 2020 election? Uncertain, but he can probably debate his way through it—for a while, anyway.
Amy who? The Minnesota senator remains relatively unknown nationally with only about one percent support among Democratic primary voters according to early polls. Yikes. Campaigning as a no-nonsense Midwestern pragmatist, Klobuchar might not be the first pick of the socialist left, but what she lacks in zeal for progressive ideals, she makes up in her ability to reach across the aisle. She has received bipartisan co-sponsors on more bills than any other Democratic member, and Republicans have genuine praise for her.
A middle-of-the-road politician, Klobuchar often stands apart from the Democratic field. She supports the expansion of both Medicare and Medicaid, believes in creating a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants while also keeping ICE, and does not advocate for free four-year college. Her platform also includes a $100 billion plan to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment, a $1 trillion plan to maintain and expand infrastructure, and support for the Green New Deal. Overall, Klobuchar’s greatest strength and weakness is her centrism: although she has a good shot at beating Trump in the general election by winning back the Rust Belt, it is unlikely she’ll receive the Democratic nomination.
What if you were a smart, progessive, policy-driven contender for the White House, but no one cared? Since kicking off her presidential bid back in March, Gillibrand has struggled to gain a foothold in the race, which is a shame. Several of her political positions line up nicely with what matters to us here at the Sphere. Her stance on women’s rights-related issues is well-known—she’s in favor of abortion rights and paid family leave, and she’s committed to fighting sexual misconduct even if it brings her into conflict with her own party—but she’s also been ahead of the curve in other areas. In addition to being an advocate for Medicare for All since her lone term in the House of Representatives, Gillibrand was the first senator to call for the abolition of ICE. (She didn’t always lean this far to the left; she was much more centrist in her stint in the House, even supporting withholding federal funding from sanctuary cities.)
None of this changes the fact that Gillibrand is underperforming, especially in comparison to much weaker candidates like Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. In fact, much of the media coverage surrounding Gillibrand seems to be about why her campaign hasn’t taken off. Maybe it has to do with lingering hard feelings regarding her past positions on gun rights and immigration; maybe it has to do with her calling out Al Franken and Bill Clinton for their past misdeeds; maybe it has to do with the fact that her progressive positions are already becoming the Democratic Party’s baseline. Whatever the reason, Thursday’s debate might give Gillibrand the chance to finally put herself on the map. Or it could be the final nail in the coffin of a disappointing run. We’ll soon find out.
Climate change may be the most pressing political issue of the next few decades, with the consequences of human-caused global warming already spilling over to the realities of day-to-day life. Washington Governor Jay Inslee appears to be the only candidate who understands this. Sure, other Democratic candidates have made climate change a focus in their campaigns—the Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke campaigns have all proposed good plans, and even Biden’s efforts on these issues, despite early stumbles, are… fine.
Inslee, though, is the only candidate running expressly on the idea that the president’s main job over the next four years will be to fight climate catastrophe. It’s a job that he’s distinctly qualified for among the field—as the governor of Washington, Inslee has had the ability to put into action ambitious clean energy plans. (He even campaigned for a carbon tax, though Washington voters rejected it.) Inslee’s passion for climate action is refreshing and good for the race—I doubt Biden would have released a strong climate plan if there weren’t a gadfly fighting with the DNC about having a debate specifically for climate.
Yet Inslee’s campaign hasn’t really caught on—he polls at or around one percent. Even without his focus on climate action, Inslee would be a top tier candidate in terms of progressivism. As governor, he’s advanced higher wages for workers, net neutrality, a public option, and death penalty abolition. Before that, in the House of Representatives, he was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War and the bank bailout. In an ideal world, Jay Inslee would be polling in the top five for the race. In the world we live in, we can only hope his ideas and zeal for climate action are taken up by someone polling better than he is.
