The increasingly thorny U.S.-China relationship has aroused international concern and become a central issue in the 2020 race. Washington has long sought to manage China’s rise by integrating the country—now one of the world’s two largest economies—into global institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the hope that China would fully accept the prevailing international order. But U.S. policymakers have struggled to respond to Beijing’s growing assertiveness. Read more
Recent years have seen stark warnings from the scientific community that climate change and its effects are approaching faster than previously understood. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that nations must move more swiftly to slash emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses to avoid the most devastating effects of global warming. Read more
The counterterrorism debate has shifted markedly in recent years in response to a spate of high-profile shootings in the United States and other Western countries, many of which were perpetrated by white supremacists. Protecting Americans from homegrown hate groups has become a priority for many 2020 candidates, while counterterrorism operations abroad have taken on new forms nearly two decades after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Read more
Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election revealed in stark terms the vulnerability of American democracy to foreign adversaries. Yet many of the presidential candidates believe that Washington has not done enough in the time since to safeguard the country’s electoral systems or stem the spread of disinformation on social media platforms. Read more
The role of the U.S. military is a perennial topic of debate, with some politicians questioning its steadily increasing costs and its extensive overseas commitments. Today, U.S. forces are fighting enemies in many countries: notably Afghanistan and Syria, but also in places such as Niger and Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Pentagon maintains bases around the globe, from Djibouti to Japan. Read more
Since the end of World War II, the United States has led global diplomatic efforts to build alliances and institutions to promote peace and prosperity. Washington has been among the chief architects of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as many other international institutions. Read more
The United States’ ability to influence events abroad depends on the health of its economy, and many 2020 challengers argue that it is on shaky ground. Despite low unemployment and a record period of economic expansion in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, economists worry about slowing growth, rising debt, and uncertainty over President Donald J. Trump’s trade war. Read more
Immigration has been a flashpoint of the U.S. political debate for decades. Efforts at comprehensive immigration reform have repeatedly foundered in Congress due to disagreement over creating a path to citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented residents in the United States, many of whom are from Mexico and Central America. Read more
The Middle East continues to consume the world’s attention and poses special challenges to the United States. Devastating civil wars grind on in Syria and Yemen, driven in part by outside powers, creating humanitarian catastrophes and defying efforts at political solutions. Iran is poised to resume nuclear activities while pursuing expanded influence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. There are dwindling prospects for a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Read more
North Korea has become one of the United States’ thorniest foreign policy challenges as the Kim Jong-un regime has defied international sanctions to escalate its pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile technology in recent years. Many fear the country is closing in on military capabilities that could allow it to hold East Asia hostage and even strike the continental United States. Read more
In the wake of Western efforts to develop a cooperative post–Cold War relationship with Russia, the country has reemerged as a top U.S. rival and an object of mistrust and suspicion. To its critics in Washington, including many of the 2020 Democratic contenders, Moscow’s foreign policy has become dangerously aggressive in recent years, from military intervention in Ukraine and Syria to interference in Western elections to violation of nuclear treaties. Read more
Trade has taken center stage during the administration of President Donald J. Trump, who has set out to renegotiate long-standing deals and challenge a system that he says has been unfair to American workers. While the United States has long led the charge for global trade liberalization—in the belief that open, rules-based markets increase prosperity and expand Washington’s influence—rising inequality has led to growing skepticism about this model within both major parties. Read more
Venezuela is in the midst of a historic economic and humanitarian crisis that is rippling across the hemisphere. Despite the country’s oil wealth, decades of corruption and mismanagement have left much of the populace struggling to buy food and medicine. Nearly four million Venezuelans, or 10 percent of the population, have fled, threatening to overwhelm the country’s neighbors. Read more
- Trump has sought to confront China over what he says is a suite of economic abuses: intellectual property theft, currency manipulation, export subsidies, and economic espionage. He says aggressive action is required to protect American workers and to reduce the United States’ large bilateral trade deficit.
- Biden has framed China’s rise as a “serious challenge,” criticizing its “abusive” trade practices, warning that it may pull ahead of the United States in new technologies, and criticizing its human rights record. However, he says Trump’s confrontational approach is counterproductive, alienating allies that should be recruited in a broad front to pressure Beijing.
- Bloomberg has been a proponent of deeper trade and investment ties with China and he opposes President Donald J. Trump’s trade war with Beijing. He says the United States must work closely with China on climate change and other issues, and has drawn scrutiny for his business relationships in the country.
- Buttigieg advocates cooperation with China on areas of common concern, such as climate change, while warning that it is an ideological challenger to the United States. China’s prosperity and stability, enforced by “techno-authoritarianism,” could prove an alluring alternative to U.S.-style capitalist democracy, he says.
