The 2024 Power Rankings Debut!: Theme & Democrats

As promised, it’s time to debut the 2024 Power Rankings. Before I get into the candidates and their initial tiers, however, it’s time to announce PPFA’s theme for its 2024 Power Rankings. Four years ago, I used the different categories of bodies in our solar system. Are you ready for this cycle’s theme? I think you’ve waited long enough.

This year’s theme will be…


As the Vice President of an informal, six-member chess club for the last 21 years — that’s right, our chess club is old enough to drink! — I could not be more excited to mix two of my greatest passions. (Our chess club, by the way, is named after the most special of chess moves: En Passant. Our members are called Passants, and we sign off our emails with “In Passing.” Inexplicably, five of us are married to real live women and the other one does more than okay for himself.)

So how will this work? Most importantly, chess pieces will lend themselves to our tiers:

  • Bottom tier: the pawns — minor pieces that lack the strength of the others, but perhaps they’ll get promoted.
  • Mid-bottom tier: mid-pieces (knights and bishops) — stronger and more dangerous than pawns, but not as valuable as the pieces to come.
  • Mid-top tier: rooks — potent pieces that have the potential to cause some damage, although they’ll need some space to move around.
  • Top tier: the royalty — kings and queens.

I may need to subdivide those tiers at times depending on the situation. (In the 2020 cycle, I sometimes split “dwarf planets” into “known” and “unknown” dwarf planets, and I sometimes split the giant planets into “gas giants” and the lesser “ice giants.”) This time around, I can see myself splitting up the king and queen, the knights and bishops, and even the weaker pawns from the more dangerous “passed pawns,” but we’ll need to see how the primaries evolve.

Okay, so that’s the theme. Now it’s time for the rankings. First up is the Democratic Primary. I’ll save the more open Republican Primary for its own post later this week.

Frankly, the very fact that the Democratic Primary is getting any attention at all is a reflection of President Biden’s perceived position. I wasn’t doing a Republican Power Rankings in 2020, nor a Democratic Power Ranking in 2012. In both those nominations, the incumbent presidents — Trump and Obama, respectively — were shoo-ins. Biden, although a heavy favorite, feels like no such guarantee. On his first day in office, the 78-year-old Biden was already the oldest president in history. If he completes his second term, he’ll leave the Oval Office at the age of 86.

I mean… eighty-six? Isn’t that stretching credulity?

Many Democrats think so. Poll after poll suggests the prospect of a renomination worries his own party. A recent AP poll found that only 37% of Democrats want him to give it another go. NBC News just released a poll that found 51% of Democrats hope he doesn’t. These are not numbers we’re accustomed to seeing for incumbent presidents.

Yet, the President probably coasts to the nomination for a simple reason: there is no heir apparent. Over on the Republican side, Ron DeSantis is just sitting there; he’s as next in line to the Republican throne as Prince William is to Britain’s. But for the Democrats? Vice President Kamala Harris has become a Veepish punchline. Two-time runner up Bernie Sanders was born before the Pearl Harbor attack. Iowa caucus winner Pete Buttigieg has been Secretary of Transportation at the absolute worst time to be Secretary of Transportation. Elizabeth Warren is Elizabeth Warren. Biden might well feel he must run again, not only for the good of his party, but with Donald Trump looming as the nominee, for the good of the country.

If Biden gets nominated, Democrats better hope Trump does too. And vice versa, frankly. If either of the old guys gets nominated, if the other party goes young I think that other party is a pretty solid favorite. Americans, independents in particular, want to move on from these two men. I think Ron DeSantis, for example, could obliterate Biden in a campaign and on a debate stage. He’d leave the President looking over the hill, almost totally outwitted. I’d say the same about Trump against any number of prime-aged Democrats. Biden’s best hope is Trump, and Trump’s best hope is Biden.

This reality has prompted some Democrats to challenge Biden, but as of yet no one of too much significance reveals themselves as a threat. Nonetheless, these Power Rankings will include names that aren’t running but who would be notable contenders were Biden to surprisingly announce he’s withdrawing his name from consideration.

But enough with the context. It’s time to debut…

The 2024 Democratic Primary Power Rankings

Tier 0: Not Even Pawns

As of this writing, Ballotopedia lists 96 people have officially registered as candidates for the Democratic nomination. (The current number for the Republican Party is 197.) There may be serious people among them, but nearly all are not serious candidates. This last sentence is embodied by Joe Exotic of “Tiger King” fame.

Tier 5: Pawns

For today’s purposes, these are the only two declared candidates with a national brand.

