Wilson: Policy and documentation must pave the campaign trail

Peter Wilson, Staff Columnist

It is impossible to deny that there is a large field of Democratic candidates running for president in 2020. Even now, over a year before the election, there are at least 19 major candidates who have announced their candidacy or are expected to announce their candidacy soon. These candidates come from every sector of the party. There are moderates, like Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and there are far-left candidates, like Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, among the fray.

Thus far, the candidates have done much to differentiate themselves, but in most cases, this differentiation has come with campaign strategy or public speeches, not with policy stances or plans for their ideas. The only candidate thus far who has rolled out policy after policy backed up by written documentation of their plans is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Within the last week, Warren has continually made proclamations of her policy and quickly released plans for implementation. The other candidates should follow her lead. The best path to true differentiation between candidates is policy stance and planning.

I am not saying the other candidates should follow Warren’s policies or ideas, but rather that they should model her path of documentation. This could be essential to candidates like Cory Booker, who have not been able to make the waves necessary to get widespread name recognition. If Booker were to roll out policy and documentation like Warren has, he could be an excellent and well-known candidate who has sound plans for the future.

The primary avenue for differentiation that most candidates have taken so far has been to make public appearances and speak with local constituents, such as when Texas representative and recent Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke made his journey from Michigan to New Hampshire, even stopping in Cleveland for a quick break to meet the locals.  

I would also like to clarify what I mean by “policy ideas” and “documentation.” Many candidates have come out on issues which are policy positions, but normally, the position stops there. Warren takes it a step further by producing and releasing complete, publicly accessible plans for each of her positions. This is what really differentiates the Warren campaign from the others. This was a common complaint about the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign in the sense that he had many grand policy ideas that he was vocal about, but he did not release hard plans. When asked about them, he would reiterate his positions without giving more substance. This is a trait commonly seen in today’s campaigns as well.  

Another example of this is the call a few candidates have made to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Several candidates have intimated that they might be in favor of abolishing the agency, but only Julian Castro has proposed a plan to do so. A plan is all that is needed, and it shows that the candidates really have a grasp of what it means to be president. It also gives the voters more knowledge of what the candidates truly think and feel on a deeper level than with just a headline.

It is unfortunate that so many candidates have not already followed Warren’s example. I am sure that the candidates will begin to try to differentiate themselves more as we near the primaries, particularly as candidates face off in public debates. Hopefully, more will take action to solidify and document their political plans, as there is still time before the elections finally roll around.

Peter Wilson is a second-year biomedical engineering student on the biocomputing and informatics track. He works in the Gustafson Lab and can be found on Twitter at @wpieltseorn.