Who will NOT be president in 2021

Exactly 4 years ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about who would be president in 2017 by figuring out who could not possibly win. (I basically predicted it would be Jeb Bush vs.  Andrew Cuomo).

I had fun writing this article and I tried to take the exercise seriously even though it was just an exercise. I was also catastrophically wrong.  I couldn’t anticipate that Trump would run for president or even have a shot. He was just too amoral and full of shit — even for Republicans.  At the same time, I immediately ruled out Bernie Sanders as too old and fringe. Since that time, I have seen that Americans are a lot more accepting of older candidates than they used to be, and that the Overton window of  Sanders’ unabashed  progressivism has been effectively shattered.   I also began to look at the race as a kind of perverse reality show where the object is not necessarily to win  but to be the last person standing. I now recognize that coastal liberalism may resonate differently in the heartland.

For  the 2020 election these will be the important questions: 1)Do we want systemic or incremental change in health care?  2)Which candidate has led an exemplary life? (How important are family values, honesty and being a good role model? Disgust with Trump will cause Americans to focus on this a lot more than usual). 3)Who will restore our standing  in the world? (Trump has been ruining our global  standing;  even Republicans are saying that) and 4) What kind of industrial policy will win support of the business community AND help the underclass to improve their lot?

Here are some secondary questions:  how willing will the donor class be to donate to this person’s campaign? Donors not only want beneficial policies, they also want steady and reliable administration. But the  2016  election repudiated this idea. Cruz and Bush received lots of donor support, but this didn’t translate to public support. Hilary received lots of donations, but Sanders received more grassroots support and wasn’t that penalized by lacking Clinton’s fundraising apparatus. Perhaps the more critical question is : how easily can the candidate rally supporters? Trump, Obama and Sanders did a great job on this. Hilary Clinton did a rather mediocre job.

Among the Dems, it seems the choice is mainly between a female Senator and a male who is a business tycoon or former governor.  In the past, we have typically said that governors and business people make better executives, but I don’t know if that applies anymore. Maybe when two candidates go head to head the dynamics will seem different, but my default assumption is that women are the angry class for the election and come out overwhelmingly for the  female candidate.  Females come into this election believing that they were robbed in 2016.

By 2019 I predict that any enthusiasm for Trump will have disintegrated, and Americans on both sides will be hungering for someone more  dignified and honest. (Mitt Romney — if he were 10 years younger — would have fit the bill perfectly).

In 2016, I was more interested in figuring out who would win the Republican primary (Hilary Clinton seemed like a shoe in). For 2020, though it’s a wide open race for Democrats; Republicans has a smaller base of potential candidates, and they need to have demonstrated independence and judgment of Trump, but also not to alienate Trump/Breitbart voters too much.


  1. Rick Perry. Perry is adept at understanding the political equation of various situations. He could probably manage to convince voters that he’s independent from Trump and assuage Trump voters that he’s secretly one of them. Terrible policies and ideas, but great fund-raiser, great populist and a good party man. His Oops moment and media personality in Dancing with the Stars can only help him.
  2. Jeff Flake. Definitely the man to watch, especially if/when the American public and Republican voters sour on the Trump brand. He’s actually a conventional politician with many interesting ideas and a capable spokesman for them. Expect him to run against Trump if Trump runs for re-election.
  3. Ted Cruz. It’s still scary to think that Cruz would have been the Republican nominee if Trump hadn’t won. He probably has a more mature understanding of politics now and probably is mending fences with other GOP politicians, but I don’t think this race is Cruz’s turn to run for president.
  4. John Kasich. Because his state is of strategic importance and because Kasich has governing experience and lots of federal experience, he would also be a formidable opponent — especially since he’s claimed to be more anti-Trump as time goes by. He also has worked with Hickenlooper to support a plan to fix Obamacare.  Republicans might look to Kasich as someone who can forge  private health care reform with Dems. But Ohio is a small place, and the US is a gigantic country.
  5. Marco Rubio. See my comments about Ted Cruz above.  Unlike Ted Cruz (who is formidable rhetorically), Rubio seems to be a lightweight politician. In a decade people may perceive him differently, but not now.
  6. Rob Portman has been an incredibly successful politician who has stayed out of the media glare.  On paper, he looks impressive. But it’s hard to imagine Portman emerging if Kasich is a strong contender. Also the impressive things about Portman tend not to win Republican primaries.
  7. Mike Pence.  Under Trump’s best case scenario, Pence will carry on the Trump  legacy. But Pence alienates a lot of people, and he’s incredibly lightweight on substance.
  8. Nikki Haley — Frankly her only qualification is that she is a woman who is a capable politician. Other than that, there is no particular reason for her to run (much less be elected).


