Updated, April 29th, 2019.
November 3, 2020, looms in the distance. The day when voters will head to the ballots for the 2020 presidential election. And though we have almost two years until the day is upon us, the election is already heating up — with just about every theorized “maybe” throwing their hats into the ring and announcing their candidacies. It seems like just about all comers, from seasoned politicians to billionaire businessmen, have decided that 2020 is their year.
This is the most diverse set of candidates in American history. Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community have all come forward, and it’s shaping up to be a head-spinning, confusing, busy election. With that in mind, you’re probably asking: “Who the hell is officially running, and what do they believe?”
If you want to know more about the 2020 presidential candidates, here’s your guide to their beliefs on major issues:
Joe Biden, Former Vice President of the United States
The 76-year-old former Vice President of the United States and former Senator of Delaware announced his candidacy on April 25 after months of speculation. In his announcement, he quoted the Declaration of Independence before turning his focus to the August 2017 white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, VA that led to one antiracist counter-protester’s death. He said that when President Trump told reporters there were “very fine people on both sides,” that’s when he knew he needed to run. “In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.” He called the current political climate a battle for the soul of the nation.
His announcement has been met with myriad think-pieces about why he’s the one to beat Trump. But he has also had his fair share of criticism for his moderate voting record, his willingness to work with Wall Street donors, his campaign-trail work on behalf of members of the GOP, and, of course, his treatment of Anita Hill, a lawyer and professor who came forward in 1991 and alleged that now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Biden led the confirmation hearings for Thomas, and he was in charge of the all-white, all-male panel of Congress members who grilled Hill about her allegations and, per the New York Times, failed “to call as corroborating witnesses other women who were willing to testify before the Judiciary Committee.”
This is his third presidential campaign.
Climate change: As former President Barack Obama’s right-hand man, Biden was along for the Paris Climate Accord ride, and he decried Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement. He has called climate change an existential threat to humanity but not much else. Per his campaign website, he has said that the U.S. must “turbocharge our efforts to address climate change and ensure that every American has access to clean drinking water, clean air, and an environment free from pollutants.” He has not introduced specific policy proposals, and he has not signaled support for either the Green New Deal or a carbon tax.
His lifetime score according to the League of Conservation Voters is 83 percent.
LGBTQ rights: As a Senator, Biden voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, but he later opposed it. Before Obama publicly supported gay marriage, there was Biden. In 2012, he became the highest ranking official to publicly support legalizing gay marriage while making an appearance on Meet the Press — a move which is rumored to have forced Obama’s hand and caused strife in the White House. He made a similar move in 2014 when, according to Pink News, he publicly supported an executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace before Obama had commented on the order; the president signed the order two months later. He hasn’t been without his gaffes: he recently praised Vice President Mike Pence, who is notoriously anti-LGBT, calling him a “decent guy.” He later apologized for the remark.
Immigration: Biden has called the immigration system “broken” and has called for policies that “address the root causes of migration that push people to leave behind their homes and everything they know to undertake a dangerous journey for the chance at a better life.” He has yet to offer any comprehensive policies, other than emphasizing legal immigration, but his record as a U.S. Senator tells us plenty. In 2006, he voted to build a border fence, and he later clarified during the 2007 Democratic primary debates that he voted “yes” specifically to address drug trafficking. He voted to allow undocumented immigrants to participate in Social Security and voted against mass deportation of undocumented workers, instead stating that they should be granted amnesty. He also included a provision in his Violence Against Women Act that would allow undocumented women to seek amnesty in the U.S. if they were physically abused.
All that said, however, he also played a hand in some of the harsher anti-immigration policies the U.S. has seen in the last two decades. He led a vote to prevent former President Bill Clinton from allowing HIV-positive Haitian refugees into the country. He further voted to increase the number of Border Patrol agents and deny welfare benefits to undocumented individuals, and he voted against granting Medicaid access to documented immigrants.
