Here is an inconvenient truth that most Democrats do not wish to hear: Facebook (META) CEO Mark Zuckerberg may be their only hope of retaking the White House in 2020.
Yes, that’s right. If the Democrats want to have any chance of winning in a few years, they need to wrap their heads around the reality of a President Zuckerberg. This piece will explain why.
First, a bit of context. Zuckerberg is up as a subject of discussion for the White House because he’s been making all the right moves in all the right places:
- He’s re-written the Facebook rules and created a brand new category of stock that would allow him to retain control over Facebook if he serves in a “government position or office.”
- He’s been touring the United States and has pledged to visit all 50 states this year.
- He’s hired Joel Benenson, a pollster and political strategist. Benenson, of course, is best-known for his role on Obama’s two presidential campaigns as well as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid. While Benenson is reported to have been hired to work on Zuckerberg’s philanthropy, the decision to hire a pollster—especially one so deeply embedded in the work of building presidential-level campaigns—is an obvious indication that Zuck is testing the political waters.
- Zuckerberg has also gone through that most famous and most important of rituals for would-be Presidential candidates: denying that he’s seeking the office at all. In fact, he’s done it twice! Which is, of course, exactly the kind of modest pose one must strike at the start of the climb to the most powerful office in all the land.
Yes, from many angles—his youth, his total lack of political experience and voting record, his wealth, his East Coast roots and West Coast digs, the fact that he’s had one and only one job as an adult, his day-to-day responsibilities at Facebook—a Zuckerberg for America effort seems implausible. And maybe it’s unlikely for the most obvious reason of them all: citizen Zuckerberg may simply have zero desire to become President Zuckerberg.
But he’s nothing if not a wildly ambitious guy, and I suspect the job would suit him well. From the Zuckerberg perspective, he could see in the Democratic Party what he might see in a potential acquisition target for Facebook:
- A company with decent historical fundamentals (FDR, JFK, etc)
- A crummy recent CEO (Debbie Wasserman Schultz)
- A botched product launch (the 2016 election)
- A weak balance sheet (DNC total fundraising in July 2017 was $3.8M vs. the RNC’s $10.2M)
- A fractious, incestuous, self-sabotaging top-tier of executives (DWS, Donna Brazile, Bernie Sanders, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton)
- An appealing competitive landscape (Trump 2020)
- Legions of loyal users (Clinton’s 65+ million votes).
It’s not the most enticing investment, to be sure, but it’s one that probably tugs at his business instinct to buy low, sell high. Once you hit rock bottom, after all, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Here’s the thing: for Democrats still smarting over a Hillary Clinton loss, a Zuckerberg hostile takeover of the party—er, I mean, White House candidacy—should come as manna from heaven. Zuckerberg isn’t just an outstanding candidate in his own right. He may well be the only person capable of reclaiming the White House for Democrats and, importantly, taking it away from Donald Trump.
Here are seven reasons why Democrats should clear the decks for Mark Zuckerberg as their 2020 nominee:
1) He’ll be able to play the political outsider card harder and heavier than Trump.
Donald Trump knows his brand well. He is an outsider, the guy who the people sent to shake things up in Washington. When pundits wonder why he hasn’t abandoned the populism that propelled him to the White House, or are confused by the many long-time loyalists who occupy posts usually reserved for more experienced Washington hands, they totally miss the point: Donald Trump intends to run against Washington, DC, in four years, not as a creature of it.
That’s smart. At perhaps no time in American history has antipathy toward politicians been as high. Donald Trump, rightly, knows that if he becomes too much the DC insider, he risks his re-election in 2020. This behavior explains, at least in part, his attacks on senior members of his own party, the public skewering of his own Attorney General, the casual flip-flopping on proposals from the Republican Congress, and his convenient discarding of most acceptable political conventions.
It all adds up to a compelling picture: that Washington couldn’t corrupt Donald Trump—that he came, he saw, and he continued Tweeting whatever the hell he wanted. This behavior won’t change, and it’s a feature of Donald Trump, not a liability. He understands an essential truth: four years isn’t going to suddenly make the public fall in love with politicians. In 2020, people are still going to want to throw the bums out—and Donald Trump has no intention of letting himself be cast as of those bums.
