In 2020, Donald Trump will be re-elected President of the United States.
Is it because Trump is a political savant? Well, no. Although the septuagenarian claims to be “like, really smart,” according to analysts at Factba.se, Trump speaks at the lowest grade level of the last fifteen presidents. Though, rather worryingly, Trump’s inability to speak in a coherent manner appears to resonate with millions of Americans, many of whom find his approach comforting and relatable.
But Trump’s imminent reelection will be due to the fact that, at this time of writing, Democrats have very little to offer, very few candidates willing to get down and dirty with Trump—and, after all, politics is a dirty game.
When it comes to possible presidential candidates, Democrats appear to be spoilt for choice: they are old, young, liberal, centrist, woke, super woke, etc. However, the large number of potential candidates doesn’t mean that any of them are actually capable of defeating the juggernaut known as Teflon Don.
What about Beto O’Rourke? He’s cool, hip, relatable, charming, easy on the eye, young (ish) and a good talker. He has even played bass in a rock band. But Beto also happens to be a white male. And we all know how the left feel about white men. To make things worse, Beto comes from a place of privilege and has never known hardship. He didn’t have to fight his way to the top because of his gender or race. For these very reasons, perhaps, the forty-six-year-old Texan refuses to play rough, opting to only discuss the positive things he hopes to do if elected. Favoring platitudes over policy, Beto regularly spouts pseudo-profound drivel, which doesn’t mean anything, yet makes a certain subsection of voters feel all mushy inside. He is the human equivalent of a cute puppy video. But, in political dogfights, cute puppies are no match for rabid wolves. Political campaigns are not amiable dinner parties. Political campaigns are chaotic riots.
Beto, a confrontation avoider, failed to call out Ted Cruz on his lies when the two competed in the 2018 United States Senate election in Texas. In the race for the 2016 presidency, Trump, one of the biggest liars ever known to man, continuously called Cruz out on his lies, even giving him the nickname Lyin’ Ted. Cruz is widely detested. John Boehner, the former House speaker, once referred to him as “Lucifer in the flesh.” If Beto can’t defeat Ted Cruz, one of the most unpopular politicians in the United States, he sure as hell can’t take on Trump. Beto is way too nice, and nice doesn’t win you the presidency. In politics, nice guys finish last.
How about Bernie?
During a recent town hall discussion in Kansas City, Missouri, potential independent 2020 White House contender Howard Schultz predicted that President Trump will win if the Democrats nominate Bernie, the self-described socialist. Mr Starbucks has a point. For millions of voters in the United States, the S word is a dirty word. The stigma associated with socialism has dogged not only Sanders’ campaign but almost the entire Obama presidency. Of all the programs introduced by the Obama administration, was there anything more contentious than Obamacare?
Even though Obamacare has done a lot of good, its inextricable association with socialism has tarnished its reputation. For socialist-style policies to work, there needs to be a high level of trust among the populace. This is why the S word is not a dirty word in Scandinavia. The homogeneity of opinion in that part of the world makes it easier to implement socialism. However, in the United States, such homogeneity doesn’t exist. Trust is at an all-time low; suspicion is at an all-time high.
According to a 2018 Axios poll, many Americans think people in the other party are ignorant, spiteful and evil and are destroying the country. 61% of Democrats see Republicans as “racist/bigoted/sexist”; 31% of Republicans view Democrats in the same light. In a low-trust society, people are constantly guessing others’ intentions and looking out for cheaters. People are unwilling to support programs that may benefit the enemy. When people don’t trust their governments and their fellow citizens, is it really so difficult to see why millions are reluctant to back socialist-style policies?
This is why Bernie can’t beat Trump. This—and the fact that the left, spearheaded by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar—appears to be going through a phase of rejuvenation. Bernie is an old, white man. There doesn’t appear to be much room for white men in the Democrats’ current Millennial-driven, solar-powered bandwagon.
The nouveau Dems aren’t the most likeable bunch. The new recruits are the type to get distracted by virtue signaling and identity politics—exactly the sort of thing that will get President Trump re-elected. People often vote for the most palatable candidate. They regularly vote against things instead of for them. They vote against philosophies, candidates and parties. As Gerard Alexander argues in a 2018 piece for The New York Times, “liberals may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way.”
