In 2020, in a fight against Trump, the style contrast becomes even more critical than it was for Clinton or Obama. On policy today, whether it’s health care, immigration, or guns, Democrats today are largely unified. There may be strong differences in the 2020 primary about abolishing ICE or delivering free college education—more on that later—but the kind of ideological debates that flared in the 2016 primary between Sanders and Hillary Clinton seem less explosive now. Whoever emerges from the primary, whether it’s Kamala Harris or an augmented-reality Bitmoji version of Michael Avenatti pegged to the five minutes last year when people actually like Michael Avenatti, the midterms plainly showed that Democrats will show up to vote for anyone with a D next to their name, no matter the policy platform that lives on their campaign Web site. The choice in the Democratic primary ultimately is about only one thing: who is best prepared to beat Trump at a time when Trump owns the culture? Someone who actually understands culture would be a start.
“If we think about American politics as dramatically polarized and tribal, and you look for ways to puncture the tribal nature of it, I think youth and cultural currency is a significant way of puncturing it against Trump,” said Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Clinton and Obama did not become presidents because they were younger than their aging Republican opponents. That they looked fresh and different was part of it. But their youth, and their attendant instincts, allowed them to plug into mass culture at a time when voters wanted change. Both won because they were able to command the most prized commodity in politics: attention. They were new, and the political media in particular has always been obsessed with new.