The Democratic ticket Trump doesn't want in 2020

Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE’s recent popularity surge in Iowa and New Hampshire has many speculating that President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE could face a Democratic ticket in 2020 that he doesn’t want and fears the most — the South Bend, Ind., mayor and another candidate recently in the spotlight, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard knocks Clinton's jab at Sanders: 'This isn't high school' The data is clear: A woman could win in 2020 'I Like Bernie' hashtag trends after Clinton criticizes Sanders MORE of Hawaii.

Despite what the “experts” might say, it’s certainly possible. Like weather forecasters and economists, political pundits often are proved embarrassingly wrong. Voters from both parties have a tendency to recalibrate rather quickly, and quite unexpectedly, toward candidates they believe actually might have a chance of winning.

In 2004, for example, Democratic voters threw the preening pundits a curveball when, during the primary process, they suddenly tapped on the brakes, took a much longer and harder look at front-runner Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, and turned in the slightly more “establishment” direction of Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDemocratic debates are magnet for lobbyists The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Bring on the brokered convention MORE of Massachusetts.

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Four years later, Democratic primary voters most certainly went counterintuitive again when they bypassed the pundit-approved and -predicted Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump on Clinton's Sanders comments: 'She's the one that people don't like' Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE of New York for the relatively unknown Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina National Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo MORE of Illinois.

The instincts of those primary voters almost won the Democratic Party the White House in 2004 and for sure got them a very popular two-term president in 2008.

In 2016, Republican primary voters made fools of an army of political pundits and pollsters who — even very late into the primary process — declared continually that Donald Trump had no chance of getting the Republican nomination.

Once he became the nominee, many of those same “experts” and Never Trumpers told us he had zero chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Coming up on the end of the third year of his presidency, President Trump still delights in reminding those pundits and pollsters how earth-shatteringly wrong they were.

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Today, many of these same political strategists tell us the Democratic nominee most likely will be either former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE or Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE of Massachusetts.

OK, unless the voters say otherwise — again.

As one who was involved in three winning presidential campaigns, I have watched the ever-evolving Democratic primary campaign for 2020 with growing interest. Over the course of the past year, I’ve discussed with a number of friends and political operatives from both parties that the two Democrats who should strike the most fear in Trump are Buttigieg and Gabbard. 

Gabbard has been in the news lately after Clinton viciously and unfairly attacked her. Even though Gabbard has broken a number of “glass ceilings” and served her country with honor as a member of the United States Army in Iraq and Kuwait, Clinton hinted that she is an asset of the Russians who is being “groomed as a third-party candidate.”

An asset of the Russians? Truly despicable.     

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Gabbard fired back at Clinton, who had no proof to offer for her smear: “Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain.”

As irony would have it, Clinton unintentionally gave Gabbard just the boost she needed to potentially keep her going deep into the primary process.

This primary campaign — like the one in 2008 — is starting to also showcase another young, smart, well-spoken and relatively inexperienced candidate from the Midwest: Mayor Pete. He began his political career as a volunteer for Obama in 2007, before joining the Navy Reserve and serving the nation with distinction in Afghanistan. He’s also openly and proudly gay.     

Because of that, many are asking the expected question: Is America ready to elect a gay president? The answer, for me at least, is that America is more than ready to do so, just as the nation was more than ready to elect a black president and is more than ready to elect a female president.     

As Obama demonstrated, it still comes down to the candidate — can he or she connect with the American people? And Democratic voters finally are paying attention to the connections that Gabbard and Buttigieg can make, she as a more centrist candidate and he more left of center.

As a package, those two candidates, with their various skill sets and experiences, do speak to a great many communities and demographics across the country. Two young veterans who served their nation in Iraq and Afghanistan now are catching the attention of American voters.

If I were in the Trump White House or campaign, that ticket would send chills down my spine.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.