Tuesday's mid-term elections crystallized a choice among Democrats as they watched the 2020 presidential competition: line up with passion or pragmatism?
An energetic segment within the party has seen in the results a need for the Senate Beto O & # 39; Rourke of Texas candidate, or a candidate like him, who can inspire large crowds with a genuine and optimistic appeal that rebukes the President Trump, while only rarely mentions him.
Others have indicated high-midwest victories that suggest a completely different formula, one that would be based on candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden or Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio to mend the coalition of class voters a worker who for decades has helped put the Democrats in the White House.
"I think we know what the ingredients are," said Rebecca Kirszner Katz, a Democratic strategist. "And I think we're trying to figure out if that person exists."
The party's candidates and strategists have been working on medium-term results in recent days, looking for clues to what could resonate with voters, according to interviews with around two dozen candidates, assistants and strategists.
Some are discouraged by Trump's strength and ability to recover even in the mid-term elections, which suggests that the business of dissuading it is more difficult than many realize.
"This was not a historical rebuke," said a Democratic strategist working for a potential candidate in 2020, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a sincere evaluation. "He got his base to reveal himself twice … I do not think anyone should have any confidence … How many times do you have to trust Trump and then be denied? People thought that 2016 was a stroke of luck. he is underestimating him again. "
Others are optimistic about what they see as a loosening of Trump's grip on the electors of the working class who abandoned the Democrats for him in 2016.
What the medium-term results did not do was select a field that could be larger and more cumbersome than any other recent memory. Almost everyone who meditated on an offer could find a result that offered a reason to run, or just as quickly find a reason to take a step.
"The fact that the 'blue wall' reaffirmed again gave some of the 2020 candidates an argument to say:" I have the opportunity to appeal to Rust Belt voters, and this it's the road to victory. "And I think they'll get a good hearing on this," said Brian Fallon, a Democratic counselor who served as Hillary Clinton's press secretary in 2016. "But I tend to think that activists in Iowa will continue to go where their hearts guide them, and they will not necessarily make a kind of pragmatic decision about who can appeal to Obama-Trump voters, they are more likely to gravitate on the candidate who inspires them most. "
The debate between these options, which took place quietly in the two years since Trump shocked the party and sent him to tilt without a leader, will be resolved in the course of the next year when a vast field will begin to compete openly for various sectors Primary electorate. Candidates are already recruiting staff members and identifying financial teams to help them in the first of many tests: raising funds.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Is aggressively building a fundraising network and a political network, while Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) Will follow several recent trips to primary states with a book tour of high profile. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is returning to South Carolina on Friday, while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) Has said he is considering a presidential nomination, after all, but that excludes it.
Before now, one of the fundamental questions about the next presidential campaign was whether the Democrats pushed for a candidate to interfere with Trump in a disgusting style that pushes the partisans of both sides, or turns to someone looking for a more positive and message of union Many of the party's successes on Tuesday have gone to the last one.
"The way you beat Trump is not like him," said David Axelrod, Democratic advisor and former senior strategist of President Barack Obama. "There's this kind of debate about" Do you campaign with a clenched fist or an open hand? "The candidates who won did not win as Donald Trump's tools of destruction." They ran for an alternative vision that was constructive and positive and spoke to people's everyday concerns. "
Candidates like O & # 39; Rourke – as well as government candidates Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia – ignited the passion among Democrats across the country. They managed to collect huge sums of money from everyday donors and created viral moments that pushed their state-based candidacies into national acclamations.
"It was a model," said Axelrod. "The thing that distinguishes Beto O & Rourke was not a problem, it was his fundamental call to the character, his fundamental call to the community, I think there is a great lesson in this, we tend to be very tactical and parochial in the way where we think about these things, but there's something going on out there, I think the country is hungry for it. "
But O & Rourke did not focus on Trump. And while the Democratic primaries are underway, the demands of a more aggressive position against the president remain thirsty.
