The 2020 Presidential Election: A Spec Explainer

Reading Time: 25 minutes

The 2020 election has been raging for a bit over a year—since Mass. Senator Elizabeth Warren launched an exploratory committee on December 31, 2018. But 13 months and 32 campaigns later, the Iowa caucuses are tomorrow, and the New York primary, in which a fair number Stuyvesant students will be voting, is just two months away

With the daily deluge of news coverage, it can be difficult to follow the election, especially if you are a well-adjusted person and didn’t start following it last spring. Here then is The Spectator’s very own explainer on the 2020 Presidential Election.

Part 0: Are There Republicans Running?

Technically, there are two fields right now: a Democratic field and a Republican field. The Democratic field has narrowed down to 12 candidates, six or seven of whom could be said to have a remotely plausible shot at the nomination. Right now, that’s where the real election is.

The Republican field consists of President Donald Trump and a handful of challengers who are running more to make anti-Trump statements than to win the nomination, at which they have no shot. They are former Ill. Representative William Joseph “Joe” Walsh and former Mass. Governor (and 2016 Libertarian Party candidate for Vice President) William “Bill” Weld; former S.C. Governor Marshall “Mark” Sanford ended his campaign in November.

The New York Times has a fantastic and intuitive graphic explaining who is, was, and never was running; we strongly recommend it.

Part I: What’s the Shape of this Thing? Or, What’s an Iowa Caucus?

The Democratic Primary is the race to nominate someone to run against President Trump as the Democratic Candidate. It consists of a series of statewide contests over the course of the five months from February to June. In each statewide contest, a certain number of delegates are awarded to each candidate based on their performance in that state—sort of like a one-party version of the electoral college with way more electors and stretched over half a year.

The Iowa caucuses, which will be held on February 3, are the first of these statewide contests, and that is the sole reason they are so important; the number of delegates that Iowa actually contributes to the nominating process is unremarkable. A great Iowa performance can propel struggling candidates by making others take them seriously. For instance, Sen. Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses sent him from trailing 20 points in national polls behind Sen. Hillary Clinton to being right behind her, while her third-place performance established her vulnerability; a little over a month later, he overtook her, and the rest is history. Similarly, the surprising performance of Vt. Senator Bernard “Bernie” Sanders (also a 2020 candidate) in Iowa in 2016 showed he was running a real campaign and wasn’t just a protest candidate against Secretary Clinton, and Ted Cruz’s victory in the 2016 Iowa caucuses established him as the leading non-Trump candidate of the Republican field.

In other words, a lot of establishing goes on in Iowa, and that’s its value. Underdogs hope it will give them a boost, and favorites hope it won’t embarrass them. The reason they’re called the “Iowa caucuses” rather than the “Iowa primary” is because they are, well, a bunch of caucuses. Instead of Iowa Democrats casting a closed-ballot vote for a candidate, they go to openly declare their support for their candidate of choice, standing in their candidate’s area of the caucus space. The caucuses go on for some time throughout the night, during which caucusers can move around from candidate to candidate. The caucus method has drawn some criticism for its lack of closed ballot voting and the fact that its time-consumption is exclusionary toward people who work long hours and people with children.

There will be three other contests in February. Along with Iowa, they make up the “early state contests”: the New Hampshire primary (February 11), the Nevada caucuses (February 22), and the South Carolina primary (February 29). Then, March 3 will see Super Tuesday, when there will be 1616 primaries, many of them in the South and one in California, which contributes a lot of delegates to the nominating process. On Super Tuesday, one candidate traditionally pulls ahead of the pack, either clinching the nomination—that is, passing the threshold of delegates needed to win the nomination—or gaining a near-insurmountable lead.

The nominating contests will last until June (with the New York primary on April 28), and from July 13 to July 16, Milwaukee, Wisconsin will host the Democratic National Convention, where the delegates elected in the statewide contests will officially vote on a nominee. At this point, one candidate will likely have clinched the nomination, from a combination of delegates they won themselves and delegates won by a candidate who later dropped out. The National Convention is usually essentially a coronation. The one surprise might be the Vice Presidential pick, depending on how coy the nominee is about their pick. Traditionally, the nominee announces their pick a few days before the convention.

