In a galaxy far, far away, on a planet teeming with life but suffering from global warming, dirty oceans and way too many streaming services there, existed the early stages of an empire. Oh, they didn’t know it was an empire yet; there were no stormtroopers marching down the street, only a curious proliferation of white men wearing red hats. The wannabe emperor was no Phantom, he was an orange menace, and with the flick of his Twitter fingers, could make senators gasp, choke and fall all over each other. The galaxy is looking for a new hope, and that’s what we’re looking at this week in The Root’s 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings.
As you can see, we have a Star Wars theme today because many of the committee members are sci-fi nerds and because this week is the premiere of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the last of the Star Wars franchise movies. If you doubt Star Wars has any connection to real-world politics, watch Nancy Pelosi use the whole Force and nothing but the Force to quiet down the entire Democratic caucus after the articles of impeachment passed this week.
Now, just like Star Wars, the Democratic presidential primary has a dearth of black and brown characters with speaking parts, which is important because everybody knows that real revolutions and rebellions are usually led by the most oppressed folks. Princess Leia and Rey would be part of the 53 percent; Lando Calrissian, Finn and Kiesha the Jedi would be out there ending voter suppression and blowing up the Death Star (whatever they called this sista in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is just her government name; I always called her Keisha the Jedi). The point is, in a week where Trump finally got impeached, we are seeing a crack in the new empire, maybe a thermal exhaust port in this Electoral College defense shield that can be exploited. So in this week’s Power Rankings, we focused in particular on those candidates we think could stop the Empire before it even starts, based on what we’ve seen of them this week, in policy, polls actions, and the debate. May the Force, the media, Democratic donors, grassroots activists, but especially black folk, be with you.
This week Sen. Bernie Sanders managed to levitate to the top of the Power Rankings, and there wasn’t even much of a fight. (One of the committee members simply waved their hand in front of all of us saying, “You don’t need to see why Bernie is No. 1 this week,” and somehow we all agreed.) This week’s biggest drop is businessman Tom Steyer who, to be fair, can probably buy himself out of this hole in less than 12 parsecs.
How do we calculate black power?
- 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: Bernie Sanders
If Bernie were a Jedi, he’d be Yoda; balding, hair coming out of his ears and grumbly but incredibly powerful and insisting on his totally unrealistic midichlorians for all plan. Sanders was slaying all comers this week and makes a surprise leap to the top spot. Sanders has moved back into second place in most polls and third among black voters. He scored an endorsement from People’s Action, which is a combination of over 40 progressive groups across the country. The committee isn’t always impressed with wide umbrella endorsements but when you look at groups like Progress Maryland that are fighting every day for police reform in Baltimore, it gives this endorsement more weight.
More importantly, Bernie’s been doing that work with black folks this week; he came in support of striking Decatur, Ga., teaching assistants, who are essentially black folks given the student and teacher population in suburban Georgia. And Phillip Agnew—yes, THAT Phillip Agnew from Dream Defenders (we always introduce him that way)—has been pushing hard for black voters, especially black men in South Carolina. Given the recent Fox poll showing 15 percent of black men still support Donald Trump, the Sanders campaign is one of the few 2020 Dems who seem to realize that black men are the crucial swing vote for 2020. Hmmm, maybe a real possibility Medicare for all is? (And yes, we used the English to Yoda translator for this; it’s quite hilarious.)
#2: Businessman Andrew Yang
A good friend of mine referred to the Democratic debate as the “Five Whites and a Yang” debate, and the committee had to admit that was a pretty good description. Several weeks ago, #YangGang came for me after I tweeted the following:
“Before anyone starts splitting hairs about debate ‘diversity’: If Yang & Gabbard make the debate, symbolically, policy-wise and rhetorically they do not represent the minority base of the Democratic Party in the same manner as Castro, Booker and formerly Harris did.”
As the only person of color on the stage, Yang had a chance to speak to issues that dealt specifically to black folks and of course he failed.
So how does he end up second on the Power Rankings this week? Yang Gang officially jumped in their newest member, Childish Gambino/nonpansexual Lando Calrissian himself, Donald Glover. The members of the committee are huge Atlanta fans, Gambino fans, and Glover fans even though he’s got a history of problematic lyrics about women and black women specifically. However, rolling out the Glover endorsement/fundraiser during Star Wars week is an impressive move, but Yang didn’t stop there.