Taxes: Biden is a born-and-raised son of Scranton. One of the chief reasons so many pundits think he’s the one to beat Trump is due to the fact that so many working-class people like his policies. What are they, exactly? Well, he writes that “today, CEOs and Wall Street are putting profits over workers, plain and simple.” And while he doesn’t have a tax policy per se yet, according to Vox, he has pinpointed “a tax code that is excessively friendly to investors rather than workers as a central problem” that he would eliminate. He has also called for raising taxes…on the passive income of wealthy business owners, that is. He’d triple the Child Tax Credit, and he supports making public higher education free for all. He voted to repeal Glass-Steagall, which was a contributing factor to the 2008 financial crisis, and he has been criticized for his willingness to rely on big donors and his relationships with several financial companies. That said, he did tell The New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos that he regretted his Glass-Steagall vote, and he has been talking about protecting the middle class for years.
Gun control: Biden is a staunch advocate for stricter gun control measures. He voted for the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and headed up the Obama administration’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which was created after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. He supports universal background checks, and while he gave a speech in mid-2016 stating that the Obama administration’s work had reached an impasse, he told advocates, “Don’t quit on this.” During his time as Vice President, he publicly pushed for the development of “smart guns” which only allow their owners to pull the trigger.
Health care: Per his campaign website, Biden has promised to “defend and build upon the Affordable Care Act to ensure every American has access to quality, affordable health care. And, we should dedicate the full force of our nation’s expertise and resources to tackle our greatest public health challenges, including cancer, opioid addiction, and mental health.” That said, it’s hard to say what he believes. He has not publicly endorsed single payer aka Medicare-for-all, and some advocates think there is “a zero-percent chance” he’ll back it, given that he was one of the main supporters of Obamacare. That suspicion may not be without merit: his first big-donor fundraiser after announcing his candidacy was hosted by the CEO of Comcast and attended by the CEO of Independence Blue Cross, Philadelphia’s largest insurance company.
Peter Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana
We wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t heard of Mayor Pete Buttigieg until recently. Despite the fact that he announced a presidential exploratory committee back in January and he was named as one of the future faces of the Democratic party by none other than former President Barack Obama, Buttigieg was, by and large, just “Mayor Pete” to the people of South Bend, Indiana until about a month ago. He was elected mayor of South Bend, an economically depressed former manufacturing town, in 2012, when he was just 29. As mayor, he has invested massively in urban development initiatives, resulting in a stark turnaround for the city that was, 12 months before his election, named one of the dying towns of the U.S. by Time.
Despite his impressive record, he didn’t become a household name until he had a watershed moment at a CNN Town Hall in late March, when he criticized Vice President Mike Pence. “How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?” he asked in front of a large audience. At that point, he was still just mulling over a presidential run, but now it’s official: he announced his candidacy on April 14. “I realize the audacity of doing this as a midwestern millennial mayor. More than a little bold at age 37 to seek the highest office in the land,” he said in his announcement. “It’s time to walk away from the politics of the past.”
If he were to win, he would be the first openly gay head of state this country has ever elected.
Climate change: Climate change, according to Buttigieg in a 2017 interview, is a global issue, but the impact is “profoundly local. The impact is local, whether we’re talking about dealing with extreme weather events…or the questions around whether the climate played a role in something like [Hurricane] Harvey, the receiving end of it is local, for sure.” When the Trump administration scrubbed information about climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, Buttigieg announced that the South Bend government would host the information on local servers. He has spoken favorably of the Green New Deal.
LGBTQ rights: Buttigieg is openly gay and married his partner, Chasten Glezman, in June 2018. After Trump first announced the trans military ban in 2017, Buttigieg appeared on local television to state that he disagrees with the decision. He recently tweeted that the ban, which was upheld by SCOTUS, is “a politically motivated attack on fellow Americans who put their lives on the line to protect our country. It is the opposite of leadership.”
Immigration: Buttigieg’s father is himself an immigrant from Malta. The millennial mayor has called for total immigration reform, stating that our system relies on undocumented workers’ labor and then “ruins them.” (He has been calling for compassionate immigration reform since long before the Trump administration, citing it as, among other things, a path to a strong economy.) Buttigieg does not support sending troops to the southern border, saying in an interview with CBS News, “The administration says it’s responding to an emergency, but the emergency was created by the administration.” He calls the border crisis a “humanitarian crisis” not a security crisis—one which could be fixed with good policy.