Beto may deserve his B. He rides a skateboard, plays punk rock, reads the Iliad for conspicuous fun, and has almost no qualifications for executive office. He’s been criticized for everything from choosing the presidency over the Senate to (gasp!) taking a road trip and growing a beard. The most genuinely troubling Beto fact, though, is a tendency to vote against the Sphere’s notions of progress. William Finnegan noted in the latest Beto profile that Congressman O’Rourke voted (a) to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and (b) to drill, baby, drill.
Yet, like a shocking number of writers in the new & growing genre of Beto longform: I have a soft spot for Beto O’Rourke. We are—full disclosure—both left-of-center Texans of Irish descent who love Jack Kerouac and hate Ted Cruz. But it goes deeper than that. Whether or not he’s wise to make them, O’Rourke’s many apologies seem genuine—and he has no apologies to make for his deep understanding of the border and Latin America. He’s the only candidate who conducts full interviews in Spanish, which should matter in 2020. (Sorry, Pete.)
But ultimately, it’s Beto’s style that I like. He may not represent the radical change the country needs, but he does represent a progressive, inclusive nationalism. In his own words, “[Beto’s] for everyone.” He genuinely talks to people, all people, and he genuinely seems to listen. And if nothing else, the left could stand to learn from that.
A Tier: The Good, the Bad, and the Mike Gravel
Julián Castro did well in the Sphere survey and, similar to Kamala Harris, likely benefited from being a minority candidate in the age of Trump. Indeed, given Trump’s overt racism toward the Latinx community, Castro is in some ways a nice prospect. There is some depth to this; while other candidates have taken safer approaches to immigration, Castro’s is more radical. His plan would not only reverse the travel ban and the reduction in refugee resettlement, but would also introduce progressive measures such as decriminalizing (at a federal level) “illegal entry.” He has also proposed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and, most interestingly, a 21st-century “Marshall Plan” to aid Central American countries that have a high number of migrants. These would be thoughtful and impactful policies in an age when immigration increasingly attracts the “crazies.”
Nevertheless, it is perhaps surprising that Castro came fourth. He is, after all, polling at around one percent nationally, and he’s failed to make any substantial impression in a crowded field. This is not helped by his policy positioning—besides immigration, he barely stands out as a quiet progressive. Given Beto’s rapid ascent, Castro is not even the most prominent candidate in his own state.
Ravi Veriah Jacques
Mike Gravel’s candidacy goes against the logic of a national conversation obsessed with electability. He didn’t make the cut for the DNC debates, which are a de facto gatekeeping mechanism for the Democratic ticket. In a pool of septuagenarian frontrunners, Gravel sticks out at 89 years old. He has not held political office since 1981, when he was denied a third Senate term by his Alaskan constituents. But none of this takes away from our belief that Gravel’s candidacy is more compelling than over a dozen others.
Policy-wise, Gravel is on a level with Sanders or Warren. Even during his 2008 campaign, Gravel was already advocating single-payer healthcare, a carbon tax, and free tuition at public universities. The only policy point where he might out-left Sanders and Warren is his famously strong anti-war stance.
But what makes Gravel’s campaign interesting in a way that even Sanders’ and Warren’s aren’t is its use of the kind of Internet humor more common to left-wing Twitter and Facebook. Gravel’s campaign is run by a handful of teenagers who are making the case for actually interesting politics. They’re here to show you that you don’t leave an impression with equivocating stump speeches tailored to the latest polling data. You leave an impression with sendhenrykissingertothehague.com.
Surprisingly—or perhaps unsurprisingly—Kamala Harris came third in our poll (albeit with half as many votes as our second-place candidate). A competent, experienced African-American woman with decades of work as a tough prosecutor, Harris seems to be Trump’s antithesis—and thus an ideal “Resistance” candidate. Her promise of “resistance,” however, leaves much to be desired. Harris has a rocky history with the communities she claims to support, in particular through her “war” on truancy and former opposition to medical care for transgender prisoners. Her “tough on crime” approach suggests regressive criminal justice policy, rather than the “progressive prosecutor” image she tries to project.
