“Kamala Harris is dropping out but Pete Buttigieg is still in?”
I got about a million incredulous texts just like this from black folks I know when Senator Kamala Harris dropped out of the 2020 campaign earlier this week. I got so many texts from black people about Harris I thought Tom Steyer was going to steal my Verizon contacts. The catch is, almost every incredulous text I got was from people who had no intention of voting for Harris in their state’s primary. That, for this week’s power rankings, and the Harris campaign, was always the problem.
The Black Power Rankings committee (Myself, permanent judge Marcus Ferrell formerly of Bernie Sanders 2016 and our rotating committee) was never in the “Harris obituary” business that became a mini-cottage industry for lots of majority media sites over the last month, because we have a different perspective here. The rankings are determined by which candidate, if we just look at the last week in a vacuum, would be the best president for black people. This also implies that black people actually had the voting power to choose a candidate that represents our interests as opposed to filtering our choices through the leftovers after early lily white state primaries have knocked out our favs. Which is ultimately why Harris, a regular contender in our rankings, dropped out, she knew she couldn’t win and wasn’t about to be anybody’s leftovers.
Almost every black person who you talk to will say they liked Kamala Harris in theory, but even when you take into account the folks who had legitimate issues with her criminal justice background, very few people believed that America would make her president. Would black folks really elect a tough on crime AG in the post Black Lives Matter era? Would white folks vote for a bi-racial black woman running against a racist president who’s election was an explicit repudiation of the previous bi-racial president and white woman he ran against? Better yet, was America really going to warm to a black woman with aesthetic and policy crossover appeal in an era where the Stacey Abrams and Ayanna Pressleys of the world are driving political conversation? Toss in racism, sexism and some of the Harris campaign’s actual mistakes and she would have had to run the perfect campaign to even win the nomination.
You can see by Harris rankings over the first 18 weeks of our power rankings, has been both critical and supportive of Harris. We’ll miss her presence in the campaign because on any given week she’d have been better for black folks than most of the rest of the field, because she often centered black voters.
Now that we’re back from our break, this week’s Black Power Rankings are a bit of a reset. As a bonus for our readers, we’ve charted out how your favorite candidate has ranked over these first 18 weeks, and started them more or less from there with a curve. So consider this week a reboot of sorts, as every candidate more or less starts at their average. We are only a debate, a few presents, a popped bottle of champagne and a Super Bowl (*sigh* I’ll probably be watching in Iowa) from the Iowa Caucuses so if there were ever a time for candidates to reboot, step up and realize that black voters matter. It’s this week.
How do you rank a campaign’s Black Power? Well, we have our “FLEX” rating, aka:
- Finances: Are you paying black staff, advertisers, consultants?
- Legislation: What legislation are you pushing or have passed for black people?
- External Polling: No matter how good you are for black people, if your poll numbers are terrible we can’t rank you that high!
- X-Factor: What’s your rhetoric like? How do you handle a crisis or the kinds of events and scandals that directly impact black lives?
#1: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren has been a pretty consistent advocate for black issues throughout the rankings, and the committee, while not totally sold on her, usually feels like the senator is at least trying to do the right thing. Her lowest ranking was in week six, when basically it felt like she mailed it in, but other than that, she’s got a great black staff, got Ayanna Pressley’s endorsement and despite an extreme lack of proper barbershop skills she’s done pretty well with black voters. She’s got a 52 percent approval rating with black voters, and outside of Joe Biden, she’s the candidate black voters have considered the most for the nominee.
With Harris out of the race she’s tied with Booker for third as a first choice among black voters and according to YouGov most of us think she’s electable. The committee gives Warren props for endorsing Sybrina Fulton for Miami-Dade commissioner but to keep it 100, we worry about whether or not E-Nice has what it takes to excite black voters, especially black men in a general election.
She better have a plan for that.
#2: Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
We stan hard for Julián Castro and don’t care how it looks. Castro has long been invited to the cookout by the Black Power Ranking committee. Why? The man literally rattles off the names of unarmed black men and women shot by police at national debates. He calls out the primary system for the white-washed, anachronistic Becky-fest that it has truly become. He praises Fred Hampton. Black Panther Fred Hampton ya’ll. Joe Biden thinks Fred Hampton used to run a junk yard with his son Lamont. Elizabeth Warren thinks he’s Pete Frampton’s long lost brother and would start a chorus of Black Hole Sun. Mayor Pete wouldn’t even guess.
