What the 2018 blue wave means for 2020

CNN's Chris Cillizza reads the political tea leaves and explains what midterm momentum could mean for Democrats and the party's 2020 hopefuls.

Posted: Jan 11, 2019 3:19 PM
Updated: Jan 11, 2019 3:38 PM

Today's date is January 11, 2019. There are 662 days between today and the November 3, 2020 election. There is, roughly, a year before ANY votes are cast for ANY candidate running for president.

But you wouldn't know it by the amount of jockeying happening this week among the dozens -- not an exaggeration -- of Democratic candidates with an eye on beating President Donald Trump next November.

Consider this slew of 2020 news just from the past few days:

  1. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spent last weekend in Iowa, days after announcing an exploratory committee. She heads to New Hampshire this weekend.
  2. Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who has already formed an exploratory committee, is widely expected to officially enter the 2020 contest tomorrow in Texas.
  3. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who spent the week promoting a new memoir, has walked right up to the line of announcing her candidacy, but has yet to make it official. Her rhetoric, however, makes very clear that she is running: "It has been my life's experience that the American people are smart and they make decisions about what's in the best interest of their household, their family and their community," she told CNN's Jake Tapper. "And I have faith that in 2020, and in any other election, that will be their motivation when they vote."
  4. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has hired a campaign director and a communications director for her presidential campaign, has reportedly also secured space for her campaign headquarters in Troy, New York and is planning a trip to Iowa next weekend.
  5. Ex-Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke responded via Facebook Live to Trump's border wall Oval Office speech, Instagrammed a visit to the dentist's office and is reportedly planning a solo driving trip around the country. Did I mention he's going to sit down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey next month?
  6. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is headed to Iowa soon and his wife is telling people a decision will come within the next two months.
  7. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) issued a blanket apology to the women serving on his 2016 campaign after a series of reports emerged about a culture that allowed inappropriate sexual behavior.

That's just in the last five days!! Reminder: It's January 11, 2019.

So what's the hurry? After all, people always like to say they are sick of politics. And politicians pay lip service to the idea that there is a time for campaigning, and it's not right after the last election has ended.

There are two answers to the "hurry" question -- both of which relate to each other.

The first is Donald John Trump. Trump is, by the numbers, the most vulnerable incumbent preparing to run for a second term at this point in an election cycle since Jimmy Carter in 1980. (Remember that George H.W. Bush was quite popular in 1991 before losing in 1992.)

And it's not just that Trump is vulnerable, which makes the Democratic nomination a prized possession. It's that the Democratic base loathes Trump and wants him gone yesterday. So any of the usual concerns about whether the 2020 campaign is starting too soon are cast by the wayside because of the blinding hatred toward the President from within the Democratic base.

The second reason this race has gotten so busy so quickly is the sheer number of candidates expected to run -- which is, of course, directly tied to Trump's perceived weaknesses.

The Democratic field could well top 25 candidates (or even more) at its largest -- by far the biggest field for either party in modern presidential politics. With a few notable exceptions -- O'Rourke and Vice President Joe Biden being the obvious two, due to O'Rourke's buzz and Biden's default frontrunner status -- if you want to start raising the money, building the organization and just plain getting your name out there, you need to start ASAP.

The reality of running for president -- particularly in a massive field like is expected in 2020 -- is best understood by thinking about an iceberg. The portion of it you see above the water's surface is usually a tiny part of the broader ice monstrosity that lurks below. The tip of the iceberg in this analogy is when voters in Iowa or New Hampshire cast their votes for the Democratic nominee in a year's time. In order to even get to that point, there's a massive amount of under-the-surface work that has to be done by these aspiring candidates.

And that work takes lots and lots of time.

The realities of the 2020 field -- and of Trump -- mean that a hyper-active week like this one may only be an appetizer for what's to come once we get into February and beyond. By that point, Democratic candidates are going to be running and running hard. Iowa and New Hampshire will be inundated with would-be presidents. Donors' phones will be burning up with asks for cash. Activists in early states will become precious prizes to be secured by rising candidates.

The 2020 race is here. And it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

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