If Democrats want to win, they should start looking beyond the usual suspects
by David Burstein (vanityfair.com, May 22, 2017)
Since their unimaginable (by most people, anyway) defeat on Election Day, one question above all has haunted Democrats: Who, besides Tom Hanks and The Rock, can beat Trump in 2020? Given Trump’s record-low approval rating and general inability to stop drawing attention to his own scandals and weaknesses, most Democrats assume he is weaker than ever.But Trump is pursuing the same strategy he pursued throughout the campaign: providing fuel to a hungry base to ensure their overwhelming turnout. In fact, his ability to maintain a floor of nearly 40 percent support, despite his countless missteps, can be seen as a sign of strength, not weakness. If those voters turn out in force again in 2020, they will give him almost all the support he needs to win re-election. Meanwhile, Democrats appear locked in a self-defeating pattern. They hate Trump so much that they have begun policing their own ranks for any signs of insufficient outrage. Unfortunately, playing to the ideological base doesn’t typically work for Democrats, since their base supporters are far less likely than their counterparts on the right to actually vote. As a result, there is a real risk of a McGovern-like moment, with Democrats overplaying their hand against an unpopular Republican president by nominating a candidate who is too far left to win a general election. With Election Day fewer than 1,300 days away, Democrats have no clear front-runner and no clear party leader. If Democrats want to be sure to win in 2020, they should start looking beyond such usual suspects as Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker. The best way for Democrats to win is to beat Trump at his own game by choosing a candidate with equally unorthodox advantages. A candidate like… George Clooney. I know what you’re thinking: totally crazy idea, plus he’d never do it. Well, the latter might be true, but a consideration of his credentials shows that Clooney has exactly what the Democrats need to win. First and foremost, Clooney is one of the few people alive who could rival Trump’s ability to attract wall-to-wall media coverage. Without that, it’s difficult to see how meaningful critiques of Trump have any hope of breaking through the daily noise. Clooney is also beloved by liberals, and he’s old enough, serious enough, and has spent enough time with Democratic Party leaders across the spectrum that he could be taken seriously in a Democratic Party primary. His work with the U.N. and in Darfur also give him substantive foreign-policy experience, especially when compared to Trump. As a political outsider, Clooney — like Trump — has no voting record he can be held to, an advantage Trump will no longer enjoy in 2020. Clooney’s attractiveness and embrace by the Establishment would enable him to woo voters and get under Trump’s skin. Clooney’s heartthrob status could also help him chip away at Trump’s 54 percent vote total among white women, a category where just a few points could tilt the whole race. And Clooney’s recent marriage to a superstar international human-rights lawyer, who happens to be expecting twins later this year, could bring picture-perfect charm to the campaign trail. Voters will enjoy picturing this group in the White House. While he splits his time between Lake Como, England, and California these days, Clooney grew up in Kentucky, where his father ran for Congress in 2004. Clooney’s roots in Trump country suggest he may exhibit a better understanding than, say, Hillary Clinton of what motivates workers in coal country. Granted, it’s unlikely that the notoriously private Clooney would actually step into the race. So are there any other, more likely candidates whose profiles resemble his enough to give them an edge? It’s hard to think of a sitting Democrat who has the combination of charisma, outsider status, and primary viability that will be needed to truly take on Trump. While Bernie Sanders has near universal name recognition and Elizabeth Warren has political celebrity, Trump’s celebrity is unmatched in politics. The candidate who is most conspicuously running, Governor Andrew Cuomo, has made shrewd moves to endear himself to progressives on such issues as gay marriage and tuition-free college, but he’s likely to wilt under scrutiny from a Democratic primary electorate. And Cory Booker is already being tarred by the left wing as a “Hillary-lite” candidate with too many ties to Wall Street. While each faces unique challenges, these candidates’ biggest obstacles are their shared status as insider politicians, their existing political baggage, and their conventional approaches to running for office. Tried-and-true methods don’t work against Trump — just look at how easily he dispatched an accomplished field of Republican governors and senators. Just as he did in 2016, Donald Trump is likely to turn the 2020 campaign into a media frenzy played on his turf. Any challengers who can’t match him for media dominance, charisma, name recognition, or outsider status will struggle to even register. If Clooney won’t run, Democrats need to find someone with his qualities who will. Among those more likely to run are Oprah Winfrey, who has as much star power as anybody alive, and Mark Cuban, who became a familiar face and name to many Americans thanks to his work on Shark Tank and ESPN. Though they are lesser-known, Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger and Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz both oversee ubiquitous brands that they could leverage to aid their own candidacies. While a cavalcade of celebrities with no political experience may not be a good thing for democracy, it just might give Democrats their best chance to take the White House in 2020.