Because we live in an insane country whose major media largely cannot conceive of politics as anything other than a horse race, the 2020 Democratic primary has already effectively begun. While you are correct to groan at this grim reality, the contenders are announcing and staking out policy positions, so we don’t really have a choice in the matter. This is happening.
The good news is that it’s become pretty clear what the 2020 Democratic primary is going to be about: who can win over the progressive wing of the party, and who is setting the policy agenda.
For example, no one had heard of the Green New Deal until late 2018, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined Sunrise Movement’s protest outside Nancy Pelosi’s office (much to the chagrin of D.C. media’s Most Serious People), and now we are entering 2019 with multiple top tier contenders endorsing the “idea” of the only policy proposal put forth that scientists say is adequate to address the gargantuan and seemingly impossible challenge that is climate change (the reason they are hedging with the word “idea” is because unlike Medicare for All, there is no specific bill presented to Congress—yet).
Speaking of Medicare for All, in the span of about 18 months it went from a pipe dream to the status quo. Medicare for All is such an overwhelming winner in the court of public opinion, that a majority of Republican voters say they want socialized medicine.
Forty-three percent of the Democratic electorate did not vote for the establishment’s hand-picked candidate in 2016, and that coalition has only grown in the years since. The policies which Bernie espoused have been scattered across the Democratic chessboard, and they are being picked up by candidates who want to prove to the electorate that they can satisfy the entire nation’s insatiable thirst to do something big to try to unmoor us from this untenable status quo.
Here are the progressive platforms that the top ten presidential contenders will be running on, per their own words, along with their odds of becoming the Democratic nominee in 2020, per the odds on Betfair as of this writing.
Note: In gambling parlance, something like (+200) means that you are betting $100 to win $200 on that thing happening. The better the return on your $100, the less likely that event is to occur.
California Senator Kamala Harris
2020 odds: (+420)
I’m still fighting for:
? Tuition-free college
? Gun safety laws
? Medicare for All
? Criminal justice reform
? $15 minimum wage
The environment— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 12, 2018
As far as what she means by “The environment”?
TBD, I guess.
Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke
2020 odds: (+500)
In spite of (or perhaps because of?) the brouhaha over his very public pro-oil record in congress, Beto O'Rourke's spokesman told Huffington Post that he is supportive of the “concept” of a Green New Deal and “how it invests in green jobs.” They continued:
”[He] is looking forward to engaging more on the issue as it continues to develop. As he mentioned while traveling to every county across Texas during his senate campaign, he's proud to come from a renewable energy producing state that is number one in wind power production, number one in wind power jobs and number one in solar energy potential.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden
2020 odds: (+680)
Joe Biden has no chance. Everyone will be running to his left. This is the only 2020 prediction that I'm comfortable making right now.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker
2020 odds: (+1300)
We must keep pushing the needle forward on a Federal #JobsGuarantee. It's not radical to suggest the dignity of a good job should be available to all Americans. https://t.co/7Z66TOvIyK— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) July 25, 2018
I've introduced legislation called the Marijuana Justice Act that would deschedule marijuana and apply that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses.— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) February 1, 2018
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
2020 odds: (+1500)
If Republicans could give $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest among us, why can't we invest a similar amount in a guaranteed jobs plan for regular Americans who are unemployed and willing to work to better their local community?— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) April 17, 2018
Income inequality is a drag on the economy. That's why we need:
—A $15 minimum wage
—Equal pay— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) May 16, 2017
Hawaii Congressman Tulsi Gabbard
2020 odds: (+1500)
Oh boy…this one is, uh, a lot to explain, and this is just a quick fly-by of everyone's declared platforms at this very early date in the primary calendar. There's a decent chance that Gabbard has this good of odds just because she's back in the news right now, and it's likely that she will fade come the actual primary. I'll let Eoin Higgins quickly explain from his 2016 column in Paste as to why we should not trust Tulsi Gabbard:
But a deeper look at Gabbard's political career shows that she is devoted to attaining power and to the perpetuation of extremist, fringe ideology. She adopts and sheds extremist positions at will, but one thing remains constant: her consistent embrace of hard-right politics.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
2020 odds: (+1550)
On nearly every "radical" idea the American people are with us:
72% want to expand Social Security.
70% want Medicare for All.
65% want a jobs guarantee.
64% want to legalize marijuana.
60% want tuition-free public colleges.
58% want $15 min wage.
57% want to break up big banks.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 15, 2019
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
2020 odds: (+1600)
Today I stood with @SenSanders to support his Medicare for All bill. Health care is a basic human right & we fight for basic human rights. pic.twitter.com/Pv7pu8fOM3— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 13, 2017
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar
2020 odds: (+1600)
Worth a read & why I opposed adding trillion in debt w/tax bill & why we should allow refinancing of student loans paid for w/Buffett rule & pass my bill to close overseas tax haven loophole: Millennials aren't breaking traditions. They're just broke. https://t.co/ywLD3cwkzW— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) December 7, 2018
Klobuchar's 2020 positions are tough to pin down right now, in large part because she is not as far into publicly fleshing out her platform as her assumed competitors, and Klobuchar has not even declared yet. That said, as of this writing, she looks to be positioned to the right of Kamala Harris—whose record as Attorney General places her pretty far to the right of the entire political spectrum. Per Klobuchar's website, which is directed at Minnesotans, not a national audience (emphasis mine):
This energy future must be based on a combination of homegrown energy sources, new energy technologies, energy efficiency measures, and expanded domestic energy production. In Minnesota, we have the talent and know-how to innovate and the natural resources to propel our economy forward. I believe this is a great opportunity to meet our nation's energy demands and promote economic development across America.
It's pretty simple: in the next 12 years we need to get the United States economy down to zero carbon emissions while also creating technology to aid India and China in that seemingly impossible quest, or else the planet will irrevocably and cataclysmically change in 20 years. Anyone proposing an increase in oil production in 2020 is simply not up to the titantic challenge we face. If this is still Klobuchar's position come 2020, she will find herself on the right flank of the Democratic field.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown
2020 odds: (+1600)
Women make up just 48% of workers, but they are over 55% of the minimum wage earners who will receive a raise w/ $15 by 2024. #RaiseTheWagepic.twitter.com/dOBov3kGFe— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) April 26, 2017
Brown did not throw his support behind Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, as he instead endorsed a less ambitious plan to allow people to buy in to Medicare at 55. He also said he did not know enough about the Green New Deal to take a position on it—which is fair given that there is no formal bill to parse through yet. The “idea” of the GND is simply to completely de-carbonize the economy.
Brown has a record of being one of the most liberal members of the Democratic Senate who takes on Wall Street, so he will almost certainly fall on the left flank of the field if/when he jumps into this with two feet. Although, being a liberal member of the senate isn’t saying much given that the Senate unanimously reelected Chuck freaking Schumer. It’s a fact that your average Democratic Senator is to the right of your average Republican voter on Medicare for All.
Whatever happens in 2020, a progressive agenda will almost surely be at the center of it (unless we take another step forward into hellworld and wind up with something like Bloomberg vs. Biden). Policies like socialized medicine can win over conservatives, and a lot of the polling from places like Data for Progress demonstrates that big, progressive reforms are extremely popular with a significant majority of Americans. Milquetoast centrism is out, and bold progressivism is in. Hillary Clinton may have won the battle in 2016, but the 2020 field has made it clear that Bernie Sanders won the war.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.