There is a small possibility, however, that there will be no presumptive nominee by July. If this were to happen, there would be a brokered convention, during which candidates actually have to battle it out. At a brokered convention, the delegates vote multiple times (103, in 1924) on a nominee, until they arrive at a winner. At a brokered convention, all bets are off. New candidates can enter the race. Old candidates can come back. Delegates switch from candidate to candidate. Kingmakers emerge. The convention, which is supposed to be a celebration of party unity, becomes a no-holds-barred contest between the various camps. It’s brutal—and it would almost certainly weaken whomever the eventual nominee was.

On the Republican side, things will be much simpler. Barring removal from office, Trump will be the nominee, and the Republican National Convention (from August 24 to August 27 in Charlotte, North Carolina) will be a celebration of his first term and an attack on the Democratic Party and its nominee.

For the next several months, the general election—that is, the election between Trump and the Democratic nominee—will be in full swing. In September and October, there will be three Presidential debates and one Vice Presidential debate, and on November 3, 2020, Americans will pick electors to pick the next President.

Part IIa: Who are the Republican Candidates?

I’ve already explained the Republican field in all the depth it needs, so I’ll let that be that.

Part IIb: What are the Democratic Lanes?

Generally, primaries can be thought of in terms of “lanes,” with different candidates trying to compete for particular niches. However, there are different ways to think of the lanes.

You can think of them in ideological terms: there is a moderate lane and a progressive lane. This lane system is the easiest to sort out, so I’m going to organize this article around it. However, its shortcomings doesn’t accurately reflect what actually happens in the primary.

It’s also important to note that emphasizing ideological differences can paper over the amount the candidates have in common. As moderates like former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Peter “Pete” Buttigieg frequently point out, if elected, they would be the most progressive Presidents in a half-century should they get their policy agendas through. For instance, the difference between “Medicare for All” and “Medicare for All Who Want It,” as Mayor Buttigieg calls his policy, is far less significant than the difference between either Republican health plans.

The most significant policy differences between candidates probably lies in foreign policy, in which the division is less moderates versus progressives and more Sen. Sanders and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard versus the rest of the field.

If you want to know with which candidate you most align on policy, the Washington Post has a great 20-question interactive (full disclosure: I agree most with former Mass. Governor Deval Patrick, former N.Y.C., N.Y. Mayor Michael “Mike” Bloomberg; Minn. Senator Amy Klobuchar; and Businessman Thomas “Tom” Steyer and least with Rep. Gabbard and Sen. Sanders); www.ISideWith.com has a more in-depth one, designed to place quiz-takers on the larger U.S. political spectrum rather than just within the Democratic primary.

You can also think of lanes in terms of which voters they appeal to, and the fact that this lane system exists separately from the ideological lane system is the main shortcoming of the ideological lane system. People vote for a lot more than ideology, which is why the most common second choices of supporters of former Vice President Joseph R. “Joe” Biden, Jr. and Buttigieg, two moderates, are Sanders and Sen. Warren, two progressives.

And, perhaps most usefully, you can think of them in terms of fundraising: to whom are candidates appealing for money, which is ultimately what lets them run their campaigns? Sanders has raised massive amounts of money almost entirely from small donors—a central selling point of his campaign. In contrast, Vice President Biden and Buttigieg have spent more time appealing to rich potential big donors. On the total opposite end of the spectrum from any other candidate, Mayor Bloomberg is entirely self-funded, which he is able to pull off thanks to his $60 billion net worth (Forbes listed Bloomberg as the eighth richest person in America in 2019. He is very, very rich).

Part III: The Moderate Democrats

Finally, the candidates!

The Moderate Democrats include Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Sen. Klobuchar. Also running in this lane, but far less notable, are Colo. Senator Michael Bennet and Gov. Patrick (the close reader is correct to have noticed that, yes, there are two former Massachusetts Governors running in this race, each in a different party).

Former Vice President Joseph R. “Joe” Biden, Jr.

Biden, who would be 77 on Election Day and 78 on his Inauguration, has maintained a strong and consistent lead since RealClearPolitics first started keeping track of polling in December 2018, four months before he even announced his candidacy, despite a series of attacks from his left (based on his moderate history) and his right (based on his son Hunter’s position at the Ukranian energy company Burisma). He is widely predicted to be the nominee (the political prognostication blog FiveThirtyEight gives him a 41 percent chance).

