The heartache and distress of the 2016 presidential race still remain as intense as if the election happened yesterday.
If you don’t consider yourself an election junkie, you might find it unfortunate we are now only a little more than a year from the start of the 2020 campaign. Considering the deeply-felt antipathy on the left for President Donald Trump, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be a veritable stampede of Democrats throwing their hats in the primary ring once the November 2018 midterms have concluded. In some ways, it feels as if the election has already begun: President Trump, whose behavior is predictably similar to Candidate Trump, has been holding campaign-style rallies and broadcasting ads. One Democrat, Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, has already declared his candidacy.
Over the next few years, the Democratic Party will have some tough work to do. It will face enormous pressure from its voter base to prevent Trump’s damaging agenda from becoming law. But in order to have a viable message in 2020, it will need to come up with some concrete policy solutions that have more substance than just “nay.” Becoming known just as the “party of no” would surely be detrimental to future success: When a “party of no” reassumes positions of leadership, it is in no position to govern. At a time when Democrats are still plagued with accusations that they remain out-of-touch with the concerns of working-class Americans, it is critical to the survival of the party to build a coalition that can last. The party is in flux, and it’s not clear who speaks for it. The lack of a rising star clearly destined for the bright lights (such as a certain young freshman senator from Illinois), combined with the advanced age of many established Democrats, suggests that the identity of the next presidential nominee is anyone’s guess.
This lack of certainty has led to a proliferation of wildly speculative and lengthy lists of possible contenders from seemingly sure bets such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to long-shots such as Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. Some, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, would be forehead-on-the-keyboard candidates from my perspective. But there’s one name that many commentators have ignored: former Vice-President Al Gore, who reemerged this summer with the release of his second film, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”
Some possible candidates that have been floated, such as Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, have proven themselves to be excellent stewards of their respective offices and would no doubt serve the country extremely well as President. But what they have in policy smarts and capability, they often lack in name recognition, party support, campaign organization and funding necessary to force a contest. Gore has all of the above plus a powerful asset in presidential politics and out-and-out contrast to Trump: credibility. He was a long-serving senator and two-term Vice-President who won the popular vote in a presidential election. There are likely to be few American voters who don’t know his name.
Furthermore, it’s reasonable to argue that Gore would enjoy a relatively high level of favorability among progressive Democrats. Given the events of 2000 and the subsequent Bush v. Gore decision, lingering feelings of injustice and regret about what could have/should have been if only the recount had continued could give Gore an edge. Many Democrats feel that if Gore had been the president we so desperately needed in the 2000s, the U.S. would hold a stronger position in the world not only on climate policy but also abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, no candidate has the combination of credibility and commitment that Gore has when it comes to the existential threat of climate change. Though he’s been out of politics for 17 years, he has never left the fight, proving himself to be the rare politician who cares about the issues more than he loves the game. Gore could make the climate an organizing issue that the Democratic Party so desperately needs: We can’t grow the middle class or address other issues such as education, health care, income inequality and immigration very well if we are fighting wars over diminishing resources or spending billions holding back the rising seas and rebuilding communities following natural disasters.
It would be a mistake, though, to dismiss Gore as a single-issue candidate, who rarely succeed in American politics. His relatively mainstream progressive views would be less likely to alienate more moderate Democrats than those of Sanders, for example. Most importantly, after his long record of political service in the public and private sectors, he would bring smart and proven expeditiousness and an exhaustive familiarity with American political life to the Oval Office. While the biggest obstacle to a Gore candidacy could be Gore himself — he hasn’t suggested that he’s even considering a run — his expertise could be Democrats’ saving grace.