Now that the country is—checks calendar—one full month past Election Day 2018, people seem to have decided to start fighting about the 2020 presidential nomination. It’s understandable; everyone had so much fun in the last nominating process, who wouldn’t want to get back into those good feelings and productive interactions as soon as possible?
Nevertheless! There is one good reason to hold off on the 2020 campaigning and metacampaigning: none of you have any idea what you’re doing or what you’re talking about.
No offense intended; it’s not your fault. You can’t know what you’re talking about. It is not even Christmas of the year before the year before the election. We are 19 months away from the Democratic National Convention. Do you remember what the world was like 19 months ago? Sean Spicer was still the White House press secretary. Anthony Kennedy was still on the Supreme Court. Kevin Spacey was still in House of Cards.
Or, to put it another way: we are still six months away, in the 2020 cycle, from the point in the 2016 cycle at which Donald Trump declared he was running for president.
It is ridiculous to try to say who the best presidential candidate for November 2020 will be. No one has any idea what 2020 is going to be like politically. The future situation is beyond imagining. It is not even certain whether anyone should want to run for president, by then. What will the office even look like, after two more years of Trump’s mental, organizational, and criminal unraveling? The executive branch could be at war against the judiciary, or teaming up with the judiciary in a war against the House of Representatives, or the entire machinery of administration may have collapsed.
Arguing about which politician’s brand identity and expressed political principles will best fit that future moment is beyond pointless. It is one more form of denial, the oppositional version of the stories about how maybe this will be the week that Trump turns a corner and starts to act normal.
All anyone can say for certain is that there will be more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and more storms, droughts, fires, and floods around the country. Maybe the economy will crumble. Maybe there will be plague or famine or meme-driven civil unrest.
This is not something a politician can prepare for by positioning, or at least by not positioning within some context carried over from the pre-2016 world. One of the many low points of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings was the way that when this or that Democratic senator tried out a line of attack, analysts instantly processed it as a 2020 campaign preview—rather than, say, an attempt to have some effect on the Supreme Court appointment. The best presidential candidate for 2020 will be whoever finds a way to do things between now and then that will make some sort of difference.
Definitely someone should primary Chuck Schumer, though.