All candidates considered

There is no such thing as the perfect candidate. You may jump to defend your politician of choice, but there will always be a bare spot in their character and reputation. There will always be an Access Hollywood tape or a Soviet honeymoon. Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow alike will always dig up something to criticize. Humans are never without their flaws; considering politicians are a subset of the human race – and not exactly a demographic which is renowned for honesty and integrity – it holds just as true for any given candidate. Presidential elections put a candidate through an industrial-grade juicer, squeezing every drop of good and evil out of their past, present, and future until Election Day. In this cycle, with stakes through the ceiling, voters have a responsibility to put up a magnifying glass to each candidate to ensure that their voices are heard. I took some time to do just that – here’s how I feel about every major 2020 presidential candidate, watered down to the pros and cons.

Joe Biden

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Biden is the most experienced candidate in the field. With thirty-six years in the Senate and two terms as Vice President, he’s seen more years in Washington than anybody else running. The most important period of Biden’s career – his vice presidency – could be his one-way ticket to a promotion. Barack Obama is still viewed very favorably among Democrats several years after he left office. In the Trump era, many liberal voters now find themselves nostalgic for bluer times past. Joe Biden wants to tell America that he is those times reincarnate. Throughout his candidacy, Biden has marketed himself as Obama 2 – Barack’s best buddy, here to turn everything back to the way it used to be, as if Trump’s term was just a bad dream from which we can choose to wake up. With much of the African American support from the Obama coalition appearing to carry over, it seems like the Obama-in-a-Joe-suit strategy is at least partly working. In most general election polls, Biden beats Trump by a few points – the few points that matter the most.

He may want us to see Obama 2, but Joe comes across as Obama ½. Biden is reminiscent of a Democratic Party of yesteryear, with an ideology that seems better suited for the twentieth century than the present day. He clearly isn’t all old-fashioned, with a visible effort to adopt more progressive policies than in the past, but most of Joe Biden’s costume changes seem like – to borrow from his vernacular – malarkey. Joe simply doesn’t fit in with the Democrats of 2020 and tries too hard to make it seem like he does. In reality, he’s a seventy-eight-year-old centrist who’s gunning to be the ‘safe choice.’ However, just in the past twenty years, we’ve seen three ‘safe’ Democrats – Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton – miss the mark. The only time the Democrats have seen a sliver of success this century is when they rally behind somebody bold, and Joe Biden doesn’t fit the description nearly as well as his old boss.

Elizabeth Warren

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Elizabeth Warren is an example of masterful packaging by the progressive wing. She grew up in a lower-middle-class household in Oklahoma, worked her way to college, and overcame the economic struggle which so many Americans can relate to. She did all of this with a set of conservative values and a distinct Plains accent. Elizabeth Warren’s life is a bootstraps story, the kind which drives the GOP’s fantasies. However, one look at her policies will tell you that Warren is no longer the Republican she once was: she puts some of the most ambitious, liberal plans of anyone in Washington on the table, including her sweeping wealth tax and anti-corruption reforms. She takes Bernie Sanders’ brand of social democracy and colors it as a more friendly, comfortable alternative; Elizabeth Warren is Bernie-Lite. Most of her polling has been promising, indicating she would put up a tough fight against Trump in a general election. Warren’s legal and financial literacy coupled with her humble upbringing and progressive politics could be the key to tangible success for liberals.

Warren doesn’t energize voters like the other progressive in the field. The ‘woman for president’ rhetoric was essentially exhausted for the foreseeable future by Hillary Clinton in 2016, so Warren might not have a differentiation strategy in 2020. She needs to be exciting enough to mobilize millions of people from all corners of the country to defeat Donald Trump in November. As of her disappointing turnouts in early primary states, it’s not clear that Warren would be able to draw the kind of widespread, diverse coalition that gets Democrats elected. On top of that, she has a pesky controversy which has plagued her entire career – Warren’s claims to Native American heritage have been a target for criticism, from Trump especially. Elizabeth Warren’s watered-down liberalism might be the feasible or practical choice on the ballot, but it’s uncertain whether it can bring voters out in droves.