- Klobuchar says that China is “in economic terms” the United States’ top national security threat. She has favored stronger trade measures to protect American workers from what she calls its unfair economic practices, especially its dumping of subsidized steel in the U.S. market given Minnesota’s leading role in domestic steel production.
- Sanders sees China as a “major economic competitor” and blames flawed U.S. trade policies with the country for the loss of millions of American jobs. He wants to work with allies to confront China on its “troubling” trade practices while finding common ground with Beijing on climate change and other areas.
- Trump has repeatedly questioned the science of climate change, expressing doubts about whether human activity is responsible. He has advocated for expanded domestic fossil fuel production and has pushed for rolling back environmental regulations implemented by his predecessors.
- Biden says climate change is “indisputable” and “the greatest threat to our security,” calling for a “revolution” to address it. He has released a national plan to reduce emissions and invest in new technology and infrastructure. As a senator, he expressed alarm over greenhouse gases, but also supported controversial energy sources such as fracking and so-called clean coal.
- Bloomberg has made fighting climate change a central mission of his public life, devoting tens of millions of dollars to a wide array of programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing clean energy. He is skeptical of the sweeping government-led plans backed by many other candidates.
- Booker believes the challenge of climate change is “existential” and that it poses one of the two biggest geopolitical threats to the United States, along with nuclear proliferation. Like many Democratic candidates, he proposes a sweeping plan to transition the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels based on the Green New Deal framework.
- Buttigieg says climate diplomacy should be a pillar of U.S. foreign policy, no less central than democracy and human rights. Like many other Democratic candidates, he has proposed an ambitious climate plan that seeks to quickly transition the United States away from carbon-intensive energy sources.
- Klobuchar believes that climate change is a crisis and should be an “urgent priority” for policymakers. She says it is already causing devastating floods, drought, and storms in the Midwest, and she proposes a plan to quickly transition the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels.
- Warren has called climate change “an existential threat” and proposes a national mobilization to combat it on par with that during World War II and the space race with the Soviet Union. She backed the Green New Deal introduced by congressional Democrats as an original cosponsor.
- Yang views climate change as an existential threat, a leading national security issue, and a crisis that will cost trillions of dollars to combat. He supports the Green New Deal framework and also sees global warming as an opportunity for the United States to lead the world in the creation of new technologies.
- Klobuchar has supported expanding the use of air strikes and U.S. special forces to combat Islamist extremism in the Middle East and North Africa, but she has also called for greater transparency in how these operations are conducted. She argues that controversial surveillance and data-collection programs are necessary for stopping terrorist attacks.
- Trump has feuded with a number of large U.S. technology companies, arguing that they are conspiring to defeat him in the 2020 election. Although he has often brushed aside concerns about Russian interference in U.S. elections, his administration has imposed sanctions and other measures against the Russian intelligence assets deemed responsible.
- Biden says that cyber threats are a growing challenge for U.S. national security, election integrity, and the health of the nation’s democracy. Meanwhile, he thinks government should be pressuring tech companies to reform their practices around privacy, surveillance, and hate speech.
- Booker has spoken out on the threat of foreign interference in U.S. elections, particularly by Russia, and blames an online campaign directed from Moscow for the outcome of the 2016 election. He proposes improvements to U.S. cyber infrastructure while also warning of surveillance abuses and the threat of hacking.
- Klobuchar highlights the “critical need” to improve U.S. cybersecurity, particularly around elections. She promises cybersecurity reforms to “stay one step ahead of China and Russia.” Saying she “doesn’t trust” Silicon Valley, she wants to establish stricter “digital rules of the road” on consumer privacy, data collection, and election funding.
- Sanders says the threat of cyberattack is an “unprecedented” challenge to U.S. national security, and he has sought to bolster U.S. election systems. However, he has been critical of expanded government surveillance measures that he says compromise Americans’ privacy.
- Warren has called for stricter antitrust action and other regulation of large Silicon Valley tech firms. She says foreign governments are still working to “attack our democracy,” and she has outlined plans to give the federal government more oversight of election security.
- Trump has championed the military, pushing for increases to defense spending, major new weapons programs, and a new branch focused on space. He has also promised to wind down U.S. troop commitments in Afghanistan and the Middle East while focusing on “great-power competition” with China and others.
- Biden has supported some U.S. military interventions abroad and opposed others. He has often advocated for narrow objectives in the use of force, and he has expressed skepticism over the ability of the United States to reshape foreign societies. He is wary of unilateral efforts, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy and working through alliances and global institutions.
- Booker criticizes what he calls the “forever wars” in Afghanistan and elsewhere and argues that the United States’ overreliance on military action has made it less safe, but he is against setting a strict timetable for U.S. withdrawals. He calls for greater congressional oversight of overseas military missions.
