Eric Holder 2020?!

The former Attorney General is seriously pondering a presidential bid. Seriously.

A crowded Democratic field is gaining a surprising-to-me addition.

NPR (“Former Attorney General Eric Holder Close To 2020 Decision As He Heads To Iowa“):

Former Attorney General Eric Holder travels to Iowa on Tuesday as he weighs whether to join a growing field of Democrats seeking the presidential nomination in 2020, and he’s expected to make a decision in the next two weeks, NPR has learned.

Holder, who served for six years under former President Barack Obama, will make a decision on a White House run in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the speech he plans to give at Drake University Law School in Des Moines certainly sounds like the building blocks of a possible campaign with a heavy condemnation of President Trump.

“We should be dissatisfied with an administration rife with corruption, stunning incompetence, and shameful intolerance,” Holder will say in his speech, according to prepared remarks. “Most of all, we should be dissatisfied by that same administration’s total abdication of moral and policy leadership — and its failure to address the many other urgent challenges we face: A democracy that’s under attack. A climate crisis that’s ignored. And racial and cultural divisions that are weaponized and exploited for political gain.”

Holder will recall his visits before to Iowa in 2007 “on behalf of a long-shot presidential candidate who had inspired me with his optimism and his vision for our country.” And the former attorney general will talk about his upbringing — the grandson of immigrants from Barbados and son a of a World War II veteran and the racial discrimination he and his family faced throughout the years.

“I am dissatisfied – just as so many of you are dissatisfied – with the inequities that continue to divide us, the injustices all around us, and the refusal of some elected leaders to rise to this defining moment,” Holder will say. “That’s why I cannot be silent — and I hope you won’t be silent — as our nation confronts this time of challenge and consequence.”

Should Holder choose to mount a 2020 presidential run, it would be the first bid for elective office by the career prosecutor, who served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton and then assumed the top job under Obama, when he became the nation’s first African-American attorney general. While leading the Justice Department, he made civil rights and voting rights a major focus.

When Holder first floated the possibility of a White House bid last year, it took many by surprise. Since leaving the Obama administration in 2015, he rejoined a private law practice and also chaired the new National Democratic Redistricting Committee, designed to help Democratic candidates in key state races and to challenge gerrymandering ahead of 2020 redistricting and reapportionment.


If he runs for president, the fact he was the first sitting Cabinet member in history to be held in contempt of Congress over his role in the bungled gun-trafficking operation known as “Fast and Furious” is sure to be brought up.

He also helped Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, though he stirred controversy for saying “When they go low, we kick ’em” while on the campaign trail in Georgia — a riff on former first lady Michelle Obama’s 2016 mantra “When they go low, we go high.” Holder later had to clarify he wasn’t advocating violence.

Holder seems to make a possible allusion to that sentiment in his remarks, closing with a push for change.

“Together, we must call out — and throw out — public officials who seek power by bringing out the worst in us. Now in that effort we must seek civility — but not at the expense of truth telling or the protection of treasured principles,” Holder will say. “The fact is: America is at its best when we face difficult questions and hard truths. America is at its best when we open our arms — and widen the circle of opportunity — for everyone who loves this country enough to make it their home.”

“Fast and Furious” was sufficiently complicated as to be essentially a non-scandal outside of the core audience of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and, while “When they go low, we kick ’em” is hardly aspirational, it’s certainly better than “Grab ’em by the pussy.” Let’s call it “locker room talk.”

But I don’t see how a 68-year-old who has never held elective office and isn’t a war hero or television star can be win the nomination in an incredibly crowded field of candidates. While running the Justice Department isn’t chopped liver, it’s not a stepping stone to the Presidency, either. Even Bobby Kennedy—while I didn’t know Bobby Kennedy and he certainly wasn’t a friend of mine, Holder is no Bobby Kennedy—successfully sought a US Senate seat before running for President.

It’s not obvious who Holder’s base is. Democrats nostalgic for the Obama administration would presumably go for Joe Biden. He doesn’t have any obvious geographic advantages; any Democrat would win New York and DC in 2020.

Nor does he stand out ideologically. He served in both the Clinton and Obama Justice Departments and was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan. That makes him rather centrist in a year that’s likely not going to be very centrist-friendly with the Democratic nominating electorate. But, again, if they did want a moderate, Biden or any number of younger Democratic governors would seem the more obvious choice.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    He doesn’t have Howard Schultz’s money and can’t think of who will bankroll his campaign. Won’t make it to Iowa.

  2. Yea, this one makes no sense.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Most of the people claiming to be running for POTUS have no sense and an overweening sense of ego.

    I fall in the Arthur C. Clarke mentality when it comes to picking a POTUS: elect someone competent who would have never put himself/herself forwards but has a firm sense of duty once picked, does the job, and then vamooses as soon as possible. Maybe if the POTUS never had his/her name out in public at all and had to campaign under a niqab, a voice synthesiser, and “Candidate Number XXXX”?

