Feb 16, 2019

2020 divide: Anger vs. optimism

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 2020 Democratic field splits into two rough camps: anger vs. optimism.

The big picture: Democrats ultimately have to choose between someone who's the mirror image of President Trump (an angry fighter) — or the opposite (an optimistic pragmatist).

  • One Democratic operative said you can even see the difference by turning down the sound on the candidates' announcement videos.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris is the clearest example of a candidate who so far has straddled the two camps.

The fighters are defined by their brand of liberal populism:

  • Think Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who argue that Americans are victimized not just by Trump, but by corporations, billionaires, and a rigged system.
  • Exhibit A ... Warren tweeted yesterday: "I want to be absolutely clear: this ridiculous wall isn’t a national emergency, and Donald Trump isn’t king. We’ll fight this with everything we’ve got."

The optimists paint a hopeful, and relatively more moderate, view:

  • Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, as well as Julián Castro fall squarely in this category. So would Joe Biden, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Beto O'Rourke if they were to run.
  • Exhibit B ... Klobuchar tweeted yesterday: "Both sides of my family arrived in America with nothing but a suitcase, looking for a better life for their families. Their story isn’t so different from people working towards opportunity today. It's past time for comprehensive immigration reform."

What the polls show: Democratic voters value electability. 56% "prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues," according to a recent Monmouth University poll.

  • "People will be willing to set aside ideology because they want a winner," said Matt Bennett, co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way.

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