US Presidential Elections 2020: The Fight for the Right to Face Off Against Trump

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 Callaghan O’Hare. Bloomberg. © 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP.

Aleksandr George is a Second Year International Relations student at King’s College London. He is the North American regional editor for IR Today, and he is particularly interested in writing about the political power of fundamentalist religious groups.

On Wednesday, the remaining Democratic primary candidates once again had the opportunity to garner the support of the American public at the fifth Democratic debate of this election season co-hosted by The Washington Post and MSNBC in Georgia [1]. This debate comes less than three months before the voting for the Democratic presidential nominee begins in February with the Iowa caucuses [2].

Ten candidates remain, making it more important than ever to sort out who’s who and what each candidate has to offer. Given, however, the abundance of candidates vying for the coveted position of Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, this article will focus only on the frontrunners. Thus—despite their appearance on the stage Wednesday evening—those candidates which are in the lower half of the most recent polls [3] will not be discussed at any length. Those candidates include businessman Tom Steyer, House Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Cory Booker, and businessman Andrew Yang.

Senator Kamala Harris of California  

Kamala Harris was first elected to the US Senate in 2016, becoming the second African American woman ever to hold such a position. Once in the Senate, Harris worked toward passing legislation that would provide tax cuts for the middle class, lower high rent costs, raise the minimum wage, make American universities tuition-free, and increase access to healthcare [4]. Harris opposes Medicare for All despite promising to expand healthcare coverage for all Americans, aims to impose higher taxes on financial institutions, supports numerous efforts to combat climate change, and wants to impose greater restrictions on the possession of assault rifles [5].

Despite her impressive track record, however, Harris’ campaign has been marked by overspending and poor strategy due to a lack of consensus among campaign leadership [6]. Recently, however, Harris’ campaign has pivoted toward focusing on black women in the early voting state of South Carolina, as Harris has thus far lacked the support of black voters there and elsewhere [7]. Whether or not this strategy is good enough has yet to be determined.

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana

Pete Buttigieg was first elected as mayor of South Bend Indiana in 2011 and re-elected in 2015, shortly before which he publicly announced that he was gay [8]. The only millennial candidate for Democratic presidential nominee, Buttigieg is further untraditional in that he began his bid for president from a mayoral office—a starting position which has only twice resulted in a successful trail to the White House [9].

“Mayor Pete”—as his supporters refer to him—stands firmly on the middle ground between moderate candidates like Harris and more progressive candidates like Sanders, supporting the transition to single-payer healthcare as a long-term goal but with the proposal of implementing a public option without eliminating private insurance to start [10]. Like Harris—and other potential Democratic presidential nominees—Buttigieg supports efforts to combat climate change, confront gun violence, and increase taxation on the wealthy [11]. Unlike other candidates, however, Buttigieg is particularly interested in empowering the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in order to break up trusts and prevent monopolies, particularly in the tech industry [12].

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

Elizabeth Warren has served as the Senior Senator for the state of Massachusetts since 2013, before which she served as Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, special advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury, and taught as a law professor for more than 30 years at several top universities [13]. In the Senate, Warren has opposed bills which benefit only large corporations, directly addressed issues raised by her constituents, and spent a good deal of her time crisscrossing the United States to support the re-election campaigns of fellow Democrats [14].

Despite being one of the more progressive candidates for Democratic presidential nominee, Warren supports many of the same policies as her opponents such as Medicare For All, the elimination of private prisons, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, banning assault weapons, and eliminating the Electoral College [15]. Warren, however, also advocates for many unique policies which set her apart from most of her opponents. For example, Warren proposes an increase of taxation on those with annual earnings of $1 billion or more in order to fund social programs and better the American public education system [16]. Plans completely unique to Warren include permitting the American government to manufacture generic drugs, raising corporate taxes higher than the 2017 rate, and holding CEOs accountable for consumer privacy breaches [17].

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

Bernie Sanders was elected to the Senate in 2006, following sixteen years of serving as the sole congressman from Vermont in the US House of Representatives [18]. Presently, Sanders is serving a third term in the Senate following his re-election in 2018 [19]. And, despite losing the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Sanders’ policy ideas have revolutionised the Democratic party. Sanders normalised Medicare for All, the $15 per hour minimum wage, and tuition-free universities in Democratic discourse [20].

Moreover, Sanders’ progressivism is further evident in his campaign promises. Given his influence in the Democratic party, many of his fellow candidates support policy propositions introduced by Sanders. That does not mean, however, that Sanders does not manage to offer further policy proposals completely unique to himself. For example, no candidates other than Sanders propose imposing taxes and rent control as well as building more homes for lower-income individuals and families as a way to make housing more affordable for all Americans [21]. Sanders also supports cancelling all student debt, permitting felons to vote while incarcerated, imposing federal regulations on carbon emissions, and providing free meals in schools for all students [22].

