The 2020 U.S. presidential election will be significantly different from
not only 2016, but also it is likely not to be comparable to any other
modern political campaign.
Of course, every presidential election has its own characteristics ---
with its own usage of new technology, sometimes new electoral rules,
and almost always, different personalities. (The latter had only one
20th century exception --- Eisenhower vs. Stevenson in both 1952 and
But these elections are not always so significantly different, especially
in all three areas just mentioned.
For example, in terms of technology, presidential elections did not
change much between 1900 and 1932 (when radio appeared), and then
it was not until 1960 that television made a difference. It was not until
2004 (with new techniques of voter I.D.) and 2008 (with major use of
social media) that the computer had real impact. In 2016, it was Twitter.
In 2020, it will likely include the internet grass roots fundraising so
successfully used by the Democrats in the 2018 midterms (ActBlue),
but will then be employed by both parties.
In terms of electoral rules, the first 20th century change came in 1920
with the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote.
In 1965, the Voters Rights Act removed barriers to minority voters
nationwide. The first presidential primary was created in 1901, but it
wasn’t until 1972 that the primary system effectively replaced the
importance of the national party conventions. In 2016, the Democrats
used the concept of convention superdelegates to modify the results
of the primaries and caucuses. In 2020, the impact of superdelegates
will be drastically reduced, and by moving up the California, Texas
and several other state primaries to only a month after Iowa and New
Hampshire, the Democrats have probably significantly altered most
presidential nomination strategies.
President Trump has indicated he will run for re-election. There is
some talk of an intraparty challenge from an anti-Trump figure such
as former Ohio Governor John Kasich. Given the president’s
popularity now in the GOP base, this does not seem likely to be
meaningful in the party nomination contest. Kasich or some other
well-known figure could also run as independents as did former
Democrats Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace (only three years
before Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president) who ran as independents
to the right and left of Democratic nominee President Harry Truman
in 1948. (The controversial but feisty Truman still defeated GOP
nominee Thomas Dewey in the November election.)
On the Democratic side in 2020, however, there are more than two
dozen high profile aspirants, including two former nominees, a
former vice president, several current and former governors, senators,
members of Congress, mayors and celebrities. Given Democratic
successes in 2018, and liberal antipathy to Mr. Trump, it has become
the largest serious early presidential field in U.S. history. The contest
has already begun, and after January, 2019 it will accelerate. Some
will quickly drop out or fail to enter, but new entrants can’t be ruled
out. The Democratic nomination contest is almost certain to be unlike
any other since 1900 or before.
Circumstances could prompt President Trump to change his mind,
and like President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, choose not to run in
2020, but this now seems fanciful. In such a case, Vice President
Mike Pence would be the favorite, but a number of GOP figures
would also probably run, and the subsequent contest could become
a reprise of what happened after Johnson’s 1968 withdrawal.
As I have previously written, President Trump’s re-election is, at this
point, far from certain. He will need to win most of the states and their
electoral college votes that he did in 2016. In 2020, the Democrats and
their sympathetic media friends will have presumably learned from
their miscalculations in 2016.
In addition to the changes, listed above, that we already know about,
there is always so much we don’t yet know --- including the
all-important state of the 2020 economy, the outcomes of President
Trump’s domestic and foreign policy programs, the actions and
performance of the new Democratic majority in the U.S house of
representatives, and events in the world.
Whatever it will turn out to be, the elements of an unprecedented
political spectacle not seen before are already in place.
Lights. Microphones. Press conferences. Grandstands. Drama,
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.