It’s early, but I’m calling it: Donald Trump will walk between the raindrops to win handily the nomination in 2020 for another four years. Sorry.
Look, I’m not happy about it. History is on my side here—since World War II, only three U.S. Presidents have failed to secure a second term in a general election—but more importantly, several key Trump political victories have made it difficult for the Democrats to turn 2020 into anything other than a referendum on his character. Normally that would be enough, but if there’s one thing our current political landscape has taught us, it’s the sad reality that many voters have decided the economy takes precedence over inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric—even when it comes from the President of the United States.
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Poll after poll shows employment/the economy, immigration and healthcare remain the top priorities for Americans. The current U.S. unemployment rate sits at 3.7 percent, the lowest in 50 years. Trump’s response to the migrant crisis and the Supreme Court’s decision to allow his administration to temporarily divert $2.5 billion in military funds for construction of the border wall have buoyed his supporters’ convictions that Trump has made inroads on immigration matters central to his presidency. For all his many, many (re: many) faults, Trump never left campaign mode and continues to deliver on every election promise. Rightly or wrongly, when he rolls back EPA regulations to please heavy-polluting industries or escalates a trade war with foreign governments, his supporters believe he’s moving the country in the right direction.
Trump arguably benefits from one of the strongest cases of the Rashomon Effect we’ve witnessed in generations. He’s validated the compost of bad ideas his supporters have quietly cultivated in their minds their entire lives, and as a result, he can do no wrong. There appears to be no moral bottom, no bridge-too-far for a demographic that’s finally seeing daylight after being on the losing side of the culture wars for three decades. It doesn’t matter that a trade war with China could hurt U.S. companies’ bottom lines. It doesn’t matter that funds appropriated for military pensions are being redirected to pay for the border wall. It doesn’t matter that 900 migrant children have been taken from their parents a year after the Trump admin. said it would stop family separations. It doesn’t matter that cutting taxes and raising spending causes the debt to go up, not the other way around. It doesn’t matter that a Quinnipiac poll found more voters now believe Trump is a racist than former Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Trump has demonstrated a PR adage that as long as you make consumers feel they’re being represented in the marketplace, as long as you can make them feel good without challenging their worldviews, the bullshit gets to walk. They won’t criticize him because it would require being critical of the beliefs central to their own identities. And that won’t happen.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party again seems poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as it faces off against an opponent whose current 43-percent approval rating marks the highest of his presidency thus far. The latest round of debates among this (mostly) unimpressive cohort of candidates has confirmed that the Democrats just haven’t learned a thing from 2016. We found out three years ago that you can’t simply be against Trump; you have to actually offer something. What we get instead is more intra-party division, the usual more-liberal-than-thou pedantry and, despite some legitimately good ideas on healthcare, a lot of lofty, pie-in-the-sky policy plans that seem engineered more for securing Twitter plaudits than connecting with blue collar voters in the Midwest. Trump won the 2016 election because he focused his energy on running the electoral map in crucial swing states Democrats had ignored. Democrats, by and large, have continued to ignore this battleground, and as it turns out, that electoral math might work even more to Trump’s favor this time: a recent Pew Research study found voters in the Midwest identifying as liberal have dipped while conservatives in that region have remained roughly the same, setting up Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as easy Trump wins in 2020.
Not that some of us care. In a few months, Warren or Harris or Biden will emerge as the clear candidate, and the infighting will hit a fever pitch, due either to the fact that the candidate is a woman/man, because he/she is too progressive or not progressive enough, or because he/she takes corporate donations and therefore wears the toxic “centrist” badge, which is to say, they’re covertly in league with the GOP. Many won’t even vote, just as they didn’t in 2014, 2016 and 2018, because we’ve internalized the idea that voting is somehow the equivalent of a love letter while willfully ignoring the idea that not voting affirms that we’re fine with the way things are.
For a candidate to defeat Trump, he/she has to disrupt the historic disruption Trump brought to presidential politics when he announced his candidacy four years ago. Voters have to want something, and a candidate has to crystalize a rallying cry around a promise to fulfill that shared desire. So, what do we want? Anyone but Trump, right? See what I mean?
It’s over, folks. Barring some unforeseen, cataclysmic circumstance—another recession, for example—Trump will win a second term. This will happen. Place your bets: I’m willing to eat a crow buffet if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am, and I suspect many of you agree.