As Democrats survey the political landscape and focus on rebuilding the party after the disastrous 2016 election, there’s no denying that a change in leadership is desperately needed. One of the primary complaints leveled by Democratic supporters during and after the 2016 election was the lack of diverse faces in leadership positions. A party once led by Barack ObamaBarack ObamaOPINION | Bill O’Reilly: Harvey, Sandy, Katrina — A tale of three superstorms Week ahead: Tech mobilizes on DACA | House panel looks at Uber economy Trump asked aides for ‘a way out’ on DACA: report MORE and his picturesque first family is now scrambling to find candidates that can excite millennials and invigorate the base. It should come as no surprise to anyone well versed in Washington politics that managing to do both is no easy task. Politicians like Obama come along once in a generation.
Since leaving office, the former president has been relatively quiet, choosing very carefully when to address the news of the day. Obama’s absence has left a void that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerRSC Chairman: Harvey aid could be jeopardized if linked with debt ceiling Dems prep for major fight over Trump USDA science pick Ex-Medicare chief promotes ObamaCare enrollment on Twitter after Trump cuts outreach funding MORE (D-N.Y.) have been unable to fill and one that has led to a contentious relationship between the libertarian-leaning, Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWeek ahead: Congress returns to take up bipartisan health care effort Sanders urges support for progressive policies on Labor Day Top Dem: Trump ending DACA would be his administration hitting ‘rock bottom’ MORE-supporting wing of the party and its more politically moderate, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces critical fall Trump lawyer to reporter: ‘Are you on drugs?’ John Legend casting ‘out of shape’ Trump supporters for music video: report MORE-supporting, establishment wing.
This fractured relationship was clearly evident in the 2016 presidential campaign. Bad blood between Sanders and Clinton supporters during the presidential primary spilled over into the Democratic convention and hampered Clinton’s ability to unite the base in the general election. While Clinton certainly ran a flawed campaign that suffered from weak messaging and questionable strategic choices, it’s undeniable that soft support from the “Bernie wing” of the party contributed to her historic loss.
As the Democratic party looks toward the 2020 presidential election, there are questions about who will take over the mantle of spokesperson and future leader of the party. There are questions about whether or not Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, will make another run at the Democratic nomination. There are questions about whether the Democratic Party is quickly becoming a regional party. Less than a year into President Trump’s chaotic tenure, there are no clear answers to those questions. What is certain, however, is that the future of the Democratic Party appears to be female.
Rising stars Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWeek ahead: Congress returns to take up bipartisan health care effort Sanders single-payer bill poses dilemma for 2020 Dem hopefuls Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand will lead Democrats to 2020 victory MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSanders single-payer bill poses dilemma for 2020 Dem hopefuls Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand will lead Democrats to 2020 victory Gillibrand slams Army for ‘empty promises’ following general’s suspension MORE (D-N.Y.) seem to have the rare ability to unite the party and excite the various factions making up the base. While the senators originate from very different sections of the country, their paths to elected office are extremely similar. Both women began their careers as attorneys prior to landing in the U.S. Senate. Both women have publicly endorsed a single-payer health-care system. Harris recently said, “It’s not only about what’s morally and ethically right. It also just makes sense from a fiscal standpoint or a return on investment for taxpayers.”
Support from President Obama and fellow women senators like Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGoogle faces blowback after think tank fires critic Judd Gregg: The left’s theater of the absurd Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand will lead Democrats to 2020 victory MORE (D-Mass.) have only increased the national profile of Harris, who served six years as the attorney general of California before winning a seat in Congress in 2016. Often compared to Obama as a result of her mixed-race upbringing, Harris has not been shy about tackling issues relating to income inequality, racial justice and health security.
Both Harris and Gillibrand hold no punches and have been criticized for exhibiting the same political aspirations as many of their male counterparts. Harris has been no stranger to addressing controversy head-on. She began her first year in Washington by addressing the Women’s March, challenging Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) SessionsSessions to make DACA announcement Tuesday Trump to end DACA with 6-month delay: report Trump lawyer to reporter: ‘Are you on drugs?’ MORE in an open Senate hearing and taking President Trump to task for his response to the events in Charlottesville, Va. As the polls closed on election night last November, Harris told a rowdy California crowd that she intends “to fight.” Less than a year into her first term, Harris has stayed true to her words.
The same can be said for Gillibrand, who has been championing access to health care since her 2006 run for Congress. The junior senator from New York has been outspoken about her support for the public option, her support for a living wage and most recently, her criticism of Trump’s executive order restricting transgender Americans from serving in the U.S. military. Gillibrand’s ability to speak to the concerns of upstate, blue-collar union workers as well as downstate minorities and millennials has Democrats excited about the extent of her political future.
Unlike the Clinton campaign, which was unable to drum up the excitement of the Obama campaigns, a new era may be coming to the Democratic Party. Harris and Gillibrand are void of many of the flaws that turned away potential Clinton voters. As relative newbies on the national political scene, neither Harris nor Gillibrand has had the time to accumulate the partisan ire that was often attributed to the former first lady and secretary of State. Neither Harris nor Gillibrand suffers from questions about their age or potential fitness for office. Neither Harris nor Gillibrand has to address unfair questions relating to their husband’s indiscretions or political decisions that they were not elected to make.
Instead, the most important trait that could launch a Harris or Gillibrand candidacy straight into the White House, is their unique ability to inspire. Much like with President Obama’s quick ascent during the George W. Bush years, America is desperately in need of an inspirational figure. America is desperately in need of a movement to believe in. Just as Obama inspired Democrats to get out to the polls and vote for a new path forward, Harris and Gillibrand could breathe air into a party on the verge of flat-lining.
What could be more opposite from the status quo than intelligent, hard-working and inspirational women running the country? They are qualified candidates not merely because they are smart, accomplished women showing little girls all over the country that one day we will shatter that last glass ceiling, but also because they represent what makes our country great, something our current president doesn’t come close to doing.
If Democrats have any hope of winning back the White House in 2020, we have to do more than just run a candidate, we must run a movement. We must have a story to tell and an answer to the most important question any candidate for office must answer: Why are you running? Whoever runs for the Democratic nomination in 2020 must be able to tell Americans why Democratic policies will help keep them healthy. Democrats must be able to explain how Democratic policies will help keep them safe, help keep food on their table and help keep a job for them to go to every day. Democrats must have simple answers to complex problems.
Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand appear equipped to answer these questions. The future of the Democratic Party may be fluid, but if voters put their trust in the hands of either woman, the path to 270 will suddenly become a smoother journey. Even after the heartbreaking loss by Hillary Clinton to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSouth Korea conducts live-fire exercises for second day in a row N. Korea moving rocked believed to be ICBM: report OPINION | Bill O’Reilly: Harvey, Sandy, Katrina — A tale of three superstorms MORE last November, the future of the Democratic Party still looks female. Let the race to 2020 begin.
Michael Starr Hopkins is an attorney and former member of the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He regularly appears on Fox News and CNN to talk about national politics. You can follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.
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