Chasing 2020 Part 1 of 4: Comparing the Candidates for the Democratic Nomination
The Democratic Party of the United States has undergone profound change since the election of Donald Trump in 2016 which has nudged the party farther to the left and engendered crises of identity and confidence among its adherents. Indeed, since the end of Barack Obama’s second term and the disgraceful exit from mainstream politics of his intended successor, Hilary Clinton, the Democratic Party has been scrambling to reinvigorate itself. The party’s alignment with socialist doctrine has so far led the re-identification effort while wholesale admonition of the policies of the Trump administration, encapsulating the feeling of the majority of the Democratic electorate, has become a virtual litmus test for potential candidates.
The lack of clear leadership and the supposed imperative of defeating Trump has led nearly two dozen Democrats to throw themselves into the 2020 contest, each advertising that their candidacy will prove to be the definitive challenge to what is understood as Trump’s wanton demagoguery. While many are seasoned politicians with established political portfolios, many others are either relative newcomers or have never been elected to office. Furthermore, while the progressive playbook features prominently in most of their platforms, the central issues advanced in each of their campaigns differ significantly and imply that each potential president would pursue different central goals if elected.
This article will serve as the first in a four-part series aimed at examining the many candidates’ backgrounds, platforms and chances of winning the Democratic nomination for the 2020 Presidential Election. Each article will use a formulated methodology to group candidates into four tiers based on their likelihood of winning the Democratic Party nomination in 2020, with Tier One candidates demonstrating the highest probability. By dividing the candidates in this fashion, these articles will present readers with a more informed view of their favorite candidate’s campaign and, taken together, will illustrate the sometimes hidden divisions between Democratic politicians. In doing so, the articles will also help paint a more complete picture of the state of the Democratic Party and anticipate the direction the eventual winner will take it.
The complexity of American politics and the variety of voting behaviors inherent to democracy suggest that an evaluation of the strength of a particular candidate cannot be based on a single factor alone. Indeed, while certain essential requirements must be met for one to be deemed a strong candidate, many lesser characteristics that may be absent to a particular contender are easily supplanted by other desirable traits. For example, while Donald Trump may have seemed to be an unlikely victor in 2015 due to his lack of experience and poor decorum, his ubiquitous name and his tenacity on the campaign trail helped to overcome these apparent handicaps and secured him the Presidency. Furthermore, certain traits can work to reinforce the value of others, and as such can turn a candidates’ relatively benign characteristics into central foci of her campaign. Thus, rather than a singular determinant, the strength of a particular candidate vis-a-vis others is best ascertained by taking a holistic approach and examining how their characteristics work together to enhance the candidate’s potency.
With this in mind, in order to divide the candidates into four tiers based on the likelihood of their campaigns’ success, these articles will examine a variety of weighted characteristics that are traditionally seen as being determinants of success for an American political candidate. Thirteen facets of differing importance will be analyzed and scores will be given to each candidate based on how complete their acquisition of the characteristic is. In order to facilitate the analysis, these traits will be grouped into five overarching “categories” and will also be subdivided into different “acquisition levels” in order to better compare the candidates’ strength in each field. By taking this approach the tiers can be better construed through ensuring that only candidates possessing characteristics in category X are able to fall into tier Y.
