With the passing of the 2018 midterm elections, people are paying more attention to the speculations about who will run for president in 2020. We are still more than a year out from the Iowa caucus, but that doesn’t mean that these kinds of conversations aren’t happening now. The 2016 election certainly brought some surprises and highlighted the underlying tensions between each party and their voters—which begs the question, have things changed in the last two years?
In 2016, much of what we thought we knew about elections turned out to be wrong. Donald Trump, a candidate with no political experience, a euphemistically put brusque personality, and an unprecedented ability to change the narrative, won both his party’s nomination and the general election. Some may (and many do) attribute his win to the poor alternative, Hillary Clinton. While surely her political past played a role in some of Trump’s victory, it cannot take credit for nearly half (slightly less than half, actually) of the nation’s voters picking him in the 2016 general election. Regardless of how you feel about his performance since then, a 2020 Trump presidency is inevitable for the following reasons:
#1 Trump’s Unswayable Base
Trump has a stronger base than any other potential candidate. His diehard supporters are fiercely loyal and are susceptible to whatever message he puts forth. His “fake news” rhetoric and continual attacks on other prominent figures have conditioned his strongest supporters to believe and act on everything he says. No matter who the other candidates running are or what they claim they stand for, Trump’s base will perpetuate whatever message Trump gives them, even if that message changes from day to day.
In many ways, Donald Trump defies the normal measures of success because most of his voters don’t support him for what he does, but idolize him for what he’s against. He is against the political establishment, the media, and rapid social change. He is for America and against the world because they’ve taken all our jobs and sent us all of their immigrants. As long as President Trump continues this kind of message he can count on continued support through 2020.
#2 Republicans May Not Like the Speech, But They Like the Policy
People who oppose Trump tend to get caught up in his rhetoric and speech. They are repeatedly appalled by his lack of diplomacy. But underneath all of the talk lies a classic Republican policy agenda. The legislation he is pushing and the policies he is promoting are not as radical as some like to believe. Most Republicans, even moderate Republicans, agree with his agenda, and so they choose to overlook his outlandish public persona. While many admit that they are repulsed by the things that the President says, deep down, they know they will still choose him in 2020 rather than supporting a more tactful candidate with a different ideological approach.They are ultimately willing to sacrifice morality if the government is doing what they want it to do. For some conservatives, it is as simple as Chris Cuomo says, “if the economy is good, then you can lie whenever you want, you can divide the country any way you want, you can play to racist sympathies whichever way you want, but it’s okay because the stock market is up.”
#3 The Democrat’s Majority in the House
Democrats across the country are celebrating the win in the House. They see the new majority as an opportunity to block Republican efforts to repeal existing healthcare measures, build a border wall, and create school choice programs, among other things. What a Democratic majority really means is a policy stand-still and a combative climate in Washington. This is exactly the kind of climate the current President thrives in. The Democratic opposition will become his go-to scapegoat and will supply an easy explanation if anything doesn’t go his way.
#4 Oversaturation of Democratic Candidates
Kamala Harris. Elizabeth Warren. Bernie Sanders. Cory Booker. Kirsten Gillibrand. Beto O’Rourke. John Delaney. Joe Biden. Michael Avenatti. These are just a few of the people who have expressed tentative interest in a 2020 presidential bid. Too many people want to be the hero. The overload of candidates will split the voters to the point that no one candidate will be able to garner enough support to overcome Trump. Like with any presidential bid, they’ll be forced to tear eachother down to hopefully get a leg up, ultimately hurting Democrats across the board.
#5 Polarization Leaves Independents Without a Candidate
Each of the major political parties have become so polarized, leaving no candidates that are representative of independent voters. Democrats who try to push a moderate message run the risk of losing progressive voters to a Bernie Sanders-type candidate. Republicans who try to separate themselves from Trump’s rhetoric and policies run the risk of jeopardizing right-wing support. This leaves potential candidates stuck between choosing a less partisan message that appeals to independents and moderate members of each party, or perpetuating an overly-partisan, us vs. them message that appeals to the polarized ends of the spectrum. Historically, candidates have to follow the party. In an election, a political party provides necessary funds, volunteers, organization, and endorsements. Without such tools, it is nearly impossible to win, and so independent voters are often overlooked and disregarded.
What really hasn’t changed since 2016 is many people’s inability to understand Trump’s success. In order to for anyone to beat him, liberal or conservative, it is important to understand how and why he continues to be successful. Understanding is not discrediting, and oftentimes, that is how President Trump and his supporters are dealt with. Democrats need to acknowledge the power of Trump’s strong base, accept that good, reasonable conservatives can like him, and admit that Democrat’s hostility and general resistance may do more harm to their cause than good. I don’t mean to suggest that it is impossible to beat him, but it will be impossible if Democrats don’t change their outlook. By trying to stand true to their ideals they are limiting opportunities for understanding and compromise. Heading into 2020 it is imperative that Democrats (and others seeking change) work to understand President Trump rather than digging their heels in and “fighting the good fight.”
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