Instead of focusing on what has happened, the “news” media these days are filled with repetitive speculations about what might happen. Vast sums are being spent on polls to predict the outcome of an election 14 months from now, for which we don’t yet know the candidates. So I might as well join the crystal ball brigade.
The most recent surveys show Trump losing by large margins to all of the four most likely Democrats. Against Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, Trump got a steady 39%. That is close to his current national approval rating around 42%, and lately his popular reputation has been inching downwards. But the most striking aspect of popular opinion about Trump is that it has not changed much since May 2017, a few months after he took office. His approval has not gone beyond 42% and disapproval has not fallen below 52%, the steadiest ratings among presidents going back to World War II. Something extraordinarily good for Trump would have to happen to change his notable negative popularity.
If those numbers are translated into voting in November 2020, Trump would lose the popular vote by more than 10%. That would qualify as a landslide. Since 1960, only Nixon over McGovern in 1972 (23% difference), LBJ over Goldwater in 1964 (23%), and Reagan over Mondale in 1984 (18%) had larger margins of victory. Unless Trump does something to expand his approval among voters, he appears to be headed for a catastrophic defeat in November 2020. Nothing he has done since his campaign officially began shows promise of gaining converts. He’s not likely to increase his popularity by accusing most American Jews of being disloyal to Israel and to themselves, or trying to buy Greenland. It is hard to imagine that anyone approves of his recent unpredictable policy swings on gun control and trade issues. If anything, he appears to be less able than ever to be serious about governing.
If Trump’s numbers don’t improve by the spring of 2020, the electoral calculations of Republican politicians across the country, especially in competitive districts, will change. Not challenging Trump could mean defeat.
Unpredictable forces beyond any politician’s control might upend any predictions about the election. Economists are currently divided about whether the US is headed for a recession in 2020. A declining economy would remove the only “accomplishment” Trump can point to in nearly three years as President, although his signature tax cut apparently had little effect. The tariffs to which he is wedded will continue to do damage to consumers and producers. Economic processes and political decisions in Germany, China, England and across the globe will affect the American economy.
If Trump’s numbers don’t improve by the spring of 2020, the electoral calculations of Republican politicians across the country, especially in competitive districts, will change. Not challenging Trump could mean defeat. While breaking from Trump might also spell doom, some Republicans will shift from their silence on his outrages to cautious criticism. Meanwhile, Trump will become more frightened of losing, because of the threat of legal jeopardy if he is not President. His desperate campaign will shift further into vituperation, threats and mendaciousness. Any defections from full-throated support will be met with even more hysterical attacks. The Republican Party could tear itself apart.
I think Donald Trump is a lying pervert and a cheating fraud. He is one of the world’s most unpleasant public figures and a disaster for America. So there is an element of wishful thinking here, intermingled with my political calculations. Yet every day there seems to be a surprise which might affect the outcome in 2020.
I don’t believe that defeating Trump, even by a large margin, will make America great again. The many thousands of screaming partisans who show up for his rallies will still be around, seeking candidates who nod toward white supremacy. The racism that Trump exploited and amplified will not disappear with his defeat. Amoral internet trolls will continue to collaborate with Russia to poison unsuspecting minds with right-wing nightmares. The Republican Party won’t suddenly give up their electoral playbook of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and immigrant bashing.
I think the glimmer of hope is this: Trump did lasting damage to our future American lives, but he also motivated millions of Americans, especially young ones, to pay more attention to how politics affects their lives.
How this all plays out is unpredictable, but not beyond our influence. To take back our lives, we have to join the movement to take back the country.
Taking Back Our Lives