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A Beginner’s Guide to the 2020 Presidential Candidates

How did we reach this stage? 

Everyone has their own theory. Personally, I subscribe to the view that our entire civilisation has somehow crossed into an alternate dimension, where The Twilight Zone and The West Wing have somehow been smashed together to create the grotesque political landscape we watch unfold before our cold, dead eyes. 

But that’s just me. 

We are living through history – of that, there can be no doubt. It’s easy to get swallowed up in the political firestorm currently raging here in the UK, but we can put our minds at ease by reminding ourselves that our American friends are in the same sinking boat. Yes, Boris Johnson is far from an ideal leader, but Trump is a different beast altogether. I’d rather spend an evening locked in a soundproof room with Charles Manson than listen to another one of The Donald’s nonsensical press conferences. His presidency has all the hallmarks of a poorly-written Futurama episode, and he strikes me as the sort of guy who would have been friends with Christian Bale’s character in ‘American Psycho.’

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His policies are draconian, his personality repulsive, his face like that of a bloated corpse that’s just been pulled from a canal. There are babies being born as you read this that have already developed a better grasp of world affairs – so it’s no surprise that the number of American politicians wanting to take him on in the November election currently stands in the double digits. 

Before analysing the major candidates, some background is needed. The United States currently has two main political parties: the Republican Party, of which Trump is a member, and the Democratic Party. For context, most Republicans sit on the right of the political spectrum in a fashion similar to the UK’s Conservatives. Democrats, on the other hand, largely identify as left-leaning, akin to the UK’s Labour Party. Trump is guaranteed re-nomination by the Republican Party, which has become so centred around Trump as an individual it’s basically become a Lovecraftian cult. Whoever secures the Democratic nomination will be Trump’s main competitor in the election. 

So as you can imagine, the stakes are high.

Discussing every candidate would take hours and probably crush your will to live, so here are five of the biggest names…

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Joe Biden – Vice President (2009 – 2017)

A former Vice President and Delaware senator, Joe Biden has all the charisma of a dead badger but that hasn’t stopped him topping the polls. Since the announcement of his campaign Biden has generally been considered the frontrunner, despite his seeming inability to avoid public gaffes. It’s a bit like if Michael Scott ran for president, only worse. While the Democratic Party has moved increasingly to the left since 2016, Biden continues to espouse moderate positions, although his views on some issues have softened since he entered the race (especially regarding capital punishment which, before 2019, he supported). Despite a strong polling position, his clinching of the nomination is far from certain. He performed poorly in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, results that could potentially impact his fundraising capabilities and knock voter confidence in his campaign.

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Elizabeth Warren – Senator from Massachusetts (2013 – present)

Elizabeth Warren was one of the earliest candidates to throw their hat into the ring, announcing the formation of an exploratory committee on 31st December 2018. Admittedly, this news almost passed me by because I was horrifically drunk at a New Year’s Eve party when it broke, but that’s a story for another time. Along with Biden and Bernie Sanders, Warren is considered one of the top-tier candidates; her progressive policies resonate with a significant portion of the Democratic base. She was the first major party candidate to call for Trump’s impeachment, has been a persistent critic of his administration and, should her campaign be successful, will be the first woman to win the presidency in American history. To many Democratic voters, that is an impressive CV.

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Bernie Sanders – Senator from Vermont (2007 – present)

You might take one look at 78-year-old Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and think, “why is Doc from ‘Back to the Future’ running for the Democratic nomination?” But there’s much more to Bernie than his passing resemblance to elderly movie characters. Bernie had previously run in the 2016 primaries and his campaign has been credited with bringing progressive policies into the political mainstream. It is worth noting that Bernie is not technically a Democratic politician – he actually serves in Congress as an Independent – but for all intents and purposes, his political ideology mirrors that of the party. As the proud owner of two Bernie-themed mugs, it seems appropriate that I acknowledge him as my preferred candidate, even though there is a very real possibility he will die of old age before the end of his first term. 

