We’re three days into 2018 and people are already talking about 2020. A critical midterm election is happening at the end of this year, but that’s not stopping the extremely premature speculation — or campaigning, or fundraising — from ramping up about three years out from the next presidential election.
A Politico article Tuesday morning on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “below-the-radar moves that would put her in prime position to run for president” is just the latest example. Beyond Warren, there’s a lot of conjecture, naturally, on the Democratic side: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden lead in a hypothetical 2020 field, and have done nothing — as of yet — to quash any suspicions of possible runs.
Other potential candidates are percolating: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are among those who are building their national profiles, and a slew of governors, House reps, mayors, and other politicians are making trips to early primary states and bulking up their credentials.
It all adds up to what Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti called it, “the why-not-me caucus” of about 40 possible Democrats who think they can take on President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly starting to think ahead to 2020 too, though in some ways he never stopped campaigning. Then there’s the possibility of a challenge within the GOP: Occasional Trump critic Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have been mentioned as possible primary challengers.
As Jeb Bush could probably tell you, this rampant speculation is likely worthless, but here are the potential candidates whose will-they-or-won’t-they moves are going to be scrutinized for the next year or more:
Elizabeth Warren: The Massachusetts senator, a longtime favorite of progressives, has amassed a serious war chest of $12.8 million, reports Debenedetti. Though her supporters have been calling on her to run since 2016, she’s made moves in the past year that indicate she is taking the next presidential contest seriously.
As Debenedetti writes, in addition to raking in cash, she’s reached out to Democratic leaders whom she’s challenged, including former President Barack Obama, and she’s “stocked her political staff with a research team directed to scour her past for political vulnerabilities — an undertaking that appears aimed at a national bid.”
Kirsten Gillibrand: The New York senator has also raised her profile heading into 2018, most notably taking a lead on the #MeToo movement in Congress. She called for her Democratic colleague Sen. Al Franken to resign, and sparred with Trump over his own sexual misconduct allegations. She has shot down 2020 speculation so far, but she’s positioned herself as a vocal opponent of the Trump administration. She racked up the most “no” votes when it came to Trump’s Cabinet picks, and has embraced more progressive positions when she was once seen as a moderate. The New York Times reported in December that Gillibrand had put energy into reaching out to black voters and was also doing quite a bit of fundraising.
Of course, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — despite their ages — are probably still in the lead for 2020. Politico reported in November that Sanders, who will be 79 years old in 2020, has quietly tried to repair some of his 2016 weak points, including his foreign policy credentials. Sanders also had a dry run as a candidate with vocal supporters and a fairly successful campaign model to work from, which could give him a boost.
Biden, the former vice president who will be 77 in 2020, famously didn’t run in 2016 but came close. Since he’s left office he’s gotten a popularity bump, and he hasn’t explicitly ruled out a 2020 run. Biden also created a Super PAC last year, which only makes another presidential bid seem more likely.
Lots of other Democrats want in too
The Democratic field is very, very, very crowded so far. There is one official candidate so far — Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), who announced his candidacy in July 2017.
Sen. Cory Booker has been floated as a presidential candidate before, and appeared on the campaign trail to boost Alabama’s Doug Jones. Sen. Kamala Harris raised her profile in her face-off with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Russia hearings. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)’s name has also been floated, as has that of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who may have appeal in the Rust Belt — though he faces a tough 2018 challenge. He was reportedly considered as one of Hillary Clinton’s veep picks.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has challenged the president, though he might be weighed down by his establishment credentials in a packed field. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is also reportedly thinking about it, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has hinted at a 2020 run. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick might also have his supporters if he decides to leap into the race.
Cities have represented something of a fertile resistance for Trump, and some mayors have also positioned themselves for 2020, including Los Angeles’s Eric Garcetti, who traveled to New Hampshire in August, and New Orleans’s Mitch Landrieu, who made a powerful case for taking down Confederate monuments. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has denied a 2020 run, but he just went to Iowa (and invited Sanders to swear him in for his second term as mayor).
There are others who might also jump in, including former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, an Army vet who ran for a US Senate seat and lost in 2016, and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who just launched a Super PAC.
A few celebrities are in the mix too: Oprah, businessman Mark Cuban — who said there’s a 10 percent chance he’d run, which would definitely annoy Trump — and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. (Although the latter two might not be necessarily be Democrats.)
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — who just embarked on a campaign-like cross-country tour — keep hanging around too.
Donald Trump is the GOP candidate in 2020
Trump filed the paperwork for run for reelection the day he became president, and many of his campaign-style rallies have added to the sense that he’s permanently campaigning. His rally talking points and Twitter feed go after the same targets as in 2016 — the Washington “swamp,” Democrats, “Crooked Hillary,” the “fake news media” — but he’s adding to his script to promote what he sees as his accomplishments, from the stock market boom to the tax overhaul to the banner year for airline safety.
But Trump, and those within his inner circle, isn’t totally naive about the challenges he faces as president — and in getting reelected. He lost the popular vote. He entered office with historically low approval ratings, and he ended his first year in office with uniquely dismal numbers.
A Washington Post report suggests that members of Trump’s inner circle are warning him about pitfalls ahead in 2018 that might disrupt his 2020 plans — specifically a 2018 GOP lashing that gives Democrats the House, the Senate, or both.
Given how firmly most Republicans lined up behind Trump in 2016, a primary challenge is unlikely, although Ohio’s Kasich has launched an anti-Trump book tour and retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake left the possibility open.
The election is two years and 10 months away, in case you forgot
Reminder: 2018 has just begun. The 2020 election is 1,035 days away. The first primaries are more than two years away, and formal candidacy announcements aren’t likely for another year or so. Hillary Clinton speculation ahead of 2016 turned out to be correct — but Donald Trump, who had flirted with a presidential run many times before, wasn’t an early frontrunner. So wild speculation is all this is. Get ready for a lot it.
Correction: This article originally said that Corey Booker was a senator from New York. He represents New Jersey.