This is his third time running, and he has far more experience than anyone else in the field. From 1973 to 2009—36 years, or almost as long as Buttigieg has been alive—he served in the Senate, and he spent 2009 to 2017 in the Vice Presidential Mansion. The central appeal of his campaign is that he can beat Trump, and despite much criticism from the left wing of the party, he is widely beloved by voters and has particularly strong support from black voters.

His strong black support is a real advantage in the primary and much of why he is expected to win. A likely path for the primary is that Biden turns in merely okay performances in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada before blowing the competition away in South Carolina and then again on the heavily Southern Super Tuesday, clinching the nomination by April. The exact reason for his strong black support has been a matter of much debate, which you can check out here, here, and here.

But one of the most important points in the debate was made by FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon, Jr. in his article “Why Black Voters Prefer Establishment Candidates Over Liberal Alternatives”: "Second—and this is important—black Democrats are not a monolith and are divided in some of the same ways white Democrats are divided. Young black voters are less supportive of Biden (and were less supportive of Clinton in 2016) compared to older black voters. Similarly, black voters without college degrees are more supportive of Biden than those with degrees."

That sounds a bit platitude-y, but it’s important—both for the moral reason that one shouldn’t treat groups of people as monoliths and for the analytical reason that look a non-monolith as a monolith will hurt one’s analysis.

Former N.Y.C., N.Y. Mayor Michael “Mike” Bloomberg

Bloomberg, who would be 78 on Election Day and on his Inauguration, was by far the latest major candidate to enter the race, having announced his candidacy just a few months ago in late November 2019. He has since spent more than $250 million, entirely out of his own pocketbook, on getting himself to fourth place (second among the moderates) on the FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average.

His strategy is to focus his energy on non-early states and pull ahead later, so don’t expect to hear a lot about him after Iowa, N.H., Nev., or S.C., where he has been polling unsurprisingly poorly. There’s not much polling for later states, but given how weak he is in early states and how strong he is nationally, it’s not much of a jump to assume that his strategy is working, at least for now—though there’s some risk for Bloomberg that his project is doomed from conception and that early state results will boost early state winners in later states. His strategy was given a boost, though, by a recent change in the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) rules governing what it takes for candidates to qualify for debates taking place after the New Hampshire primary. That change got rid of the threshold of the number of small donors candidates need to get onto the stage—a threshold that, given that his campaign is self-funded, Bloomberg was never going to meet (the change, which also doubled the percentage that at which candidates need to register in four national polls or two early state polls, will also make it more difficult for Businessman Andrew Yang to get onto the stage. It has upset many people).

His best shot at the nomination is probably a brokered convention: if he were to go into a brokered convention with a decent number of delegates, it’s possible that he could convince moderate delegates to rally around him; given how late he entered the race, even doing decently at that point would be impressive, and he entered the race because of a widespread perception among moderate Democrats of a dearth of good options. If they still think that at the convention, Bloomberg could be their white knight.

A Bloomberg general election candidacy would make for a race between two N.Y.C. billionaires, and that’s part of Bloomberg’s appeal—to many Democrats who think Trump is insecure about having inherited his fortune, the idea of running a “real” (and, in any case, much richer) billionaire against him is downright tantalizing.

To other Democrats, Bloomberg is an oligarch with little respect for constraints on executive power—as mayor, he was a powerful leader who served three terms after getting the City Council to repeal a two-term limit (the limit was reinstated by a 2010 referendum)—who is using his obscene amounts of money to hold down the party’s progressive wing.

Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Peter “Pete” Buttiegieg

Buttigieg, who would be 38 on Election Day and 39 on his Inauguration, is the first openly gay major Presidential candidate and would be the youngest President to date (the current record-holder, Theodore Roosevelt, was 42 when he took the job). It’s a bit of an irony, then, that he polls best with older voters and worst with younger voters (though, at least in Iowa, the difference seems to have subsided somewhat).

His supporters see him as a wunderkind—he speaks seven languages, attended Harvard, was a Rhodes Scholar, and even served as a Marine in Afghanistan—who can save the party and attract support in the Midwest, where Clinton underperformed in 2016.

His detractors see him as an attention-seeking empty suit, lacking in experience and vapid on policy. They often point to the fact that, over the course of the campaign, he has significantly switched the focus on his messaging. While he has kept his policies consistent, he has switched which ones he emphasizes. When he was a young longshot and far from a frontrunner in early 2019, he focused on radical systemic overhauls like abolishing the Electoral College and expanding the Supreme Court. Over the summer and fall, however, he pivoted, staking out a spot for himself as the younger moderate of the race, emphasizing instead on policies like not abolishing private health insurance all at once and not making all public college free for all people. Though his defenders point out that Buttigieg’s was a shift in focus rather than substance, his critics see it as classic political duplicity.

