At the inception of the Trump administration, New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker has become a national cable news television star, inveighing against both Trump policies and appointments. This has fueled speculation about a possible campaign by Booker for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
There is little doubt that Booker has White House ambitions. It is far too early to assay his chances. Yet it can be said at the outset that there are two factors, one ideological and the other ethnic that augur well for his presidential prospects. The ideological factor is the Democratic leadership search for an electable center-left candidate. The Occupy Wall Street/Socialist Left constituency of Bernie Sanders in 2016 has now been inherited by Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Yet she is patently unelectable. President Donald Trump, even with his current pronounced unpopularity, runs well ahead of her in polls in a hypothetical matchup.
Accordingly, the Democrats need to focus on finding an electable center-left candidate. And Cory Booker fits that need.
He has a major youth advantage over another major center-left prospect, Joe Biden or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton should she choose to run. Yet it is the second factor, the ethnic factor that gives Cory Booker an advantage over any white center-left Democratic candidate: his status as an African-American. One of the major lessons for Democrats emerging from the 2016 election is that they cannot win without a large African-American turnout. Case in point: the firewall state of Michigan, where Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, due to the overwhelming decline in the African-American turnout in Detroit (Wayne County) from that attracted by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Thus, for at least the next three election cycles, you are likely to see the Democrats nominate an African-American for president or vice-president. Cory Booker is virtually right out of central casting for the role of an electable, center-left, African-American Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. Yet there is another potential center-left African-American candidate who could deny Booker the Democratic presidential nomination: Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Of these two potential candidates, Patrick has the advantage in terms of having the more impressive public service record. Booker has the advantage in terms of communication skills and charisma.
Ultimately, the outcome of a Booker-Patrick clash for the center-left slot in the Democratic 2020 presidential sweepstakes may well be determined by which of these two candidates would receive the endorsement of former President Barack Obama.
I know it is early, but it is fun to speculate whom Booker would select as his running mate should he win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. He may want to select a woman from one of the three firewall states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the loss of which cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 presidential race. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan would be a good choice in this regard.
Yes, this is all an exercise in futurology. I do believe, however, that Cory Booker will run for president in 2020. While I will not be one of his supporters, I do believe that his presidential campaign, unlike that of Chris Christie in 2016, will not be an embarrassment to New Jersey.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.