  1. Amy Klobuchar. On paper she looks like the Dem candidate most capable of winning in the Midwest. She has a great background in policymaking and is personable and friendly, but not a particularly good speechmaker (Nov 2018 Update. I’ve definitely changed my mind about that last thing). She has more national experience than Kamala Harris, making her the most likely female candidate. The most important thing is that she’s very centrist/bipartisan and understands the legislative process very well.  One notable problem is that Klobuchar does not support single payer. That is a deal breaker for many Democrats.   Politics aside, it would be fun to see a person with that strange a name to become president.
  2. Al Franken. Franken could be persuaded to run for president — especially if Trump runs for re-election, but I get the sense that Franken is not that ambitious — nor does he have a grand vision. UPDATE: I do not think the accusations of sexual harassment will make a difference one way or another.
  3. Julian Castro. He has enormous potential as a politician, but he needs to run for governor — plus he needs to be reasonably confident that he can win his own home state!
  4. Elizabeth Warren. I think she’s a great rallier of the troops, rhetorically very powerful and has a great vision. But she’s divisive and aside from banking and health care, she doesn’t have a lot of foreign policy experience.
  5. Kamala Harris. Sharp lawyer with good political instincts and good rhetoric. She’s new to the national scene, and I don’t see Americans as favoring Harris over Klobuchar (except if you want single payer).
  6. Sherrod Brown. He’s a reliable progressive, but if he did not live in Ohio, I doubt that Americans would rally behind him.
  7. Tom Steyer. He’s definitely running if Trump stays in for 2020. I probably support his climate advocacy, but I don’t want billionaires wanting for president — Dem or Republican.
  8. Deval Patrick. He’s very impressive. African-American, successful Massachusetts governor and businessman. (Even with Bain Capital!) He’s a great speaker, but he’s been involved in a lot of urban issues — which doesn’t really help with winning the heartland.
  9. Mark Cuban. He will jump in the race only if Trump runs for re-election. But I think Steyer is more of a politician/progressive. Cuban is too much of a celebrity, and I think by 2020 Americans will be yearning for non-celebrities.
  10. John Hickenlooper. He and Kasich had talked about a Unity ticket for president in 2020. He’s also very impressive, and he’ll be 68 in 2020. Not particularly progressive, but is ahead of the curve on social issues (like gun control, cannabis, etc). Not a particularly great speech giver.
  11. Michael Bloomberg — Sorry, he’s too old, although in retrospect he should have run in 2016.
  12. Gavin Newsom. handsome and dynamic businessman who is now in the upper echelon of California politics. Cares a lot about gay marriage, homelessness and education. But he’s too young and probably fits the caricature of the out-of-touch California liberal.
  13. Kirsten Gillibrand. Probably the most energetic of female politicians, and a good communicator besides (though lacking the gravitas of a Warren/Clinton or even Kamala Harris).  I think she benefits from Hilary-sympathy; I just wonder how well she plays with Middle America.
  14. Andrew Cuomo.  I thought he was a strong candidate for 2016, but he didn’t run and doesn’t seem especially popular in NY. Being associated with NY is not going to help in 2020.
  15. Cory Booker. Good affable politician and he pops up all the time on talk shows and news shows. He serves on the Foreign Relations committee, so he stays well-informed about global issues. I don’t see anything special about him , but he is a skillful media personality — that can only help him.
  16. Jay Inslee. (added July 2018).  Inslee is a successful Washington governor, ex-congressman and former HHS staffer under Clinton. He also has the best climate change credentials of the bunch — plus he has experience as a governor — something rare among Democrats. In late 60s, old but not too old. He’s a very polished individual, and if Tom Steyer and Bill Gates were to throw money at him, he would be unstoppable.

