The one lesson from Democratic politics in 2019? No one knows what will happen in 2020 | Fletcher McClellan

December 24, 2019 6:30 am

It was the year of the unexpected in Democratic Party politics.

At the beginning of 2019, Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by a former speaker whom pundits believed was out of touch, too liberal for some, and not liberal enough for others.

By year’s end, after guiding her caucus to pass nearly 400 bills and produce near-unanimous resolutions to impeach President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is regarded as a political colossus.

Democrats impeaching the president was perhaps not so startling, but it was believed that the basis for impeachment would be the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Instead, the House indicted Trump for attempting to coerce the Ukrainian government into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

This was in spite of Mueller’s findings, which led to 34 indictments and eight convictions of Trump’s top associates, as well as a strong case that the president obstructed justice.

As for Biden, he started 2019 as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Twelve months later, the big surprise is … Biden is still the front-runner.

In fact, Biden is in a stronger position now than at any time this year.

Biden turned in his strongest performance to date in last week’s Democratic presidential debate.

For the most part, the ex-veep  avoided the cross-fire among candidates, watching attacks on Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., for cultivating fat-cat donors in a “wine cave.”

As the latest upstart in polling among Iowa caucus-goers (the Hawkeye State’s caucuses will be held Feb. 3), it was Buttigieg’s turn in the hot seat. Two months earlier, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was the chief target.

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So far, no Democratic candidate has cracked Biden’s strong support among African-Americans, who are the dominant voting bloc in Southern Democratic primaries. Among the candidates of color expected to challenge Biden for black votes, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is out of the race and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is barely hanging on.

And, for the time being, events have turned in Biden’s favor. The impeachment saga has framed him as Trump’s chief political rival.

Also, the results of the recent British election, in which Conservative Party candidate and Trump clone Boris Johnson demolished socialist Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, served as a warning to Democrats about the dangers of choosing a candidate too far left of center.

Speaking of democratic socialists, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., remains Biden’s principal challenger for the Democratic nomination.

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This is also surprising, for it appeared that Warren had supplanted Sanders as the leader of the party’s liberal wing, sending shivers up the spines of billionaires and CEOs.

However, Warren took most of the political heat for proposing an expensive Medicare-for-All plan, even though Bernie “wrote the damn bill.”

One of the most significant stories of the Democratic nomination process is how Sanders and his movement, which includes U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-N.Y., have driven the policy agenda.

Though there are differences among candidates in their preferred scale and pace of change, the debates have centered on Medicare-for-all, wealth taxes, free college, and the Green New Deal, proposals identified with the Vermont senator.

All the while, Sanders has eluded the scrutiny that newer candidates have received. For example, he has dodged accusations of being the beneficiary of Russian meddling. Russia supported his candidacy in the 2016 Democratic primaries and targeted his supporters in the general election as part of efforts to elect Donald Trump.

Instead, the media chased presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, charged by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with being a Russian favorite. Among the Democratic candidates, Gabbard received the most positive campaign coverage from Russian media in 2019.

If there is anything we can learn from Democratic Party politics in 2019, it is that nobody knows what will happen in 2020.

Though we think we know the outcome of an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, we don’t know whether President Trump will be helped, harmed, or fatally wounded politically.

Seven months before the Democratic National Convention meets, we don’t know whether Biden, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, or someone from the remainder of the field will be the Democratic presidential nominee.

We don’t know how events – domestic or international, natural or man-made – will shape voters’ minds and the course of the campaign.

Ominously, we don’t know what the state of American democracy will be this time next year.

God Bless America in 2020.

Capital-Star Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. His work appears biweekly. Readers may follow him on Twitter at @McLeleF.

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Fletcher McClellan
Fletcher McClellan

Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @mcclelef.