Democrats need to appreciate this—fast. Meaning, they need to understand the value in recruiting political outsiders to run. They especially need to appreciate that they are, once again, going to be running against Donald Trump the raging populist, not Donald Trump the respectable politician.
That’s why a Mark Zuckerberg candidacy is so powerful. Only a true never-been-in-politics-before outsider will be able to convincingly caricature Trump as one of the insiders. In 2020, with Trump weighed down by four years of Washington scandal and seediness, Zuckerberg will be able to say, with total conviction, “I’m not a DC insider like that one. I’m a businessman, and it’s time for a real businessman to run the country.”
(But, wait, isn’t Donald Trump a businessman, too? Depends on what you believe, I guess. The Trump empire is built on a litigious, fraudulent house of cards based almost entirely on the celebration of himself—licensing his name and brand. Zuckerberg built one of the most indispensable social utilities the world has ever known. Standing next to Zuckerberg’s $71.1 billion dollars, Donald Trump will look like a chump in a cheap suit.)
More broadly, Zuckerberg can do in 2020 what Donald Trump did to deadly effect in 2016: declare the political system irremediably broken, and declare himself the outsider to bring the necessary and painful changes it needs.
What’s more, he can brand Trump as someone who got sucked into the swamp instead of draining it, and he can do this by pointing to all kinds of perks that Trump and his family so lavishly enjoyed during his time in office. He can, for instance, challenge Donald Trump to explain the expensive taxpayer-funded trips his sons and family have taken or the mounting Secret Service bills their travels require. Or worse: he can demand that the allegedly wealthy Trumps reimburse the country for the trouble. “Pay us back!” captures some of the anger, rhythm, and poetry of “Lock her up!”.
But you can’t do any of that if you’ve been on the taxpayer take, too. What a Zuckerberg candidacy does is undercut the central claim of Trump’s re-election: That Trump went to Washington an outsider and that he’s the only outsider left.
2) Zuckerberg doesn’t need a dime of anyone else’s money.
Sure, it’s an obvious point: Mark Zuckerberg has boatloads of cash, and he will be in a position to self-finance his campaign. But that fact carries all kinds of non-obvious and important strategic implications.
For one thing, it means he can ignore entirely the donor class of the Democratic party. Here’s the thing about donors: they think their business success makes them experts on everything. They have a lot of money, and they believe that having lots of money means that their opinions on politics are sound. But donors are, in large measure, business pros and political idiots.
In a way, it’s not their fault. They are rich. Being rich means they live life at a remove from people who aren’t rich (read: 99% of people). So you kind of can’t blame them for their political tin ears.
You can, however, blame candidates for listening to them. Sure, donors write the checks, so candidates have to humor them and listen to their opinions. Here’s the problem: cocooned in donor money, a candidate can begin to believe what donors are selling. They can start to agree with them! That moment marks the beginning of the end of many a successful candidacy. And that goes double in an era of runaway populism. Remember: voters in the small towns of Ohio and Pennsylvania look, talk, and think nothing like the donors in Manhattan’s paneled boardrooms and San Francisco’s juice shops. A good candidate forgets this at their peril.
Zuckerberg can tell those donors to (politely) kick rocks. And this is the beauty part: donors won’t be the least bit offended because they already know that whatever their pet issue, it’s likely to be better served by a Zuckerberg White House than a Trump one. So they can either A) save their millions or B) pour it into the the pools of dark money that can assist on down-ticket races or ballot initiatives. (Option B, incidentally, could actually help Zuckerberg win the Presidency and capture Congressional seats along the way. By bringing voters out for down-ticket races or ballot initiatives, donors could bring out voters who may not have been inclined to pull the lever for President Zuckerberg, but definitely want to legalize marijuana or raise the minimum wage.)
Zuckerberg’s staggering wealth will cause heartburn for some of the Sanders and Pelosi wing of the Democratic Party. The last thing the country needs, this line of argument goes, is another wealthy president. As if there were other options. Both Obama and Clinton were multi-millionaires; hell, even the Tribune of the Downtrodden Bernie Sanders brought home a million bucks last year.