Single Payer: As of today, Harris, Warren, Brown, Franken, Booker , Gillibrand support single payer. I assume that Gavin Newsom and Steyer also support it. Hickenlooper supports a bipartisan improvement on Obamacare with Kasich. Klobuchar does not support single payer, but might support it later.


REPUBLICANS. If we assume that Trump does not run for re-election, that leaves us with three Republican candidates: Rick Perry, Jeff Flake and John Kasich.  Flake has the best vision of the three, is most likely to appeal to undecideds and quickly established his independence from Trump. Then again, ever since Goldwater’s stinging defeat, Republicans have generally not chosen an intellectual/policymaker type (with Jack Kemp being the notable exception). Assuming that Trump is not in prison, Rick Perry has the ability to straddle the MAGA types and mainstream conservatives, plus it’s his turn.  Kasich is probably smarter and better at economics and industrial policy, but he  never really had national prominence. He also has endorsed the bipartisan Obamacare fix plan with Hickenlooper while maintaining his conservative credentials.  But Perry has more ability to rally the troops. My prediction: John Kasich 

Among Democrats, I really don’t know. They have a lot of media savvy politicians (Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, Kristen Gillibrand) and two impressive governors (Patrick, Cuomo, Hickenlooper), several impressive women (Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren) and several midwest politicians (Klobuchar, Hickenlooper). Among these, I think Patrick, Gillibrand and Klobuchar stand out.

Out of all the politicians,  the only ones who are climate hawks are Tom Steyer, Cuomo, Gillibrand.

For health care, Klobuchar and Hickenlooper do NOT support single payer. That is not in the Democratic mainstream right now. At the same time in 2016 Colorado voted against single payer; it’s hard to predict how angry people will be in 2019 and 2020 about health care.

2020 will be the year of the female Democratic candidate. Which women can win a 2020 election? Also: which women can push most successfully for single payer? Gillibrand is very partisan and a good speechmaker and has access to a lot of campaign donations. Harris and Gillibrand strongly support single payer.  Klobuchar is more middle-of-the-road and bipartisan, less of a firebrand.

The question becomes: which Democrat is capable of  bringing us to a viable health care  solution? Really, the only people who could do this are the ones who are NOT endorsing Single Payer.  Maybe Bernard Sanders could do this. Maybe Hickenlooper  or Deval Patrick could. By 2019, the country could be in a completely different mood, paving the wave for  a hyperpartisan candidate like Gillibrand or Harris.

For the Democratic candidate, I predict Amy Klobuchar . (If  the health care system implodes by 2019 and the race becomes very hot, maybe Gillibrand will seem more appealing). I don’t like Klobuchar’s  incremental approach to health care, but she knows the heartland, sees things from the point of view of small businesses,  and she has deep relationships with other lawmakers. She is not a lightning rod to controversy. She is open to compromise.

In 2nd place, I’m predicting Deval Patrick.  Progressive politician and great speaker with business experience. He’s done a lot of work with cities. I’m less confident about his ability to reach the heartland.

