Democrats Need to Learn That Hearts Will Beat Charts in 2020 By John Zogby
In my May 6 Forbes post, I tried to explain that the essence of President Donald Trump’s support was that he expresses genuine hurts that many Americans feel. Reprehensible as his persona and message can be at times, he has a story of being personally disrespected and unappreciated – something many Americas have experienced. His appeal is more than about issues and ideology, he is the bully to end all bullying and many Americans seem to like it.
So if Democrats plan to win back the Presidency in 2020 they are going to have to nominate a man or woman with an authentic story that captures a personal sensitivity and set of core values that are relatable. If they like you they will listen to you.
Three of the last four Democratic nominees for President were not especially likable enough. Former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton all possessed the kind of resumes that undoubtedly fit the role of President of the United States. For that matter, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney was straight from central casting as a candidate. But something was missing.
Even though Mr. Gore tragically lost a sister to cancer and almost lost his son in a tragic accident, he simply could not weave that into a narrative that transcended a story of privilege and elitism.
Mr. Kerry was a bona fide war hero and a well-known antiwar activist before being elected to office, but – thanks to GOP strategist Karl Rove’s decision to go after the opponent’s strengths, not weaknesses – he simply could not answer charges that some of his platoon mates simply did not like him.
Mrs. Clinton never told a story that was personal enough. It took a second debate in 2016 before any of us ever learned what her father actually did for a living. And Mr. Romney was just not one of us.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis had a rich immigration story to tell but chose to run as a competent manager.
Contrast these with the stories I mentioned in the last piece. Being rich or Ivy League does not disqualify you from success (Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bill Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama), nor do humble beginnings (Reagan, Clinton, Obama). Having felt pain and being able to express that physical and emotional pain in terms people can actually feel is the prerequisite to winning and leading.
Let's take a look at some of the prominent names being floated by the Democrats as possible candidates for 2020.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden – having failed to connect twice in previous runs for the Oval Office, Mr. Biden now has honed his story of humble beginnings in a coal town, become a sage of old-fashioned ethnic and Catholic values, and has triumphed over terrible personal tragedies. He will still have to deal with old stories of law school plagiarism and being perhaps too hands-on with women in the #metoo era, but he is well armed.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand—was first appointed to her Senate seat over Caroline Kennedy because she was a moderate liberal in a fairly conservative Upstate New York district. She has earned her wings by combating the old boys club in the military, long fighting sexual harassment in every corner of the nation, and by being a young mom. There is a lot of potential for bonding with Millennial and Gen Z women there.
Senator Kamala Harris – benefits from being biracial (Indian and Jamaican), a tough San Francisco prosecutor, a very successful state attorney general, and strong popularity in the nation’s large state. As an interrogator in the Senate, she has gained national attention for not allowing herself to be shut down by older male colleagues. But you have to be more than a fighter. Can she turn her ethnic background into something that means something to people of all races?
Mayor Eric Garcetti—I think Mayors are the future of Presidential politics because they have to be creative, answer directly to the public, work with developers and other dynamic forces, and solve problems on a daily basis with limited budgets. His tenure as mayor has been largely successful. Mayor Garcetti is also part Hispanic, Jewish, and Italian). Is he more than the privileged son of a famous Los Angeles District Attorney? Can he show that L.A. works? And can he make his mixed heritage look like more than a few checked boxes on an application?
Senator Amy Klobuchar – remember that this whole race to the White House begins in Iowa, right next door to Minnesota, where she has been elected statewide several times as an Attorney General and U.S. Senator. She is not a dynamo but Ms. Klobuchar has a successful record as a legislator, a fixer, and possesses personal calming demeanor. I also like the fact that she projects a smart and non-elitist charm.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu – I really like his potential as a candidate on the ticket. He is the new, new South, has been dealt a bad hand of cards, and projects an upbeat attitude. He is presiding over the rebirth of a great American city, restoring some dignity to a place racked with police scandals, and offering a post-racial response to dealing with the Confederate legacy. He has a real story, especially being a son of the South moving a region forward in a non-elitist way
Senator Cory Booker- he is an exciting speaker, a force of nature, someone who knows how to tell from whence he has come and has never forgotten it for a moment. He was the mayor of a very rough place and is famous for receiving a huge check from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It remains to be seen if he has the gravitas to be a serious candidate for President. I think it is a bit early for him.
Senator Bernie Sanders—I was frankly surprised he went as far as he did in 2016 but he rallied both the substantial progressive wing of the party as well as young voters (which I hadn’t expected). Still the icon of the left, he has a well-funded organization that is helping to organize and fund hundreds of local movements and campaigns all over the US. His movement and organization have already played significant roles in House, US Senate (especially Alabama), and local Democratic victories. He was also a successful and popular mayor and has crossed the aisle to work with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
This is my early look at Democrats in 2020. Remember there are serious wounds within the party that have to be resolved.
John Zogby (@TheJohnZogby) is the founder of the Zogby Poll and Zogby companies, including John Zogby Strategies, and author of We Are Many We Are One: Neo-Tribes and Tribal Analytics in the 21st Century America.