Within a year, Democrats will declare their candidacies for President and there will be numerous debates about whether or not America is ready for another woman, (Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand), another African-American (Cory Booker), or both (Kamala Harris). Any four of them could wind up being the nominee, and I know many who feel that without a white, populist man at the top of the ticket, Democrats will lose.
I think these naysayers are wrong – Americans are ready for another woman or POC candidate for president, especially since Hillary Clinton won 65 million votes in the general election. But this debate reflects the rift that the Hillary/Bernie fight opened. One side believes the best way to bring disaffected voters back to the party is by centering economic rights, while the other side believes in owning our status as the party of civil rights. The former issue always threatens to supersede the other, and that creates a problem since you have to have both in order to win.
Hillary beat Bernie Sanders — at least in my opinion — because she could do both and he could only do one. But since her loss to Donald Trump, the balance threatens to tip the other way, as pundits claim we must drop “identity politics” in order to win again.
It’s clear that to take back the country in 2020, we have to speak to both issues effectively, and Democrats have to choose a superb running mate who can provide this balance. This is why I propose Alabama Senator Doug Jones for the no. 2 spot in 2020.
Jones represents both the civil rights activism and the economic populism that can rally voters around the Democratic Party. As a federal prosecutor, he successfully convicted the Baptist Church Bombers, as well as the bomber of the All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham. Black women, the base of our party, organized for Jones last year not just because his opponent, Roy Moore, was such a monster, but because like any good politician, he listened to them and addressed their concerns.
Jones has a strong record of supporting social issues, like protecting the rights of the LGBTQIA community and immigrants, but he’s also advocated for economic populism, arguing for lower healthcare costs and better education funding. Unfortunately, this has led him to side with Donald Trump, as he has voted with the President 53% of the time this past year. While he deserves criticism for this (and it’s part of the reason I wouldn’t want him to run for President), it’s important to remember that he still has to represent a very conservative state, and he does need their support – hence his advocacy for issues like defense spending to create jobs.
However, the fact that Jones hails from a state that won’t turn blue in 2020 is to the Democrat’s advantage. Except for LBJ, no running mate has ever been proven to flip their home state in an election. Free of that burden, Jones can work on addressing both the diverse voters who make up the majority of our base, as well as flipping undecided, independent, or former Trump-voting whites back into the Democrats’ camp. And since the road towards creating a permanent Democratic majority runs through Southern states like Georgia, North Carolina, and even Texas, having a southerner on the ticket might make all the difference. (Side note: Jones, who is up for re-election in 2020, is constitutionally able to run for both Senate and VP.)
It may initially seem like a backhanded compliment to say someone would be a great Vice President. If you look at the history of men who have been Vice President, they’ve all hated the job. Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford’s VP, summed up their gripes when he said, “I never wanted to be vice president of anything.” But right after Rockefeller left office, Walter Mondale transformed the role into that of an activist for the president, as well as sitting in on meetings and advocating for policy. The Democrats who’ve served as VP since, Al Gore and Joe Biden, have also acted as spokesmen for the President while pursuing initiatives of their own, with Gore funding the internet and Biden working to stop campus sexual assault.
The Vice Presidency may not be a job most people want, but it’s still an important one. Doug Jones, a team player who seeks common ground with his opponents, would be a great fit for it, and I hope that Democrats take him seriously as a candidate for 2020.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.