Jan 8 Update:  Since writing this, the sexual harassment bugaboo, a lot of things have happened. Franken is out, Gillebrand has gotten ahead of the curve on this, and Oprah gave a rousing speech at the Golden Globes. I don’t think Oprah will run in 2020 unless Trump stays in (and even at that, it’s a slim possibility). Mark Zuckerberg is being talked about, as is Nikki Haley. But Zuckerberg probably would have more financial entanglements than Trump ever would, and probably already enjoys his political influence now, and Haley is glued to the mouth to Trump. I stick with my prediction that 2020 will put a woman into the White House, and that it will be a Senator to do it.

March 7 Update.  I actually am amazed that everyone is assuming that Trump would run for re-election. Frankly, that would be outstanding news for Dems, but I still think it doubtful.  I think the Medicare Extra for All is capable of ensnaring fence sitters like Klobuchar.

August 5 2018 Update.  I listened to some keynote speeches at NetRoots Nation by Warren, Inslee, Booker, Harris and Julian Castro.  Warren’s speech was remarkable, moving and impassioned, precise and value-based. Jay Inslee didn’t give a speech, but he did a long panel;  he’s experienced and friendly and politically savvy; he definitely knows the levers of power.  He reminds me a lot of Bill Clinton (minus the pecadillos), plus he is a dedicated climate change warrior.  Harris’s speech was conversational, informal, empathetic  and yet very sharp. She knew how to make her points well. (Yet she was focused on a small number of issues, rather than on larger issues from Warren’s). Booker sounded like a humble  preacher willing to listen to everybody  and describe life lessons and — very appealing. The issue of the day for all 3 speeches was tax breaks for low-income renters (horray!) None of them really paid attention to Trump (Warren made a few  oblique references), but the main message seemed to be  returning to the party’s roots (and the implicit admission that Clinton’s campaign didn’t do that enough). Maybe support for Medicare for All was implied — so the candidates didn’t need to mention the issue, but I was struck by  its absence in all 3 speeches. Based on these speeches, I would say that Warren is head and shoulders above the rest in clarity of vision and passion.  She does not sound professional or condescending at all — she even can play up her midWestern roots. She is  definitely the best one to make the case against Trump.  Over time, I have grown to respect Klobuchar’s fair-mindededness and respectful tone; when you hear her talk about  election security  and immigration, she comes off as very bipartisan and no-nonsense.  In contrast, Warren (and Inslee and Gillibrand) sound very partisan.

Inslee is very aware of climate change issues and technology issues; his state did a net neutrality law and he tried unsuccessfully to pass a carbon tax.  He understands climate change politics very well.

On the Republican side, one has to add Paul Ryan to the list, if only because he is highly skilled, experienced and a good speechmaker. Leaving office now allows him to distance himself from the Trump trainwreck while establishing a record of being a reliable conservative. It’s unclear whether he even wants to run in 2020 (although 2024 or 2028 sounds more tempting). I honestly don’t think Ryan wants to clean up after Trump’s messes.

The issues again boil down to whether Trump will run for re-election. My bet is still no (especially after the midterms, and when the Muller report starts to trickle into the public consciousness). One of the problems is that very few Republicans have distanced themselves from Trump (except Romney and all the people who ran against him in 2016), so Trump’s exit from national politics will leave a large vacuum on the conservative side.

The other issue — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — is that if the US enters another war, that could redound to Trump’s benefit in the short term — long enough to rally support for reelection. If such a foreign policy crisis of a non-economic nature arose, Klobuchar  and maybe a manly man like Cory Booker or Adam Schiff might become more attractive as candidates.

September 29 2018 Update. Steve Bannon predicts that lawyer Michael Avenatti will run for president in 2020 and will be a formidable candidate. What an idiot! (Bannon seems to overvalue belligerence as a political quality). Beto O’Rourke is a name tossed about as a candidate. Not a chance! He’s correct on issues and very telegenic, but he’s a relative lightweight.  Bloomberg hinted on Fahreed Zakaria’s GPS that he’s considering a run, but ultimately I think his age works against him.

