The “silly season” of the 2020 elections is nearing its end, which will be marked by the first votes cast in the Iowa caucuses. Gone by then, or shortly thereafter, will be some issues and candidates that, with the wisdom of hindsight, will be recognized as never meriting a place on the national stage in the first place. Among those candidates are the forgettable Kirsten Gillibrand, Beto, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, and Jay Inslee. This is not to say that all these candidates did not have something going for them—Inslee was a leader on climate, for example. Among the issues that are fading are free college, Medicare for All, and several other pie-in-the-sky ideas. Voters are beginning to realize that something more is at stake when they vote in 2020. Things such as restoring integrity to government, renewing alliances with our international friends, and making at least half-an-effort to find the middle ground with the other party.
It is now becoming highly likely that Trump will stand for re-election in 2020. I had hoped that the shame of impeachment might prompt him to quit, something he could have done with a flourish of tweets and slurs directed at the press, Democrats, and Republicans who did not support him. I also thought, and still do, that his health might prompt him to step down or at least choose not to seek re-election. While Trump’s narcissism is monumental, I have assumed it did not extend to wanting to die in office.
Many voters are now realizing that while re-inventing America or making a quantum leap in addressing past national mistakes might be exciting, there is serious work to be done. That starts with the removal of Trump but extends to issues that many voters are starting to see as priorities higher than simply getting more public benefits for themselves. The top issue here is climate change. Voters also are starting to realize that the next President will not be able to do everything. More directly put, having an honest President who bases decisions on facts and science while seeking to unite the country would not be a bad thing.
With the resetting of expectations and dreams, which is a work in progress, will come a reshuffling of candidates. We have already seen the entrance into the race of the ultra-sober, ultra-credible Michael Bloomberg. He may not be nominated, but his presence will push the other candidates, and the issues discussed, in the right direction. We have also seen support for the gaffe-prone Joe Biden stabilize. Voters are recognizing that his integrity, experience, and willingness to see both sides of an issue are positives. Declining or frozen in support are Warren and, in many Super Tuesday States, Bernie Sanders. Voters, or at least some of them, are starting to realize that both are trying to buy the election with incredible promises of new benefits paid for by “the rich.” While taxing the rich is showing remarkable appeal, the underlying message of this pair—that America is a fundamentally unfair society controlled by the rich—is not resonating among an increasing share of Democratic voters.
The issues that will strengthen in coming weeks are climate, integrity, and America’s place in the world. These issues will likely be enough for many voters in November 2020, to vote Trump out. Less certain is whether the still formidable block of Democratic dreamers—some of whom will tell you that forgiving student loans is a more important issue than stopping climate change—will block a Biden, Klobuchar, Bloomberg or other moderate from the opportunity to replace Trump.
There is a lot at stake in 2020. The time for voters to separate wheat from chaff is now.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.
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