HORIST: Can Trump continue to be unpopular and win re-election? Probably.
I constantly get asked why I like President Trump … why I am always defending him. Well … I don’t and I don’t. Anyone who has read my commentaries knows that I am one of those who separate the Trump personality from the policies of his administration – including his Cabinet — as opposed to the totally unacceptable people, philosophy, proposals and policies advanced by the contemporary Democratic Party.
I have never been overly fond of Trump’s personality. He is too pugnacious and too needlessly combative, in my judgment. He says too many things that are obviously and inexplicably inaccurate. That does not mean I want him to be an establishment wuss. I like that he is an untraditional and disruptive President. I believe he can be all that without being a name-calling braggart. I think he wastes time and credibility by getting into peeing contests with low-influence celebrities. I find the name calling very unattractive in anyone – and especially a President.
I have long contended that had Trump been a bit less controversial and abrasive, he would have won the popular vote. At the time of the 2016 election, Republicans were on a roll. First, it was the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. By the time 2016 rolled around, the GOP had two-thirds of the governorships and state legislatures – plus and increase of thousands of other state and local offices. The Party was poised to sweep into the White House by a landslide proportion.
While Trump did win the nomination against all odds, his nomination was as much the result of a large divided Republican field as his own popularity. In fact, most Republicans preferred someone else. That is just the dynamic of multi-candidate races. Had the other candidates not divided the vote in those early primaries, Trump would have likely fallen by the wayside.
That is not to suggest that Trump did not win the nomination fair and square – or that he did not have a significant appeal to a large base – up to 35 percent. But his victory in securing the nomination was as much the way the cards fell as to how well he played his hand.
His victory was not an accident, however. He and his team showed more political savvy than they get credit for. He did not win because of Russian meddling. He won because he (1) tapped into a national desire to disrupt the arrogant and oppressive establishment in Washington that amassed power and fortune for themselves while failing to provide good public service to we the people and (2) because his team understood how to use social media to identify and motivate Republicans and independents in the key battleground states.
Jared Kushner was the genius who essentially ignored the popularity polls to focus on an Electoral College strategy. Team Trump won what was widely reported to be Hillary Clintons’ “firewall” in the industrial states of the Midwest. When the press, pundits and politicians summarily declared that Trump had “no path to the presidency,” they discovered that he had one, indeed – and that it ran right through the highly proclaimed firewall.
The most important factor in the Trump victory, however, was the unpopularity of the Democrat candidate and the rejection of the more-of-the-same policies. For all the fawning praise Clinton got from the left-leaning political establishment, she was a terrible … awful … hapless campaigner. She projected an arrogant air of entitlement devoid of a popular platform.
To make matters worse, her team played out an incompetent strategy – one based on the assumption that she could not lose. That is why Clinton never set foot in Wisconsin – and why the campaign maintained a New York/California mentality. They never seemed to understand why a hitherto obscure socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, was actually gaining traction.
Trump is possibly the most unpopular candidate to ever win a presidential election – arguably with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, who won his first election with LESS than 40 percent of the popular vote. Like Trump, Lincoln did much better in the Electoral College, where he won 60 percent of the electoral vote.
If you look at the popular vote and how a very few votes in any one of the major industrial states could have flipped that state and the election, you must admit that Trump squeaked through. He entered office as the legitimate President – despite the whining of the #NeverTrump Resistance Movement – but not with a great public mandate.
So, what does all that mean for 2020?
Three political omens of tough sailing ahead for Trump. One has been his relatively low favorable rating. It is not critically low. Other presidents have had popularity ratings below 50 percent, but unlike Trump, they had spikes over 50 percent at times. Trump has fluctuated between 35 and 45 percent.
The second omen is the loss of the House of Representatives in 2018. It is true that Presidents often suffer a setback in their first midterm election, but this one lost too many districts that Trump carried. To some extent, the election was a referendum on the Trump presidency.
The other dark cloud over the Trump presidency is his certain impeachment. It is unlikely that Trump will be thrown out of office by the Republican-controlled Senate – and there will be ample time and opportunity to turn the events back onto the Democrats – but it is never a good thing to get impeached so close to an election.
It is very unlikely that Trump will suddenly become a widely popular President … so the headline question. Can he get re-elected with low favorables? The answer is “yes.” In fact, even at this early stage, I would say that he is the odds-on favorite to win.
In many ways, we appear to be re-creating 2016. Once again Democrats – and especially the hardcore #NeverTrump Resistance Movement folks — are certain that Trump cannot win – maybe even more certain than they were in 2016. Democrats appear to be consuming the anti-Trump reporting in the anti-Trump press as gospel. While they no longer use the claim that Trump has “no path” to re-election, they do discount his chances. Many report that Trump is facing certain defeat – and the Never Trumpers are believing it.
A second factor that makes 2020 look like 2016 is that the Democrats are making themselves rather unpopular with the voting public. While Trump has a low favorables, none of the Democrat contenders are exactly soaring in the popularity polls. In fact, some rank lower than Trump – a fact the media does not like to report
To make matters worse, the leading Democrat candidates are the product of the leftward drift of the Democratic Party – creating a politically toxic combination of unpopular personalities with unpopular platforms.
We also need to keep in mind that all this impeachment hubbub will be old news next summer. Trump will be impeached and the case will be tossed out by the Senate after a forceful defense – which has not been heard yet.
While national polls show Democrat candidates besting Trump in theoretical head-to-head contests, that is not the case in many of the battleground states. The national polls reflect disproportionate votes from California and New York, where Trump and Republicans are very unpopular – as he was in 2016.
It is very possible that Trump could again lose the popular vote and still win the presidency in the Electoral College. You see this dynamic in the fact that while a slim majority of the nation favor impeachment, majorities in the key battleground states tend to oppose it.
Trump also has a year to put a few significant wins on the board. It seems likely that the economy will continue to stay strong – despite the Democrats’ prayers for a recession. It is also likely that there will be a trade agreement between the United States and China. Trump’s policies have already reduced the number of illegal border crossings. His wall is being built and Mexico has agreed to hold back the caravans. Migrants now have to seek asylum in the first nation they enter. There could be some progress toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Going into the 2020 election, Trump may not be the most loved President in American history, but he and his policies may be more appreciated than what the Democrats offer – no matter who the candidate may be.
So, there ‘tis.