Taxes: Buttigieg tweeted in 2017 that the Republican tax overhaul is “class warfare.” Therefore, though he has not made any public statements about specific policy, he would likely raise the corporate tax and the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans.
Gun control: Buttigieg supports “common-sense gun safety policies,” and he has called for local action when faced with inaction at the federal and state levels.
Health care: Buttigieg recently told reporters that single-payer is the right way to go—but that he wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the private market. He said, “If the framework we’re using is Medicare, a lot of people who have Medicare also have Medicare supplements, Medicare Advantage, something like that.”
Beto O’Rourke, former Representative from Texas
After much hemming and hawing and toying with our emotions, Beto O’Rourke officially announced his candidacy for president on March 14. In his announcement, he said, “This is a defining moment of truth for this country, and for every single one of us.” Of the problems facing the nation, he said, “They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America.”
If you need a refresher, O’Rourke is the lanky, road-tripping former House Rep who almost unseated Senator Ted Cruz this past fall. Almost. Running on a moderate-progressive campaign, O’Rourke became nationally known not only for his grassroots organizing but for the fact that he was, like, pretty effing cool when he was younger, what with the fact that he rocked a dress while playing bass in a band. Very 90s. Before his Senate run, O’Rourke had been a member of the House of Representatives from 2012.
He is considered moderate, and even slightly right-leaning compared to most of the other Democratic candidates.
Climate change: O’Rouke would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Further, he has said, “Literally, the future of our world depends on” tackling climate change. And though outlets like CNBC have reported that he’s not a supporter of the Green New Deal, at his kick-off campaign event, he endorsed the GND, saying, “Some will criticize the Green New Deal for being too bold or being unmanageable. I tell you what, I haven’t seen anything better that addresses this singular crisis we face, a crisis that could at its worst lead to extinction. The Green New Deal does that. It ties it to the economy and acknowledges that all of the things are interconnected.” He has expressed doubt about whether or not it’s feasible to pass the measure in the past, but asserts that swift action is our only chance.
LGBTQ rights: In 2017, O’Rourke released a statement, condemning Trump’s trans military ban, stating, “Every time America has opened opportunities to those previously denied it, we’ve become stronger.” At one of his Senate campaign rallies, he talked extensively about the need for Texas to pass comprehensive civil rights protections for LGBTQ individuals.
Immigration: Having grown up in El Paso, Texas, right on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, O’Rourke is passionate about passing comprehensive immigration reform. One option for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.? Instead of amnesty, O’Rourke “wants a three-to-five-year process for immigrants to obtain green cards.” He also supports passing the DREAM Act, which would allow DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children to become citizens. He has frequently held rallies in which he decried Trump’s demands for a border wall. At one such event, according to the Dallas Morning News, he said, “The cruelty that we’ve inflicted on these kids, though it was a decision of one person, one man, the president of the United States, it is now a stain that each of us carry.”
Taxes: O’Rouke voted against both the 2017 GOP tax overhaul and the 2015 Death Tax Repeal, which would have eliminated estate taxes. He differs greatly from candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in his naked embrace of capitalism. He recently told reporters, “I’m a capitalist. I don’t see how we’re able to meet any of the fundamental challenges that we have as a country without, in part, harnessing the power of the market.”
Gun control: Although O’Rourke is a born-and-raised Texan, he supports banning assault weapons, calling them “weapons of war.” He also supports universal background checks for all gun purchases. He participated in the 2016 House sit-in, wherein House Democrats demanded gun control legislation.
Health care: O’Rourke supports universal health care, and he has previously talked about creating a government-run system, or a single-payer option, similar to Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-All plan. That said, he hasn’t committed to any one path to universal health care, per The New York Times. He supported Medicaid expansion in Texas, and part of his Senate run included a proposal that would allow the government to negotiate with health insurance companies, bringing down the price of prescription drugs.