Much has yet to happen before the formats and players of
the 2020 national elections, including its presidential election,
are clearly visible, but already there are some fascinating
signals of gestating possibilities.
It is likely, though not yet certain, that President Donald
Trump will be running for re-election.
What is not clear, however, is what will be the composition
of his party, the Republican Party, three years from now.
Nor do we yet know what will be the composition of the
opposition party, the Democratic Party, at that time.
There are clear signals that both parties are regrouping,
especially in the face of new demands from voters.
A number of contrasting predicted scenarios are now
appearing. One of the most contrarian, and to some the
most shocking, has Mr. Trump running as an independent or
under a new party name. No sitting president has ever done
this, although there were some rare cases of a former
president (Martin Van Buren (1848), Millard Fillmore (1856)
and Theodore Roosevelt (1912)) doing this. None of these
succeeded, although Teddy Roosevelt came in second, and
caused his successor, William Taft, to lose his otherwise
almost certain re-election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
As intriguing as the possibility of President Trump leaving
his party in 2020 is on paper, it is not only unlikely, but
perhaps also unnecessary, for him to jump his party’s ship
to accomplish his goals.
We need more evidence than only the 2016 results, recent
special congressional elections, and the just-voted victory
of Roy Moore in the Alabama GOP run-off of the 2017
special senate election to see more fully what’s going on.
In order to realign the Republican Party in the image of
the Trump voter base, Mr. Moore has to win in December,
and a number of competitive house and senate races in
2018 have to remove or convert several establishment
GOP figures --- and result in populist-nationalist
conservatives in their seats. Senate races in Arizona,
Nevada, Missouri and Montana come immediately to
mind, as do the seats of moderate Democrats in North
Dakota and West Virginia, but as retirements and local
conditions occur, there might even be a number of other
senate seats in this category.
The circumstances in the U.S. house are more local, and
conventional wisdom suggests that the conservative party
might well lose a notable number of seats in 2018, but
that does not preclude a major internal realignment in the
GOP house caucus even if that does happen.
With a few notable exceptions, GOP incumbents and
challengers do not appear likely to do well if they publicly
oppose or criticize the president on major issues.
If it appears that the national populist conservatives are
succeeding in 2018, it might be certain establishment
GOP candidates who bolt and try to form a third party
of their own, including running their own nominee for
president. (With a whole different set of ideologies and
issues, this is what happened in 1860, 1912 and 1948.)
But it is not just the Republicans who face historic
realignment. The 2016 election revealed a fundamental
division in the liberal party --- between radical leftist
Bernie Sanders and liberal Hillary Clinton. That split is
continuing to fester going into 2018 and beyond. The
liberal establishment is clearly on the defensive as the
Sanders/Elizabeth Warren/Maxine Waters wing has some
momentum taking the party to the left. The Hillary-Biden
wing has few young leaders who can make a compelling
case for their views (although the other wing’s leaders
are themselves in their mid-to-late 70s).
Democrats have proven, in the recent past, to be much
more self-disciplined about party loyalty than the
Republicans have, so a sudden party split on the ballot is
not likely, but some interesting ideological fireworks are
almost certain ahead on the liberal party side.
In recent years, political commentators were considered
astute when they confidently pooh-poohed suggestions
of radical or dramatic electoral change. With some
variances, elections followed predictable patterns. After
2016 and Donald Trump, this is no longer a wise or safe
course of political analysis.
The December Alabama special senate election and the
November Virginia governor’s race, both this year, will
give us more clues about how fast the current political
realignments are taking place, as will the identities of
those incumbents in both parties announcing their
retirements before New Year’s Day.
The American political rules are changing right now.
The names will change soon, too.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.