This week, he again focused on how tech companies like Facebook and Twitter take all of our personal data and we reap none of the profits; also how they should share those profits or at least be taxed for the information. Nobody on #BlackTwitter gets paid, and as of 2017, personal data is now more valuable than oil. Lastly, while Yang hasn’t made any major moves in the polls, he got the strangest of indirect endorsements when Joe Biden, unprompted, said Yang has the right idea about worker displacement from technology. Would Yang slay the orange emperor? We don’t know, but this week was The Rise of Yang and black folks would actually benefit from it.
#3: Vice President Joe Biden
Joe Biden didn’t do much for black folks this week, but boy did he do a number on his fellow Democrats during the debate. His re-enactment of Grumpy Old Men 3: Bigger and Grumpier with Bernie Sanders was the stuff of debate legend, and the fact that Amy Klobuchar, of all people, had to stop them from breaking each other’s hips was high comedy. Biden also rolled out 14 new endorsements from black faith leaders in Indiana this week, again feasting in South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete’s backyard. Biden falls because, despite a strong debate performance and some relatively valuable endorsements, he’s again light on actual policy this week. But for a candidate who’s actually less popular than Baby Yoda, he’s at least managed to stay in the lead.
#4: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Warren only drops one spot this week, not because she made any particular mistakes but mostly because folks ahead of her made bigger, blacker moves this week. She remains in the top four or five candidates with black voters, but she’s dropped in overall polls mostly because of that nasty “E” word. Not “Elizabeth,” “Electability,” despite almost every poll showing the top five candidates beating Trump, Warren suddenly has an “electability problem,” which is really just short for not having a penis, which is a requirement for some voters and television pundits.
Warren gets committee credit for having the back of Byron Allen in his Supreme Court dispute. Given that Allen’s case could determine the entire future of black civil rights, it’s a shame that Warren is one of the few candidates to keep attention on this issue. Warren was Princess Leia throughout the debate, manipulating Pete into defending his rich friends, force deflecting questions about her age and giving a shout out the millions of selfies she has taken that cry out to the media “She’s electable!” While Warren doesn’t wield a green or blue lightsaber, she did team up with activist Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the architect behind the Green New Deal, and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson of the Blue New Deal, both of whom have a serious focus on environmental and policy concerns for black voters. Will Warren be able to slice her way back into second place? Nobody knows, but for this week, she’s holding her own.
#5: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
Castro went to Los Angeles for the debate, and actually *checks notes* spent time learning about the issues that matter to California voters. Shocking! He spent time on Skid Row, visited tunnels where men and women sneak into America and managed to get #JulianDebates trending as he was locked out of yet another debate. Castro is that underground rapper freestyling in the parking lot as you’re standing in line for Summer Jam who makes you wonder if the better show really isn’t outside. Castro is fourth among black voters in a recent poll at 3 percent, and since there is only one more debate between now and the Iowa caucus, perhaps his grassroots push will give him staying power.
The committee is convinced that if Castro isn’t on a ticket, he should run for Democratic National Committee chair, because not only would that show yet another race where Mayor Pete failed and someone else succeeded but also it’s the only chance the DNC might actually do something about its dysfunctional primary system. Besides, it’s become clear that in 2020, the only place where Democrats are comfortable with a person of color being in a position of power is running the DNC.
#6: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete had been having a decent week until the debates; he wrote an op-ed about increasing black entrepreneurship in the L.A. Sentinel; he swung some nice endorsements from black elected officials in Indiana and managed to not make a huge mistake this week so he moved up a bit. He might’ve moved up more, then the Democratic debate happened.
In case you were watching Miss America instead of the debates (it was a total affirmative action selection—I mean since when does a white woman win Miss America??? The committee demands a recount because one of these things is definitely not like the other)— here’s a recap of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren taking it to the mayor like he stole their parking space during a Black Friday rush at Target.
Watching Pete try to hold his ground was tough, and half the time you just wanted him to throw in the towel instead of taking another haymaker from Amy “Klubber Lang” Klobuchar or an elbow from Eliza-Bash Warren when she’s coming off the top of the rope. They were the Death Star and he was the little mayor that could, but clearly, he couldn’t withstand the full firepower of the fully armed and operational tag team of two women who are sick and tired of less qualified men acting like they run the place.
Plus, the committee wants to know why Mayor Pete is all full-throated and chesty about reparations for children separated at the border but only “supports HB 40” to study reparations for African Americans? You ain’t slick, Pete. Either you support reparations or you don’t. Also, the debate highlighted one of Mayor Pete’s main issues with black voters: his choice of alcoholic beverage. He took a lot of heat for having private fundraisers in a New York wine cave. A wine cave, Mayor Pete? You want to pump up your black poll numbers, you need to have a fundraiser in a Ciroc cellar, a Patron palace or definitely a Hennessy hideaway. Then again, given how he handled his liquor with Desus & Mero, maybe he should stick to the light stuff.