The five categories of candidate characteristics are Essential Requirements; Experience and Public Record; Support Network; Personal Traits; and Political Platform. Aside from the essential requirements, these categories of characteristics are based on the dual ideas of legitimacy and logistics. As expounded upon by Max Weber in his Politics as a Vocation speech and essay, there are three inner justifications of obedience or legitimacy: traditional, charismatic and legal. While Weber’s analysis was focused on the practice and maintenance of power, his conclusions on the basis of legitimacy can also be applied to the democratic process of selection of political leaders. Since legitimacy as defined by Weber is the basis of obedience and since voters chose the candidate whose political direction they will obey, voters will choose the candidate they deem to be the most legitimate. As such, understanding what makes a candidate legitimate in the eyes of voters is essential to understanding which candidate they are likely to choose at the polls. Based on this correlation, three of the categories above roughly reflect the three inner justifications of legitimacy put forward by Weber: a candidate’s experience in politics and public record while in office reflect the continuance of tradition by deferring authority to those that have held it in the past; a candidate’s personal traits and idiosyncrasies reflect the weight of personality in leadership; and a candidate’s platform reflects the legal validation to rule since it is assumed that once in office they will implement their platform through legislation. In addition to the idea of legitimacy is that of logistics. No matter how legitimate a candidate would seem, it would be impossible to run a national campaign without a contingent of assistants and other means of support. Since even Jesus Christ required a number of disciples to spread the gospel, it can be readily assumed that a nationwide campaign cannot be run by any one mortal candidate alone. As such, logistics and a solid support network are important for any campaign to succeed and for any candidate to be elected.
The “Essential Requirements” category is composed of characteristics that are necessary for any candidate to possess in order to win and without which any campaign is doomed. Specifically, it contains the three characteristics of name recognition, media coverage and resources. The prominence of a candidate in the lives of voters has an important effect of whether or not he will be considered by them and be taken seriously as a contender. Name recognition is thus an extremely important factor for a presidential contender as the candidate’s reputation will precede them which will extend his outreach and provide a ready base of supporters for his message. A recognized name need not be political, as demonstrated by Donald Trump in 2016, and cultural clout can work to an aspiring politician’s advantage by eliminating the need for introductory outreach during a campaign cycle. The name recognition characteristic can be subdivided into the following acquisition levels to facilitate comparison: household name (known nationally), popular politician (likely to be consistently brought up nationally in this context), local hero (will be emphasized regionally), and incognito.
Second, media coverage is also an essential characteristic since it facilitates the candidate’s ability to preach his message and share his platform to a wider audience of voters. A candidate that is frequently referenced in the media is likely to have more weight in an electoral contest and is introduced to voters who may not be familiar with her program or even her existence. The prominence of broadcast media and the internet further increases the power of this characteristic and gives the candidate in the limelight the opportunity to emphasize other strong characteristics such as good looks and charisma, a situation that occurred in the 1960 televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy, where the latter was favored over the former’s acknowledged political consistency. The media coverage characteristic can be subdivided into constant, occasional, rare and none levels. Finally, financial resources play a massive role in any modern Presidential election, especially since the Citizens United decision in 2010. Like the media, the more financial resources a candidate possesses enhances his ability to spread his message and host lavish events with decorations and incentives to draw larger crowds. Money also helps candidates compensate for a lack of a strong support network since the ability of a single billionaire to fund his own campaign enables otherwise non-political actors to ingratiate themselves into the game. The resources characteristic can aptly be divided into seemingly infinite, moderate, low and insignificant.
The singular importance of even one of these essential characteristics cannot be understated, and a lack of any will terminate any campaign before it is able to muster itself into anything competitive. Furthermore, possession of any one of the essential factors enables candidates to acquire all three which makes their individual power supreme. A candidate whose name is easily recognized will be more widely covered by the media while a candidate who is widely covered by the media is likely to become a big name, at least during the election. Similarly, a candidate with enough money can buy adds and talking time so that he will start being covered by the media or become a ubiquitous presence on the internet (hence a big name) and both a recognized name and media coverage begets more donors and financial contributors. Examples of these effects can be widely seen in American politics today such as in the recent explosion in popularity of Rep. Alexandria Occasion Cortez by virtue of constant media coverage and of course, in the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump where a widely known and rich mogul monopolized media coverage and talking time on debates to become the most prominent candidate in the election.