"You're not going to beat this guy talking about puppies and daisies," said attorney Michael Avenatti. "You have to inspire people, but you can not inspire people to win against Trump, not in 2020. It will not happen.You have to get into the sewer with this guy and make the shots.You have to take a lot of punishment and inflict a lot of punishment. a candidate who tries to be a cheerleader. "
Avenatti won national attention by representing Stormy Daniels, who claimed that she and Trump had an alliance. He said he is considering a presidential bid based on being in a unique position to interact with Trump.
"It is not who among the Democrats can make the best president." If the Democrats answer this question, it is very likely that they will lose the elections in 2020, "said Avenatti. "The question is: who fits with this particular individual right now?"
Warren might try to assume himself as someone who can unite the different desires within the party – as the author of a populist message that could play well in the Midwest but also has a talent for capitalizing on passionate and viral moments.
Distinguishing himself from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Who has occupied a similar political space in the 2016 campaign and may try to run again, he also hopes to tap into the vast new energy of the candidates and activists.
"Two years ago, on a very dark election night, millions of women watched in horror when Donald Trump was elected president," he said in his victory speech Tuesday. "He did not like it, but they did not whimper, they did not whimper, they fought … And that's how real change begins."
There are also more peaceful candidates, hoping to break into the national scene. Some have pointed to Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, with a raw political talent and a record of talking loudly against racism. John Hickenlooper, the outgoing governor of Colorado, who contributed to the campaign for candidates during the midterms, plans to spend the next few months evaluating whether to run on a bipartisan governance platform.
"In the Midwest we saw good pragmatic candidates who really wanted to do things, they were not looking for a soapbox and a place to shout their ideas," Hickenlooper said. "It is almost the opposite of Trump, it is the antidote to Trump, where neither side ends up in ecstasy or enthusiastic about the compromise, but everyone realizes that this is progress. country ".
But his candidacy will test the question of whether there is room for that kind of politics.
"This is the $ 62,000 question," he said. "Because it does not create media".
Towards the mid-term elections, many Democrats hoped that their new flashy stars – especially O Rourke, Gillum and Abrams – would win decisive victories, definitively proving that blatantly liberal, young and dynamic candidates were the future not only of the party but of a rapidly diversifying country.
"People want us to pursue this unicorn, Obama-Trump voters," said Bakari Sellers, a political commentator and former representative of the state of South Carolina. "We have to focus on energy in our party. the same thing we did. "
But none of the three won on Tuesday – O & # 39; Rourke was defeated, and the races of Gillum and Abrams remain in the air. Some suggest that you emphasize the limits of passionate candidates, who tend to attack both sides. Democrats who run as more pragmatic messengers to working class voters in the states that Trump won could at least claim success.
Brown, who won re-election in Ohio and is known for his crumpled clothes and hoarse voice, raised his eyebrows with a nighttime electoral speech that pleaded for Democrats to follow his path – if not him.
"Populists are not racist, populists are not anti-Semitic," he said. "We do not appeal to some by pushing others down We do not lie We are not involved in hate speech and we do not take children from their families off the border."
"We will show America how we celebrate organized work and all workers – Dayton's maid, Toledo employee, Colombo's nurse, Coshocton's miner," he continued. "This is the message that comes out of Ohio in 2018, and this is the program for our country in 2020".
Senator Amy Klobuchar shares that lane after winning easy re-election in Minnesota. Biden, who has made a career of calling himself "bourgeois Joe", is also a beneficiary of a strategy that spans the Midwest.
Without a candidate who can relate to voters, some Democrats argue that Trump has a chance to recover in the same places he won the presidency. Even among the Democratic victories in the Midwest on Tuesday, there were signs that Trump had improved his position.
In Michigan, where Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won the governorship, the exit polls had Trump's vote of approval at 44 percent. When Trump won the state in 2016, his exit poll rating was 39%.
"The path for the Democrats goes through the Rust Belt, I do not think there's any way out of it," said Larry Rasky, a long-standing confidant of Biden and campaign strategist. "That's where Trump won, that's where he knocked over the tables, and that's where he lost Tuesday night."
"If you do the math in 2020 it's hard to see a path for Democrats who do not start in Pennsylvania and end up in Minnesota," Rasky said. "That formula was shown again Tuesday night, but there are no other ways to get there, but if we have to rely on Texas and Florida to win in 2020, we're just looking for a couple of aces for a full house."