ANALYSIS: A year into Trump's presidency, Democrats have visions of 2020

President Trump has united his opposition over the last year.

ByMaryAlice Parks
January 21, 2018, 9:38 AM

— -- The 2020 presidential race, in many ways, started the day after President Donald Trump was sworn into office.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, flooded the nation’s capital and took to streets around the country to deliver a rebuttal to his inauguration. With Democratic party officials still largely shell-shocked from their surprise defeat, the grassroots swelled and seemed to say, “We got this.”

The president, with his particularly divisive brand of politics, has united his opposition over the last year. After those men and women marched, they got to work.

PHOTO: A crowd fills Independence Avenue during the Women's March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017. The sea of women in bright pink hats in Washington, D.C., and across the nation, was described as the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.
A crowd fills Independence Avenue during the Women's March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017. The sea of women in bright pink hats in Washington, D.C., and across the nation, was described as the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.
Alex Brandon/AP

Frustrated by the failures of the Democratic Party, they built their own local, grassroots organizations. Disappointed by the defeat of the first female presidential candidate, women by the tens of thousands raised their hands to run. Emboldened by the president’s low approval ratings -- and the fact that he lost the popular vote the first go-around -- people who were disappointed in his election or his governing have anticipated and plotted their chance at a redo.

“We have seen levels of commitment and resistance that I have not seen in my lifetime, and it is pervasive and preserving,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America told ABC News.

Still, while the left in particular appears mobilized and chomping at the bit to get someone else into the White House, the most successful 2020 candidates, at least for Democrats, may be those who wait to start running.

It is sure to be a crowded field, but leading activists say voters will likely reward whoever is bringing the fight to Trump on a daily basis or offering clear alternatives for governing.

Plus, the political landscape will certainly be different over the next few years. By the time the 2020 presidential race comes around, who knows how this often-chameleon president will operate?

Democratic primary voters are more concerned about the damage Trump is doing today than they are about who will be the nominee in three years,” Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who worked for the Clinton campaign and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told ABC News. “So the smartest thing a prospective candidate can do is focus on the here and now.”

While only one Democrat has formally declared, Maryland Rep. John Delaney, more than a dozen sitting lawmakers are flirting with the idea.

Hillary Clinton’s defeat not only resulted in months of soul-searching for democrats, it marked the end of a political dynasty in their ranks.

PHOTO: Former President Bill Clinton kisses Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as she and their daughter Chelsea Clinton greet supports during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2016.
Former President Bill Clinton kisses Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as she and their daughter Chelsea Clinton greet supports during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2016.
David Goldman/AP

One of the lessons the party quickly learned was that they could not risk looking like they handpicked the next nominee. Over the last year the Democratic National Committee has proposed new reforms to limit the party’s ‘superdelegates,’ expand primaries, and encourage open registration. All are tactics designed to level and democratize the playing field as the party looks toward the next round of primaries.

Democratic elected officials know the race is wide open and members of Congress and senators are acutely aware of the built-in advantages that come with being on Capitol Hill. As was showcased last week when Sen. Cory Booker aggressively cross-examined Trump’s Homeland Security secretary, expect those with national pulpits to use them.

That said, voters remain skeptical, perhaps even disgusted, by Washington in general. If the flurry of headlines around a possible Oprah Winfrey run was any indication, Democrats and Americans writ large seem tempted by the idea of another outsider candidate.

“People in red states and blue states and purple states are looking for one thing and that is someone who they trust who reflect an understanding of the very challenging and diverse lives we live,” Hogue said. “What that looks like, we should have a rigorous debate about.”

She predicted that Democrats will in the end stick to their party’s basic platforms in 2020 and not, in fact, veer further to the right or center as some predicted after Clinton’s loss. “One of the lessons of 2016 is that a fired-up base is the key to victory,” she said.

For those seeking an alternative to the president, maybe the answer will be an executive from one of the states -- someone from outside the Washington beltway, but not new to politics or governing.

Democrats had some of their biggest victories in 2017 when they ran longtime, well-known local names.

“Boring can be beautiful,” Ferguson said. “Voters are hungry for authenticity and competence."

The newly-elected Democratic governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, "did not have to be ‘Mr. Sexy,’ as long as he was ‘Mr. Solutions,’” Ferguson said.

The results of the midterm elections in 2018 will surely set the stage for the 2020 presidential race too.

Campaigning in 2020 will undoubtedly be different than it was in 2016, with political organizing at new highs in communities across the country.

Speaking to ABC News, Virginia House Delegate Danica Roem predicted that 2018 will be a wave for Democrats if they work as hard as the party and local volunteers did in her state last November.

During her swearing-in ceremony Saturday, Roem talked passionately about the engagement she saw in her hometown where dozens of volunteers turned out to knock on doors with her.

She said she wants this to be the organizer's mantra, "'If we can't change their minds, we change their seats.'"

In 2020, it is hard to imagine that any corporate backing or big-time donor will be as vital or sought after as a high level of community involvement, local volunteer hours and grassroots activism as displayed in local races last year like Roem's.

A new political landscape could pave the way for a new Trump presidency as well. If, for instance, Democrats take back the House this year, will President Trump shift his style?

How would Democratic voters react to their representatives making deals with this commander-in-chief, if Trump were open to it?

And what if Trump faces a Republican primary challenge himself? Does he dig in or try to temper his tone and broaden his appeal?

But if the first year of his presidency is any indication, Trump may be reluctant to change his stances or work across the aisle no matter what comes.

This story is part of a weeklong series examining the first year of the Trump administration.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events