Experience and Public Record
The “Experience and Public Record” category is composed of characteristics that, while not essential, are also important for any candidate to possess. Specifically, it contains the three characteristics of political experience, public record, and campaign experience. Political experience, that is, the previous tenure in public office, is important because it gives the candidate legitimacy in seeking further office. A candidate that has “been around the block” is likely to elicit more support that a political layman since he will be expected to conduct the nation’s business in a routine, methodical and responsible manner. While prior deplorable tenure and perennial non-establishment calls to “drain the swamp” can turn this asset into a liability, electoral statistics show that candidates with prior experience, much like incumbent candidates, are consistently preferred over the average contender. However, not all experiences are equal and candidates with certain experience levels are more highly valued than others for the role of President. The most successful are those with either experience in Washington (e.g., Senators) who are acquainted with the machinations of federal politics or those with executive office experience such as former governors who have shown the ability to lead the politics of a territory. As such, the political experience characteristic can be subdivided into the following acquisition levels: federal political experience, executive political experience, local political experience, no experience.
Second, a candidate’s public record is important to voters as it demonstrates how consistent they will be once in office. Obviously, a successful record (i.e., obtaining preferred policy) will be prized since it will indicate the candidate’s ability to leverage results. Less important but still valued will be a candidate who has demonstrated less-successful but partisan politics, which demonstrates loyalty to position with limited results, and those who have engaged in bi-partisan compromise, which indicates that the candidate is likely to obtain results even if they differ slightly from their campaign’s platform. As such, the public record characteristic can be subdivided into the following acquisition levels: successful partisan, bi-partisan compromiser, unsuccessful partisan, and failed politician/none. Finally, campaign experience is a strong characteristic for any candidate to possess since it will enhance her adaptability to situations during a campaign. A candidate who has previously been on the trail will prove more adept at channeling the campaign’s energies into important areas and be more familiar with spreading a political message to the masses, improving her odds of success. Thus, campaign experience can be subdivided into prominent national campaign, previous national campaign, successful or prominent local campaign and no experience.
The “Support Network” category is composed of characteristics that enhance the effectiveness of the campaign and enable the candidate to draw from helpful sources of financial and political support. Specifically, it contains the three characteristics of the extent of support network, private connections and political connections and endorsements. A candidate with a wider support network will be more successful at expanding the reach of her message and garnering attention to her platform. Loyal grassroots organizations in large cities and key states facilitate canvassing and get out the vote initiatives which translates to higher attention at sporadic rallies and, potentially, more votes at the polls. Furthermore, even strong local support in a key and early primary state can be enough for others in the country to take notice and echo similar levels of endorsement later, as was seen with Bernie Sanders’s campaign in 2016. The support network characteristic can be subdivided into the following levels: national, state, local and none.
Private connections are also helpful to any politician as they enable different types of support depending on their origin. Connections in business can provide money while connections in activism can supply an expanded canvassing network. In addition, all private connections will lobby that candidate to their own private connections, creating new adherents and further connections to exploit. The private connections characteristic can be subdivided into business connections, celebrity connections, activist connections, and no connections. Finally, political connections and endorsements can augment the popularity of any campaign and give quasi-legitimacy to the candidate in question. Much like a reference letter, an endorsement demonstrates to voters that other politicians trust their judgement and are eager to work with them, which implies that the candidate is likely to achieve results during their term. Furthermore, even local endorsements can be important as they can increase support in individual states and create momentum for a candidate. As such, the political connections and endorsements characteristic can be subdivided into incumbent federal politicians, popular federal politicians, incumbent or popular state politicians and none.
Personality and Skills
While less essential to running a campaign than the other categories, the candidate’s “Personal Traits” are still important to consider and include the characteristics of community engagement, private career and personality and skills. The more involved a candidate is in her local community the more compassion she will receive from voters. Since public office is a public service (with innumerable benefits), voters like to consider candidates which have demonstrated a similar albeit less intensive commitment to their local communities. As such a record of community engagement is an important personal trait for a candidate to possess and for comparative analysis can be divided into being either a: leader, activist, philanthropist or none.