And at least Mark Zuckerberg has f-you money. Just how fat is his wallet? Well, all in all, the Democratic Party spent $1.6 billion dollars on elections in 2016. At the start of that same year, Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth went up $6 billion dollars…in a single day.
Numbers on their own don’t mean anything. What matters is what the numbers give him: total and complete freedom. Not having to dial for dollars, listen to donors, or send those grating and obnoxious fundraising emails means that he will have more time to, you know, court actual voters. To Democrats who care about a win above all else in 2020, that is priceless.
3) Zuckerberg is the most effective tech CEO in America.
It’s easy to look at Facebook’s hoodie-clad leader and miss something crucially important: Mark Zuckerberg is widely considered the most effective technology CEO in America.
In the close-knit circle of Silicon Valley billionaire investors and entrepreneurs, Zuckerberg is praised as the best of the breed. Most of Facebook’s wisest strategic decisions came straight from Zuckerberg—and he rammed them through with all of the efficiency and force of Grant going through Richmond.
Consider his greatest hits:
- Buying Instagram when it was a grand total of 13 employees and 30 million users. That service has grown to an astonishing 700 million people, is bigger than Snapchat, and is still growing at a time when other social platforms have flatlined.
- Buying WhatsApp when it was around 450 million total users. Now its daily users number well over 1 billion—and it is a primary texting and communication tool for most of the planet.
- Defeating Google+, through what has been described as an almost single-minded focus on destroying the search giant’s nascent social network.
- Dominating mobile advertising in a way that is unmatched by any other player in the market. In fact, mobile ads account for over 80 percent of Facebook’s total ad revenue—up from next to nothing just years ago. It was Zuckerberg who, reportedly, ordered the company to complete all of its work on mobile for a week—and even booted people out of his office who came to him with presentations that neglected mobile strategy.
- Investing in virtual reality by buying Oculus—and at a time when that technology was considered more of a toy than an entire technological ecosystem.
- Keeping almost 30 percent of Facebook’s stock for himself, like a Silicon Valley Caesar.
And that’s just a short list. You don’t go from an idea in a Harvard room to a company that averages $8+ billion in revenue per quarter by accident. The big moves at Facebook have all either been initiated by him or passed through his careful hands. He’s been swift, strategic, and scary disciplined.
Just take the example of beating Google+. Here Zuckerberg wasn’t up against some upstart in a garage. He was face-to-face with Google, a company that rivaled his own in its ambitions, deep pockets, and engineering prowess. And he crushed their Google+ platform. Here’s a telling moment from the story, vividly documented in full by Vanity Fair:
The 2011 Lockdown speech didn’t promise to be one of [Zuckerberg’s more charismatic] moments. It was delivered completely impromptu from the open space next to the stretch of desks where the executive staff sat. All of Facebook’s engineers, designers, and product managers gathered around him in a rapt throng; the scene brought to mind a general addressing his troops in the field.
The contest for users, he told us, would now be direct and zero-sum. Google had launched a competing product; whatever was gained by one side would be lost by the other. It was up to all of us to up our game while the world conducted live tests of Facebook versus Google’s version of Facebook and decided which it liked more…Rounding off another beaded string of platitudes, he changed gears and erupted with a burst of rhetoric referencing one of the ancient classics he had studied at Harvard and before. “You know, one of my favorite Roman orators ended every speech with the phrase Carthago delenda est. ‘Carthage must be destroyed.’ For some reason I think of that now.”
…While Zuck wouldn’t burn Google to the ground, take the wives and children of Google employees as slaves, and salt the grounds of the former Google offices so nothing would grow there for generations, as some say Rome did to Carthage, it was still about as ignominious a defeat as one got in the tech world.
Because Facebook and Instagram are delightfully digital products, they mask the ruthlessness and monomaniacal intensity of their leader. Don’t discount the scale of what Mark Zuckerberg has done: he has managed to build a company that has literally swallowed the whole world’s time and attention.