It’s debatable  whether experience in the Senate transfers to running for president, but it’s  interesting that the 5 of the leading contenders are currently in the US Senate. From where things stand now,  the midterms will be a Democratic blowout, and the Trump scandals have not really popped, so I guess we can assume that Trump will stay in the race — changing the dynamics somewhat.

From a Wash Post article about Klobuchar:

The scene at the hearing — in which Kavanaugh was defending himself against allegations of sexual assault — has at once thrust Klobuchar into the national spotlight and reinforced what could be her central shortcoming as a 2020 contender for the presidency. In a party that by most accounts is searching for liberals and powerful personalities to counteract President Trump, Klobuchar has crafted a brand almost diametrically opposed to that. In many ways, Klobuchar’s running and winning in 2020 would defy conventional wisdom, just as Trump did in 2016.

Yet more and more, she is finding herself earning strong reviews from partisan crowds, often on the strength of understated moments such as Thursday’s and the idea that she is essentially the complete antithesis of Trump. Where he’s brash, extreme and exuding machismo, she’s subtle, bookish, bipartisan and a woman in a party that is increasingly nominating female candidates.

(The article goes on to say that what works as a Minnesota senator doesn’t work when you run for president, but that is condescending. My main complaint is about her lukewarm position on Medicare for All puts her out of sync with progressive politics.

November 12 2018 Update.  Somebody on Predictit mentioned an Amy/Beto pairing for the 2020 race. Who can know at this stage, but the likability quotient of both people is staggering.. (It’s still an open question whether having Beto on the ticket would win Texas, but it could possibly make the difference in Florida). Since getting on board the Klobuchar train, I’ve been watching media appearances. Almost all are authentic and delightful and hilarious (see this and this). Will Bunch wrote a column making the case for Klobuchar and unearthed a beautiful tribute she made on the Senate floor to the musician Prince after he died.

November 16 2018 Update. It’s interesting that so many liberal columnists are pointing to Kamala Harris as a frontrunner. Of course, now it’s just a guessing game, but I just don’t see it. I don’t see any vision thing from her yet and no broad command of issues.  Every candidate has strengths and deficiencies (or less strong qualities). For example, I think Warren would be an outstanding candidate even though she is viewed as divisive (unjustly, in my opinion, but there it is). Klobuchar is extremely likable and wonky, but maybe too nice? Harris is smart and tough, but not much depth? Gillebrand is smart and tough and argumentative, but maybe too New Yorky?  These are all first impressions. Political campaigns are good at establishing to the public that  no politician can be  perfect and each has comparative  shortcomings. That partly explains the cognitive dissonance of Trump supporters. They  see his flaws, but have decided that  Trump is so unique and colorful that they can live with his coarseness. Do supporters ever fall out of love with presidential candidates they have voted for? Rarely. Surely, some fell out of love with Clinton after the scandal, but that was after they reelected him. IBID for Nixon.  Even people with high negatives (like George W. Bush and Reagan) seemed to get reelected easily.  Final Note: I really hope that America Ferrara eventually transitions from acting to politics. Ferrara for President in 2036?

December 7 2018 Update. If you look at the  schedule of Dem primaries , you see that  New York is on Day 2 of the primary (1 day after Iowa) and Alabama/Massachusetts/California/North Carolina are on SuperTuesday (March 3). That means that New York is going to be a major player (and New York is an expensive media market). The early importance of traditionally liberal states means more emphasis on fundraising and coastal politics. Policy-wise, I think this is going to push climate change to the front of the agenda, and while health care is always important, it is somewhat less important in the big liberal states. It seems somewhat strange that some of the contentious states (Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) are later, so maybe Klobuchar’s Middle America liberalism will be somewhat disadvantaged. 

