Now that the general election of 2016 has come and gone, Democrats need to start thinking about 2020. No doubt amongst their dream candidates the new standard-bearer would be Elizabeth Warren, primarily due to her strong populist following within the party which will be needed to combat populist Republican Donald Trump. Her primary message of fixing income inequality was carried by Bernie Sanders to great success in the primaries. Messaging and building a coalition would certainly be two major factors going forward for any Democratic challenger in 2020, but they are only part of the answer, as guiding policy principles would complete the picture.
The message would be a starting point because, as Hillary Clinton learned, you can’t win without one. If nothing else, Donald Trump had a clear message addressing white working-class disenfranchisement. He was able to appeal to this contingent by appealing to their insecurities based on a lack of jobs and opportunities and then painting a bleak picture of an overreaching government that had gone out of its way to ignore them while empowering minorities and other special interest groups. By telling them what was wrong and who was to blame, he channeled their anger and built a rapport with them. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s message seemed to be M.I.A.
Donald Trump was able to draw in white working-class voters based on the message of a stagnant economy, which had not only failed to produce jobs for them, but in fact lost jobs. Much of the blame was directed at illegal immigrants taking jobs from American workers. Once Trump hooked his future coalition with the message, he introduced abbreviated policy solutions. For instance, in order to save and create American jobs, he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deport illegal immigrants who are taking jobs. He would also slap a 35 percent tariff on U.S.-based companies who had moved their operations abroad. Mr. Trump did not elaborate much further on these policy solutions, and this was by design. After all, why bother providing details when you’ve already hooked your loyal fan base with half-baked resolutions? After all, who amongst his supporters would care about where the arbitrary 35 percent tariff came from? Or, where the money for building a wall would come from? Or, how do you deport 11 million men, women, and children? Those would be questions for another day.
Aptly, Mr. Trump did not stop there. Take his positions on healthcare and terrorism, for instance. He would immediately repeal and replace Obamacare with something “terrific”, skipping over the salient details such as cost and content of the new plan itself. Also, on the issue of national security, he would establish a registry for Muslims coming into the country, again skirting specifics such as the legality and application of such a move. The bottom line is that guiding principles on policy, not details, are what is most effective during a presidential election.
The message conveyed by Trump was the opening salvo in reaching and building a coalition that defied geographical, gender, and organizational bounds. Even more astounding was this coalition enabled him to breach the “Blue Wall” of states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan while peeling off union support from the Democrats.
Elizabeth Warren has a powerful populist message of her own that addresses the growing income inequality felt by middle-class and poverty-stricken Americans. The message conveys a way forward by holding the greedy accountable, fixing Washington, standing up for fair trade, raising the minimum wage, and protecting people’s entitlement benefits. Best of all it strikes all racial, cultural, and gender boundaries, giving a higher ceiling to this coalition. Much like President Obama’s message, Warren’s would fire up the base while encouraging disenchanted voters to come out again.
Her policy positions, although more expansive than Trump’s, can be abbreviated as well to appeal to non-politicos. For instance, on the issue of income inequality, she has proposed to raise the minimum wage. In regard to unions, she suggested reinforcing and enforcing current labor law, so that workers can organize. On jobs, she endorses making deep investments in infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and tunnels, as well as instituting fair trade policies for the American worker. In relation to corporate greed, she’s an advocate for breaking up the biggest banks to lessen their influence, regulating predatory lenders, and closing corporate tax loopholes. These are all policy positions that can be easily conveyed to the same working-class folks Trump appealed to.
As a career public servant and academic well-versed in policy, along with a well-defined message and built-in coalition, Elizabeth Warren would be the perfect foil to Donald Trump’s brand of populism. The difference between them is she actually believes just about every word she says, endearing her even further to a hungry base. Standing on her own message of fixing income inequality, she has admonished corporate greed and corruption, promoted worker rights, stood for universal healthcare, affordable education, and civil liberties.