#17. Author and activist, Marianne Williamson: She’s back! Officially a candidate since March 4, she’ll try to best her performance from 2020, when she didn’t even make it to Iowa after competing as little more than an SNL punchline. In an open field, she might tally a couple polling points from anti-Biden Democrats, but we can’t expect much more than that. She’s only broken through with a single pollster, and that was with a single point.

#16. Author, activist, lawyer, and Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Jr.: Few last names are bigger in American politics, so he brings a bit of gravitas. He also has a knack for the oratory that made his father and uncle such titans back in the 1960s. On the other hand, with his willingness to challenge the Democratic establishment and media censorship, combined with his embrace of what Democrats would call conspiratorial, anti-vax rhetoric, he’s pretty much set up to be this cycle’s Tulsi Gabbard — every Republicansfavorite Democrat, which means few Democrats’ favorite Democrat. The latter is the more relevant title in a Democratic Primary.

Tier 4: Mid-pieces

These bishops and rooks become game-winners if the big pieces are off the board. However, I don’t think there’s a chance any of these politicians declare their candidacy unless Biden announces he’s not running or becomes (further) incapacitated. If that eventuality were to occur, they’d be strong candidates. I’m going to list them alphabetically rather than meaninglessly rank them, so let’s just call them tied for #8, or #8 through #15 in some order. (I said more about each of them here.)

  • Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown
  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
  • Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • California Governor Gavin Newsome
  • Colorado Governor Jared Polis
  • Georgia Senator Rafael Warnock
  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Tier 3: Rooks

One can’t help but shake the feeling that these big names, unlike the above tier, might challenge Biden, elevating them to a tier of their own. Like a rook, if the board is fairly open, they can really bother the king. I doubt they run… but I wouldn’t rule it out.

  • #7. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: She turns a Constitutionally-eligible 35 a month before election day, she’s the second most famous democratic-socialist in the country after the ancient Bernie Sanders, and she hasn’t endorsed Biden’s 2024 candidacy. She’s also taken some heat from the Left for supporting the Biden Administration in Ukraine, and she seems to generally reflect the Left’s position that Biden should ignore the federal courts when the Left thinks the ruling is bad (which, you can imagine, is a position that really steams the Constitution-loving PPFA). A challenge to Biden might show her lefty donors she hasn’t become corrupted by Washington. Plus, she’s been endorsed by Cardi B. But is she a threat for the nomination? Nah.
  • #6. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders: He’s been generally complimentary of Biden, but we have two precedents of him willing to challenge the establishment’s favorite because he hoped it’d make sure that favorite speaks to the issues about which the Left cares. He might, in a tame way, do it again.
  • #5. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker: Of course, with Biden’s great weakness being his advanced age, Sanders’s even more advanced age is not the way to take advantage. If Biden is toppled, it’ll be by a vigorous, young-but-not-too-young candidate who can win over the African American community that has chosen the Democratic nominee for decades. I’ve already made my case for Booker as the most realistic person to both make the challenge and actually win.

Tier 2: Queens

  • #4. 2016 Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton
  • #3. Former First Lady Michelle Obama
  • #2: Vice President Kamala Harris

(It’s a happy accident that the queens are all female. In this tier, just like the early days of my chess club, sex is not a requirement.) Clinton and Obama are here not because I expect them to run, but because if they did run they’d generate as much electricity as any living Democrat except their Constitutionally ineligible husbands. They both exist in the “so crazy it just might work” category.

As for the Vice President, I’m on the record as her being a weak candidate, not only in 2020 but also in a potential 2024 bid. However, if the general consensus and I are right that Biden is going to run again and if so he almost certainly wins the nomination, there’s still a chance that something could go wrong with his health late in the process, after primary season. If he either dies, becomes incapacitated, or resigns the presidency due to health reasons, a President Harris slides right in as his successor and likely nominee.

Tier 1: The King

#1: President Joe Biden

Eighteenth century British politician William Blackstone once wrote “That the king can do no wrong is a necessary and fundamental principle of the English constitution.” At times, it seems that’s the way American politicians think of their party’s president. Few dare point out their mistakes or speak openly against them. To them, he’s king.

So far, Joe Biden, despite his weaknesses, has generally been afforded this treatment by the Democratic Party. As long as that’s the case, and unless he announces he’s not running, Biden is the party’s king. Until further notice, the incumbent President is the clear favorite for Democratic nomination.

Next up: the Republican Power Rankings. I hope to see you then.


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