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Amy Klobuchar – Senator from Minnesota (2007 – present)

To say that Klobuchar’s campaign got off to a rocky start would be something of an understatement. In February last year, allegations emerged that she was frequently abusive towards her own staff; one incident reportedly ended when an employee was struck by a binder the Minnesota senator had thrown across a room. Nevertheless, stories of Klobuchar’s rage failed to pique the interest of voters and it soon vanished from the news cycle. Klobuchar had the honour of being jointly endorsed (along with Warren) by the New York Times, but as of writing her campaign appears to be treading a path to oblivion. She has struggled in the polls, never matching the support of her better-known competitors. That being said, could her surprising third-place finish in New Hampshire mean she’s clawing her way back to a state of relevance? Only time will tell.

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Pete Buttigieg – Mayor of South Bend (2012 – 2020) 

If Pete Buttigieg is elected in November, he will become not only the first openly LGBT president in American history but also the one with the most difficult name to pronounce. (For those interested, it’s ‘Boot-Edge-Edge’). However, this scenario does not look particularly likely. Buttigieg served as the mayor of South Bend, a little-known city in the state of Indiana, from 2012 until the beginning of this year. Virtually unknown before the launch of his presidential campaign, Buttigieg catapulted to fame during the early months of 2019 but has since struggled to recapture that momentum. He performed well in both Iowa and New Hampshire but his performance in national polls has been poor, leading to serious concerns over his ability to succeed outside of the early-voting states. We may one day see a Commander-in-Chief with a genuinely hilarious name, but it probably won’t be any time soon.

And now time for a few honourable mentions… 

Kamala Harris – Senator from California (2017 – present)

Few were surprised when Kamala Harris, a freshman senator and ‘rising star’ in the Democratic Party, announced her presidential campaign in January 2019. Even fewer could have predicted that, less than a year later, Harris would withdraw from the race after a surprisingly dismal performance. Elected to the Senate in 2016, it didn’t take long for Harris to build a name for herself thanks in part to her aggressive questioning of Trump’s cabinet nominees during their confirmation hearings. Harris’ campaign was flooded with donations after the announcement of her candidacy and her confrontation with Joe Biden during the first Democratic debate was followed by a surge in support. But it was her record as a state prosecutor that ultimately came back to haunt her. While serving as California’s Attorney General, Harris imprisoned numerous individuals over minor drug charges and contributed to the state’s astonishingly high incarceration rate. This is unlikely to be the last time Harris makes the presidential leap, but for now she will have to be content as a Congresswoman.

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Beto O’Rourke – U.S. Representative from Texas (2013 – 2019)

Did Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke gather the momentum required to unseat Ted Cruz during the 2018 Senate race? No. But has he since capitalised on his new-found popularity, fully exploiting his raised status within the Democratic Party to convey his presidential message to potential voters? No.

Mike Gravel – Senator from Alaska (1969 – 1981)

It’s not easy to distinguish Mr Gravel, a man so old he was elected to the Senate as an Alaskan Democrat, from the politically engaged students who ran his campaign. With their radical policy proposals, the Gravel teens knew they wouldn’t win. But that wasn’t their goal. They wanted to start a conversation. And although their attempts to get the 89-year-old on the debate stage proved unsuccessful, they did raise awareness of certain left-wing policies that have drifted from mainstream political discourse. If you ask me, their campaign was far from a failure.

There is much more to be said regarding this election – I can guarantee someone will take me to task for not mentioning Andrew Yang – but there’s only so much I can fit into an article. No one can say with any real certainty what the outcome of November’s election will be, but the implications will be enormous. Either the United States will continue down the ludicrously surreal path it has been treading for the last three years, or they will enter a new historical and political chapter that would transform not just the composition of the American government, but the lives of each and every American citizen. I like to think my plans for election night reflect the day’s importance: going to the pub, having a pint, and waiting for it all to blow over.

Concourse is Keele University’s independent student-run publication and has a long history of promoting student journalism. Having been established in 1964, Concourse has become an important part of the university and has been read by generations of Keelites.

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