The perceived ability to enjoy a beer with a candidate might be the biggest political cliché in all of American politics. It's also not to be taken literally. After all, neither President Trump nor former President George W. Bush drink, and former President Barack Obama's second term was marred by a particularly disastrous "beer summit."
But no one apparently told this to the 2020 Democrats. From Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, the announced presidential contenders are positioning their ability to enjoy beer as a major selling point.
Perhaps it is only natural: Since the days of the American Revolution (hello, Samuel Adams!), brewed cereal grains have had a place at the heart — or rather, in the gut — of electioneering in the United States. The beverage is overwhelmingly the preferred alcoholic drink of choice in America, with 43 percent of drinkers wanting to crack open a few brewskies with the boys rather than sip wine (32 percent) or toss back liquor (20 percent), Gallup reports. "It's a craft of the people, by the people, and for the people," Danielle Silber, the ACLU's director of strategic partnerships, told October.
Still, the zealousness with which 2020 Democrats have already embraced beer as a personality trait might knock you off your barstool. Things started getting hoppy from the get-go, when Warren became the first major candidate to toss her hat into the ring. She also made the first minor gaffe of the 2020 election season in an Instagram Live video, announcing, to much ridicule: "Hold on a sec, I'm gonna get me a beer." Republican commentators slammed the moment as obviously "inauthentic," while Esquire stepped up to defend Warren's taste (she'd grabbed a Michelob Ultra, openly acknowledging it's the "club soda of beers"). The Daily Show went as far as to mock her for drinking alone in her kitchen, although, really, whom among us.
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) January 15, 2019
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), who hails from the craft brew-heavy region of upstate New York, is perhaps the beeriest candidate of all, with a history of sipping grapefruit IPAs ("my favorite!") at brewery rallies in Iowa and appearing on the "BuzzFeed Brews" show to drink Budweiser and chase it with a shot of Jameson. Her 2020 campaign's 404 error page even features a picture of the senator sipping from a pint with a Miller High Life sign visible in the background. Likely much to her delight, The Buffalo News' recent guide to pronouncing her first name clarified that "the first syllable ... rhymes with 'beer.'"
Other senators have embraced the general aesthetic of beer, seeing it as a way to instantly "relate" with voters. Some people have noted that Castro's campaign sign looks suspiciously inspired by the Bud Light can, while Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) has made a concerted effort to not be defined by her home state's drink of choice — God forbid she come across as a Cabernet Sauvignon-drinking elitist. Instead, the senator pointedly wagered a payment of local brews with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) over the outcome of the NBA Finals in 2017, eventually being photographed receiving a six-pack after the Golden State Warriors won.
One candidate in particular is no stranger to craft brews — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). During Sanders' run in 2016, a Vermont brewery produced a drink described as "slightly sour and forward-thinking," and named it after him. He and his wife additionally rang in 2018 at a crowded Manhattan beer hall (although the Sanders reportedly only ordered "coffee") and a video of the senator drunkenly singing "This Land Is Your Land" in the Soviet Union in 1988 has circulated recently as an apparent attack — although that may backfire, because honestly, how is this not way cooler than a staged brewery appearance in New Hampshire?
BREAKING: @SenSanders like you’ve never seen him!!
Bernie and Jane on their honeymoon in Russia singing “This land is Your Land” with their Russian comrades!!
Trigger Warning: Bernie is sitting at a table shirtless in his briefs. So are most of the rest of the men... pic.twitter.com/2DPyDY2WV0
— m. mendoza ferrer (@mgranville1) January 28, 2019
Of the major Democratic candidates, only Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) seems to have an open aversion to beer, broadcasting fairly frequently the fact that he doesn't drink. But while he may abstain from alcohol, even Booker plays by campaigning's oldest rules: He too made an appearance at a brewery in Iowa this month, where he reassured, "I'm confident in my toughness."
But I don't drink Beer. MT @MarcoDPlumber: Cory Booker's a loser as a mayor. Good guy to have a beer with, but ends there.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 26, 2013
I've never had a drink in my life, but this kind of data makes me reconsider. https://t.co/OdAxVgicuE
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 26, 2017
It doesn't take an explainer by Nate Silver to grasp why the performative enjoyment of beer is another in a long list of boxes Democrats will repeatedly check in the next 20 months, along with visits to the Iowa State Fair and CNN Town Halls. Candidates will hang out in local bars, visit beloved breweries, and, if things get desperate, maybe do a keg stand, all in an effort to prove they're just like us. The enthusiasm is so transparent that it even has a name among politicos: "beer track" Democrats, as opposed to "wine-track" Democrats, who alternatively court coastal elites.
Ultimately, all those empty carbs and morning headaches might be for naught. "If I had been advising Mitt Romney, I would have said in the end the American people are not going to decide who they are going to have a beer with," political science professor Mo Fiorina told NPR in 2012, "because the American people know that they are not going to have a beer with any of these people."