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Trump Has Redefined 'Electability'

Looking ahead to 2020, what can Democrats do with a president who's doing pretty well?

Lewis Morris · May 7, 2019

In an age driven by the never-ending election campaign and the 24/7 news cycle, we are mercilessly subjected to speculation about what the next presidential election might bring. Regarding 2020, this is due in large part to a leftist media stricken with Trump Derangement Syndrome and completely obsessed with somehow moving beyond his presidency, even if it means fantasizing about which Democrat might be the next to occupy the White House.

The political prognosticators, of which there are legion, a busy featuring a number of “if-the-election-were-held-today” stories citing polls that find Joe Biden beating Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup. Similar stories having Trump being beaten by Fill-in-the-Blank.

There are two major problems with this type of analysis, the most obvious that the election is not being held today or anytime soon. It is in 18 months, which is an eternity in presidential politics. Anything can happen to change the fortunes of any candidate for better or worse. Second, media polls are always suspect and often steered to produce an outcome favorable to the narrative they wish to push. In this case, that narrative is Trump losing in 2020.

Just the same, there is a place in politics for reasoned speculation about what the coming election has in store. It helps both parties in planning how to marshal resources and where to focus energies in pursuit of victory. The trouble for 2020 is that Trump has fundamentally changed the electoral calculus, making many existing predictive models obsolete.

Perhaps the biggest outmoded concept in campaign thinking is that of electability — how likely is one candidate over another to be elected. Electability is an imperfect measure, often driven by the party hierarchy and its perception of what the electorate wants, rather than accepting the reality of what voters are seeking. Past presidents considered unelectable even by their own party include Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.

Donald Trump was also considered unelectable in 2016. He exhibited every attribute that Republican strategists believed would deny them the White House. When he won against the supposedly unbeatable Hillary Clinton, it left Democrats and a lot of Republicans so flummoxed, they were practically foaming at the mouth with rage.

Timing is a big factor when it comes to elections, however, as is pointed out by political analyst Kyle Kondik. Prior Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney may have seemed more electable than Trump, but they were contending with an anti-Republican backlash (McCain in 2008) and an incumbent president who was a more effective (and crooked) campaigner (Romney in 2012). FInally, as has often been contended here, Clinton was stunningly overrated as a candidate.

Now that Trump is the incumbent, the big question for Democrats is who is the most electable candidate to beat him? Biden is currently at the top of that speculative short list because of his traditional appeal to the middle class. He has also rejected some of the more “progressive” elements of his own party, which could bring back some of the more middle-of-the-road Democrat voters — that is if there are any left. Biden has already discovered that being what was known as a “moderate Democrat” may be to his detriment in the modern uber-leftist Democrat Party.

Assuming that Biden isn’t wiped out by the hyper-leftists of his own party, he still faces an uphill battle against Trump. Trump’s 2016 victory included in-roads into traditionally working-class Democrat strongholds with his brand of populism mixed with a strong pro-American message. The flip side of that coin is Trump losing some traditionally Republican districts because his background and crass behavior turned off voters. Whether they will return to him in 2020 remains to be seen.

There are too many questions and possibilities and unknowns to make a reasoned prediction at this point as to who will emerge victorious in 2020. But it can be said with confidence that electability is but one element of a winning campaign, and it’s anything but a deciding factor.

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