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The Democratic Frontrunner in 2020

The Democratic Frontrunner in 2020

It’s only January of 2017, but we’re probably just weeks away from knowing who the Democratic frontrunner for 2020 will be. That’s because there’s a massive power vacuum in the Democratic Party right now, and Democratic primary voters are already looking for a new hero to counter Donald Trump. And the first chance to actively stop a key part of Trump’s agenda is coming very soon.

No, Democrats can’t really filibuster the repeal of Obamacare (which can be done through reconciliation, 50 votes needed) or Trump’s cabinet appointees (again, 50 votes needed), but they can filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court nominee (60 votes needed). And he’s planning on naming his replacement to Scalia’s seat next week.

That means there’s an opportunity for one plucky Democrat to single-handedly beat Donald Trump where it matters most. It adds up to this: the first Senate Democrat to launch an all-day, talking filibuster on the Senate floor will immediately vault to the top of the Democratic race. 

Of course, you can ask whether any Democrat who wants to be the party’s nominee even wants to be the frontrunner right now. Jeb Bush, Howard Dean, and Rudy Giuliani are just a few of the many candidates who sprung to early leads and only to flame out later. But it’s clear that there is no face of the party right now, and I have never in my political career seen such consensus among everyday Democrats from every wing of the party: they want everything blocked.  

People often forget that Bernie Sanders was a relatively obscure (and easily lampooned) politician until he launched his “Filibernie” back in 2010. It gave him the kind of brief but focused spotlight that laid the foundation to build a nationwide following. And Connecticut’s Chris Murphy enjoyed his own rise to prominence thanks to his 15-hour filibuster on gun control. Such filibusters won’t make you a celebrity, but they do resonate deeply with Democratic primary voters who are unusually fixated on political events. And that’s 80% of the base right now.

It’s not hard to see how such a scenario would play out. Donald Trump names a Scalia-like conservative as his Supreme Court nominee. After the hearings, one brave Senator takes to the floor and says she will stay there until Donald Trump nominates a consensus moderate like Merrick Garland (or better yet, quotes Mitch McConnell saying the next president should decide). Other blue-state Senators under extreme pressure from their voters back home join in on the filibuster. Maybe Republicans and moderate Democrats find a way to cobble together 60 votes to overcome it, but the initiator of the filibuster becomes the de facto leader of the Democratic resistance. Doesn’t really sound like there’s any downside to me.  

And contrary to their claims, Senate Republicans are very unlikely to blow up the filibuster for Supreme Court picks. They don’t have the votes, and more importantly, Republicans know full well that the filibuster is their best friend. It’s an inherently conservative legislative device. Supreme Court Justice Barack Obama would potentially be just four years away.

Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts here, so I could be wrong. But that’s mostly because I’m not sure Senate Democrats in general truly appreciate where their base is right now. I may live in a bubble, but my bubble consists of folks who are reliable Democratic primary voters, and not a single one has expressed anything but disgust for anyone who supports any of Trump’s picks, save maybe now-Defense Secretary James Mattis. Again, we can debate whether voting for Ben Carson in good faith to lead HUD (knowing you have to work with him for four years either way) is the right thing to do for your state or policy-wise, but it’s an absolute no-brainer to vote against every Trump appointee if you’re trying to win over Democrats.  

This is low-hanging fruit that a forward-thinking Senate Democrat with greater ambitions would be foolish not to pick. We’ll see who emerges from the first big fight of 2017 being able to say they stood up to fight when others were ducking for cover. 

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