Democrats in dis­ar­ray over who will take the fight to pres­i­dent

The Sunday Telegraph - - World News - By Ben Ri­ley-Smith US EDI­TOR

THE clock had barely struck mid­night on US midterms results night when Donald Trump Jr, the son of the pres­i­dent, tweeted words that made Wash­ing­ton hearts sink: “Wel­come to the 2020 elec­tion cy­cle.”

Such is the re­lent­less pace of Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing that fo­cus in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal is al­ready switch­ing from Tues­day’s con­gres­sional elec­tions to the up­com­ing bat­tle for the White House – and Donald Trump has his re­elec­tion ma­chine up and run­ning.

There is an op­er­a­tion, an­chored out of Texas, a slo­gan – “Keep Amer­ica Great Again” – and even a run­ning mate, with vice-pres­i­dent Mike Pence con­firm­ing this week that he will be on the ticket. Plus more than $100mil­lion (£77mil­lion) al­ready in the war chest.

But while the Repub­li­cans moved swiftly to mo­bilise forces for a re­turn to the White House, the Democrats are look­ing hope­lessly di­vided. In the com­ing months, a civil war will break out in pub­lic, cen­tred on a sin­gle burn­ing ques­tion: who on earth among them can beat Mr Trump in 2020?

Not since a decade ago, when Barack Obama emerged through a packed field, has the party’s lead­er­ship been so widely up for grabs. The po­lit­i­cal health of the Demo­cratic Party is the sub­ject of wide­spread de­bate. There were green shoots in the midterms, with a re­jec­tion of the pres­i­dent from white sub­ur­ban women help­ing win back the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and signs that they can win races in Trump coun­try.

But the limit of the party’s ap­peal was also un­der­scored, with Repub­li­cans grow­ing their Se­nate ma­jor­ity af­ter oust­ing Demo­crat sen­a­tors in states Mr Trump won in 2016 – a sign that chunks of the pres­i­dent’s sup­port base are still loyal. In Florida, a re­count of the se­na­tor and gov­er­nor races was or­dered last night af­ter Mr Trump ac­cused of­fi­cials of count­ing abuses.

Suc­cesses for the Democrats on Tues­day have been cred­ited to a clever strat­egy of ham­mer­ing away at health­care and a crop of smart, young can­di­dates. Yet the path to de­feat­ing Mr Trump re­mains un­clear, given his will­ing­ness to punch so hard on the cam­paign trail and his skil­ful ma­nip­u­la­tion of the me­dia.

As many as two dozen can­di­dates are ex­pected to put for­ward their names to be Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee in what is set to be an almighty bun fight.

There will be pro­gres­sives, seek­ing to take the party Left un­der a ban­ner of govern­ment-funded health in­sur­ance, guar­an­teed jobs for all, a $15 (£11.50) min­i­mum wage and op­po­si­tion to cor­po­rate Amer­ica. There will be old hands from Mr Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion pitch­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence and cen­trism, young gover­nors and sen­a­tors seek­ing to em­body change and out­siders hop­ing to cre­ate their own Trum­p­like surge to take the crown. “It’s go­ing to be wild and woolly,” said Will Mar­shall, pres­i­dent of the Pro­gres­sive Pol­icy In­sti­tute, who has spent four decades in­volved in Demo­cratic pol­i­tics. “Peo­ple will want to get an early start be­cause there’s no ob­vi­ous heir ap­par­ent, there are no clear front-run­ners. The name of the game is to pin down the big donors early.”

The first “ex­ploratory com­mit­tees”, which al­low politi­cians to float bids with­out fully com­mit­ting, are ex­pected to be es­tab­lished be­fore Christ­mas. Proper an­nounce­ments could come early in the new year.

Mr Mar­shall, who helped de­sign the mid­dle-of-the-road pol­icy plat­form that won Bill Clin­ton the White House in 1992, be­lieves a cen­trist ap­proach is the best way to win back Trump vot­ers.

“The idea of an anti-busi­ness Left­wing pop­ulism trump­ing Trump’s cul­tural pop­ulism is far-fetched,” he said. But the party’s fired-up ac­tivist base, which ul­ti­mately picks the can­di­date, looks re­cep­tive to a mes­sage of out­right op­po­si­tion to the pres­i­dent and a move to the Left.

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