He has also faced significant criticism on his handling of police racism in South Bend, and at least partly due to this, black voters seem to distrust him; his support among them, even when it has been at its strongest among all Democratic voters, has been consistently anemic. Unless Buttiegieg can sway them, his campaign is probably doomed, both because black voters are a significant constituency in the Democratic Party and because white Democratic voters don’t want to be part of a movement that lacks black support.

He attracted a lot of attention last spring, briefly rising to third place for a little under half a month, but has since fallen down to fifth, just barely surpassed by Bloomberg in the last week. Some of his luster seems to have faded, and his path to the nomination relies on him winning, or at least outperforming Biden, in Iowa, re-attracting attention from moderates as a serious candidate, convincing black voters of his genuineness and ability, and leading the moderate wing of the party to victory.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar, who would be 60 on Election Day and on her Inauguration, represents a sort of middle ground for Democratic moderates: she’s not in her 70s and doesn’t have nearly five decades of baggage, but she’s also not the 38-year-old mayor of the fourth largest city in Indiana. On top of that, she’s currently serving her third term in the Senate, where she’s incredibly productive; she’s never lost an election and she’s a Midwesterner. Oh, and she’s one of three women left in the race, and the only moderate among them, and along with Warren, she won The New York Times’s endorsement.

So why is her current FiveThirtyEight national polling average, which is the highest it’s ever been—3.3 percent—putting her in seventh place and fourth behind the moderates? Why is it that she just barely qualifies as a viable candidate?

One answer is that her campaign had a rough start. Less than a fortnight after she launched, The New York Times released an exposé of her treatment of her staffers. While some objected that the criticisms of Klobuchar wouldn’t have been leveled at a male politician for the same behavior, the consensus when the report came out was that the behaviors detailed in it would be unacceptable coming from anyone. While talk of the report has largely subsided since March, it’s possible that it is what has kept her down in the polls and that if she were to gain serious traction again, discussions of the report would begin anew.

Another answer is that Klobuchar lacks the charisma necessary to win a Presidential primary. There are two problems with this: one, “charisma” is an incredibly nebulous concept. Two (and related to one), “charisma” can be a smokescreen for sexism. Characterizations of Klobuchar as “uncharismatic” have dogged her since the first debate, but they have not similarly dogged, say, Biden, whose answers have often meandered and lacked clarity. Nonetheless, the “uncharismatic” criticism does seem to be a problem, and it has not similarly attached itself to Warren, the other viable woman candidate in the race.

Those problems notwithstanding, Klobuchar still has serious potential appeal as a cogent (unlike, at times, Biden) moderate with experience and substance (unlike Buttigieg), one who is running with votes and support rather than money (unlike Bloomberg). If she can make her case to moderate voters before time runs out, she could win. But the clock is ticking.

The Leftovers

The other two moderate candidates, Sen. Bennet and Patrick, do not stand a chance. They currently stand at 10th, 11th, and 12th place in the FiveThirtyEight national average, with a combined average of one percent. If they were one candidate, they would still be in last place, half a point behind Gabbard. Expect them to drop out shortly; immediately following a poor performance in a statewide contest is a traditional time for candidates to drop out (of the 12 candidates who dropped out in 2016 during the voting period, eight did so the night of or the day after a contest), so don’t be surprised if all three are gone by February 3 or 4.

Patrick was widely thought to be the favorite of President Obama last spring and might have had a strong shot had he entered then, but he first declined and then decided to launch a campaign in November 2019. Why he is running is not clear.

Bennet is an accomplished 10-year Senator with a substantive record who is a cogent speaker and was cited by Obama, along with Buttigieg and Calif. Senator Kamala Harris, as a gifted potential leader for the party after the 2016 Presidential Election. But he has caught zero traction, and his FiveThirtyEight national polling average has never gone above 0.7 percent. How he even still has money to be running a campaign is a bit of a mystery.

Part IV: The Progressive Democrats

The Progressive Democratic race is much narrower and simpler: it consists of Sanders and Warren, with Gabbard representing a longshot, and somewhat weirder, choice.

