Aligning the 2020 Democrats with Their 2016 Republican Counterparts

Depending on what one considers a “major candidate,” the 2020 Democratic field, at some point, became the largest presidential field in American history. The last record holder did not hold the crown for long. Now relegated to “second largest” status is the 2016 Republican Primary.

I thought it might be fun — and perhaps even predictive — if we compare each 2020 Democratic candidates to a 2016 Republican candidate. Though ideologically there will be almost no crossover, if I get creative enough I think I can find total alignment.

Step one is to pick a number of candidates. The 2016 Republican Primary had 17 major candidates — that is, 17 candidates who qualified for at least one debate. In 2020, however, most estimates of the official 2020 Democratic candidates (like that of the New York Times and Wikipedia) are already in the low 20s.

Therefore, step two: I need to trim the current Democratic field to 17. If we start with the list of 21 major candidates according to the New York Times, the easy eliminations are Wayne Messam and Marianne Williamson, the two most extreme long-shots. That brings us down to 19. To cut another two, I’ve decided to eliminate the two most recent random Congressmen to join the race — Seth Moulton and Tim Ryan — who might have joined too late to have enough time to meet the debate qualifications if having the requisite polling and total donors become joint-thresholds. That gets us down to 17.

And below are those 17 compared to their 2016 Republican counterparts. Enjoy!

1. 2020 John Delaney is… 2016 Jim Gilmore

Admit it: you’re lost without hyperlinks. Who are these guys, am I right? Delaney’s campaign has been around for nearly two years and he can’t get above one percent in a poll. Gilmore, similarly, also did a great job keeping his campaign a secret. Like Delaney, Gilmore almost never polled above a random percent here and there.

Two bonuses: both men are from the Chesapeake region (Delaney was a Maryland Congressman, Gilmore the Governor of Virginia) and, most significantly, both men have monosyllabic first names that start with J.

2. Michael Bennet is… Rick Santorum

Despite these two Senators hailing from battlegrounds (Bennet is from Colorado, Santorum from Pennsylvania), they stood almost no chance to win the nomination. Yes, I’m referring to Bennet’s campaign in the past tense.

3. Tulsi Gabbard is… Rand Paul

They’re a dying breed: two major presidential candidates who put non-intervensionism front and center. They also both have great hair.

4. Jay Inslee is… Lindsey Graham

If you enjoy high profile government officials — one the Governor of Washington, the other a Senator from South Carolina — imploring the American people to heed their warnings, then you would enjoy the Inslee and Graham campaigns. Inslee’s campaign is built around the inevitable doom that climate change will bring, while Graham warned us against voting for Donald Trump, whom he called “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” who “doesn’t represent” the Republican Party and is neither “conservative” nor “fit to be president.” (Graham has since undergone quite the conversion.)

5. Eric Swalwell is… Bobby Jindal

So… smarmy?

6. John Hickenlooper is… George Pataki

Ouch! But they were both governors who claimed to be pragmatic problem-solvers that could appeal to the other side. And, like Pataki, Hickenlooper is unlikely to gain traction.

7. Julian Castro is… Ben Carson

Carson polled a lot better than Castro will, but they have two key things in common:

  • A) They were/are a lone ethnicity in a crowded sea of faces (Carson was 2016’s only black candidate, Castro is 2020’s sole Latino); and
  • B) Both put me to sleep whenever they start talking.

8. Andrew Yang is… Carly Fiorina

Similar to the previous comparison, both own unique aesthetics; Yang is the race’s only Asian-American, Fiorina was the 2016 Republican Primary’s only woman. Moreover, both come with business backgrounds rather than a political one. Yang has also experienced a surprising surge in interest, not totally unlike Fiorina’s spike after tremendous debate performances.

9. Kirsten Gillibrand is… Rick Perry

I’m not sure who I just insulted more.

10. Pete Buttigieg is… Mike Huckabee

Boy I wish I could put this comparison in front of Huckabee’s eyes and watch him squirm. Regardless of that satisfying response, these were/are both charismatic, gregarious candidates who are well-versed in talking about their faith. The fact that one is gay and the other sees homosexuality as sinful is just icing on the cake (made by a baker who has to sell to sinful homosexuals).

11. Beto O’Rourke is… John Kasich

Both candidates would rather not attack the opposing party, and they side with the other party more often than their party’s base would like. (Kasich took heat for sometimes breaking with conservative orthodoxy, while O’Rourke has voted with Republicans more than any Democratic candidate.) But both also stand/stood great chances to win general election crossover voters as a result… if they get/got that far.