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Former Vice President Joe Biden

Representing the state of Delaware, Joe Biden was elected to the US Senate in 1972 [23]. While serving in the Senate, Biden succeeded in passing legislation to put in place background checks for the purchase of firearms and banning assault weapons as well as high-capacity magazines, both of which setting a good foundation to tackle the issue of gun violence today [24]. In 2008, amidst global financial crisis, Biden became the 47th Vice President of the United States under President Barack Obama—a role which he filled for the next eight years.

Biden presents himself as a moderate candidate, opposing Medicare for All while supporting policies that would increase the US defence budget and keep Americans deployed overseas in most places [25]. In other policy areas, however, Biden holds similar positions as his opponents, advocating for increasing capital gains tax rates, citizenship for Dreamers, and universal background checks as a requirement for purchasing a firearm [26]. Where Biden does stand apart from his opponents, however, he tends to lean more toward the centre. For example, Biden would keep the criminal penalties for immigration intact, believes only two years of university should be free, and has held non-party-aligned views on abortion in the past [27].

Who will face Trump and can they beat him?

Recent polls suggest that Biden is most likely to win the Democratic presidential nomination, with Sanders and Warren just behind [28]. Regardless, few projected Trump as winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, so predications can only tell us so much. But no matter who wins the Democratic presidential nomination the question of whether or not they can beat Trump remains the chief concern of the Democratic National Committee [29].

For Trump, however, the question of whether or not he will serve a second term as President is equally as unclear as who he will face off against in November. Even though the American economy is doing well, the link between presidential approval and a booming economy has slowly become weaker since the Clinton administration [30]. Moreover, even if Trump’s likelihood of winning in 2020 seems to be holding steady around 50%, he won’t be able to rely on Democratic apathy in the next presidential election due to the endless stream of controversies during his presidency [31]. On top of that, Trump’s approval rating has been as low as 35%, with half of the country disapproving of his actions throughout the majority of his presidency [32].

Regardless of who wins the nomination, I don’t think it is quite time to give up on a Democratic presidency in 2020. Trump’s prospects for re-election remain questionable. And if voter turnout for Democratic candidates in 2018 [33] serves as any indication for the fate of Trump? He ought to be worried.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-washington-post-and-msnbc-to-co-host-democratic-primary-debate-in-november/2019/10/08/af32b502-ea04-11e9-9c6d-436a0df4f31d_story.html

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/14/november-2020-democratic-primary-debate-lineup-announced.html

[3] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/democratic-presidential-candidates/polls/

[4] https://kamalaharris.org/meet-kamala-harris/

[5] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/kamala-harris/

[6] https://www.politico.com/news/2019/11/15/kamala-harris-campaign-2020-071105

[7] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/2020-hopeful-kamala-harris-focuses-black-women-south-carolina-n1085516

[8] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-47860012

[9] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-47860012

[10] https://www.businessinsider.com/who-is-pete-buttigieg-bio-age-family-key-positions-2019-3?r=US&IR=T

[11] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/pete-buttigieg/

[12] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/pete-buttigieg/

[13] https://elizabethwarren.com/meet-elizabeth

[14] https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2018/11/02/five-things-know-about-elizabeth-warren-record-senate/kURmTyZZuwK4NEF8GqohjO/story.html

[15] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/elizabeth-warren/

[16] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/21/elizabeth-warrens-wealth-tax-would-pay-for-massive-education-plan.html

[17] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/elizabeth-warren/

[18] https://berniesanders.com/about/

[19] https://berniesanders.com/about/

[20] https://www.vox.com/2019/6/26/18692909/bernie-sanders-2020-presidential-campaign-policies

[21] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/bernie-sanders/

[22] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/bernie-sanders/

[23] https://joebiden.com/joes-story/

[24] https://joebiden.com/joes-story/

[25] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/joe-biden/

[26] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/joe-biden/

[27] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/joe-biden/

[28] https://www.politico.com/2020-election/democratic-presidential-candidates/polls/

[29] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/anxiety-rises-among-democrats-worried-about-partys-prospects-in-2020/2019/10/22/b9c015d4-f4d9-11e9-8cf0-4cc99f74d127_story.html

[30] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/3/22/18276155/donald-trump-2020-presidential-election-odds

[31] https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/08/07/why-i-think-chances-donald-trumps-re-election-are-getting-worse/

[32] https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/08/trumps-odds-of-reelection-keep-getting-worse

[33] https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/04/behind-2018-united-states-midterm-election-turnout.html

Picture of Democratic presidential nominee candidates on stage https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-washington-post-and-msnbc-to-co-host-democratic-primary-debate-in-november/2019/10/08/af32b502-ea04-11e9-9c6d-436a0df4f31d_story.html

Picture of Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/04/politics/kamala-harris-pete-buttigieg-2020-growth/index.html

Picture of Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-49684419

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