Pete Buttigieg

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Mayor Pete is an everyday American’s idea of an accomplished man. His résumé is stacked like no other: Harvard graduate, Rhodes scholar, Navy veteran, and mayor of South Bend, Indiana. In 2014, the Washington Post called him “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.” At the age of thirty-eight, the charming, intellectual, multilingual Pete Buttigieg feels like a fresh face in the Democratic Party. He touts his small-town leadership as a virtue for national politics, which is valuable among rural, working-class Americans who feel abandoned by Washington elitists. He is undeniably a moderate Democrat, with policies that more closely resemble those of Obama and Biden than Sanders and Warren. One thing among many stands out about Mayor Pete: he is married to a man, which would have been unthinkable just two elections ago. Considering that many Democrats were dependably against gay marriage just a decade ago, Pete’s success is evidence of the Democratic Party’s journey towards tolerance in contrast to the GOP. When Buttigieg speaks, he does so with eloquence and charm. Mayor Pete feels all the right ways as a candidate.

Unfortunately for Pete, making people ‘feel’ a certain way does not guarantee success. His small-town record in public office is meager, with his highest role ever held being mayor of a small town in the Midwest. Buttigieg claims that this experience in local politics made him more in-touch with the Heartland and sets him apart from DC politicians. In many ways, he’s right – but that doesn’t outweigh the fact that his opponents have are senators and vice presidents. Buttigieg’s lack of familiarity with national politics is concerning, and it would likely impact his performance as Commander-in-Chief. Yet, his confidence is deafening. His sexuality, while it serves as a unique boost among many Democrats, could also be an issue while a large demographic of Americans still hold onto a contemptuous attitude toward the LGBT community. Part of Pete’s electoral strategy is appealing to moderate Republicans and Never-Trumpers with his center-left ideology and Christian values – but he forgets that a moderate Republican’s ideal candidate is a moderate Republican. He rightfully views Obama-turned-Trump Midwestern voters as an untapped resource for Democrats, but makes the unreliable assumption that lifelong conservatives will vote for a college-town gay liberal if he leans enough in their direction. Pete Buttigieg could veer off track with Democrats in his quest to win over the fence-sitter vote and pay the price in November.

Amy Klobuchar

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Klobuchar’s geography as a Minnesota senator makes is valuable to Democrats’ Midwestern strategy. Unlike Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar hails from a sturdy blue state in a variable region, radiating influence onto electorally dynamic neighbors like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. At fifty-nine years old, she’s served Minnesota in the Senate since 2007, subsequent to an extensive career in the state’s judicial system. Klobuchar’s tenure in Washington and criminal justice experience paints the portrait of a sturdy candidate. There’s nothing out of left field, both figuratively and literally, about Amy Klobuchar; perhaps that may work to her advantage. As a moderate, she touts bipartisan appeal, having been re-elected twice with support from rural, conservative districts. Klobuchar conveys intelligence and wit on the debate stage. She clearly has the record and the résumé for the race.

She may be generic in excess. There are dozens of senators like Amy Klobuchar: Ivy League educated, white, and moderate; she may as well be Sherrod Brown or Debbie Stabenow, but Klobuchar just had the guts to run for president. In the Democratic field, she’s not fruitful in name recognition. Klobuchar isn’t energetic like Elizabeth Warren, high-profile like Joe Biden, or radical like Bernie Sanders. That may be seen as a virtue by some safe moderates, but it’s not given that Amy Klobuchar can produce the kind of voter turnout that would defeat a powerful Republican incumbent. As far as her tenure in criminal justice, many Democratic voters have grown cold to former prosecutors and judicial officials, exemplified by the case of Senator Kamala Harris early in the primary. Harris, former attorney general of California, was sunk by allegations of complicity in an unjust system. She was scrutinized at a much greater level than Klobuchar, partially leading her to an eventual downfall. Amy Klobuchar has largely escaped criticism for her prosecutorial record, but it’s unlikely that she’ll outrun it for much longer. Klobuchar might not be viable enough pitted against Donald Trump.

