by John Hawkins | May 17, 2019 3:13 am
It’s hard to judge Donald Trump’s prospects in 2020 in no small part because so many political commentators, myself included, got it wrong in 2016. So, with that in mind, how do you evaluate his strength in 2020?
At first glance, Trump looks weak.
His approval rating has consistently hovered at 45% or lower in most polls which typically would not be good enough for reelection. Some conservatives might shrug that off with a comment about polls often being wrong, but even in 2016 the polls were only off by about 1 point in Hillary Clinton’s favor. Trump still frequently says controversial things, he will have at least one primary challenger (although William Weld or possibly Jeff Flake, John Kasich or Larry Hogan are unlikely to present any real threat to Trump), and his support seems to have softened up in some of the Rust Belt states he won by tiny margins.
On the other hand, Trump is an incumbent president who’s popular with his own party and will have much more money and a considerably better organization backing him this time around. At least for now, he also appears to have a strong economy behind him and it’s entirely possible that his approval rating will go up. This is doubly so since Democrats took the House and they appear to be tacking hard to the left, which has in the past at least, scared the American people to death and helped boost the Republican Party.
That brings us to the 2020 Democratic primary which, in a sign that Democrats think Trump is vulnerable, is quickly filling up with blue-chip candidates. Given that arguably Hillary Clinton was the single worst candidate for the presidency in American history, it is possible that a better-quality candidate would have a much better shot to dethrone Trump.
The current front runner is Joe Biden. After Biden got in the race, the first Hill/Harrisx poll of registered voters showed Biden beating Trump 43 to 37% and the latest polls show him way ahead of the pack. On the one hand, it’s still very early and both candidates are far from 50%, but on the other, both Trump and former VP Joe Biden are well known to the voters and so it’s significant that they wanted Biden.
The devil is in the details.
Joe Biden has run for the presidency twice before and got almost no traction either time. That’s because Biden’s one of those politicians who just doesn’t inspire passion. If he’s going to win the Democratic primaries, it will be because he’s perceived as the safe, electable choice.
This is Biden’s danger zone in the primary because the safe, electable choice tends to appeal the most when a party feels like they are on the defensive and is going to have a tough fight. The sheer number of blue-chip candidates getting into the race suggests that’s not where the heads of Democrat voters are at. They believe Trump is vulnerable, which makes them more likely to support a candidate that they genuinely like. Meanwhile, nobody genuinely likes Joe Biden.
The other candidates are obviously feeling this energy because they are competing to get to the left of each other. Multiple candidates have endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s crazy Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders is in favor of letting the Boston Marathon Bomber vote, and Andrew Yang wants a universal income that will enable people to make bank for playing video games and surfing the Internet all day.
This is a problem for Joe Biden because the obvious way to sell him in a general election would be, “Sure, Joe Biden is liberal, but he’s not one of those CRAZY liberals. He’s not going to be controversial or make any radical changes, he’s just going to get things back to ‘normal’ by being predictable in the White House.” Could that appeal to some Independents and people sick of Trump’s crazy tweets and wild statements? Yes, absolutely. On the other hand, is that going to appeal to a Democratic base that’s cheering on every crazy idea Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar come up with? No, not at all. In addition, Trump would almost certainly try to force Biden to either endorse the crazier ideas the Democratic Party is backing these days or to enrage his supporters by opposing them.
So, Joe Biden is going to feel pressure from his left. If he ignores it, he risks having his campaign crash and burn. If he responds to it and moves to the left, he undercuts the whole reason his candidacy could have some appeal in a general election in the first place.
Making this even more difficult for Joe Biden is that old, straight, white men are practically public enemy number one in the Democratic Party right now. Now add to that the fact that Joe Biden has #MeToo problems for being “handsy.” Then there is the fact that Biden has made several racially insensitive comments and used to be against school integration. Are radically liberal black and women voters really going to flock to an uninspiring 78-year-old white man’s banner with that kind of record over the long haul? Maybe, if no one else seems to catch fire. But, it’s hard to imagine black voters sticking with Biden if a minority candidate is in the thick of it or feminist voters sticking with him if Harris or Warren gets within striking distance.
Hillary Clinton only had to beat Bernie Sanders and some joke candidates in a primary where she had every advantage. Joe Biden is going to have to win a competitive dogfight where he faces some huge disadvantages and he’ll have to do it without abandoning the positions and demeanor that would make him a potential threat to Trump in a general election. Could Biden pull it off? Yes, maybe, but the price of that could be becoming a candidate that doesn’t inspire his own base even as he embraces policies that terrify everyone that isn’t on the far left.
This originally appeared in BizPacReview.
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