The point is, Castro has made black lives and black policy a central part of his campaign. Plus, his savage attacks on Mayor Pete channels every black person who’s ever worked three jobs, had the highest GPA in the class and served as secretary of the step-team at PWI university only to see a less qualified white guy get the job over you.
Credit to his manager Maya Rupert, who’s managed to keep Castro in the press despite him missing the last debate, and as of this writing, he’s made the donor requirement but not the polling threshold for December’s debate. Castro has never been a polling star, but in a room full of black voters one-on-one, he’d walk out with some numbers.
#3: Sen. Cory Booker
Cory Booker has been up and down these rankings like the stock exchange and that might explain his overall campaign as well. His brand is hard to place. Sorry senator, we aren’t going to love Donald Trump out of office. And no matter how many times you show up with Claire Temple, there is no medical procedure to fix your lack of swag. When Booker gets mad, even justifiably, all you can hear is a black Ned Flanders. Even his attack ads on Mayor Pete seem too nice.
Booker remains relatively high on our rankings because, regardless of his prospects, he’s actually centered black folks throughout much of his campaign with policies on child poverty, diseases of the poor, and he handled a mini-scandal about clean water in Newark, N.J., well. Booker is a potential victim of the great Whitewash Democratic Debate of 2020—and the committee is glad he’s gosh darn heated about it. However, we need to see him make money moves AND polling moves if he’s going to be anything more than a feel good black Jiminy Cricket to a DNC looking for a real live candidate.
#4: Sen. Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders has been very hard to rank in the Power Rankings because committee members have very strong feelings about him and those feelings aren’t always good.
On the one hand, if Bernie Sanders were a LinkedIn profile for president he’d totally be the best for black folks from top to bottom. Unfortunately, Sanders is a real live person, and he has a small but very vocal percentage of supporters who are racist, sexist and problematic as hell, and that’s not counting staffers. From issues of sexual harassment in his campaign to surrogates fighting with other campaigns every week on Twitter, it’s got to make you wonder what would happen if these folks were empowered by St. Bernie actually becoming president. Who you bring to the party is almost as important as what you bring to the table. However, Bernie starts our ranking reboot at No. 4 because even if he is the Larry David of the 2020 candidates maybe if he gets the nomination he’ll pick up the political version of JB Smoove for VP (whom the committee thinks would be Rev. Al Sharpton. Go ahead, try to convince yourself they would not be the most hilarious ticket in presidential history. I would watch a live stream of those two arguing over what to order for lunch.)
#5: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Why do we have a lying MFer ranked so high? Oh, that’s not just a reference to my colleague Michael Harriot’s viral piece. This week Lawrence O’Donnell went AWF on Mayor Pete calling him a liar about the deficit and sonning him on his lack of real world experience.
To be fair, Pete has some experience, but as far as the committee is concerned, after 18 weeks, Mayor Pete appears to be a guy who figured out racism exists with the same shock as a 9-year-old figuring out that mom and the mailman weren’t just “wrestling” on the couch all those years ago. A candidate who has become an amazing racial fabulist, making black folks up out of whole cloth, claiming he had black endorsements he never had and claiming he’ll help black businesses with no evidence that he’ll even try. Mayor Pete makes up more stories about black people than Shonda Rhimes.
Pete’s list of lies and mistakes is exhausting to the committee. So, again, why is Mayor Pete rebooting at 5th place out of 10 ? Because he is literally average. Mayor Pete is the quintessential overly ambitious white politician who can be trusted to do something once he realizes that it serves his purposes. Unlike most of the people who are below him on this list, Mayor Pete doesn’t have many policies that actively harm black folks and he does have a few that actually help. Plus, the committee trusts Nina Smith and Brandon Neal, two of the most influential voices in the Mayor Pete campaign. Trust them enough to think Pete will win the nomination? Hellllllll no. But trust them enough that if President Pete were staring at another Ferguson in the Summer of 2021, he might finally figure out that hiring, not firing, black cops is the way to go? Yeah, we can give him that benefit of the doubt.
#6: Former Vice President Joe Biden
Joe Biden has been one of the more curious candidates on the Black Power Rankings. He’s always led in the polls among black voters since he got into the race, but what he actually will DO for black folks should he become president has been real iffy, week by week. He doesn’t want to legalize marijuana, which would help black folks. He won’t apologize for the crime bill, which would help black folks. A mixtape of mumble rappers with a mouth full of gummy bears is more coherent than some of his debate performances. He’s got an HBCU plan, he’s got a healthcare plan, he’s got plenty of halfway decent plans, but ultimately what does he do for black folks, and why does he start the reboot at No. 6?
