Recently, the New York Times ran a story that, based on studies by a number of political forecasters, Donald Trump is all but certain to win reelection in 2020. The “almost” comes in due to Trump’s often off-putting personality.
The basis of the conclusion is not exactly rocket science. When the economy is going well, a presidential election always goes to the incumbent. During the three instances in which an incumbent president was denied a second term, Hoover in 1932, Carter in 1980, and Bush the Elder in 1992, the United States was experiencing periods of economic slowdown, in the case of Hoover and Carter economic calamity.
Conversely, when the economy is going great, think of Reagan in 1984 and Clinton in 1996 as examples when incumbents win handily. Clinton’s consigliere James Carville spoke no truer words when he said, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Bret Stephens, the Times’ token conservative, notes that another factor will come into play in 2020, the utter cluelessness and radicalism of Trump’s opposition.
“The common thread here isn’t just right-wing populism. It’s contempt for the ideology of them before us: of the immigrant before the native-born; of the global or transnational interest before the national or local one; of racial or ethnic or sexual minorities before the majority; of the transgressive before the normal. It’s a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It’s hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it.”
Reagan and Clinton were different politicians and certainly different men. But they shared in common the ability to talk to and connect with middle class and working-class voters. To be sure, one can argue that Clinton was able to fake sincerity, but it didn’t matter, Good economic times and the feeling of respect coming from the White House will win every time. In Reagan’s case, he won with a 49-state blowout over a Great Society liberal named Walter Mondale.
Donald Trump has that rare ability to connect with voters in a way that many of his enemies still underestimate. Trump was born to wealth and privilege, but he often talks as if his father was a truck driver or a construction worker. He does not dismiss the concerns of the common people but rather states that he understands them and, more importantly, will set about doing something about it.
If the polls are any indication, Democratic voters understand the strengths that Trump brings to the fight. So far, former Vice President Joe Biden is the pick of a plurality of Democrats. Biden is a liberal, but he is by and large not an insane one like Bernie Sanders or Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke. The hearts of Democrats may belong to the “democratic socialists.” Their brains are pulling for Biden.
Biden also has been able to connect to working class and middle-class voters in a much more substantial way than his rivals. However, he has also been in political office since before Watergate. He has been able to amass a record, political and personal, that can said to be a target rich environment. The only question is whether one of Biden’s Democratic rivals will be able to use his record, ranging from changing positions on immigration, crime, and the environment to his creepy tendency to grope women in public, to knock him out or whether Trump will have to do it.
Trump has been laying down fire on Biden, recognizing that he presents the best shot for Democrats to send him packing to the Trump Tower. Trump’s numerous enemies in the media are saying that this means that Trump is “afraid” of Biden. That assertion is, at best, an exaggeration. Trump is simply doing some sensible battlefield preparation, softening Biden up.
Bernie Sanders constitutes no threat to speak of for Trump. It is said that Millennials find socialism appealing. That appeal dissipates when the costs of a Medicare for All program or the Green New Deal become apparent. Also, the booming economy is causing the younger generation to move out of their parents’ basements and get jobs and homes. Just as the Reagan economy transformed hippies into yuppies, the Trump version will diminish the appeal of socialism.
Of course, anything can happen between now and November 2020. An economic downturn or an unpopular war could occur. But as it is now, 2020 is Trump’s to lose.