I can’t figure out whether Trump’s recent racist and xenophobic attacks on The Squad, the four minority women members of Congress, is a strategy, or whether he just can’t help himself. It’s possible that his current Rasputin, Stephen Miller, has convinced him that this kind of over-the-top attack can help him by associating the Democratic Party in general and the prospective Democratic nominee in particular with people he will define as alien radicals. That would be a strategy.
It’s possible that Attack/Divide/Demonize, a pattern of behavior that we’ve seen from him many times, is actually the only way he knows how to behave.
But it’s equally possible that Attack/Divide/Demonize, a pattern of behavior that we’ve seen from him many times, is actually the only way he knows how to behave. His presidency has been notable for the complete absence of any attempt to broaden his appeal or to reach out to his adversaries. Maybe this is just who he is.
Which is better to believe? That he is a completely cynical demagogue who will walk over anybody to stay in power? That he is clinically paranoid and really thinks these four junior members of Congress want to destroy America?
Maybe he’s both. But either way, I am convinced that he’s actually harming his own prospects and those of his party. His support in national polls has been remarkably steady in the low 40s, while a consistent majority disapproves of him. There are very few people who haven’t made up their minds about him, not enough to put him in positive territory. He and his strategists seem to be counting on and working toward a repeat of 2016: eking out an Electoral Collage win while losing the popular vote again.
This is scarcely a likely outcome. He has spent two and a half years appealing only to his base while antagonizing everybody else. He won’t be so lucky as to get an opponent like Hillary, who had been systematically demonized by Republicans for a generation, to the point where even many Bernie supporters bought into the GOP talking points about her. Instead he’ll either confront Joe Biden or one of the newer faces among the Democrats. I think Bernie has a solid core of supporters, but a lot of competition to attract new supporters. So I think it will either be Biden, or it will be Warren or Harris. None of them has the kind of baggage Hillary had (though Trump will brutally attack any of them).
To replicate his 2016 victory, Trump would have to hold all the states he won then, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Although all these states promise to be close again, he would not be favored to win any of them except possibly Florida. And some of the other states he won look close now: Arizona, Georgia, even Texas.
The suburbs will be key battlegrounds in 2020: their tilt to Trump in 2016 gave him the three Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Everything Trump has done since his election to appeal to working class white males undercuts his appeal to the middle class suburban females he would need to carry the suburbs.
Trump is counting on mobilizing his base to overcome his deficit in the polls in states like Pennsylvania, but in 2016 the African American vote was significantly down from 2012. After four years of blatantly racist, white nationalist appeals to his base, and highly publicized Republican attempts to suppress minority voting, blacks and other minorities can be expected to turn out in record numbers to reject him this time.
Thus it looks now like Trump has a very narrow and unlikely path to victory in 2020 — if the Democrats and other progressives don’t manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. One way to do that would be to nominate someone who satisfies the progressive base without first convincing the broader electorate (especially those middle class suburbanites) that their policies are both desirable and workable.
Medicare for All is a prime example: People who have jobs that come with health care plans are just going to be skeptical of a plan that would eliminate that benefit and replace it with something that might sound good but hasn’t been tried yet in this country. If there’s one thing we should have learned since the Clinton Administration, it is that health care reform is excruciatingly hard to get right. Medicare for All might be the best answer to our health care woes, but if we run on it and can’t build a consensus on it, we will hand the election to Trump.
[dc]Trump wants to make the Democrats so repulsive that even his critics will vote for him. Democrats should not make the parallel mistake of presuming that Trump is so repulsive that they can win with any candidate and any platform. The Democrats should win this election and control both house of Congress. It’s theirs to lose.