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The Memo: Diverse Democratic field lines up for 2020

The Memo: Diverse Democratic field lines up for 2020
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Explosive issues of race, gender and identity are set to take center stage in the 2020 presidential race as the most diverse field of Democrats competes to take on President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE.

Debates on these matters, coupled with the intensifying volatility of politics in general, is likely to lead to another polarizing presidential contest in 2020. 

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden officially clinches Electoral College votes with California certification Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-Calif.) entered the race Monday, joining Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCan Biden find a third way between Trumpism and Obama-era globalism? Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity Schwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Social media responds to Harris making history: 'I feel like our ancestors are rejoicing' MORE (D-N.Y.). Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who is Latino, has also declared his candidacy, as has Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTrump doubles down on Section 230 repeal after GOP pushback Six people whose election wins made history Next Congress expected to have record diversity MORE (D-Hawaii), a native of American Samoa.

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Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerJudge whose son was killed by gunman: 'Federal judiciary is under attack' Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Policy center calls for new lawmakers to make diverse hires MORE (D-N.J.), one of only three black senators — along with Harris and Republican Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDemocrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Pfizer unveils detailed analysis of COVID-19 vaccine & next steps GOP senators congratulate Harris on Senate floor MORE (S.C.) — is widely expected to enter the race soon. A fourth female senator, Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate committee advances bill for national Latino museum Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Scammers step up efforts to target older Americans during pandemic MORE (D-Minn.), is also a potential candidate.

Progressive strategists are confident that the diversity of the Democratic field will help the party — in part by providing such a stark contrast with Trump, whose appeal is strongest with white men.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said, “These candidates are not running around on ‘I am woman,’ ‘I am African-American.’ But if you don’t have a party that reflects the array of talent in the country, that reflects the array of perceptions in the country, then you aren’t going to win elections.” 

“What we are seeing with the Democratic presidential primary is reflective of the party but also reflective of the country,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the chief public affairs officer of MoveOn, a progressive group. “When you have people like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, you have all these people coming to the table … and then you have a president now going into his third year of office who has basically taken on rhetoric that is hateful — that hurts poor people, people of color, Muslim communities.”

Trump and his allies have long pushed back against allegations of racial bias.

In recent days, the president has drawn attention to an NPR-Marist poll that showed his approval rating rising sharply among Latinos, even while the controversy over the border wall reached a new pitch of intensity amid the partial government shutdown. 

“Wow, just heard that my poll numbers with Hispanics has gone up 19%, to 50%,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “That is because they know the Border issue better than anyone, and they want Security, which can only be gotten with a Wall.”

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Trump backers also note that his performance with Latino voters in 2016 was better than that of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Romney blasts Trump lack of leadership during pandemic: 'It's a great human tragedy' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal MORE — despite Trump often facing criticism for inflammatory rhetoric. Trump also won a majority of white female voters.

Some on the right have also suggested that Democrats’ focus on issues around diversity — “identity politics,” as conservatives disparagingly call it — could backfire if they seem distant from the economic concerns of the white working-class voters who propelled Trump to victory in 2016.

Stephen Bannon, Trump’s onetime chief strategist, said back in 2017, “The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. … I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

There can be, to be sure, tricky choices for Democrats when it comes to issues of identity. 

Warren’s claims to Native American ancestry drew mockery from Trump for a long time. He has repeatedly jabbed her as “Pocahontas.” 

But when she tried to settle the issue via a DNA test, the results of which were released in October, the move was widely perceived to have backfired. The results showed that Warren had a Native American ancestor six to 10 generations ago, and even supporters worried that the Massachusetts senator had played into Trump’s hands.

Still, Democrats insist that Trump’s record is so divisive that it will eventually cost him. They cite issues including his early encouragement of fake “birther” theories about former President Obama, his remarks following deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, and his willingness to keep about a quarter of the federal government shuttered in pursuit of his border wall.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi argued that a diverse Democratic field would expose “a key problem, not just for Trump but a bigger, longer-term problem for the Republican Party.”

Trippi contended that the GOP has been “shrinking in terms of base support” and becoming increasingly dependent on older white men, who make up a decreasing share of the population.

Similar concerns have been heard at times among Republicans. 

GOP strategist Whit Ayres, who has argued for years that the Republican Party needs to change to reflect demographic shifts in American society, told The Hill after last year’s midterm elections that even though Republicans were becoming more dominant in rural areas, Democrats were making substantial inroads into “the suburban areas that for many years have formed the backbone of Republican victories.”

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential  candidates have been leaning into their own diverse biographies. 

Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, launched her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and within hours spoke at Howard University, her alma mater and one of the most famous of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. 

Harris’s campaign logo also echoes that of the trailblazing Shirley Chisholm, who became the first black woman elected to Congress as well as the first to seek a major party’s presidential nomination in 1972. Chisholm, who died in 2005, represented New York’s 12th District from 1969 to 1983.

“We already have three female senators running — that would have been unthinkable not too long ago,” said Jean-Pierre. 

“ ‘Identity politics’ is a pejorative that [conservatives] use to try to turn something that should be a plus into a negative,” she added. “We’re reaching out to everyone, on issues that affect everyone — not just the 35 percent that forms the base, which is what they’re doing.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.