Second, a candidate’s private career gives voters a glimpse into their private lives and how they conduct their affairs. Furthermore, a person’s private career reflects upon their individual ability, skill set and ambition and can be used to gauge how effectively they will conduct their new responsibility. However, a mundane career can also be a relatable trait for voters and can engender support for a “kindred spirit” or relatable underdog. As such, the private career characteristic can be subdivided into titan of industry (business leaders), academic professional (e.g. lawyer), law enforcement professional, and relatable dayworker.
Finally, a candidate’s personality and skills can also have an effect on voters, especially if that is the only significant separation between a candidate and their rival. Certain specific skills may be better suited to politics than others (e.g., rhetoric) and a generally extroverted personality will be better received by the public than shyness or a recluse. Furthermore, a candidate’s personality can have an effect on the electorate since, as Machiavelli indicated in The Prince, it is “desirable to be considered generous” and ceteris paribus a compassionate candidate will always triumph in a decent society. Finally, traits such as integrity and honesty can make an election much like their antitheses can break it, lessons learned from “Honest Abe” and “Crooked Hilary.” Thus the personality and skills characteristic can be subdivided into rhetorician, honest, compassionate, irrelevant.
Finally, the category of the “Political Platform” encompasses the characteristic of the candidate’s policy positions. While merely conceiving a platform is an important endeavor in itself, the program’s quality is an important facet to voters. The platform represents the candidate’s legitimacy as a politician since when presented to the electorate they will read it with hypothetical assumptions of it being put into place. As such, a candidate’s platform must be consistent, popular and realistic since voters must be able to relate to its provisions and recognize the benefits it would afford them. Inconsistent platforms that do not embrace the political zeitgeist will not fare well in a charged election season when other candidates have embraced more attractive proposals and a candidate must make sure to market their vision for society as succinctly as possible to their potential supporters.
Tier Four Candidates: Those Without a Chance to Win
Among the more than twenty candidates as of this writing, three seem to possess none of the essential requirement characteristics and a low amount of ancillary characteristics. As such, these three candidates form the fourth tier of our analysis and are ranked as having no chance of winning the Democratic nomination in 2020. In considering these candidate’s characteristics they will be scored based on their acquisition levels and analyzed holistically based on their above characteristics they are perceived to have already demonstrated.
Michael E. Arth
Michael E. Arth is best known as an artist, architect, amateur documentary filmmaker and author, having published two books on socio-political subjects. Aside from a brief and unsuccessful run for Florida’s executive office in 2009-10, he has not been engaged in political activity. Arth describes himself as a “reality-based” politician on his website where he outlines his platform filled with unrealistic proposals aimed to reform the American Republic into a near direct democracy. While his program contains standard progressive language such as support for Medicare for All, nearly free public schooling, addressing gun violence, honoring the Paris Agreement and eliminating the Electoral College, he seems to take the progressive ideology to new extremes by advocating for a Universal Basic Income, proposing proportional representation for Congress and introducing a plan to institute a sixteen year old voting age. Furthermore, his platform contains a sort of postscript identifying (without solutions) the problems of overpopulation and monetary reform, the latter issue to be preliminarily dealt with by subsidizing the Icelandic economy and tourism sector.
Based on his profile and platform, and working off of the scoring rubric established in the methodology, Arth cannot be considered a likely candidate to win the Democratic nomination for president. He possesses none of the essential requirements and has no previous political experience. While Arth conducted a campaign for Governor of Florida in 2009-10, he only obtained 0.3 percent of the vote, leading to the conclusion that his campaigning experience is negligible at best. Furthermore, while his private connections working as an architect and as a designer of some upscale homes may exist, they did not prove to be considerable in any of his political forays and should not be counted on in a national election. Despite this, Arth does score points in the personal traits category since he has been involved as a philanthropist in certain Florida localities (e.g., revitalizing a dilapidated neighborhood in DeLand, FL), showing significant community engagement and working as a political analyst, giving him a skill set geared towards the formulation public policy. However, since his merits as a successful candidate remain in the personal traits category, his efficacy as a national contender cannot be attested to, relegating him to tier four.
