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Revolution to the End?


A guide to the Democratic presidential hopefuls

The 2020 Democratic presidential primary field has continued to balloon over the past few weeks. In fact, it’s become so packed that it’s difficult to keep track of who’s running. Most of these new entrants don’t have the allure of a Jay Inslee or the name recognition of a Steve Bullock, but they are unwavering in their belief that they alone can unseat Donald Trump in the general election. With the Iowa caucuses a mere six months away, I’ve created a cheat sheet for you on the strengths and weaknesses of five postwar Chinese politicos who have inexplicably joined the crowd.

Mao Zedong

Mao with his constituents (colorized)

The big man himself. Mao is good at playing the long game—he’s not afraid to live in the political wilderness until the right conditions present themselves. Don’t expect Mao to make a grand entrance. His plan will be to work rural towns and villages, picking up small donations and endorsements, until he is ready to launch into the big cities and win it all. The only candidate who can claim to have implemented Medicare for All, Mao could unify the left populist vote and bag that much-coveted endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If Mao can survive the campaign, Joe Biden’s only chance will be to retreat to Puerto Rico and contest the vote. The main danger: In a year when Democrats are out for blood, pictures of Mao with Republican president Richard Nixon certainly won’t help.

Liu Shaoqi

Liu sharing a bite with Indira Gandhi

The perfect New Democrat candidate for liberals who just want a return to normalcy, Liu’s careful management style could win over the wonks and garner instant media acclaim. Liu’s focus on stable economic development over radical phrases shows that he “has a plan for that.” Every candidate these days also needs to be an author, and Liu comes prepared: How to Be a Good Communist was a certifiable bestseller, and, for several years, outsold Mao’s books. With star power like that, he could prove a fund-raising juggernaut and pour cold water on Bernie’s “political revolution”—he’s known for cleaning up messes after left adventurism.

Jiang Qing

Mao and Jiang

Tired of being known as Madame Mao, Jiang could leverage her experience in the halls of power to reach the highest office in the land. Much like Hillary Clinton, Jiang is a figure of hatred for some and a champion of progressive values for others. As a former actress in a sensual blue pantsuit, Jiang is a good fit in the age of celebrity presidents, and could easily grab endorsements from the entertainment industry. Her public relations savvy is also evident in her mastery of propaganda, so Jiang could easily dominate Twitter with brilliant memes and epic clapbacks. The problem: Her “maximum wage” policy could upset moderates, leading to chants of “Lock her up!”

Zhou Enlai

Zhou sharing a chuckle with Enver Hoxha

A competent voice of reason, Zhou has experience in government as a unifying force between populists and pragmatists. Often the international face of China in the Mao years, Zhou and his consummate professionalism could rebuild America’s position on the world stage after four disastrous years of Trump. But Zhou’s problem is that he is liked but not loved. Do the Democrats really want to nominate another John Kerry? In a wide field, Zhou stands to get lost in the mix. Unless he proves that he can energize the Democratic base, Zhou seems at best destined for the vice presidency.

Deng Xiaoping

President and Mrs. Ford, Vice Premier Deng Xiao Ping, and Deng’s interpreter at an informal meeting

Deng’s ideological flexibility could appeal to disaffected Republicans—as he says, he doesn’t care if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. A reformer with results, Deng’s respect for markets could gel with Silicon Valley and provide his campaign with an endless flow of cash to drown out his left-wing competitors. Though he doesn’t know how to code, Deng’s done the tech thing before: his Four Modernizations helped build the basis for China’s scientific progress. Deng could also win over rural moderates by promising higher food prices and fewer regulations on small business. (His history with the left and his control of the levers of institutional power could crush any potential protests.) The man who transformed China from the sick man of East Asia into the region’s highest GDP could also work with Biden to emphasize that billionaires are not the problem and that some will get rich first.

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