In a frantic attempt to make themselves more palatable to a wider audience, Democratic candidates are desperately trying to out-left one another. Take Kamala Harris, for example. At a CNN town hall event in January of this year, Harris outlined her plan to raise taxes on corporations and wealthier Americans. But the senator also argued not just in favor of Medicare for all but also for the elimination of private health insurance. Even Bernie was lost for words. Harris also promised universal pre-K education and debt-free college. This sounds great—except that, as Trump showed with the wall, making big promises is one thing, but paying for them is another. According to a recent report by the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Medicare-for-all plan would cost the government $32 trillion over the next decade. To a paraphrase a line from Top Gun, Harris and her fellow lefties are writing checks that the country can’t cash.
When it comes to big promises, Harris is not an anomaly. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is offering an overly aggressive wealth tax. Meanwhile, Julian Castro, a presidential candidate from San Antonio, Texas, gleefully echoes the demands of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a 75% marginal income tax rate.
Can Anybody Stop the Trump Train?
Trump seems to speak a language—albeit a rather erratic one—that resonates with the masses. Of course, nothing is set in stone. Trump’s volatility and fragile ego are repellent to many moderates. He could very well shoot himself in the foot. I mean that literally—Trump is not the brightest and you certainly wouldn’t trust him with a gun. This is Trump’s election to lose.
What about Pete Buttigieg, the telegenic mayor of South Bend, Indiana? Pete what? Buttigieg, pronounced BOOTedgedge.
Buttigieg has an impressive CV. He holds degrees from Harvard and Oxford; he has also worked as a consultant for McKinsey. Buttigieg speaks eight languages, including English, Maltese, Italian, French, Spanish, Dari, Arabic and Norwegian. In fact, he learned Norwegian to read the work of a specific author (talk about clearly defined goals). Elected mayor at the age of twenty-nine and re-elected at age thirty-three, Buttigieg also served in Afghanistan. All these experiences appear to have fashioned him into a surprising presidential candidate. At thirty-seven, Mayor Pete barely meets the constitutional age requirement for the job.
If re-elected, Trump would be the oldest president in history, at seventy-four. If elected, Buttigieg would be the youngest. Humble, judicious, pragmatic, accomplished and “a near parody of normality,” as Andrew Sullivan has so brilliantly observed, Buttigieg, the son of two professors, is the antithesis of Trump. (Though, some may argue that Trump’s bad qualities are the very qualities that got him elected in the first place)
Buttigieg is also America’s only openly gay 2020 presidential candidate. Is Buttigieg’s popularity a sign of tangible progress? Would Americans elect a gay president?
Well, yes, it appears they would. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, first published in March, shows that Americans’ attitudes toward a gay presidential candidate have changed significantly over the last decade. 54% of Americans said they would be comfortable with a gay or lesbian running for president; an additional 14% said that they would be enthusiastic about a gay or lesbian candidate. The responses represent a huge contrast from a similar poll conducted in 2006, which found that more than 50 percent of Americans either had “reservations” about or were “very uncomfortable” with the thought of a gay person running the country.
Nevertheless, when it comes to policy Buttigieg is thoroughly underwhelming. His delivery is rather bland. He lacks the charisma of a Biden or a Bernie. And the few good ideas he has are shared by other, more captivating candidates.
Furthermore, even if Mayor Pete gets the nod from the Democrats, Trump still has an ace up his sleeve. It’s the economy, stupid.
Voters (rightly or wrongly) tend to hold the sitting president accountable for either economic prosperity or a brutal recession. A strong economy is the most decisive factor driving support for the incumbent. Right now, the US economy is doing great. In fact, in March 2019, using economically based predictors, Politico published a piece stating that Trump appears to be “on track for a landslide” victory in 2020. At the time of writing, Trump’s economic rating is up eight points from April 2017, and five points from April 2018.
What’s more, since 1916, only three elected incumbents have lost reelection: Presidents Hoover, Carter and H. W. Bush. Interestingly, each experienced negative real annual GDP growth during the year of their reelection. However, nine elected incumbents have won reelection in the last century. Unsurprisingly, not one of them experienced negative growth in their reelection year. If Trump can maintain this economic boom, he will be in a strong position to depict his eventual challenger as a risky bet, someone who could unsettle this economic harmony.
The economy’s impact on reelection is as profound as it is irrefutable: the economic climate clearly shapes popular opinion of the president. As a result, there is every reason to believe that Trump’s approval rating has considerable room to grow between now and 2020. Democrats are right to be concerned. Presidents riding the wave of a strong economy simply do not lose. This has held true for more than a century. What makes you think that it won’t hold true for another few years?