Why should any of this matter? Because by nominating Zuckerberg, the Democrats wouldn’t just be putting up a famous face or a showhorse; they’d be choosing a phenomenally capable workhorse. All of the qualities of intelligence, focus, and I-will-walk-through-actual-hell-for-my-cause that they so admired in Hillary Clinton are evident in Zuckerberg. And they all come without any of the political or personal baggage.
To the extent that Democrats want an effective executive and not just a Democratic President, Mark Zuckerberg would be a wise choice. (Side note: Zuckerberg is fluent in Mandarin, which will be hugely advantageous in dealing with a Chinese juggernaut poised to pass the US economically in the next decade or two.)
4) He understands the media ecosystem. Hell, at this point, he basically owns the media ecosystem.
Let’s begin with some safe assumptions about where media will be in a short three years:
- Newspapers will be shriveled husks of their former selves, and more reporters will be given pink slips between now and the start of the next campaign.
- The “echo chamber” problem will only get worse. Fake news and real news will be barely distinguishable, and the sites that play to people’s individual political preferences (e.g., Breitbart) will be more powerful than ever.
- Mobile as a platform will overtake desktop, and video will overtake text as people’s primary form of information consumption.
Depending on where you sit, it’s not a pretty or welcome picture, but it is a decently accurate extension of today’s trends. These are changes Democrats would do well to appreciate, because the media ecosystem they thought was so utterly unfair to Hillary Clinton in 2016 will be far, far worse in 2020.
One of the Democrats biggest problems in 2016 was that they believed that a candidate’s out-and-out lying and braggadocian ridiculousness mattered to the general public; that if the New York Times editorial board was clutching their pearls about some ghastly Trump remark, that this mattered to people in the exurbs of Florida or in the middle of Pennsylvania. Democrats believed they could “go high” when their opponents “went low” and everything would turn out fine.
Sorry to burst your bubble Democrats, but most people didn’t care about Trump’s off-color remarks. For a lot of his audience, those moments showed how authentic and fun Trump was; unlike every other politician they’d ever seen, he was willing to say what he actually thought. He was helped along by Fox News and Breitbart and sundry similar elements, of course, but the core thing Trump understood was that every so-called mistake was an opportunity to flip the script.
Saying this to Democrats is like torturing them—but it’s the truth. The self-correcting mechanisms in the culture and the country that you thought would hurt Donald Trump on account of things like, you know, insulting a Gold Star family, openly bragging about sexual assault, or mocking his opponent without mercy ended up helping him. Even Trump’s “worst” moments won him points.
These problems of media will get worse, not better, over the next few years. That’s why the Democrats desperately need Mark Zuckerberg. He’s probably one of the only people who understands this issue inside, out, backwards, and forwards…because, well, he’s at least partly responsible for it. Facebook’s sharing mechanisms and the arbitrariness of its algorithm are part of what created the echo chamber in the first place.
It’s important to acknowledge that Zuckerberg was probably unprepared for how his own social network would be used and leveraged. He was building a social utility; he didn’t know he was also creating a gigantic news website. Blaming him for today’s media climate isn’t fair. But Facebook is definitely part of the reason that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “fake news” travels the world before the real thing has a chance to put its pants on.
But set that aside for minute. Whatever we might believe about the quality of the news we’re getting from Facebook, the source is what matters for this discussion: Facebook’s Newsfeed is the modern newspaper, and the way a great many Americans get the bulk of their information.
But think about it: who better to run a campaign in 2020 than the guy who invented that modern newspaper?
And while he would have to be careful not to put his finger too powerfully on the scales of his own platform, he also wouldn’t have to work too hard to take advantage of it. Let’s be honest: all of tech is going to come on bended knee before the Nerd King. He’ll be able to out-muscle Donald Trump in digital savvy without having to break a sweat.
Pixels matter in politics as they never have before. And a good share of those pixels come to us by way of Facebook. Even as the media hyperventilates every couple days about Donald Trump’s tweets, it’s important to remember that the platform he used to capture the Presidency wasn’t Twitter—it was Facebook.
