The 2020 elections are still 20 months away, which is the rough equivalent of 47 political lifetimes. But some early observations are in order.
In one sense the GOP is easy. There will be no meaningful challenge to Trump. But in another sense, how Trump conducts his campaign, starting now, will matter a lot.
Democrats are far more complicated. How’s that for a glorified statement of the obvious? Of course, the enemy always gets a vote, so things out of everyone’s control — like an economic downturn or a foreign-policy crisis — could have wild-card impact.
Anything can happen. Just take a look at the last few presidential elections. Thanks in part to the financial crash in 2008, we elected, with 365 electoral votes, a community organizer fresh off two unremarkable years in the Senate who pledged to “transform America.” True, he was an historic figure, being that he was the first black candidate, but he beat an experienced, highly qualified establishment opponent.
After a first term characterized more by rhetoric than accomplishments, he beat the GOP candidate from central casting in 2012 by a 332 to 206 margin. And at this point in the 2016 campaign, the ultimate winner wasn’t even on the radar screen. Ironically, the most consistent element is that the person who was considered the no-brainer lock — Hillary Clinton — played also-ran.
So job number one for the GOP is to ignore the conventional wisdom that America will never elect a far-left socialist or otherwise improbable candidate. Do not sit back and hope that radical ideas will allow Trump to skate into a second term.
Absolutely call out the Democrats’ race to the left on everything, including 90% taxes, open borders, climate change, the elimination of fossil fuels, post-birth abortion, impeachment, single-payer health care, free college, free child care, anti-Semitism, reparations, and open-ended national debt. But don’t stop there. A positive contrast on each item, and a celebration of key economic and foreign policy accomplishments, is a must. And the sooner the better.
Don’t forget that the GOP message in the 2018 midterms was essentially that Democrats were loony tunes because of the way they conducted themselves at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and because they didn’t denounce the migration chaos at the southern border.
Do you really want them in charge?
Compared to mostly moderate Democrat voices who stressed that the GOP was not solving preexisting health-care issues, the answer was yes. Sitting back and hoping your opponent will implode won’t cut it and is too risky.
So who is going to wind up opposite Trump on the 2020 ballot? Pundits tell us that because the vast majority of Democrat money and energy resides on the far Left, that is where the candidate will come from — even if it compromises what supposedly is the party’s job number one: beating Trump. But the old Democrat hands realize that getting a socialist elected is a triple bank shot, so they are trying to have it both ways, which is enormously complex politics.
There is a very narrow needle to thread between cultivating the social media-oriented Millennial crowd, which is projected to be the majority of Americans in a few years, and not alienating the moderate Democrats who handed Nancy Pelosi the majority in 2018. What appears to be happening is that Democrat leaders are letting the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the world run free to stoke the enthusiasm of the base, while downplaying the extreme positions that moderates are shaking their heads over.
Pelosi initially rolled her eyes over the Green New Deal, but has since been quiet. Ditto the Democrat presidential wannabes. Their initial reaction was support for the “aspirational” aspects of the GND. Now? Crickets. Impeachment cries have been left to the fringe, while Pelosi and others have backed away, leaving only the Robert Mueller caveat.
Instead, they have moved the investigation goalposts to include Trump’s real-estate career, obstruction of justice, and the need for Trump to testify under oath. They even recruited the least likable human on the planet, not to mention an admitted perjurer, to provide a roadmap for further inquiries, including the absurd hypothetical that if he lost in 2020, Trump would not accept the result. All to keep Trump’s character under scrutiny without sounding too much like fanatics.
With a compliant media, Democrats have snuck radical state abortion measures into the discussion without any widespread dissent getting traction. When is the last time you heard the quotes from the Virginia governor on late-term abortion? Democrats are trying to keep the enthusiasm and money flow of the radical abortion crowd without turning off the majority of Americans who are opposed to late-term abortion, and the media is in on it.
Trump hasn’t helped by making the open-border debate more about the “wall” than the rule of law and sovereignty. It has allowed Democrats to frame the discussion as a bleeding-heart review of “asylum seekers” and mothers separated from their kids. It is not off the wall to see the recent college-admission scandal — which involved people believing they are entitled to break the rules — as similar to immigrants being encouraged by Democrats to think jumping the line is perfectly justified.
Interestingly, there are polls showing that Trump’s approval among Hispanics has gone up during the border crisis. There is even an outlier showing 50% approval. Perhaps Hispanics are looking at things differently from the traditional Democrat narrative. Maybe the majority of Hispanic immigrants who have played by the rules are seeing the light by realizing open borders is not only against their economic interests but also just plain wrong.
Trump approval among blacks is also hanging in there, which, along with Hispanic approval, is the Democrats’ worst nightmare. This gives them all the more reason to do whatever they can to recruit Millennials and hope the numbers offset one another. As noted, that’s a very tough wager given the traditional low turnout among the age 20-30 demographic.
The existing crop of Democrat presidential wannabes is united in their hate for Trump but are still trying to find a way to distinguish themselves from the field. Identity politics is in play, as in, “I am the only real [fill in the blank].” But none of that seems to be a factor yet. The top contenders are those with name recognition, including the front runner who has not even announced yet and still may not get in.
Ironically, the most vocal of the group railing against the immorality of the college-admission scandal is the one that used identity politics to advance her academic career, and yet she probably has the most substance in her policy positions.
The rational business guys have either dropped out (Michael Bloomberg) or are getting slammed by social media (Howard Schultz and John Hickenlooper). And a Midwest moderate who had a shot at taking back the swing states saw the trek as a bridge too far (Sherrod Brown).
You know you’re in trouble when the main narrative about you is whether you can eat salad with a comb. Which brings us to Beto O'Rourke. How sad is the commentary on the state of our politics that the guy who I would argue has the best shot at the Democrat nod has as his top résumé enhancer the fact he lost to Ted Cruz? Perhaps he is the perfect storm of modern-day Democrat politics.
Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he has parleyed his understanding of social media and his darned cuteness into a perceived following that way outstrips the reality of the actual numbers. He makes all the right progressive noises on key Millennial topics like climate change and open borders, but does it with a smile and then moves on to how cool it is to broadcast your latest visit to the dentist on YouTube.
There is a ton of meaningless (or, worse, patently absurd) statements that he has managed to position as profound revelations. He is at once the progressive box checker and the blank slate à la Barack Obama onto which casual observers of politics can paint their own interpretations without deep thought.
Though tough to sustain for a year, he may be the only one who can keep Millennials on board while not causing heartburn among Democrat moderates. I simply don’t see Joe Biden as being able to do that, and people like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory “Spartacus” Booker will eventually wear out their welcome.
Because Beto is approximately two micrometers deep, he is a hanging curve ball for Trump. But the longer Beto is allowed to solidify his potentially charismatic hold on key parts of the electorate, the tougher he will be to dislodge. Trump seems to have recognized that a lack of strong GOP policy positions in 2018 addressing the lives of swing voters and his personal behavior contributed to moderate suburban voters pulling the other lever.
When is the last time you saw a vitriolic Trump tweet? He continues to promote his policies on social media, but he’s backed off the insults. Maybe not totally, but he’s certainly softened the hard edges that alienated key swing voters. Combine that with a more specific presentation of policy differences with the Betos of the world along with highlighting his economic and foreign policy achievements, and you have a recipe for 350 electoral votes and House and Senate majorities.