Vt. Senator Bernard “Bernie” Sanders

Sanders, who would be 79 on Election Day and on his Inauguration, launched himself to national fame with his 2016 run against Clinton. He is the progressive frontrunner and has spent most of the race in second place behind Biden, though Warren occupied that spot from late August to late November. He has spent his life as an open socialist and is the only candidate in the field to call himself one, though the actual policy differences between him and Warren are relatively minor and few (for instance, Sanders supports canceling student debt for everyone; Warren only supports doing so for people with lower incomes). Even if they’re reflective of deeper ideological differences between the two, one consistent but not necessarily major difference between them is that Warren tends to support means-testing for government programs (that is, changing their availability and extent according to the needs of the recipients), and Sanders does not, because Warren sees such programs as necessary parts of a well-functioning capitalism, and Sanders sees them as providing universal human rights under an absolutely equal socialism.

His path to the nomination seems clear: he has high favorability among Democrats and has recently been surging in Iowa, with a recent New York Times poll putting him at 25 percent, seven points ahead of the next highest candidate, Buttigieg. He is already expected to win in N.H. and Nev., and a win in Iowa would likely boost him in those states and could bring him closer to Biden in S.C. Additionally, the momentum he would gain from winning early state contests would likely attract supporters of candidates who drop out during the voting. It is very easy to imagine him winning the nomination, which is why FiveThirtyEight currently gives him a 26 percent chance at it.

His criticism in the primary has come from both the left and the right. On the former front, he’s been accused of prioritizing issues of class and not caring enough about issues of race, gender, and sexuality. For instance, he endorsed Cenk Uygur, the host of the progressive show "The Young Turks" with a well-known history of misogynistic comments, before withdrawing the endorsement after backlash. Sanders’s defenders have pointed to his long history of standing up for marginalized groups across the board, but his consistent view of class as ultimately the most important issue, well-grounded in leftist philosophy, still upsets some of his fellow progressives.

From the right, Sanders has been criticized for supporting policies that would cost massive amounts of money and that, according to critics, would consist of government overreach. Critics of Medicare for All, for instance, point to its $30 trillion-over-a-decade cost and argue that it would destabilize the American health insurance industry while depriving Americans of choice in health insurance.

Some Democrats are also bitter toward Sanders for his 2016 run, during which he first claimed, when Clinton had clinched the nomination in part with unelected “superdelegates,” that her clinching it was not legitimate, and then, when the only path to victory for him was through superdelegates, said that they should support him. These Democrats feel that Sanders should have dropped out in March 2016—when it was clear that Clinton was going to be the nominee—and blame him in part for the lack of enthusiasm and anti-Clinton sentiment that led to her loss. Such Democrats also think that Sanders is too insistent on “purity tests” and labels as an enemy anyone who disagrees with him. Sanders’s defenders point out that this is more a quality of certain Sanders’s supporters than Sanders himself.

Other Democrats (and there is a significant overlap between these Democrats and the ones who are better over 2016) fear that a socialist cannot win a general Presidential election, though in general election head-to-head matchup polls, Sanders is consistently one of the best-performing Democrats against Trump (in battleground state polls, however, the data are less conclusive).

Mass. Senator Elizabeth Warren

Warren, who would be 71 on Election Day and on her Inauguration, is a progressive, like Sanders. However, whereas Sanders has spent his life as a leftist revolutionary, Warren has spent hers as an academic. For much of her life, she was a Republican, and while researching the causes of income inequality made her into the progressive she is today, she is still not the revolutionary Sanders has always been, famously describing herself as “a capitalist to my bones.” She has also spent much less time in politics than Sanders, who has been serving in Congress since 1991; she only entered the Senate in 2013 on her first campaign.

She tends to support pretty sweeping, but often means-tested, welfare policy. However, she has gotten most attention for her Medicare for All plan, for which she has avoided questions about how she paycarry it out. It was this evasion that took her from briefly beating Biden in some national polls to sitting in a solid third place slot, behind Sanders and ahead of Buttigieg.

This evasion on Medicare for All, however, ran against her general political strategy, which has consisted of immensely detailed policies, in contrast with the Presidential campaign tradition of decently specific but largely vague proposals. Because of her detailed and numerous posts on Medium, her unofficial campaign slogan has become “She’s Got a Plan for That” (“Elizabeth Warren has an answer for everything,” a June New York Times Magazine cover read. “Is that enough?”).

