As we head into the 2020 presidential election cycle (with several
under-the-radar Democratic campaigns already underway), it might
be useful to discard some early now-proclaimed conventional wisdom
about how that voting might turn out.
Two major and contrary commonplaces, I think, are woefully premature
--- if not off the mark. Curiously each of these presumptions have both
some Democrats and some Republicans holding them --- and each come
from reactions o the 2018 mid-term elections just concluded.
The first, held by overly optimistic Democrats and overly pessimistic
Republicans, is that Donald Trump will now finally be replaced in 2020
by the Democratic standard bearer because they think mid-term results
were a clear repudiation of the president. The second, held by overly
optimistic Republicans and overly pessimistic Democrats, is that now
President Trump will be re-elected because they think the new liberal
U.S. house majority will cave into the temptation to overplay its hand
against the president, and make him (as happened in 1998 when
Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton) more popular than
ever in a backlash.
I think a look at the all-important electoral college map demonstrates
why any early conclusions are premature.
One lesson from 2016 that I think many political strategists have had to
re-learn is that a presidential election is an electoral college election,
and not a popular vote election. Looking at that electoral map, each
party is very likely to win states with about 190 electoral votes.
Hillary Clinton won relatively narrowly in states with about 40 electoral
votes; Donald Trump had close wins in states with about 115 electoral
votes. This would seem to give Democrats a paper advantage in 2020.
The mid-terms, while overall good for Democratic candidates, showed
GOP strength in Ohio and Florida (49 electoral votes) so that the most
likely 2020 battlegrounds will be Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin,
Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Minnesota --- with possible additions
of New Mexico,Virginia, Kansas and Iowa. Of course, over the next two
years, the aforesaid list could change.
Democrats now have a problem that Republicans don’t have --- there is
no likely and popular (and younger) liberal presidential hopeful --- at
least not yet. But Democrats were in the same predicament n 2007 after
they did well in he 2006 mid-terms --- but by 2008 Barack Obama had
appeared. With a little help from a mortgage banking disaster, he won
the White House that year.
Republicans, it is now frequently said, did poorly among suburban
women in 2018, but identity group voting patterns can change between
cycles. President Trump, it has also been noted, is doing better than any
of his recent GOP predecessors among usually critically important
Democratic blue collar, black and Hispanic voters ---caused by
historically low unemployment in these groups. Rising anti-Israel
attitudes by some Democratic leaders is also boosting the president
with Jewish voters, most of whom have recently voted for Democratic
President Trump has been routinely underestimated by many of his
opponents and many in the media. He has also provoked strong
antipathy for many for his political style and rhetoric.
The new Democratic majority in the U.S. house faces a very critical
test before 2020. President Harry Truman ran successfully against a
Democratic “do-nothing” Congress in 1948. After 1998, President Bill
Clinton became more popular after Republicans impeached him, and
only when Al Gore abandoned Clintonian centrism by campaigning to
the left did he fall short in 2000, a race that was his to lose.
In short, President Trump and his supporters have few solid reasons
now to presume he will be re-elected --- and Democrats have few
solid reasons to feel secure that they can defeat him.
It is true that first-term presidents are difficult to defeat. Barack
Obama had a disastrous mid-term in 2010, but won in 2012. On the
other hand, Jimmy Carter had a disastrous economy in 1980, and lost
his re-election badly to Ronald Reagan.
Yet precedents must be observed with care. Each presidential election
has a character of its own. Predictions at this point are just talk.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.