Two weeks ago, Terry McAuliffe urged against getting the 2020 presidential race start too early.
“The focus ought to be on ’18,” he told CNN. “I think if people are interested in running for president, they ought to look at it January and February and March of 2019.”
Apparently not even McAuliffe can wait that long.
The former Virginia governor just dropped a big hint about his 2020 intentions, telling the Washington Free Beacon, “Who better to take on Trump than me?” It wasn't altogether surprising from the Macker — he has been dropping hints for a while now — but it is the most directly he's spoken about the whole thing.
And combined with a few other developments in recent weeks, it makes clear that the 2020 race is already lurching to a start — with a heavy premium on defining exactly what is the Democrats' antidote to Trump. But there are about as many viable answers to that question as there are potential candidates.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered a speech thick with 2020 subtext a couple weeks back, repudiating Trump for calling her “Pocahontas” and signaling that she's ready to use his repeated jabs at her as a badge of honor — even a motivating ethos for a potential 2020 campaign. (The speech happened to land the same day as the tragedy in Parkland, Fla., though, and it was quickly and justifiably overshadowed.)
Like McAuliffe, Warren appeared eager to cast herself as the party's most effective voice when it came to taking on Trump. Here's a key section (with the full speech here):
Indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas — the real Pocahontas — for four centuries. A story of heroism. And bravery. And pain. And for almost as long, her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes.
Our country’s disrespect of Native people didn’t start with President Trump. It started long before President Washington ever took office. But now we have a president who can’t make it through a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes without reducing Native history, Native culture, Native people to the butt of a joke. The joke, I guess, is supposed to be on me.
Former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro has also been sounding like a Democratic primary candidate, heading to New Hampshire a couple weeks back and saying of Trump: “When he’s not golfing or tweeting or vacationing, the president is dividing us instead of bringing us together — he’s breaking promises.”
Castro also recently suggested that Trump's election was a reaction to President Barack Obama — a pattern Castro says plays out regularly in American politics.
“There was a Ronald Reagan because there was a Jimmy Carter,” Castro said. “There was a Barack Obama, in part — of course he was super talented and a great candidate — but also it was a reaction to George Bush. And unfortunately Donald Trump was a reaction to Barack Obama.”
Castro added suggestively: “I believe that the next Democratic nominee and likely president in some ways is going to be a positive reaction to what we've seen with President Trump.”
But Trump is such an unprecedented and singular political figure that such a “reaction” could go in any number of directions. Warren could fit the bill as a progressive, anti-establishment female candidate. McAuliffe was a successful governor who seems to think he has the ability to challenge Trump toe-to-toe. Castro would be a young, rising-star Hispanic nominee against the oldest man ever elected president and whose immigration rhetoric has alienated Hispanics.
Others have staked something of a claim to this mantle. Joe Biden is the guy who could win the working-class white voters Trump stole from the Democrats. Bernie Sanders is the guy who could challenge Trump's populism from other side of the spectrum. Before Al Franken resigned over sexual harassment allegations, he was the entertainer who could beat the other entertainer.
The point is there is no obvious answer to that question. And that means the first battleground of the 2020 presidential race is all about setting the terms of that debate. Who's next?