She is well-liked by Democratic voters, has a pretty clear standard path to the nomination (she regains the support she had in autumn, basically), and with an endorsement from the Des Moines Register, could outperform expectations or even win in Iowa. To win, she’ll have to appeal to supporters of Sanders and Buttigieg (she is the second choice of both), particularly the latter, as he could drop out as soon as Super Tuesday. As with Sanders, though, there are serious concerns, based in polling as well as in doubts over leftists’ appeal to voters and over sexism, about Warren’s ability to win a general election.

Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard would be 39 on Election Day and on her Inauguration, and in addition to being the first female President, she would be the first Hindu President and the first Somoan-American President. She is also a very weird candidate.

On domestic policy, she is on the more progressive side of the party—she first made national headlines when she resigned as Vice Chair of the DNC to endorse Sanders’s Presidential campaign (DNC officials aren’t allowed to endorse primary candidates)—but she isn’t quite as progressive as Warren or Sanders. Though she favors maintaining private health insurance and wants to make college affordable rather than free, she would ban both hydraulic fracturing (better known as “fracking”) and nuclear energy (which does not contribute to climate change) as well as cancel student loan debt.

Her hardline progressive—and weird—side comes out more on issues of foreign policy. A veteran, Gabbard served in Iraq and Kuwait, and she is vigorously anti-war and supports slashing defense funding and withdrawal of U.S. soldiers around the globe.

That’s her progressivism in a nutshell. Her weirdness is centered mostly on the war in Syria, which she has repeatedly characterized as a “regime change war” carried out by the U.S. in spite of the fact that it is a civil war, in which the U.S. has provided some assistance to rebels against the government of President and dictator Bashar al-Assad. And, though she has unequivocally condemned President Assad, she also met with him and said that he was not responsible for chemical attacks in Syria.

At the same time as she protests the U.S.’s lending assistance to anti-Assad rebels, Gabbard has also strongly criticized the U.S. for not being aggressive enough toward terrorists. It’s a jarring description now, but a 2015 Washington Post article said that she “often sounds more like a hawkish Republican than a potential future Democratic leader” on foreign policies.

And she’s got other bits of eclectic weirdness, too. She was the only Rep., for instance, to vote against the Articles of Impeachment against Trump in December (and she was one of only five Democrats not to vote for both of them).

More because of that weirdness than because of any policy positions (see above for her progressivism), she has attracted positive attention from conservatives, polling very well with Democratic primary voters who identify as conservative or even Republican and being a semi-regular guest on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight. And she has repeatedly sparred with establishment Democrats, most notably Clinton, whom she has called a “warmonger” and who has in turn accused her of being a “Russian asset.” Gabbard sued Clinton for her comments on January 22, 2020, the weird lawsuit reading more like a campaign speech than a legal document.

Her weirdness has gotten Gabbard a lot of media attention. Don’t let that fool you: she’s not going to win the nomination, and speculation that she might run as a third-party candidate is nothing more than just that: speculation, with no basis in fact and repeatedly denied by Gabbard. She has never risen above 1.8 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average and currently sits in ninth place at 1.5 percent. She will likely drop out shortly, endorse Sanders, and, if he is not the nominee, endorse whomever the nominee is.

Part V: The Weird Candidates; or, Just Get to the #YangGang Already

Gabbard is a weird candidate, but there are currently two other weird candidates who don’t fit neatly into either the moderate or the progressive box. Neither has any government experience, and both have an eclectic bunch of policies ranging from the moderate to the progressive to the not-really-on-that-spectrum-but-bizarre. They are Steyer and Yang.

Businessman Andrew Yang

Yang is an entrepreneur with a background at the head of a nonprofit focused on job-creation. He’s famous mostly for two things: his central policy of universal basic income (UBI) (as he calls it, a “Freedom Dividend” of $1000 a month for every American adult) and his fanbase, the Yang Gang (or, as it’s usually styled, #YangGang). His politics are progressive, but the eccentricity of his candidacy, combined with his buoyant personality, has attracted widespread support outside the party—he polls at 18 percent among college Republicans.

In addition to supporting UBI, he wants sunset provisions—provisions for a set expiration date—on all federal legislation and is a strong proponent of the idea that automation, rather than outsourcing, is to blame for manufacturing job loss.

