Trump’s Prospects

Trump’s Prospects August 23, 2019

Do you think President Trump will be re-elected?  I’m not asking right now if he should be re-elected or if you want him to be re-elected.  I’m asking what you think his prospects are.

Most rank-and-file Democrats seem to be worried that he will be re-elected, so “electability”–anyone who can defeat Trump–is a big factor in which candidate they will support in the primary.  This is why Joe Biden currently has such a big lead, even though many Democrats would prefer someone else.

But rank-and-file Republicans seem far more complacent, assuming that Trump will “own” the Democrats, defeating any of his prospective opponents, just as he did Hillary Clinton.  Maybe he will, but Trump and his supporters will need to work hard for that outcome.

According to a recent poll from Fox News (no less), 50% of the Americans polled would vote for Joe Biden, with only 38% voting for Donald Trump.  Voters also would choose Bernie Sanders over Trump, 48% to 39%.  They would also choose Elizabeth Warren over Trump, 46% to 39%.  And they would choose Kamala Harris over Trump, 45% to 39%.

That is to say, any of the top Democratic candidates would beat Trump.  (The poll did not ask about any of the other Democratic hopefuls.)

Now, it is true as Trump supporters have been saying, that these polls mean little.  We are still very early in the campaign season, with the first primary being six months away.  And Trump has a history of defying pollster predictions.  Hypothetical matchups are one thing, but an actual head-to-head competition is something else.  One can see Trump overmatching any of these rivals.

But Trump supporters would be foolish not to draw lessons from these early polls.  For one thing, Democrats seem to be taking them seriously, with many voters thinking that some of the more radical candidates may be “electable” after all.  And Republican operatives need to realize that their candidate has vulnerabilities that they need to address.

What Trump has going for him the most is the strength of the American economy.  Hardly any incumbents get defeated when the economy is booming.  And Trump can claim more credit for that success than some other incumbents, what with the big tax cut he pushed through, his pro-business trimming of regulations, and his actions to keep jobs from going overseas.

But now the economy appears to be faltering, with experts predicting a recession within the year.  An economic downturn during the election year could doom his chances.  His trade war with China will start to have an effect on American consumers.  On September 1, a 10% tariff will go into effect on consumer goods made in China.  Trump postponed the duty on electronics, shoes, video games, etc.–about 2/3 of the items to be affected–until the middle of December, saying that he didn’t want to affect Christmas presents.  But in the election year of 2020, all those tariffs will be in place, likely increasing the cost of the average WalMart purchase by 10%, and ordinary Americans are not going to appreciate that.

Recognizing the danger of an economic downturn to his re-election, President Trump is looking to find another stimulus, once considering a payroll tax cut (though he has reportedly taken that off the table), to keep the economy booming.

Such a change in course, if it comes, should be encouraging for Republicans.  Trump hardly ever changes anything for political considerations.  Perhaps that is to his credit as an anti-establishment politician.  But his refusal to change his rhetoric, his tweets, and his actions when they become political liabilities can hurt him politically.

Actually, some of his policies do change, even as the rhetoric stays the same, which is frustrating some of his hard-core supporters.  He has promised a wall on the Mexican border as an obstacle to illegal immigration, but, though a court case cleared the funding, there is no wall.  In disputes with North Korea, China, Russia, and Congress, he seems to have been the one to blink.  Some of his biggest fans in 2016–such as Ann Coulter–believe that he is more talk than action.

All the Democrats need to do to win is to hold onto the states that went for Hillary Clinton and flip three Rust Belt states–Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania–that went for Trump in 2016 but that usually vote Democratic.  In the midterm election, Democrats scored big in all three states.

Can Trump hold on to the white working class?  He’s alienating construction workers.  He’s alienating farmers, who are losing their markets because of the trade war.  He’s even alienating some of his seemingly most loyal base,  conservative Christians who are objecting to his habit of taking the Lord’s name in vain in campaign speeches.  Not to mention his blasphemous bragging in a tweet, quoting someone who said that Israelis regard him as “the King of Israel” and “the Second Coming of God.”  (The proper response when someone calls you a “god” is to rend your garments like Paul and Barnabus did [Acts 14:8-18], rather than accept the praise like King Herod [{Acts 12:21-23]).

Trump’s approval rating, according to that same Fox poll, is 43%, and his disapproval rating is 56%.  [UPDATE:  A new poll released yesterday has his approval rating at only 36%, with a disapproval rating of 62%.] The last three successful incumbents–Obama, Bush, and Clinton–had positive approval ratings at this time in their re-election bids.  But the Democrats’ approval ratings aren’t that good either, with each top candidate having higher disapproval number than approval (Biden: 34% favorable, 38% unfavorable; Sanders, 37% favorable, 40% unfavorable; Warren, 31% favorable, 32% unfavorable).

Many Americans just viscerally hate Trump.  But others have gotten used to his antics.  Outraged media reports about the president seem to have little traction with the general public anymore.  He has gotten through the Mueller investigation pretty much unscathed.  Incumbents are generally seen as the safe choice, with the devil you know being preferable to the devil you don’t know.

And it is unlikely that his critics from the right will abandon him, despite their frustrations.  Even Ann Coulter says that although Trump “deserves to lose,” she will still vote for him.  And conservative Christians are likely to stick with him, due to his  strong pro-life and religious liberty policies, despite their disapproval of his language.  (Would anything turn evangelicals against Trump?  Not fornication.  Not adulterous cavorting with a porn star.  Not violations of love of neighbor. Not obscenity.  Not taking the Lord’s name in vain.  We’ll see about accepting the title of “The Second Coming of God on Earth,” but probably not.)

So Trump can certainly win again.  But he might not.  He and his party dare not be complacent.

Democrats also have a good shot at taking the Senate and will almost certainly hold onto the House of Representatives.

America may find itself with a radicalized, hard-left government.  Conservatives would do well to steel themselves for the possibility.  If that happens, do you think the Republican party will still hold to the philosophy of Trump, embrace a different kind of conservatism, or lurch leftward?

 

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)] via Wikimedia Commons

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