What Trump’s team did (assisted by the folks at Cambridge Analytica) was pour gobs of money into Facebook, testing the videos and messages that would best capture the potential voting base in critical swing states. Here’s Gary Coby, the RNC’s director of advertising, explaining to Wired Magazine just one example of what the Trump campaign did with videos:
Coby’s team took full advantage of the ability to perform massive tests with its ads. On any given day, Coby says, the campaign was running 40,000 to 50,000 variants of its ads, testing how they performed in different formats, with subtitles and without, and static versus video, among other small differences. On the day of the third presidential debate in October, the team ran 175,000 variations. Coby calls this approach “A/B testing on steroids.”
The data bear this out: Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent a hefty $30 million on digital advertising, but by some estimates, the Trump team spent more than three times that amount—and spent it in the states that mattered. They also benefitted from using Facebook not just to shill for votes but also to ask for money: the lion’s share of the Trump campaign’s $250 million in online fundraising came from Facebook.
So that’s what the Democrats will face in 2020—a digital media juggernaut, strengthened by the natural advantage of incumbency. The battle for digital hearts and minds will be even more fierce than it was in 2016, and Donald Trump’s team will be using the intervening years to make its digital presence even stronger.
Who could face up to such a foe? I’ll tell you who. Donald Trump may have an impressive-sounding 22 million Facebook followers. Mark Zuckerberg has 96 million.
5) Zuckerberg’s a family man—with a family that is the Modern Family to his opponent’s Real Housewives.
While Zuckerberg would undoubtedly be a nontraditional candidate, he does have a few things going for him that appeal to good ol’ fashioned Americana. He’s married (only once!), and to his college sweetheart. He’ll have two kids (daughters, no less!). He changes diapers. He goes jogging. He plays video games.
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With the right consultants and lighting, Zuckerberg could comfortably strike the pose of the average neighborhood dad. Sure, he’s also a guy whose net worth is bigger than the GDP of Luxembourg. But if you were looking to manufacture a made-for-the-White-House family, you could do worse than the one that Mark Zuckerberg has created with Priscilla Chan. Think Camelot, but interracial and internet-enabled.
The Zuckerberg’s are also vastly more relatable than the volatile, voluble, and slick-haired Trump clan. They would be a breath of fresh air, if for no other reason than Americans love their leaders’ little kids—and hate their adult children. By the time Mark Zuckerberg is gearing up to run, his daughters will be a delightful 3 and 5 years old. Cue the collective awwwwwww from the hearts of people across the land.
People love cute kids. I mean, have you been on Facebook or Instagram?
6) He will reject all the tropes, traps, and talking points that have led Democrats into trouble. (In other words, adios Nancy Pelosi!)
On key issues during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump departed quite openly and sharply—and strategically—from the GOP orthodoxy. When it came to healthcare, the size and scope of the welfare state, American involvement in military conflicts abroad, and trade, Donald Trump sounded nothing like a standard-issue Republican.
Sure, Trump was broadly and vaguely anti-tax, anti-regulation, and anti-government—but he wasn’t willing to go so far as to question things like entitlement and welfare spending. He was even willing to call into question America’s muscular military adventures—something no one else in the Republican Party could do. Even his denunciations of Obamacare stressed the “Obama-” and went easy on the “-care.”
Only in hindsight can we say this was the right move: He was talking to voters, not the Wall Street Journal editorial board; his audience were the thousand of cheering fans in his crowds, not the think tank class. It was a wise choice, even if that wisdom was sometimes colored by his general crassness.
Calling it a choice is probably being too generous. Honestly, Trump was just shooting from the hip. It’s unlikely that there was anything more to his thinking about policy than what felt good in the moment. But just because he came to his bastardized version of a “platform” that way doesn’t mean there’s not still a powerful lesson there. And the lesson is this: in our era, you can essentially say whatever you want on policy and bring the party along with you.
In a similar fashion, I suspect Mark Zuckerberg would be able to wipe away the cobwebs of old-guard Democratic orthodoxy. Let’s be honest: On any number of issues and matters of presentation—public displays of patriotism, tax policy, military preparedness, law enforcement support—card-carrying Democrats have put themselves out of touch with regular joe Americans.
