The presidential primaries will soon be heating up, and the betting has already begun over which Democrat has the “money advantage,” who’s sufficiently “moderate,” and who can “beat Trump” (assuming he’ll be running again).
Pardon me, but if you want to know who will be the next president, these are exactly the wrong criteria.
First: raising money from big donors is far less important than it used to be. In recent campaigns, Democratic challengers have drawn in millions from small donors — just look at Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Beto O'Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018.
Grassroots activism has also become critical to getting out the vote.
The next president will be the candidate best able to inspire such activism. After years of Trump, voters will be especially inspired by someone with the character and temperament to lead the nation – a person of modesty, honesty and integrity, who puts the country’s interests above his or her own, and above the interests of Wall Street and big corporations. Someone who will honor and protect our democracy, who will restore America’s moral authority in the world.
Second: Labels like “moderate” have become meaningless. Over the last several decades the Republican Party has pushed the playing field of American politics so far to the right that the new moderate “center” is now where the old conservative goalposts used to be.
Today’s biggest political divide doesn’t fit on the old playing field, anyway. In both parties, it’s between the establishment and anti-establishment. And almost all the political energy is anti-establishment.
If you want to know who will be the next president, look to who can best harness that energy across the political spectrum. Someone capable of reversing the forces that created Trump. I’m not referring just to racism and xenophobia, but also the widening chasm between the few who are succeeding and the many who have been left behind.
Someone who will take on the profound imbalance of wealth and power that has grown in recent decades not just under Republican administrations but also under Democrats. Who will mobilize the poor, working class, and middle class into a countervailing power to change that system.
Who will unite races and creeds and ethnic groups to attack concentrated political and economic privilege. Who will get big money out of politics. Who will demand that the wealthy pay their fair share to keep American going. Who will empower ordinary workers to get a better deal, and expand prosperity and political rights to the many instead of the privileged few.
The third criterion of the early presidential handicappers is who can beat Trump. Should the candidate go low by imitating him, or go high by appealing to the best in America?
It’s a meaningless and endless inquiry. In reality, the person who will beat Trump will possess the two attributes mentioned above: the character, integrity, vision to lead the nation, and the ability to mobilize the many who have been left behind.
No more will be needed, but also no less.