  4. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    As I recall, Clarke, in some of his fiction, had the president forcefully drafted.

    Back on topic, Holder may just be jumping off the campaign bridge because everyone else is.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: The “Dave” and “Designated Survivor” fantasies. Like the idea of a benevolent dictator, in theory better than what we’ve got, but, sadly, impossible to impliment.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:
  7. gVOR08 says:

    I wonder how many capable, national level, Dem campaign managers there are. The talent pool has got to be getting thin. Not to mention donors. I don’t believe the Ds have the same system as the Rs, who have seemingly dozens of billionaires looking for their very own pet candidate.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    OT: oh, and here’s your friendly Brexit update: Groundhog Day (the movie). Theresa May and her coterie of idiots are running around in circles, and business is getting more and more nervous and starting to sneak out of the UK. I’m still placing my bets on an accidental no-deal Brexit, mainly because most of the politicians are still wedding to their blissful idea that “Britain can muddle through all of this”, refusing to admit that what’s going on is closer to The Charge of the Light Brigade.

    Hedge your investments…..I suspect we’ll see something happen due to this. Either a crash in the pound (with reverberating effects) or a crash in the UK stock market (with reverberating effects) or a crash in London property prices (with reverberating effects.) Or all three!

  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    Sometimes people run because they want to represent a point of view in the public discussion, and the best way to do that is as part of a presidential campaign. Dennis Kucinich is one such person. I’m sure he understood that he had no chance of being nominated, but he wanted to represent his ideas – to put them forward.

    I think it’s possible that Holder is like this. If he finds enough backers that want to represent those ideas, too, then more power to him.

  10. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: I’m really, really not following brexit, for one main reason. The whole situation in the US with Trump is maximally stupid and maximally destructive for my psyche to withstand. almost nothing angers me like destructiveness born of stupidity. So I can’t follow brexit. But prompted by your comment I looked it up, and right before the brexit vote in June 2016 the pound was trading at 1.44 to 1.40 versus the dollar. Today it’s trading at 1.29, so it’s already lost ~10%.

  11. Dave Schuler says:


    It might be easier posting on who isn’t running. At this point the contenders are the 45 Democratic senators plus the two senators who caucus with them, most of the Democratic governors, a few of the Democratic representatives, and everybody who held a cabinet post with the Obama Administration (which includes Joe Biden).

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @Teve: Don’t ever look up the activities of Chris Grayling, then…

    This is the man who decided to hire a shipping company with no ships, no experience of shipping, and supposedly shipping to a port which needed its harbour dredged. Oh, and the managers of the shipping company had not-so-great histories. And the offered shipping contract turned out to have been swiped from a pizza delivery take-out store. I kid you not.

    And Theresa May STILL refuses to get rid of Chris Grayling. Either he’s got incredible dodgy material on her, or she’s keeping him around simply to make the rest of her cabinet look like geniuses.

    I made a bet with myself six months ago that based on what I had already seen, chances were high that the government AND its opposition is now so incompetent that Brexit would most likely result with an accidental crashing out of the EU. It doesn’t look like my predictions are off, either. I expect total chaos, because too many people wanting Brexit are telling themselves fairy tales about what a WTO exit would be like. None of them seem to understand how international trade works, and none of them seem to realise that they can’t just automatically blackmail the EU into rescuing them via their own incompetence.

  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    @grumpy realist:

    It appears that Mrs. May is looking to run out the clock and force Parliament to either choose her deal or a hard exit. Saw an item earlier that she is asking Parliament for “more time.” Meanwhile, business is running for the exit and moving some or all of there operations to the continent.

    Even if a miracle happens and May could achieve her perfect exit strategy, much damage has been done to the UK economy, because those companies that are/have moved, aren’t coming back.

  14. dennis says:

    Forgive me, OTB friends, but the U.S. of A. isn’t ready for another black president. It wasn’t ready for the first, as the sorry state we’ve devolved into denotes. I don’t think it’s ready for a woman president, either. I’ll spare everyone the unnecessary voicing of the culprit demographic.

  15. Gustopher says:

    He is third from the bottom in my list, just below Buttigieg, but above the people I actively dislike. A novelty name might move him up. Does he have a nickname? Maybe a childhood insult he is willing to run under?

    Who knows, if an epidemic of swine flu takes out the rest, and no one else jumps into the race, he might be our electoral savior.

    When is his book coming out?

  16. Gustopher says:

    @dennis: Ready or not, I think we’re going to get one. I don’t see Trump pulling off the many state bank shot again, and the top tier candidates for the Dem nomination are women and Corey Booker. Oh, and Joe Biden.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    I’m surprised that Deval Patrick chose not to run…

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: Shouldn’t that be Candidate XL?

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @dennis: Truth.