This matters doubly in a Presidential contest. Why? Because a Presidential campaign isn’t really about the country as a whole. It’s about a dozen states or so that aren’t already fully spoken for by one party or another: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada, and New Mexico. In those states—partly made up of the so-called firewall that Democrats were supposed to have a lock on—a lot of the standard Democratic talking points don’t play as well as they used to. Positions that once seemed fashionable can now seem dangerous or irritating.
To be successful in those states, Democratic candidates of the future are going to have to do what Donald Trump did: Treat their party’s platform like an a la carte menu of policy choices. Take what works, pitch what doesn’t, and create a fresh movement within the party from the resulting mix. Zuckerberg, who will have literally zero allegiances to the Democratic party’s ideas, will be able to get a sense of what voters want and then design a platform to accommodate those desires.
And while that kind of piecemeal candidacy might drive the Pelosi wing of the party insane, there is one thing that would drive them crazier: four more years of Donald Trump.
7) Kamala who?
Alright, let’s get real: The Democrats have no one else. Seriously. Here are just a few of the never-gonna-happen or never-gonna-win possibilities being floated by the party for a White House run in 2020:
- Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden — All viable options, sure—but at 75, 68, and 74, the country is going to have a hard time getting excited about replacing one septuagenarian leader with another in 2020, especially when those names are so familiar to them—and when all three have come to represent Washington and the Northeast more than the middle of the country. The Democrats’ challenge isn’t winning over voters along the Acela corridor; it’s winning them over in the Rust Belt. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to help do that.
- Kamala Harris — She is a complete unknown in most of the country, and while she’s trying to position herself as the second coming of Obama, there’s nothing in her recent political history to suggest that she can pull off the pose. Why? Well, no one seems to like her, and she’s a California liberal, which, right now, plays as well in the heartland as protesting the national anthem.
- Cory Booker — Yeah, he was big on Twitter before Trump was. But Booker’s also lost some of his edge in the transition from Mayor to Senator; he was way cooler when he was running into burning buildings. Now he runs to…committee hearings? To be sure, Booker’s an appealing public speaker and an intelligent candidate—but in a post-Obama world, there’s nothing novel about him. He will never out-Obama Obama. Perhaps more importantly, while Booker has styled himself as a peacemaker in the mold of MLK, the country is in a fighting mood right now. They want fisticuffs, not drum circles.
- Deval Patrick — Some have floated the former Massachusetts Governor. To which the country has collectively shrugged its shoulders and responded: Who?
- Martin O’Malley — Like a hardy perennial, O’Malley seems ready to run…again. The country has yawned, as it did the last time.
The only Democratic candidate with a pulse right now appears to be Congressman Seth Moulton. A decorated Marine and a Congressman, he seems to have both the savvy and the stones to take it to Donald Trump. And for all those reasons, he would make a perfect Vice-Presidential pick…for Mark Zuckerberg.
In fact, a Zuckerberg-Moulton ticket would be just what the doctor ordered for Democrats. In Zuckerberg and Moulton, the Democrats would send a simple and clear message to voters, “We will create jobs (Zuck) and kill anyone who threatens you (Moulton).” As a Silver-Star-bearing Marine, Moulton would balance out Zuckerberg’s lack of experience in foreign policy and military matters. Moulton would also signal, in the same way that Mike Pence did for Donald Trump, that Zuckerberg wants at least some government experience around.
Generationally, a Zuckerberg-Moulton ticket would also excite voters in a way that a Trump-Pence ticket will simply not. At a combined 135 years, an aging Trump and Pence will be to the Zuck-Moulton ticket what George H. W. Bush and Dan Quayle were to Clinton-Gore: has-beens, bygones, products of an ancient era the country would sooner forget.
And if all elections are just slightly graduated version of high school student council races, then the Zuck-Moulton ticket has something for everyone. If you were a nerd, Mark Zuckerberg’s your man; if you were a jock, then you’ll enjoy trading war stories with Seth Moulton.
There’s one final reason that a Zuckerberg candidacy should appeal to Democrats—and it has nothing to do with Mark Zuckerberg and everything to do with Donald Trump.
