But in the selection of their 2020 presidential nominee, Democrats will face a genuine crossroads. Few, if any, potential candidates would be equally effective at both energizing the party base and reassuring swing voters. Candidates who tilt mostly toward reassurance might include former Vice President Joe Biden, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Those best positioned to mobilize could include Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, two younger lawmakers who embody the party’s growing racial diversity, as well as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, two graying lions of the left.
Among Democratic political professionals, there’s probably a narrow majority that favors focusing on ordinarily Republican-leaning voters repulsed by Trump. However, the L.A. immigration rally was revealing because it showed the potential strength of the alternative strategy of mobilization.
Held on a cloudless Southern California day, the rally against Trump’s now-suspended policy of separating undocumented children and parents at the border buzzed with energy from the outset. The crowd roared when speakers denounced Trump’s agenda, not only on family separation, but also on other immigration issues, as a violation of American values and an open expression of racism. (“This is not about national security,” declared one local Muslim cleric who spoke. “This is about racial purity.”) Hand-lettered signs bobbing above the crowd captured both the antipathy and urgency that Trump has stirred in much of urban America. “Free the Children, Deport the Racists,” read one. “This is what fascism looks like,” insisted another.
Especially striking was how many young people the rally attracted. In the 2016 general election, Hillary Clinton saw a critical slice of young voters drift away to the minor-party alternatives of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. And lately, Democrats have fretted about 2018 election polls showing Millennial voters displaying much less interest than older generations. But the rally drew a large contingent of young people. Virtually all of them whom I spoke with described Trump’s victory, and the support he has sustained in office, as a sobering wake-up call.
Having reached political awareness during Barack Obama’s administration, Emma Tehrani, a 23-year-old law student from Phoenix, thought the United States was on an irreversible path toward greater tolerance of differences in race, religion, and sexual preference. Then, the election happened. “I think a lot of people my age viewed the progress of the country as linear,” she said. “So it was definitely somewhat shocking.” Vanessa Guerrero, a 28-year-old from Los Angeles working in customer service, was equally blindsided. “I didn’t think people would actually believe him,” she told me. “I’m just in shock, and months later it hits home even more because I’m Mexican and my parents are immigrants.”