He is almost certainly not going to win, but the fact that he has managed to get this far without a billion-dollar fortune is impressive.

Businessman Tom Steyer

Steyer’s success, on the other hand, can be chalked up to his massive personal wealth, of which he has spent over $200 million on his campaign (though it should be stressed that not all billionaires are created equal—Steyer’s $1.6 billion fortune does not begin to compete with Bloomberg’s). His policies are an amalgam across the spectrum, though that should not be taken to mean that they are contradictory; they stand on their own. He supports the continued existence of private health insurance, but he also supports a wealth tax and would ban fracking. Policy-wise, he arguably belongs in the progressive column (and he has made several efforts to win the friendship of Sanders), but the fact that he is a billionaire means he’s not likely to be winning any votes from supporters of Sanders or Warren anytime soon.

It is very difficult to imagine Steyer winning the nomination, but given the strength of his polling in South Carolina and his personal fortune, it is not difficult to imagine him being an influential force later in the process, such as at a brokered convention.

Part VI: How Did We Get Here? Or, What About Beto?

Long story short: the race started with Biden and Sanders in first and second place, respectively, and many candidates below them, and that’s where it is now.

Long story medium: the race started with Biden and Sanders in first and second place, respectively. It looked like Former Texas Representative Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, who nearly defeated Republican Senator Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections. He might be a serious candidate in December 2018, but a Vanity Fair profile in which he said, “Man, I’m just born to be in [politics]” all but doomed his candidacy a month before he announced it; he dropped out in November 2019.

During the spring of 2019, Buttigieg broke out into prominence through a series of public displays of erudition as the public got to know his remarkable public speaking abilities. He’s basically been on the same plateau since April though.

Meanwhile, Sen. Harris entered the race as one of the stronger candidates, and during the summer briefly joined Biden, Sanders, and Warren in the top four after she called out Biden for his past opposition to federally mandated school busing in the first debate. But that brief post-debate jump was her peak, and she continually fell after it, falling below Buttigieg in October 2019 and ending her campaign two months later.

Warren started the race in the same tier as N.J. Senator Cory Booker and Harris, and a bit below Rep. O’Rourke, but while Harris was briefly spiking, O’Rourke was falling, and Sen. Booker was failing to ever gain traction, she slowly but steadily rose in the polls, establishing herself as one of the top three candidates along with Biden and Sanders. In autumn, she surpassed Sanders, and depending on which polling average you’re looking at, was even briefly neck-and-neck with Biden. But in mid-October, facing scrutiny over how she would pay for her Medicare for All plan, her fortunes reversed. She fell below Sanders in late November and is currently in a very clear third place, well above Bloomberg but well below Sanders in national polling.

Other candidates have dropped out. In order of when they did so, they are former W.V. State Senator Richard Ojeda, Calif. Representative Eric Swallwell, former Alaska Senator Maurice “Mike” Gravel, Colo. Governor John Hickenlooper (who is now running to replace Republican Senator Cory Gardner), Wash. Governor Jay Inslee, Mass. Representative Seth Moulton, N.Y. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, N.Y.C. Mayor Bill De Blasio, Ohio Rep. Timothy “Tim” Ryan, Miramar, Fla. Mayor Wayne Messam, Pa. Representative Joseph “Joe” Sestak, Mont. Governor Steve Bullock, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Author (and spiritual advisor to Oprah) Marianne Williamson, and Md. Representative John Delaney. You do not need to know who any of these people are, but you may want to remember Sec. Castro’s name. Sen. Ojeda, Sen. Gravel, and Mayor Messam never even made it to the debate stage, and Gravel’s was openly an anti-war protest campaign run by a small group of teenagers (full disclosure: I knew one of those teenagers, David Oks, when he attended Ivry Prozdor High School program at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America).

Part VII: When Does the General Election Begin? Or, I Barely Skimmed Through This Article and Don’t Care About Primaries at All; When Do I Need to Start Paying Attention?

You need to start paying attention when the Democratic party has a presumptive nominee, which is when the general campaign will start. This will likely happen by late March or early April, though there’s a chance that there’s a brokered convention. And if there’s a brokered convention, you probably want to pay attention to it even if you don’t normally care about primary politics.

But with the Iowa Caucuses tomorrow, the nine-month-long sports season we call the Presidential Election will really, truly begin.

Buckle up.