Mike Bloomberg

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There’s scarce to be celebrated about Mike Bloomberg. One thing that proponents of his campaign point to is his résumé: he was a revolutionary figure on Wall Street, pioneering financial data with the Bloomberg Terminal and going on to build a multimedia empire. Bloomberg has amassed almost sixty-two billion dollars as of 2020, the ‘billionaire’ label eternally bound upon his shoulder. Using his influence, Bloomberg ran for mayor of New York City as a Republican, leading a malleable post-9/11 New York and shaping it to his own conservative liking. Bloomberg has since disavowed the GOP and discarded it to become a self-proclaimed ‘independent,’ eventually shedding neutrality and joining the Democratic Party during the midterms of 2018. Hence, a ‘bipartisan’ argument can be made for Mike Bloomberg. Though he has melded more toward the Democratic field in terms of policy, he has certainly retained much of his Republican identity and demeanor. If Democrats’ wish is to siphon voters from Trump, Bloomberg could be their man because of his sheer similarity to the president – both confident party-dynamic billionaires from a big business background in New York City, Mike Bloomberg overlaps with Donald Trump in more than a few fields.

Michael Bloomberg is a picture of everything the Democratic Party should yearn to not be. Elizabeth Warren said it best: “Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.” Bloomberg is brash and bigoted, holding a steel grip over New York during his mayorship. His infamous stop-and-frisk policy has been nearly universally condemned by Democrats and ruled unconstitutional, violating the civil liberties of innocent people of color in the city. Bloomberg has a history of racist and sexist comments, eerily mirroring the man whom Democrats have fought so earnestly to defeat. During his administration of the Bloomberg corporation, he signed numerous non-disclosure agreements with women throughout his checkered past. He’s the textbook definition of an oligarch: a multi-billionaire who uses his money and power to influence the government. In this case, Bloomberg is trying to meld our democracy in his image – by purchasing the office of the president of the United States. His weak, quasi-conservative policies are seemingly hand-crafted to protect billionaires like himself and Donald Trump. Throughout his career in finance, Bloomberg has mastered the art of investment; now, he’s making the heftiest one of his life by investing a billion dollars on a presidential campaign to avoid paying several billion in taxes under a liberal president. It’s a simple cost versus benefit scenario. Mike Bloomberg is the Donald Trump of the Democratic Party; a competition between him and the president would be nothing more than two names on a ballot for identically disastrous results.

Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders is a phenomenon. He is a movement unlike any other. No candidate in recent memory has energized a widespread coalition of Americans to the extent of Sanders’ two campaigns for president since 2016. It seems absurd – a septuagenarian from Vermont is spearheading a mass mobilization of young people across the country, proclaiming the campaign a political revolution. Sanders stands out among Democrats for his democratic socialist ideology, a label which represented an electoral risk for his reputation. He faces constant criticism, but this gamble was unequivocally won among his millennial base. Bernie may be the most genuine candidate in the field. He may not always err on the side of pragmatism, but his passion is indicative of a life spent with Americans, for Americans. He’s confident and consistent. Sanders enthralled and alarmed voters with proposals of gargantuan undertakings – universal single-payer healthcare, national rent control, etc. – which would represent the most massive expansion of government programs since the New Deal. At the eve of his major prominence in 2016, he was dismissed by establishment Democrats as a radical leftist. In the years since his initial candidacy, extraordinarily, Sanders hasn’t moderated himself to the party. Instead, the party moved to him. Valid arguments could be made that Bernie Sanders represents an overdue populist change in American liberalism; the United States, a remarkably wealthy nation, faces an ultimate failure to guarantee a certain set of necessities like healthcare and education to its citizens. The country has lagged behind others in the strength of its social safety net, and Sanders may represent the jogging of America’s livelihood that it so badly needs. Many of his ideas are more popular among the populace than one might initially perceive, perhaps showing a fundamental understanding of the common man which the other candidates lack. As of this piece’s writing, Bernie is the visible frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and polling places him steadily above Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election. Bernie Sanders could very well be the candidate and president that revolutionizes the United States government for the better.

