Squint, and it looked like Iowa, December 2019 – except the setting was a hotel basement ballroom in downtown D.C. on Tuesday, with the 2020 Democratic field doing its first dry run.
“We have to continue to be able to move this movement and moment to full realization of our roles in the economy, owning our ambitions,” said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “What President Trump stands for undermines everything we value – whether you care about women’s rights or LGBTQ rights, clear air, clear water – literally everything we care about is at risk with this president.”
“I believe we have the ideas to make a change, but what we’re lacking is a commitment. The moral sense of urgency,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. “We in this country have a common pain, but we are lacking a common purpose.”
Not everyone came: there were too many prospective candidates for them all to get speaking slots at the Center for American Progress’ Ideas Conference (“BIG IDEAS START HERE,” read the big sign behind the stage) and still have time for bathroom breaks. Only a few hundred people were in the audience. Fewer kept up on the livestream.
This is the footsie stage of the will-he-or-she-run game, long before the endless presidential forums and debates begin. But the donors and insiders and reporters on hand – and the candidates and their aides themselves – had the rare chance to compare back-to-back potential White House contenders.
Though CAP was a de facto Bill Clinton administration-in-exile, and then as a Hillary Clinton administration-in-waiting, there was less tacking to the supposed center than reimagining what progressivism means and how it can be reinterpreted and reapplied.
“The oligarchy in this country, whose greed is insatiable, is destroying Lincoln’s vision of America, our vision of America, and is moving us toward a government of the few, by the few, and for the few,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Our job as a party is to win elections – but that’s just the starting point. Our bigger job is to help America fulfill the promise of democracy itself, the promise that this is a country where everybody gets a chance-no matter who you are, where you come from, where you live, or what you think about the issues of the day,” said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who in addition to talking up politics announced she would put $175,000 of her campaign cash into the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and campaigns for state legislature seats.
The 2020 hopefuls acted confident that the question is not whether they’ll win in the midterms, but how big the wins will be. They felt liberated from the caution of Hillary Clinton, like the country is already with them in the argument against Donald Trump.
They also know that in a field as big as this is likely to be, they’re going to need to stick out.
There were the presumed frontrunners, and there were the maybes, the talked about, the sometimes wished for.
“I don’t talk about Trump voters and Clinton voters, I don’t talk about white voters and black voters. I talk about voters, and I talk about workers,” said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro gave a speech about the currency of brainpower. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio talked about seizing the opportunity for bold ideas. Billionaire banker and activist Tom Steyer spoke about stirring a coalition of progressives “who have each other’s backs.” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee warned of the “monster of climate change,” and pledged, “we are going to make sure Donald Trump’s administration is a blip in history and we are going to make sure America rejoins its leadership position in the world.”
Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy gave an impassioned speech about health care as a metaphor for the country failing to live up to its obligations.
But for the most part, Trump was more the backdrop than the conversation. When MSNBC host Chris Hayes asked a panel how worried, on a scale of 1 to 10, they were about American democracy, California Rep. Ted Lieu said 7, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Justice Department official Sally Yates agreed that it was more like 5 or 6. When Booker hit a section of his speech on America’s failing investment in itself, he didn’t go after Trump directly, asking, “What are we going to hand off to millennials and Generation Z when it comes to American greatness?”
“The president of the United States lies for sport and gets away with it,” Warren said. “Meanwhile, Russia launches an information warfare campaign against our democracy-and also gets away with it. “
Amid the endlessly replenished cookies in the hall outside the ballroom, there were both murmurs of hope and eye rolls wondering what the point of the day was. But they agreed on this: the pundit obsession with the Democrats needing a “message” was dumb. They’ve got a lot of messages, a lot of ideas. They just aren’t sure any of the people they saw Tuesday, or the ones likely to run who weren’t there, will be able to get voters to buy into one of them.
“The Times They Are a-Changing” played during lunch.
“Hard Day’s Night” went on when the event ended and the lights went up.
Be First to Comment