- Buttigieg says his seven-month deployment as a naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan has made him circumspect about the use of military force. The commander in chief, he says, should set a high bar for its use, have a clear vision of how any engagement will end, and bring Congress on board.
- On defense, Yang offers a three-pronged approach: increasing care for veterans, using the defense budget to address domestic infrastructure needs, and creating a new secretary of cybersecurity. He also says he would work to end current conflicts and pledges to bolster U.S. defense alliances.
- Trump has withdrawn the United States from international agreements and commitments that he feels are a drain on U.S. resources, has feuded with longtime allies on issues from defense to trade, and has criticized global institutions that he says force the United States to “surrender sovereignty.” His budget proposals have sought to slash foreign aid and make it more conditional on support for U.S. policies.
- Biden emphasizes that the United States cannot deal with the new challenges it faces without close relationships with its allies and the cooperation of international institutions. He says Trump’s withdrawal from treaties and his denigration of alliances has “bankrupted America’s word in the world.”
- Buttigieg calls for renewing multilateral institutions and U.S. alliances, which he says have been “fractured and endangered” by Trump. Countering climate change, he says, ought to be a main tenet of U.S. diplomacy, ranking “alongside democracy and human rights as a central goal.”
- Castro strongly emphasizes diplomacy and criticizes Trump for damaging the alliances that he says have made the United States strong and prosperous since World War II. With immigration at the center of his campaign, his focus has been on strengthening ties with Latin America.
- Sanders says “democracy, human rights, diplomacy and peace, and economic fairness” will be at the center of his foreign policy, and that the United States must “seriously reinvest” in development aid. He warns that the postwar international order the United States helped build is under serious strain.
- Biden has positioned himself as a champion of the middle class, warning that decreasing economic opportunity and mobility is worsening the polarization and radicalization of American life. He believes that a robust economy enables the United States to lead the world, saying that “economic security is national security.”
- Booker’s economic plans focus on reducing poverty, tackling concentrated wealth, and addressing growing levels of economic inequality. He proposes measures to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and redistribute funds to the working class and historically marginalized communities.
- Buttigieg points to increasing inequality and a rising sentiment that globalization, automation, and the gig economy have undermined workers in his argument for more robust prolabor policies. He also calls for intensified financial regulation, antitrust enforcement, and consumer protections.
- Klobuchar criticizes growing monopoly power in the United States, arguing that the government must address this “new gilded age” through stronger antitrust enforcement. She also wants a major federal spending program on infrastructure, higher taxes on corporations and high earners, and stronger financial regulation.
- Tackling income inequality has been a cornerstone of Sanders’s political career. He advocates breaking up the nation’s largest banks, more strongly enforcing antitrust rules, more strictly regulating Wall Street and large multinational corporations, and raising taxes on the wealthy.
- Warren’s economic plans focus on fighting big businesses, reducing inequality, more strictly regulating finance, and protecting American industry from what she views as unfair foreign trade and investment practices. She calls her approach “economic patriotism” and criticizes large U.S. corporations that have shifted production overseas and the policymakers who support them.
- Williamson argues that society has become organized around short-term profits with no ethical responsibility, rather than democratic principles, marking a “radical departure” from America’s founding values. She wants federal investments to reduce wealth inequality and financial insecurity.
- Immigration is a signature issue for Trump and a major flash point between his administration and its Democratic challengers. Campaigning on a platform of sharply reducing both legal and illegal immigration, he has taken executive action to reshape asylum, deportation, and visa policy.
- Bennet says the United States’ “broken” immigration system “hobbles the economy,” and he favors comprehensive reform that includes a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. He opposes many Trump administration border policies but calls for increased border security.
- Biden has condemned Trump’s approach to immigrants and asylum seekers, calling it “morally bankrupt” and “racist.” He supports comprehensive immigration reform, and has in the past backed more restrictionist policies. He emphasizes the need to address the root causes of immigration in the countries of origin.
- Bloomberg is a vocal proponent of increasing immigration, arguing that it boosts growth, job creation, and innovation. He promises to fix the country’s “broken” immigration system, and he backs a comprehensive reform to strengthen border security, legalize undocumented residents, and greatly expand work visas.
- Booker calls the Trump administration’s immigration approach “costly, cruel, and unnecessary” and pledges to take immediate executive action to reverse Trump’s detention and deportation policies. He would also seek to pass legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system and increase aid to address the “root causes” of migration.
- Sanders says Trump has used “demonization” of immigrants for political gain and promises to end what he calls the president’s “cruel and inhumane” border policies. Sanders advocates for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
- Warren is critical of Trump’s immigration policies and says they are made possible by a broken immigration system. Her plan for reform of the system would expand legal immigration, welcome more refugees, provide a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized residents, and reform enforcement and detention policies.