Sanders may pack stadiums with his fiery rhetoric and impassioned oration, but he may have fallen victim to a cult of echoes. There’s no doubt that he instills a powerful message of hope into the hearts of his supporters – but said supporters are overwhelmingly young. Because of the historical and cultural circumstances which created the political climate of 2020, Bernie Sanders represents a very exclusive group of democratic socialists. The man has become so deeply entrenched in one population of Americans who believe that capitalism is a lost cause that he has become detached from the rest of them. To understand the present day, we must peer into the last century. Since the Second World War, ‘socialism’ has become a scare word in the United States. The Cold War produced generations of Americans who’d rather be dead than red. Theoretically ‘socialist’ policy flourished in some cases, e.g. Medicare and Medicaid, but anything which even somewhat resembled the hammer and sickle was given the silent treatment. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, millennials and Gen-Zers have come of age in an America where perpetual paranoia of the ‘commies’ has no reason to exist. Hence, a group of young Americans have become desensitized to the idea of socialism; in this, Bernie Sanders found his reservoir. The problem with that is not with the concept of an extensive safety net or a strong federal government, but in the name ‘democratic socialism.’ Sanders may have fatally misnomered himself as something he’s not. Idealistic fundamentals are one thing, but in terms of policy, Bernie is not a socialist. He’s simply a liberal who seeks a heavily-regulated market economy. It’s debatable whether this constitutes any sort of socialism, but it’s undeniable that conservatives will have a field day with Bernie Sanders. Even many Democrats have expressed concerns over his ownership of the far-left ideology. The comparisons between Bernie and, say, Stalin or Mao will be ceaseless, despite the fact that Sanders resembles Franklin Roosevelt far more than a communist despot. In the words of economist Paul Krugman, “They pretend that anyone who wants us to be a bit more like Denmark is trying to turn us into Venezuela.” Yet, socialism is a turn-off for several generations of American voters. Bernie Sanders is unforgettable and may represent very good things for the United States, but his candidacy is a gamble which the Democrats may well regret.

Donald Trump

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Let’s just skip this one.

Beyond all rhetoric, all sensationalism, and everything in between, Donald Trump is one of the most dangerous presidents in the history of the United States. It’s difficult to encapsulate every ‘con’ about Trump in anything less than a novel. Trump’s presidency boils down to this: a nationalist billionaire manipulated the masses into thinking their interest were at the forefront of his mind. He threw out all sense of decency to plant himself in their subconscious with barbaric chants, childish mockery, and bigoted fear tactics. He occupies the White House with a smug, self-assured grin backed by millions of feverish supporters. Donald Trump is a disgrace to our principles, a stain on our reputation, and his presidency is contrary to the rudimentary fundamentals of liberty and justice that make this country great.

I won’t waste anymore time railing against President Trump. You’ve all been subjected to more than four years of wall-to-wall criticism of the man. Nearly everything that can be said about him has been exhausted three times over; yet, he still reigns. His base will still cast their ballots with pride in November, seemingly regardless of any offense he can muster up. As an incumbent, electoral precedent is on Trump’s side for his re-election campaign. He has conquered his party with an iron fist while the Democratic Party lies in division and disarray.

In order to triumph over the hatred of this administration, Democrats must make a call for unity. Primaries and their rhetoric are necessary for fine-tuning a party’s platform for the upcoming election – but once a nominee is selected, Democrats need to shed their notions of personal pickiness and unite under the party banner. They will never see success in the Trump era if they squander their opportunity with inter-party bickering. These distinctions between moderates and progressives are necessary among Democrats – they need a definitive direction to charge into the new decade – but they shouldn’t let them distract Democratic voters from the real enemy in the White House. When it comes time this November, we must prevail over injustice. We must conquer hate. The only way a voice of decency – a voice of reason – can reclaim the highest office in the land is if Americans from each corner and each coast mobilize as an unrelenting force for good.

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