Donald Trump may have won the Presidency in 2016 by accident, fraud, or luck, depending on your view of the world. But make no mistake: His 2020 effort will be better-funded, better-organized, and better-run. He’ll have the full force of a united Republican Party behind him, and he will have the power of incumbency to his benefit. For four years, he will have riled up the very voters who sent him into the White House, and they will be itching to defeat all the enemies (real and imagined) that he has built up during that time.
This is a point that Democrats often miss. Every time Trump does something “shocking,” the Democrats salivate. But they are looking at the world through liberal-tinted glasses. In brief: Not everyone in the country believes Donald Trump is putting his foot in his mouth every week, even if you think he is. If there’s any lessons to be gained from the recent Congressional defeats in Georgia and South Carolina, it’s this: Democrats continue to run against Donald Trump, and they keep losing.
Political capital can operate like compound interest, if used effectively. Donald Trump gets this. It’s the reason for the massive rallies. It’s why he hasn’t abandoned his Twitter account. It explains his proclivity to poke the hornet’s nest of divisive cultural issues. He does all this to keep the dividend payments coming to his political bank account; for his supporters, most of what the media characterizes as a “scandal” is a sign that he hasn’t forgotten about the people who sent him there.
Bottom line: By 2020, Donald Trump’s machine will have grown in power and size—and whoever the Democrats nominate will have to face off against an opponent that has shown himself willing to do, say, and try anything to undercut his opposition.
That’s why his opponent must be willing to dispense with all political norms and niceties. The rules of the game have been rewritten, and it won’t be enough to hope that the editorial boards of the Washington Post or the Times throw flags on every play. Whoever runs must be willing to single-mindedly devote themselves to Donald Trump’s defeat—and they must be willing to do anything to win, including pitching whatever Democratic orthodoxies don’t poll well, pretending like the newspapers don’t exist, and acting as though “the truth” is whatever you happen to say in a Facebook Live video that day.
All of which makes a powerful case for nominating someone who has no prior history in elected office. Participating in politics does many things to people’s characters, and one of the things it does is make them more reluctant to be authentic, blunt, plainspoken, and direct. It makes them less likely to take risks and more likely to play it safe.
But that’s where the trouble starts. Democrats hankering for a win in 2020 will need to take big risks. They will need to fight fire with fire. They will need to be entrepreneurial.
In short, they will need to be more like Donald Trump, not less.
Here’s what Democrats often forget in all their loathing and kvetching about Donald Trump: like him or hate him, the one thing he did for the Republican Party is inject entrepreneurship back into it. What do I mean by that? Entrepreneurs take things that have been working a certain way, for a long period of time, that everyone has gotten used to—and they blow it the hell up. They come in cheaper, faster, more aggressively, with more over-the-top ideas and thoughts—and what do you know, the “established” players end up smoked.
Sure, Trump did it in his own wacky and slightly unhinged way. And yes, he made it up as he went along. But he campaigned differently, used technology differently, built his team differently, and basically did everything you would need to do to run a campaign the opposite of the way it had always been done. Again, whether you find him inspiring or impeachable, you can’t deny that what he did was organize a coup of the Republican Party—and carry it to a White House victory.
The Democrats need a political entrepreneur in this mold. Sadly, they are unlikely to find it in on their existing bench. No one on their current roster has the ability to look at the whole Presidential process afresh and with the who-gives-a-damn attitude that Trump brought to the contest. Mark Zuckerberg may or may not be that entrepreneur; but the Democrats need one—more than they may care to admit.
Of all the virtues they need in this political moment, the one Democratic leaders need the most is humility. It’s not going to be easy for them to accept that the normal rules of politics no longer apply, but if they want to reclaim the White House in 2020, they will have to. Inviting a fresh new face into the party’s upper echelon might seem an enormous gamble—but the bigger risk might be running the same playbook and types of candidates that led to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump.
So President Mark Zuckerberg? The country’s own recent history proves that crazier things have happened. And the Democratic Party’s future may depend on their willingness to accept that history and learn from it—or suffer the consequences.
Kevin Currie is the editorial manager at Brass Check.