The second candidate in this tier is Harry Braun, a man who possesses the interesting quality of being able to make liberal progressives salivate with joy and seethe with anger upon reading his platform. He is a longtime advocate of hydrogen energy and the founder of the Phoenix Project Foundation, a hydrogen energy advocacy firm. Braun’s official campaign website reads like a conspiracy manifesto and is dedicated to three main issues: reforming American energy, a proposed Democracy Amendment and overpopulation.
With a heavy emphasis on hydrogen, Braun explains how American oil, nuclear, pesticide and pharmaceutical industries have been destroying the country’s habitability. He proposes a dramatic and immediate shift to a mixed hydrogen-renewable energy economy and cynically comments that it is probably already too late and that humanity should convert available buildings into self-sufficient “Lifeboat” habitability units to survive (not joking). Aside from science fiction, Braun advocates for a Democracy Amendment to the Constitution based on his interpretation of Article V which would essentially turn the U.S. into a massive direct democracy whereby citizens would vote directly on legislation by sending their ballots to the Secretary of State via postal mail. Furthermore, like Arth, he is very concerned with overpopulation. Unlike Arth however, Braun proposes unique solutions to curb the threat that would elicit a joyful response from Donald Trump. His proposals range from forcing utility companies to require proof of citizenship for service, ending all immigration to America, redeploying troops from Korea to guard the Southern Border with Mexico and enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment to strip citizenship from “Anchor Babies.”
Due to his lack of experience and outlandish platform, Braun also cannot be considered a successful candidate for the Democratic nomination. He possesses none of the essential requirements and as a perennial but unknown candidate he cannot be said to have significant campaign experience. While as a businessman he may possess some minor private connections they do not seem significant and by running a non-profit it is unlikely that he qualifies as possessing significant resources. Braun is a sort of academic and possesses significant experience in the hydrogen sector which does grant him personal trait points, but his lack of any public records of significant community engagement or a coherent political platform solidly places him in tier four.
Ken Nwadike Jr.
Ken Nwadike Jr., better known as the “Free Hugs Guy,” is an internet personality and activist known for starting an internet trend, the Free Hugs Project, offering free hugs to strangers in order to give support or encouragement. His free hugs routine has reached millions of viewers and is popular among the millennial demographic. Due to his success online, Nwadike has branched out and has had forays into the worlds of peace activism and motivational speaking. In sharp contrast to Braun’s official campaign platform which was rife with character and vision, Nwadike’s platform on his official website (an extension of his larger freehugsproject.com) is bland and unassuming and is closer to a liberal progressive’s twitter feed than a political program. It espouses the mainstream progressive policies such as free college for all and contains a section entitled “create good-paying jobs.” In all, only seven issues are directly addressed with often repeated verbiage and in some instances, such as his section dedicated to the environment, with no plan at all, merely offering ideas for “things we can all do while we are waiting for our political representatives to take action” which include the rudimentary suggestions of “recycl[ing]” and “us[ing] less water.”
Based on his very minor celebrity status and his almost non-existent political platform, Ken Nwadike Jr. is not a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination. While he is an internet personality with control over a website that generates content seen by millions, the free hugs trend seems to have lost popularity in recent years and it is unlikely that his videos can be considered as adequate “media coverage” to satisfy one of the essential requirements. Furthermore, while free hugs may be widely known among millennials in America, Nwadike himself is not and the free hugs demographic is young and not a prominent arm of the Democratic Party. In addition, he possesses no political experience and does not seem to possess the connections necessary to pursue his candidacy in a successful direction. Nwadike has, however, proven himself to be a successful activist and a charismatic speaker, thus gaining points in the personal traits category. With that being said however and with no other significant characteristics attained, Nwadike is also a tier four candidate in this cycle.