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2020 presidential race shaping up to be Trump vs Sanders populism

The continuation of American enterprise and free market capitalism or the first steps of American socialism will make for a heady choice come November 2020.

Lucas Holtvluwer Montreal QC

With 18 candidates already announced and former Vice President Joe Biden set to enter the race in the next few days, the contest for the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket is heating up.

While their are many contestants and much can change over the course of the next 12 months, given the current data, it appears Senator Bernie Sanders is best positioned to be selected as the Democrat’s 2020 candidate next spring.

Of course, the expected entry of political heavyweight Joe Biden, who is currently polling highest among announced and expected candidates,  
will certainly shake things up and attract substantial media attention.

Moderate & Far-Left Democrats

Biden is expected to run as a moderate, uniting the Democratic Party and eventually the country with a pragmatic, centrist appeal. Depending on what polling you look at, there is certainly an opportunity for someone to grab the centrist mantle and run with it. However, in a race this crowded, that moderate support is splintered across candidates like Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and rising star Pete Buttigieg.

Although the moderate route is still a viable option for the Democrats to win back the White House in 2020, it would not be in keeping with the zeitgeist and general direction on the Democratic base.

The fresh faces of the Democratic Party, specifically Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, who have received a ton of media coverage since their election in the 2018 midterms, are not far-left outliers.

As the Washington Post details, a grassroots wave of far-left, first time candidates stepped up to run for the Democrats in 2018, supporting very liberal policies like Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum wage, and free college tuition for all.

Why Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic nomination

Of the 2020 contestants, only one is best positioned to garner this burgeoning wave of support – Bernie Sanders. The well known independent Senator from Vermont, who caucuses with the Senate Democrats,  has a solid base of support in the party, anywhere from 20% to 24% in the last few months, and will certainly expand that as the race continues and candidates begin to stake out their positions more clearly.

Having already ran in 2016, Sanders is quite familiar with the presidential campaign trail and seems to have a good handle on what it takes to win, making a widely applauded crossover move to hold a town hall on Fox News, which received a massive viewership of 2.5 million people, besting  Harris’s CNN town hall high of 1.95 million.

When it comes to fundraising, Sanders has by far the most support, bringing in a whopping 18.2 million in first quarter donations, 84% of which came from donors giving $200 or less. Not counting Maryland businessman John Delaney, who contributed $11 million of his own money to his $12.1 million fundraising total, Harris and O’Rourke finish well behind Sanders in second and third, with the former bringing in $12 million and the latter $9.4 million.

In terms of web traffic, here to, Sanders leads all the candidates. According to estimations by SimilarWeb, Sanders had 2.5 million website visitors last month, whereas O’Rourke only had 1.1 million and Harris 1.3 million, down from her January high of 1.6 million.

While the entry of Biden may result in a coalescence of moderate Democratic support around him, more than likely that moderate base, by no means homogeneous, will continue to splinter among other candidates.

In particular, Buttigieg, known to folks in South Bend, Indiana as “Mayor Pete,” has substantially increase his profile and polling numbers over the last few months, by pitching himself as a moderate candidate with both political and military experience. If Buttigieg can continue to build on his momentum and maintain media coverage, Biden could find himself with a worthy opponent in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

All of this competition for the centre and centre-left support in the Democratic Party leaves Sanders with a good-sized base of support in the left wing of the Party. In a fashion similar to Trump’s remarkable victory in the Republican primaries in 2016, Sanders could comfortably stay in the race with his current base of support and slowly build on that as more and more candidates drop out over time.

Sanders’s base, judging by his fundraising numbers and online following, seems very solid and committed, unlikely to switch to a different candidate, largely because there are no more progressive candidates in the field.

Regardless of whether his policy solutions are feasible or not, he offers a clear vision of democratic socialism, with free healthcare and education and funded by major increase in taxes, particularly on the wealthiest one percent and big corporations.

In comparison to President Trump, the platform put forward by Sanders draws the starkest contrast of all the 2020 candidates, which may just be what the majority of Democratic voters are looking for in 2020.

While the moderate portion of the Democratic Party may still outnumber the left and far-left portions, thanks to the makeup of the 2020 field and clear shift to the left among Democrats over the past few years, there is a very good chance that a borderline octogenarian socialist will end up as the Democratic nominee for 2020.

An epic populist battle

If Sanders were to win the nomination, it would set up America for the ultimate populist election. The right-wing “America First” populism of President Trump versus the socialist policies of Senator Sanders.

Who would win out? Well, as is often the case in politics, much would depend on the state of economy in 2020. If it continues boom and grow, as it has so far under President Trump, most likely Trump wins out.

However, if there is a serious downturn, a decent possibility given its been over a decade since the Great Recession of 2008, the free healthcare, education, and guaranteed job proposals of Sanders may tempt voters into giving him a shot.

Either way, even with the nastiness and divisiveness of the 2016 election, the 2020 race is shaping up to be one of the most stark contrasts American voters have faced yet.

The continuation of American enterprise and free market capitalism or the first steps of American socialism will make for a heady choice come November 2020.


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