Although Harris’ candidacy is a win for representation, her platform does not ground the material change that is key to uplifting marginalized communities. Admittedly, she is not as moderate as her critics on the left claim; she’s bought into some progressive proposals, such as Medicare for All, that are becoming the Democratic Party’s status quo. However, Harris often evades taking a solid stance on more radical issues like abolishing ICE, preferring to deflect through her oft-used phrase: “Let’s have a conversation.” Her positions lack the radical firepower that America so desperately needs, falling a good distance behind trailblazers Warren and Sanders.
It’s the opinion of these two writers that Harris won’t beat Trump. Like Hillary Clinton’s disastrous campaign in 2016, Harris’ campaign leans on the belief that voters will embrace identity politics over clear progressive policy, seeing a vote for a black woman as inherently progressive. This sort of thinking won’t beat Trump, and it certainly won’t fix America’s problems.
Ashley Huang & Ravi Veriah Jacques
S Tier: The Top Two
Elizabeth Warren is unique among Democrats. The volume and scope of her plans have given her the image of a highly competent policymaker—and it’s remarkable that she has achieved this without adhering to the neoliberal consensus, whose failures were ultimately responsible for Trump’s ascent. Warren has boldly proposed the abolition of the electoral college, an initiative to break up tech giants, massive investment in green research and industry, and a detailed plan to tax big wealth. In doing so, she comes off as more prepared than Bernie Sanders—who seems narrowly bound to Medicare for All and a national minimum wage by comparison—and as more progressive than the rest of the field.
Some on the right have criticized Warren’s regulation-heavy approach to the economy as populistic, claiming that her proposals may sound good, but that they would hurt small business or make markets more inefficient. Ultimately, though, it seems like these critics are more concerned with their own pockets than with healthy markets. After all, they don’t seem very bothered about the suffocating effects of tech monopolies on competition.
Nevertheless, it is fair to accuse Warren of populism when it comes to her “economic patriotism” plan—which seems to have catapulted her to the top of the polls. Protectionist measures, such as compelling government to buy American-made products, seem less based on solid policymaking or on a progressive pursuit of social justice and more based on a politically advantageous rhetoric of nationalism. It’s a move that shows Warren is willing to get her hands dirty with populism if she has to, demonstrating that her political tact is much better than her Native American heritage blunder would make it seem. She’s a policy wonk who knows how to back up her idealism; she’s a progressive who’s pushing the Democratic Party to the left. And to the Sphere, she’s one of the strongest candidates to take on Donald Trump in 2020.
Daniel “Bob” Ferreira
The Sphere’s main political divide reflects the American left’s main political divide: Sanders or Warren? Revolution or reform? We can bicker about our third choice, and our fourth, and our fifth, but for us, the real contest is between two candidates—two theories of political change.
Between the two, these two writers choose Bernie. Bob makes an excellent case for Warren, and it’s easy to see the appeal. (Senator Warren, after all, has a plan.) But Sanders has a vision. It’s a radical vision that shouldn’t be radical, but in today’s America, radicalism is common sense. Well, here’s a radical claim: our country—with thirty million uninsured Americans, $929 billion of student debt, and 46 percent of income in the hands of the one percent—needs a socialist president. Sanders is more willing to push radical policies, such as cancelling student debt, because he acknowledges the depth of America’s problems. And it’s not that the system broke when corporations lost their way; Sanders, unlike Warren, sees that the system was always broken.
2020 could be Bernie’s moment. In 2016, he produced a minor miracle by upending the Democratic establishment. For the first time since Eugene V. Debs, a country that viewed Marxism as the devil was transfixed by a self-proclaimed socialist. Bernie didn’t win the nomination, but perhaps that was never the point. If anything, the point was a demonstration of possibility—that neoliberalism was bankrupt, but that we still had reason for hope. Three years ago, Bernie imagined an America that the Sphere could believe in. This year and the next, we hope that America will come to believe, too.
Chapman Caddell & Ravi Veriah Jacques
Featured image by Chapman Caddell & Jacob Nierenberg.