Democrats in disarray over who will take the fight to president
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.