#7: Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker literally uses the Force when making life decisions; he said so last summer, even though he betrays his true nature by ultimately choosing Star Trek over Star Wars. Booker does have that Luke Skywalker vibe and the committee has always been a fan of his unbounded optimism and passion. You know what else the Star Wars franchise has in common with Booker’s presidential campaign? They’re both imaginary and should’ve ended a long time ago. We kid, we kid…sort of. Cory drops this week because, unlike Castro or even Emperor Stop-and-Frisk himself, Michael Bloomberg, Booker doesn’t create much buzz when he’s not on the debate stage. This week, he ran his first television commercial and penned an op-ed for Shondaland about why he is the only candidate who can unite the country, but what is he really doing to drum up the black vote or bring African-American policies to the table? Rumor has it his South Carolina operation is fantastic, but if he doesn’t make a poll jump in the next 46 days before Iowa, he may not be around long enough to set foot in the state.
#8: Businessman Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer dropped hard in our polls this week because, while he may be new to these rankings, we have standards to uphold and he just didn’t come with much new policy, polls or campaigning this week for black folks. He gets some credit for releasing a new two-minute commercial with Deanna Berry about environmental activism and the impact on black people in particular, and the committee noticed that he actually seems at ease with black folks (you’d be amazed how many white candidates still look at black voters like they’re talking to chocolate mannequins) but that’s not enough.
Steyer performed admirably in the first hour of the Democratic debates, talking about the racial disparity of climate change impacts and other key issues, but by the end of the night, he got hyper-aggressive and it seemed like he was in angry sales mode. Tone it down a bit, Tom, you’re not selling a $50 million Shamwow, just trying to earn a few votes. He slightly redeemed himself at the end of the debate by saying that he was in favor of reparations, which was much better than Biden, who avoided the question; Bernie, who avoided the question and had to get corrected; and Mayor Pete, who just figured out that black people existed when he went to college.
#9: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar has no real connection to the black community. Not as a staff, label or an organization. That’s why she’s pushed in all her chips in a majority white primary state like Iowa (and the committee believes those chips are most likely sour cream and cheddar). Her campaign’s favorite hip-hop artist is a white woman from Minnesota who sounds like what would happen if Diddy hired the cast of 16 and Pregnant for a new season of Making the Band. The Christmas wreath on Klobuchar’s door probably says “Unseasoned Greetings.”
However, during the debate, when she reached into her grandma’s purse and snatched the life out of Mayor Pete, there was a flurry of texts exchanged in the committee with an intensity usually reserved for a fight on Love & Hip-Hop or a particularly ill read of Donald Trump by Auntie Maxine. Black folks respect someone who can fight and think on their feet, and Thursday night, she showed both skills, mostly at the expense of Mayor Pete but also Biden and Sanders. It wasn’t so much she was beating a dead horse as much as she was kicking the kid mayor in all the places where it hurts. Personally, I have never heard somebody say the title “mayor” with as much condescension and disdain as Klobuchar used it, and I work in Baltimore. Klobuchar also moves up one spot because she really has come out strong on the issue of voter suppression of African Americans, and by our count, nobody else on stage got a shout out from the NAACP, but we can’t guarantee she knows what NAACP stands for.
#10: Former Gov. Deval Patrick
The committee has already established that Deval Patrick may in fact not be running for president but is simply your retired uncle living his best life and posting his daily schedule from his upscale senior living community. We’ve seen more political urgency on a C-SPAN call-in show. Maybe that explains why during an entire two-hour Democratic debate that Patrick didn’t qualify for, he (or his campaign staff) only managed about 10 tweets, while every other campaign had people blasting off statistics and policies and video after every question.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders got more retweets for being a soulless ghoul than Patrick did and he’s supposed to be applying for the job. Maybe that’s why Patrick rolled out his American Agenda plan and offered nothing specifically targeting African Americans. Maybe that’s why he went on The Breakfast Club, agreed that Democrats take black voters for granted then COULDN’T EXPLAIN what he had to offer black voters! The committee may have actually discovered a black candidate who literally has no black agenda. Gov. Patrick, you need to give in to the Dark Side, because that’s probably the only way you’re going to get black votes or any traction in this race.