A week ago, most of the United States -- whether they supported her or not -- was expecting to inaugurate Hillary Clinton as the 45th President of the United States. Instead, the Democratic Party has a huge rebuilding job on its hands, entering the earliest days of its quest to reclaim the White House in 2020.
About two years separate us from the unofficial start of the next campaign season, but obviously, there's plenty of work to be done in the meantime. 2018 promises midterm elections and a chance for Democrats to rebound, but the odds are stacked against them. President Donald Trump will enjoy a red majority in both houses of Congress, and the seats up for vote in two years don't present a major opportunity for gain. And on the subject of President Trump, it's impossible to tell -- for many obvious reasons -- if he'll seek reelection in 2020, so the Democrats have little idea of who they'll even be up against.
But we're still getting ahead of ourselves. The Democratic National Committee needs a new chairman, someone to head fundraising as the party lands on its next Presidential nominee. The spot was vacated when Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down amidst controversy around leaked e-mails showing the DNC's efforts to sabotage Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign. There are a number of candidates, though the most likely competitors are former Vermont Governor Howard Dean -- who held the chair from 2005 to 2009 -- and Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison. Dean is the centrist choice, who'd most mark a continuation of what's worked (and recently, hasn't worked) for the Dems; Ellison, an African-American and one of only two Muslims serving in Congress, has the support of the party's progressive wing, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Both Sanders and Warren are amongst the country's most visible Democrats, and they'll certainly have a say in which direction the party goes in these trying times. Does that include run at President? Both of their names will be in the mix. The Democrats need a charismatic leader with a strong personality -- the type who'd inspire their base to go out and vote in ways that Clinton didn't. Michelle Obama likely could, but don't bank on it; the outgoing First Lady has been adamantly denying such interest for years.
So who could run? Here's a (very) early rundown of the names to know for 2020.
Bernie Sanders. Just after Trump was elected, the self-described "democratic socialist" from Vermont was asked if he'd run in 2020. "We'll take one thing at a time," he responded. "But I'm not ruling out anything." Sanders' unlikely 2016 surge won him national recognition and popularity across party lines, especially with young voters. But Bernie will be 79 in 2020, older than any major party nominee in America's history. This obviously presents concern; though at 70, Donald Trump is already older than any other President beginning his first term.
Elizabeth Warren. The progressive populist has so far denied interest in running, but she has a sizable following and a definite lane -- which would open up significantly if Sanders chose to sit out. Many fear the Democrats would be unlikely to nominate another female candidate following the misogyny that led to Clinton's defeat, though the Massachusetts Senator could be the best choice to override that.
Cory Booker. Here's a reality TV star who's actually highly qualified to run for President. Booker's time as mayor of Newark, NJ was chronicled on the Sundance Channel series Brick City and -- to make him even more viable as a 21st century candidate -- he's especially adept at social media. He hasn't been vocal about a Presidential run, but that could be because of his current duties, serving in the U.S. Senate.
Sherrod Brown. Representing the swing state of Ohio, this Senator could likely make a study campaign run, albeit without the name recognition of those just mentioned. His name floated around as a possible Vice President choice for Hillary Clinton this summer.
Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York Senator filled Hillary Clinton's seat when she was named to Barack Obama's cabinet. Her name recognition is growing, often around her activism to raise awareness of sexual violence on campuses.
Julian Castro. The Obama Cabinet member comes with a compelling American dream narrative and serious comparisons to the man who appointed him. He was raised in a low-income San Antonio neighborhood by a single mother, only to become mayor of his hometown by his mid 30s, and later, like Obama before him, enjoyed a breakthrough moment by giving the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic convention.
Amy Klobuchar. Like Obama, the Minnesota Senator is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and as with Gillibrand, she's known for her work to fight sexual assault, particularly in the military.
Kamala Harris. California was applauded for the liberal legislation it passed last week, in addition to electing Harris, the Senate's first member of Indian descent. (Her mother is Indian; her father is Jamacian). The former California Attorney General could be too light on Washington experience come 2020, but expect her name to at least remain in the discussion for future elections.
Tim Kaine. We'd be remiss to to run down the Democrats' 2020 hopefuls without mentioning the Vice President on its most recent ticket. However, his connection to the failed Clinton bid could be too much for him to overcome.
Martin O'Malley. Again, this inventory of the Democrats' chances has to include O'Malley, the only candidate to make it to primary season alongside Clinton and Sanders. (He dropped out opening night, during the Iowa Caucuses). He could have been testing the waters towards a more successful run in 2020, though it's worth noting he's also pushing for that DNC chairman job.
And finally, there's a good chance the eventual 2020 nominee hasn't even been considered yet. It could be because they're still relatively unknown, or because they're already famous -- just not as a politician. Interviewed following the Trump win, Michael Moore wondered if the Democrats might take a page from the Republicans' book and nominate a celebrity. "Democrats would be better off if they ran Oprah [Winfrey] or Tom Hanks," he told CNN's State of the Union show yesterday. "Why don't we run somebody that the American people love and are really drawn to, and that are smart and have good politics and all that?" Actually, the Democrats' 2020 field already reflects this: Minnesota Senator Al Franken -- who could've made the list above -- was a writer and performer with SNL for 15 years.
So, Kanye West in 2020? In all seriousness, the prospect of 'Ye earning a nomination is ludicrous on multiple fronts, but for those Moore named -- and countless others -- the Presidency is nowhere near as out of reach as it might seem. The past election cycle has clearly taught us as much.