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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  Sander’s 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)family values, honesty and being a good role model. Which candidate has led an exemplary life? (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 willing 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 are hungering for someone for 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. 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 very 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.

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 and 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 politician to do it.


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