Beto Goes Blue, Warren Wilts and Harris Goes O.G. AG: 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings, Week 6

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Getty Images)

Mass shootings hit in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas; the stock market crashes; and Toni Morrison passes away. Why is it that every week of the Donald Trump presidency feels like a depressing opening scroll in some post-apocalyptic ’80s movie?

In last week’s power rankings we noted that in times of crisis, the committee (composed of myself, Dr. Jason Johnson politics editor for The Root, and Marcus Ferrell, former head of African-American outreach for Bernie Sanders 2016, along with our rotating committee) tries to imagine if this candidate would calm the fears of black America as president. Trust me, a nationwide rise in white nationalist terror, aided and abetted by extremist white-boy incels with gun fetishes, is an emergency for black America. We’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well for us.

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A line has been drawn in the sand this week. It’s no longer acceptable for Democrats to play the “economic anxiety” or seek the “tax cuts with a side of racism” voters. There are enough Democratic voters to win the primary and the White House—get to work on earning their votes.

This week, some stepped up to the plate and others reminded us why black America could never trust them to begin with. As usual, our ranking system is explained below.

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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?

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This is the most volatile week in the history of our Black Power Rankings, with almost every candidate moving up or down. This week’s big losers? It’s a tie between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who both dropped five spots but for vastly different reasons. This week’s big riser? Beto O’Rourke, who stepped in as a leader who can empathize during a crisis and hasn’t let up all week.

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#1: Sen. Cory Booker

Cory Booker will never be Barack Obama, but this week, he surpassed Morgan Freeman in the movie Olympus Has Fallen, Jamie Foxx in White House Down and Chris Rock in Head of State as the not-quite-real president that black America would actually want in a crisis. Booker is the only 2020 candidate to give a major speech from the pulpit of Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., which is not just a sign of respect from the black community but an impressive feat by his staff. His speech was passionate, called out Trump’s white nationalism, advocated for stricter gun laws and shared a vision of what Booker’s America would look like. He also called Trump’s words of comfort to America “bullshit soup” (which I believe comes with a side of word salad at Panera), and he shared some personal thoughts about the passing of Toni Morrison on Twitter. No matter how you slice it, Booker had the best 2020 week ever, in one of the worst weeks for the United States.

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#2: Sen. Kamala Harris

You know how serious Kamala Harris is about white nationalist terror? She’s been talking about it since her campaign started. She’s a co-sponsor of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019, which is specifically designed to address white nationalists. She was calling Trump a racist long before it was popular. As California’s attorney general she fought to keep an avowed neo-Nazi in prison for a crime he didn’t commit because she’s not about second chances for bigots and the fastest cure for “economic anxiety” is three hots and a cot. Not that we’re advocating judicial malfeasance, but it’s pretty clear Harris is not about coddling white terror. Are we happy she hedged on calling Trump a white supremacist? No. But overall, Cautious Kamala took a break this week and O.G. AG Harris was slamming down stricter gun control proposals like she was playing dominoes. Word on the street is that Harris has started to get more aggressive about fundraising too, which she will need since she’s fallen to fourth in most post-debate polls. If you’re black in America and wake up at 3 a.m. wondering about your safety, President Harris would put your mind at ease. At least for this week.

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#3: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Obama’s former fixer Rahm Emanuel famously said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” That’s a cynical take on the world of politics but it’s true, and Beto O’Rourke’s rise in the polls this week proves it. Beto wasn’t automatically getting a bump this week; a racist mass shooting doesn’t necessarily mean he’s better for black America, but Beto has been one of the loudest, most consistent and cogent 2020 candidates on the dangers of white nationalism and Trump’s influence on it.

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Beto took a cue from the Booker campaign and realized that a few well-placed cuss words caught on camera can really show the world what you think of the media and the Grand Dragon-in-chief’s racism. The White House still owes the El Paso Police Department $500,000 for security costs from a rally months ago, and had Beto just looked into the camera and yelled “FUCK YOU, PAY ME” before Trump’s visit to El Paso (which Beto boycotted), we might’ve put him at No. 1 this week just on principle. O’Rourke actually pushed for gun control, did great constituent service and still had time to praise Toni Morrison. Oh, and he’s not dropping out to run for Senate. If this is the real Beto, he might have a higher ceiling than we thought.

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#4: Former Vice President Joe Biden

If Panera starts selling bullshit soup, they should also add the Joe Biden sandwich: re-heated respectability politics Barack Obama slid between two slices of gaffe. First, Biden got confused and expressed empathy for the nonexistent mass shootings in Houston and Michigan, which, I guess were carried out by imaginary gunman from Riverdale High School. Then he mentioned violent video games, which are the “what about black-on-black crime?” of mass shooting pivots. Black men comprise one of the largest groups of gamers in America, yet you don’t see waves of angry black men shooting up festivals and Walmarts every week. In fact, from the congressional baseball game shooting in 2017 to the Waffle House shooting in 2018 to El Paso this past week, it’s almost always black people saving white folks from their own home-grown domestic terrorists.