12. Amy Klobuchar is… Chris Christie

If I had to guess which candidate would make the best president in both fields, these are the two I would guess. (John Kasich and Mayor Pete are my runners up. While I still worry about the leap from South Bend Mayor to the presidency, I do have faith in his curiosity to figure out the job. He’d probably read whatever it took to understand something, which, incidentally, contrasts the approach of President Trump, someone who prefers passing his time with whatever the opposite of reading is.)

Klobuchar and Christie are not only both sharp, but both won over voters who normally don’t care for their party. (Christie was a two-term Republican governor of dark blue New Jersey, while Klobuchar won over a thousand Minnesota precincts that had tipped to Donald Trump.) I think that’s more impressive, and relevant to the job of president, than Republicans who have won over conservatives or Democrats who have won over liberals. In fact, FiveThirtyEight recently charted Klobuchar as one of the most popular Senators in the country, a fact that’s underscored when factoring in the partisan lean of a state.

Of course, the willingness to work with the other party — think Governor Christie welcoming President Obama to post-Sandy New Jersey or the pragmatic Amy Klobuchar throwing cold water on fiery progressive ideas — made/makes it difficult to win their respective party’s primary. (For more on this trend, read The Slow Death of the Partisan Moderate.)

13. Elizabeth Warren is… Scott Walker

Thanks to their pure ideologies appealing to the base of their respective parties, both were early polling favorites for the nomination, but both were eventually passed by other candidates. Walker, however, didn’t seem to have fight in him and was among the earliest to withdraw. It appears Warren is willing to claw her way back. We’ll see.

14. Cory Booker is… Jeb Bush

I wrestled with the Jeb Bush comparison. Were it a month or two ago, I probably would have aligned him with Joe Biden. (Both were early polling leaders, represented the old guard, depended on larger donors, and, most relevantly, have the same initials.) However, recent developments have me scrambling the last few comparisons. At first glance, the Bush-Booker alignment makes little sense; after all, Bush was notoriously labeled “Low Energy” while Booker seems to have more energy than the core of the sun. That being said, they do share a key similarity: they’re the candidate who most reminds us of the party’s previous president. In Bush’s case, he was an extension of his older brother. In Booker’s, the Obama comparison is obvious; both are African American Senators who orient their movement around optimism. Booker has to hope Democratic voters in 2020 are more interested in turning back the clock eight years than Republican voters were in 2016.

15. Kamala Harris is… Marco Rubio

I actually got the idea for today’s post from a recent comparison I made between the two:

“As the pre-primaries primary has evolved, there’s this nagging feeling that Kamala Harris is the 2016 Marco Rubio of the 2020 race. Both were superstar first-term Senators that made a ton of sense on paper. (Indeed, Rubio was my pick to win the nomination right up until the New Hampshire Primary.) Might Harris follow Rubio’s disappointing result of never converting the potential into something meaningful?”

So far, it’s looking that way. Just because something makes sense on paper doesn’t mean voters buy into it. It’s early yet, but that’s what we kept saying about the Rubio Campaign until it ran out of time.

2. Bernie Sanders is… Ted Cruz
1. Joe Biden is… Donald Trump

Dating back to 2016, I can’t count the number of times I and many others have compared the Sanders and Trump candidacies — usually due to their vocal, mostly white, mostly male bases of antiestablishment support — but part of the aforementioned alignment scramble had me switch my Trump comparison to Joe Biden.

I do think a Sanders-Cruz comparison holds up pretty well. We can consider both of them pretty hardcore ideologues. Cruz’s Constitutional conservatism made him one of the most far-right Senators in the country. He came from a dark red home state, Texas, and could use his ostensibly safe seat to launch attacks at the establishment and other moderate Republicans. Similarly, Sanders’s democratic-socialism make him one of the most far-left Senators, and coming from a deep blue state frees him up to launch salvos against centrists and establishmentarians.

Finally, both were/are able to ride these advantages to a top-two finish… but not top-one.

Instead, standing in their way are their respective primary’s polling front-runners. Both had more partisan members of their party guaranteeing these foes would fall apart once people realized they didn’t represent the party’s values. Both had the longevity of their polling leads doubted, but over time they both pulled/are pulling away from the field. Both get a disproportionate amount of TV coverage; though much of it is critical, any kind of attention seemed/seems to embolden their own supporters while crowding out all opponents. Both claim they can be potent candidates in crucial rust belt swing states thanks to their appeal to older, working class swing voters without a college degree. Both were charged with personal impropriety, and both sets of supporter said We. Don’t. Care.

If recent history repeats itself, Joe Biden will be the 2020 Democratic nominee, and he’ll then go up against his 2016 predecessor.

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