Major Democratic victories in the South wins seem to spell trouble for President Trump’s reelection bid, but things are not so clear-cut. Liam Glen writes on the close stakes of the 2020 election.
Ever since the evening of November 8, 2016, the political world has been dominated by nonstop speculation over whether Donald Trump will win reelection in 2020.
Two rival camps seem to have emerged around this point. One possesses the firm conviction that a blue wave will rush Trump out of office next November. The other – comprised of a mixture of diehard supporters of the president and the most pessimistic of his critics – believes that he will defy expectations yet again and come to victory.
Overall, the former point of view has more evidence on its side. According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, Trump has not had a net positive approval rating at any point since the beginning of February 2017. He is trailing in nearly all hypothetical general election polls. Elections like the 2018 midterms have shown the strength of Democratic enthusiasm.
This view was affirmed once again when recent elections gave Democrats control of the Virginia state legislature and seemed to make Democrat Andy Beshear the governor-elect of Kentucky.
This spells out danger for Trump in 2020. At this point, it is impossible to deny that he is a vulnerable incumbent. But it is just as much an error to take his loss as a given. The race still has its fair share of complicating factors.
The Convoluted Electoral Calculus
Winning the governorship of a deep-red state like Kentucky may seem like the Democrats’ most impressive achievement. However, commentators were quick to point out that the incumbent Matt Bevins already suffered from extreme unpopularity, while the election did little to harm Republicans elsewhere in the state.
While this does suggest more of a problem with Bevins than Trump, it does come soon after the president came to campaign for the governor. At the very least it shows that Trump’s grip on Republican constituencies is not as firm as he would like.
Similar ambiguity exists in the elections for the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Democrats made gains throughout the state, but Virginia is an increasingly blue state which Trump has little chance of winning in 2020 in any case.
Many will argue that the race shows growing Democratic enthusiasm that will surely resonate nationwide. But the national vote is not what matters. Like in 2016, it will all come down to a handful of swing states, and Trump is polling surprisingly well in many of them.
While all evidence goes against him winning a majority – or even a plurality – of the popular vote, he still has a plausible pathway to another Electoral College victory.
Bad Terrain for All Parties
Democrats have quite a challenge before them. They must maintain enthusiasm in their current coalition while also winning over Trump voters. They must get white and minority, young and old, middle and working-class, urban, suburban, and rural Americans on their side.
It is clear at this point that a majority of Americans would gladly vote to put Donald Trump out of office. However, it is not immediately obvious that they would choose to replace him with any of the current Democratic contenders.
But this should by no means be interpreted as smooth sailing for the president. He is an incumbent overseeing a good economy, yet the best thing that can be said for his chances of reelection is that he is currently polling somewhat decently in swing states.
To a normal politician, this would trigger a major shift in strategy. Trump, however, lacks that versatility. He is either unwilling or unable to change his ways. His tactics worked well enough in the 2016 Republican Primaries and General Election, but ever since, he has been his own worst enemy.
In the end, much will depend on what happens between now and November 2020. Most notably, an economic downturn would almost assuredly sink Trump in the general election. But it is not impossible for unexpected events to go his way. Richard Nixon was seen as a vulnerable incumbent in 1971, but this did impede his blowout reelection the following year.
All signs point to a Democratic advantage in 2020, but certainty is a rare commodity in politics. The worst thing that someone can do is take the future for granted, especially when there are clear alternative pathways.