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Nevertheless, Biden recovered with a great speech in Iowa directly connecting Trump to the rise of white nationalist violence in America and making it clear that mental health isn’t an excuse for violence and bigotry. But just when you thought he was OK, you get to the second slice of gaffe when Biden said: “poor kids are just as bright as white kids” in a speech to minority voters in Iowa on Thursday. Good thing Biden has expanded his lead in the polls this week but he still hasn’t figured out this front-runner thing.

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#5: Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Mayor Pete gets points for churning out a domestic terrorism plan that would “name and shame” white nationalist spaces on the internet, while most candidates were still grasping for airtime. Given that Indiana is the birthplace of America’s oldest terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan, and consistently has one of the highest populations of hate groups, Buttigieg should be an expert.

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Mayor Pete said the obligatory nice words about Toni Morrison’s passing and to keep it 100, the committee believes he might be the only white guy in the top five that has actually read a Toni Morrison book. Mayor Pete will be one of the few 2020 Dems to speak at the National Association of Black Journalists conference in Miami this weekend, so if he follows up his plans with a major speech, he might stabilize himself in our polls.

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#6: Sen. Elizabeth Warren

No, Elizabeth Warren didn’t drop this far because the Dayton shooter Conner Betts was a fan. Unlike ex-felons, black people in Georgia, and college students, angry, gun-owning incels are still allowed to vote in America. Warren drops because she’s been much quieter than most other 2020 top candidates after last week’s shootings. Yes, she pushed for gun control and yes, she’s always called Trump a racist, but we have a terror movement growing in the United States, Sen. Warren. Where’s your plan? She also hasn’t signed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act like Sanders, Booker and Harris have. Lastly, how are you going to roll out a public option for the internet and not talk about the web as a radicalizing tool for white nationalists? And she’s not coming to NABJ? This was a pretty tone-deaf week from Warren.

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#7: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro

When the toughest move that comes out of your campaign during a week of deadly shootings is a tweet from your twin brother exposing big-time Trump donors in Texas, you drop in our poll. I’m all for public shaming, especially since campaign donors are readily available public information, but Castro didn’t offer much for black voters to seek comfort from in the wake of these domestic terror attacks in his own state. Castro is also at risk to not make the polling threshold for the September debate in Houston, which would all but end his White House bid. A month ago, Castro was a dark-horse favorite after kicking sand in Beto’s face during the first debate; now he’s hanging on by a thread while his black campaign manager is getting doxxed by racists. Castro needs to step up.

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#8: Sen. Bernie Sanders

While Sanders is tied with Warren for the single biggest drop this week, there were calls to actually take him off the list entirely. It was bad enough that Sanders was occasionally trafficking in the “mental illness” excuse in the wake of these tragedies. Then, he went on Joe Rogan’s radio show. For the uninitiated, Joe Rogan is Tucker Carlson for the college bro crowd. His regular interviews are with alt-right bigots and sympathizers, and he peppers them with more softball questions than a NERF convention. The committee has no problem with candidates going on racist programs (Tucker Carlson, etc.), and we’ve long come to accept that Sanders has a blind spot for bigots whom he insists are just really stressed by waking up white every day and not being rich. However, doing the Joe Rogan show after two white domestic terrorist attacks is like finding out your wife’s boss is sexually harassing her but you still watch Monday Night Football with him because you need to understand his perspective too.

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It would be one thing if Bernie aggressively called out white nationalism on the show, but he stuck to talking about minimum wage and aliens. His staff should’ve known better than to let him do this, and if it weren’t for him pulling back into second or third place in most national primary polls, he’d have been out this week.

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#9: “Spiritual Guru” Marianne Williamson

The committee didn’t like Marianne Williamson going on Fox News and saying that you can’t draw a direct line from Trump to white nationalist violence. Girlfriend, they are literally quoting him in their manifestos. However, she did lay out a gun violence plan this week, gave more details about her reparations plans and did a good job on the Daily Show. Here’s the catch though—she, like Tulsi Gabbard, gets lots of Google searches after debates but it’s not turning into money or increased votes. We may not see Marianne again on the debate stage.

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#10: Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand

Black Power Rankings Judge Marcus Ferrell is fond of saying that most political campaigns don’t know how to campaign to black folks for 52 weeks out of the year. They can give us a good interview, maybe a few hours at a town hall or a whole month if there are enough federal holidays but, 52 straight weeks of addressing black interests and policies? Most campaigns can’t do it. That’s the Gillibrand campaign in a nutshell; after being the woke senator who called out white people’s complicity in institutional racism, she gave about 48 hours of attention to white nationalism and terror in America and now she’s back to healthcare and touring around Iowa. She hasn’t even signed on to the Senate domestic terror bill. The only reason Gillibrand didn’t fall off the list is because there was hardly anybody worse on black issues this week, but trust us, she won’t get a second chance to show she doesn’t care.

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