- Yang, the son of immigrants from Taiwan, lauds the dynamism of new arrivals and says the United States must welcome immigration to remain economically competitive. He also says the current system “has broken down” and proposes new border-security measures, along with a pathway to legal recognition for undocumented residents.
- Trump’s approach to the Middle East has been defined by strong support for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and a more confrontational stance toward Iran. He promises to bring what he calls the “endless wars” in the region to a close and withdraw U.S. troops.
- Booker criticizes U.S. military intervention in Iraq and elsewhere for destabilizing the region, and warns against a “rush to war” with Iran. He calls for a return to the negotiating table with Iran, more pressure on Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, and continued support for Israel.
- Buttigieg is skeptical of using military force to promote U.S. interests in the region, and says the United States should reorient its policies to prioritize human rights and democratic values. “We can no longer sell out our deepest values for the sake of fossil fuel access,” he argues.
- Klobuchar has advocated for a strong military response to Islamist militant groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere, while arguing for diplomacy with Iran, a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses.
- Buttigieg supports diplomacy with North Korea but criticizes Trump for unrealistic expectations in dealing with Kim Jong-un, knocking the “love letters” he says Trump exchanged with the North Korean leader. Buttigieg argues that denuclearization and peace talks can and should go hand in hand.
- Trump has cultivated cordial relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and dismissed accusations that his campaign cooperated with Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He has argued for closer cooperation with Russia while also bending to congressional pressure to extend sanctions on Moscow, expanding military aid to Ukraine, and withdrawing from a major U.S.-Russia arms control treaty.
- Biden warns that Russia under President Vladimir Putin is “assaulting the foundations of Western democracy” by seeking to weaken NATO, divide the European Union, and undermine the U.S. electoral system. He also warns of Russia using Western financial institutions to launder billions of dollars, money he says is then used to influence politicians.
- Buttigieg says that Russia is a “disruptive,” “adversarial” force on the world stage, and warns that its form of “oligarchic capitalism” is a major challenge for the United States. He argues that Washington must push back against Russia’s “nationalism, xenophobia, and homophobia,” as well as its intervention in neighboring countries and interference in U.S. elections.
- While Castro doesn’t see Russia as being on the same level of threat as China, he has been highly critical of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine U.S. democracy and he calls for greater cooperation among U.S. allies to combat them. He argues that failing to defend Ukraine against Russian interference would set a dangerous precedent around the world.
- Gabbard calls for reducing tensions between the United States and Russia to lessen the chance of nuclear war and to enable cooperation on arms control, terrorism, and other areas of mutual concern. She has also supported sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine.
- Sanders says that Russia exemplifies the global rise of authoritarianism and warns that President Vladimir Putin is trying to undermine liberal democracy in the United States and Europe, but he has also said that Washington should work with Moscow on arms control and other issues.
- Warren says Russian President Vladimir Putin is using a mix of “nationalism, authoritarianism, and corruption” to try to reshape the global order. While she says the United States must push back, she also highlights the need for Washington to work with Moscow on arms control.
- Buttigieg says that his role as mayor of a rust belt city that has struggled with declining manufacturing allows him to understand the consequences of global trade policy. He criticizes economic isolationism and says the United States must compete with China for global markets, but that any new trade deals must be better for American workers.
- Castro has chosen a middle ground on trade, supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other deals but arguing that they should be renegotiated with U.S. workers and the environment in mind. He says the United States must maintain its dominant position on trade to counter the growing power of China and others.
- Unlike much of the rest of the Democratic field, Delaney champions global trade deals, arguing that they boost the U.S. economy and help strengthen U.S. alliances and global leadership. He says that their downsides should be addressed not with “isolationism” but through domestic investment in jobs and infrastructure.
- Klobuchar has often been skeptical of multinational free trade agreements, opposing President Obama’s centerpiece trade deal with the Asia-Pacific. She has also backed tariffs on imported steel, which she says are necessary to protect American producers from unfair trade practices by China and others.
- Sanders has for decades been a vocal critic of U.S. trade liberalization efforts, which he says have boosted corporate profits at the expense of American workers and the environment. He seeks to curb the outsourcing of jobs and end tax benefits for companies that move operations abroad.
- Warren has criticized existing trade deals for favoring corporations, contributing to a decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs, and lowering wage growth. She says that for the benefits of trade liberalization to be more broadly shared, future deals must include more worker representation, stronger labor and environmental enforcement, new antitrust rules, and provisions to crack down on global tax havens.
- Williamson offers conditional support for global trade deals, saying they can expand markets for U.S. products, create jobs, and strengthen U.S. alliances, but that they must be “structured fairly” to include strong protections for workers, the environment, and indigenous communities.
- Buttigieg sees opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president, arguing that Nicolas Maduro has “lost the legitimacy to govern.” He says Washington should work with other Latin American countries to isolate the regime, but he opposes military intervention.