Because no matter how you spin it, no matter what the TV pundits and activists say, if you’re clear-eyed and honest about it, Joe Biden still has the best chance of any Democrat running to defeat Trump in a head-to-head contest and that’s the most important thing to any black voter with common sense.
#7: Businessman Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang pushed his way into the Black Power Rankings for the first time in Week 8, and has been a mainstay ever since. My Morgan State University students liked his video interview with my colleague Terrell Starr, and he is literally the first candidate my barber ever asked me about. My fellow Power Rankings judge Marcus Ferrell has a monthly accounting of how much money he’d have in his pocket under Yang’s universal basic income plan.
However, after 18 weeks, Yang still leaves the committee with some questions. Yang’s brand is a kind of “model minority” minstrel show that leaves us wondering if he would be a strong advocate for black voters above and beyond a few technocratic ideas about wellness and automation. The committee wonders if Yang is that black girl at the office who would let white co-workers touch her hair and mispronounce her name because she doesn’t want to rock the boat. His catchphrase “I’m the opposite of Donald Trump, an Asian man that likes math” is the kind of self-deprecating racial humor born of trying to make racist white people comfortable.
His campaign is very popular with the alt-right; he’s actively campaigning in those spaces, and Yang has been overly gracious in wanting to talk with and reform the alt-right as opposed to rooting them out as the potential terrorists that they are. The #YangGang moniker works because it inverts the stereotypical gang member (black or Latino) with model minority Asians. Trust us, if there was a #CholosForCastro or #BookerBoyz or worse, if the former governor of Massachusetts came on stage with a Kanye remix of “Ain’t nobody fucking with Deval Pa-Trick Trick Trick Trick Trick” the mainstream press would condemn them for not taking gang violence and crime seriously. (Real talk, that entrance would be fire, though.)
Will Yang get better on black issues? The committee is skeptical, but he’s earned his 7th spot right now, and we’ll see if #YangGang can show he’s more than a 1,000 dollar trick pony.
#8 Spiritual Guru Marianne Williamson
Yoga before morning press conferences. Chakra healing as you go through security in the West Wing. Medicare for all that includes acupuncture and reiki. The committee believes that Marianne Williamson would have the best smelling White House of all time between the hemp, patchouli and sage.
Williamson has been on and off the Power Rankings several times thus far but comes back at No. 8 for our post reboot because as outlandish and silly as some of her ideas may be she’s staked her entire campaign on healing America’s secondary sin (the original sin was committing genocide against Indian nations) the treatment of black folks. Think about it, are reparations any crazier an idea than building a wall that Mexico will pay for? They may be less likely but they aren’t any crazier. Plus, Williamson literally did a reparations commercial, so she makes the cut; she may not last till next week but for now it’s good to know there is a candidate thinking about us on the spiritual plane.
#9: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
We would rank Klobuchar higher but apparently being a former prosecutor is disqualifying (or maybe something else was going on with media criticism of Kamala Harris?) Klobuchar, like Marianne Williamson is another example of just how few of the 2020 candidates manage to center black voters in their campaigns or policies; the only time you’ll catch Amy Klobuchar centering blackness is when she’s racking up a pool table.
However, her policies about poverty, school lunches and gerrymandering have caught the committee’s attention, and of the lower-tiered candidates for black voters she’s certainly less noxious than Tom “Swiper Fox” Steyer or Michael Bloomberg. If she can stay on the rankings for three consecutive weeks we might give her a stronger look come debate time.
#10 Former Gov. Deval Patrick
Deval Patrick is black….
That’s the tweet….
Seriously, Patrick actually has a good record for police reform, addressing black poverty and education from his time as governor of Massachusetts. He managed to do all of that without any binders full of women either. The question is can he get himself into this race as anything other than a tourist hoping to get a few interviews on Sunday talk shows. If the choice were between Donald Trump and Deval Patrick everyone black would pick Deval Patrick. If the choice were between Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren most committee members think that she’d be a more fierce advocate for our needs. If Patrick has any chance to do more than occasionally sleep on the guest couch of our rankings, let alone be competitive in 2020 he has got to find his black base.