June 10 2019 Update.  What a fun and interesting list of candidates. At the moment Biden’s stay-above-the-fray strategy is working. Sanders and Warren are both in the same lane politically (but Warren is winning). Beto still stays in the limelight (and keeps getting invited onto talk shows) despite his inexperience. Egad, it’s such a beauty contest. I remain shocked that Inslee has not gotten a lot of traction even though climate change has suddenly become a front burner issue. As capable as Buttigieg is, it’s not his turn though he makes the race a lot more interesting and injects a bit of religious sensibility. As women start to drop out (I’m looking at you, Williamson, Gabbard and Gillibrand), support for the other female candidates will solidify. Both Klobuchar and Harris will gain when the Biden bubble finally deflates and women start to make up their mind. Punditry so far has downplayed  the importance of gender in this primary. It has also ignored candidates with DEPTH; by that, I mean, having a motive more than professional vanity, not focusing too much on a single issue and capable of appealing to the nation rather than one region of the nation. Among those having this depth are Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, Inslee and possibly Biden and Harris (though Klobuchar and Inslee are currently regional — especially Inslee).  Another factor is  that early voting on Super Tuesday will overlap considerably with primaries in  early states. That will help candidates from larger states like CA and TX.  A cursory look at candidate websites shows that the best websites (so far) are 1) Bernie Sanders, 2)Joe Biden, 3)Kamala Harris, 4)Amy Klobuchar. Special mention goes to Jay Inslee whose website contains 5 separate climate change proposals. Impressive.  

August 9, 2019 Update. Boy this primary has been exciting, and it’s only started!

First, it’s interesting how Trump’s actions has been shaping the primary. It has made immigration a central issue — and increased the focus on temperament.

Second, I am shocked and disappointed to see that many seasoned candidates have barely made the third tier. Klobuchar, Inslee, Castro all have made their marks, but seem unlikely to make any significant headway in the race. That’s a shame because Inslee has an incredible record, and so does Klobuchar. Also, every time Klobuchar speaks publicly on foreign policy, I think, this woman is incredible! I wish we had different candidates in the first and second tier, but here we are.

Third, it’s interesting how qualifying for debates has shaped the early campaign. These events are exercises in pugilism; it’s probably interesting as much as it reveals which policies and talking points are being relied upon most.

Fourth, I look at polls and see indications that Trump still has a shot (is the electorate smoking crack or what?). Also, I see a roar against the big liberals. (Do they realize that 20% of Texans don’t have health insurance?) This status quo bias on health care seems destined to let that continue for quite a while. Thankfully, there seems to be acknowledgment that action on climate change needs to be accelerated.

Fifth, as a result of Steyer’s late entrance to the race, I am seeing FB ads EVERY time I open FB — Steyer is spending a lot of money to attract small donors. He is an extremely impressive candidate — smart, articulate, informed — and runs an effective lobbying group, but I’m afraid USA doesn’t really need another smart billionaire (not him, not Bloomberg, etc) to run the country. The billionaire-as-savior was interesting as an idea when Perot emerged, but maybe the problem today is that certain privileged people have gigantic megaphones in our society.

Fifth, I am watching Texas polls closely for hints that it might be in play. I guess Chuck Kuffner and Nate Silver have better insight than I do. But a recent Emerson poll shows both Biden and Sanders beating Trump in a head to head poll of Texas registered voters, (and a total of 6 Dem candidates at the margin of error). It’s quite possible that Beto or Castro might fill a VP slot to increase that probability.

I’m beginning to see obvious picks for a Dem cabinet: Inslee for EPA, Harris for DOJ, Gabbard for VA, O’Rourke/Castro for INS. I think Klobuchar would also be great for Dept of State or DOJ. Bullock for Interior, Ryan for Labor, and certainly places can be found for Booker, Buttigieg, etc.

December 10, 2019 Update. In Houston all I see on TV are ads for woman’s cologne and Michael Bloomberg. I think his strategy is capture Texas, New York, California and Florida, with Texas being an important part. At the last part of November, I felt 100% sure that Nikki Haley and John Kasich would enter the primary — in anticipation of the impeachment tarnishing the GOP brand. Significantly this did not happen.







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