What are Donald Trump’s chances in 2020? Have the Democrats done enough to beat him? Has he done enough to defeat himself? These questions will be repeated constantly before 3rd November 2020, the rhetoric and discussion dominating the airwaves, the internet and our conversation.
At this point in 2019, still, over a year away from the election, we need to consider whether the current approach by both Democrats and Republicans will be successful. The actions of both parties, even at this stage of the election, will have serious consequences for the final result.
Currently, without a small field of strong candidates and stand-out presidential nominee, the Democrats risk repeating their mistakes from 2016. Many of the factors which led to Trump’s election remain unchanged, and while national polls currently have Trump trailing by up to 19% depending upon the Democratic nominee, this does not matter. Should Trump and the Democrats continue with their current political strategy, even if Trump loses the popular vote, he could still hold onto the White House through a victory in the Electoral College. Those who say that Trump cannot possibly win again, that his actions as president cannot result in a victory, need to consider the fact that his actions since becoming president have not changed. Many Trump supporters are under no illusions as to the character of the man they voted for, his presidential activity has not changed their opinion or their vote. Trump was victorious in 2016; there is every possibility that this can be repeated.
Trump’s victory in 2016 was a shock to the political system worldwide. Almost every poll prior to the election showed a Clinton victory, with an aggregate of the 10 largest polls in the US showing Clinton ahead by almost 4%. Trump’s Presidency is one that few experts would have predicted.
This shows the flawed approach of the Democrats. Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million, but she did not win the votes that counted. Trump’s victory in the Rust Belt states – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – was won by 80,000 votes. These votes totalled less than 1% of the total ballots cast, but gave the Electoral College, and therefore the victory, to the Republicans. Issues of soaring economic inequality and stationary wage levels could not be addressed by an ‘establishment’ Democrat such as Clinton; an issue further embedded into the minds of these voters through the disinformation campaign run by Trump’s PACs, and ‘Emailgate’.
The political mood in the US in 2016 was one of change, but it was a change that the Democrats misread. The informality of the Trump Campaign meant that he was appealing to many people who had become disenfranchised. The approach of style over substance and the sense that Trump would shake up Washington appealed to many of the swing voters in battleground states. By focusing his message on these voters, rather than attempting to win over the whole population, the Republicans won the White House.
Of course, there were many other factors that impacted the result of the 2016 election. But to avoid a repeat of 2016, the Democrats have to change their approach to the presidential campaign. Trump’s victory signifies that in order to win in this political climate, politicians must show that they are different from the politicians who have come before them. There is a need for change, for a ‘fresh start’, a different approach.
However, the Democrats are currently heading down a dangerous path. At present, Biden is the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, polling at around 30%. His connections to Obama, who is well accepted as the most popular member of the Democratic party, and the fact he is a household name means that for many he is the obvious choice for the Democratic nominee.
But will this not just result in a repeat of the events of 2016? A well-established politician, with high ratings within the Democratic Party, running against a Republican who is still seen as the protest vote? The Democrats would stand a much better chance with a candidate such as Sanders or Castro, who offer something other than the established norm. Progressives such as Ocasio-Cortez are demonstrating that there is an alternative way of winning elections and reaching disenfranchised voters. Instead of acting as a member of the establishment, they, like Trump, are speaking as one of the people. Despite the success that this movement is beginning to have, every sign is pointing towards the Democrats sticking with what they know; establishment candidates.
With barely 6 months until the Iowa Caucuses, there are 20 candidates still in the field, all of whom have participated in more than one debate. Compare this to 2016, when there were only 5 candidates in the same position. This large field, and the infighting and criticism occurring within it, is dominating the narrative of the Democratic presidential nominations, with Trump contrasting them as the clear leader of the Republican party. In 2016, the comments made between the Democrats prior to Clinton’s nomination were used by the Republicans during the presidential election. Democrats have created a situation in which there will be a repeat of this same scenario in 2020. How can we have faith in a Democratic victory next year, in the knowledge that there has been little change in their approach since 2016?
Most current, national polls, although early, show a Democratic victory by a few percent. Given the horror that is the Trump Presidency, there should be no doubt in a Democratic victory in 2020, regardless of the nominee. At present, the Democrats are so focused on defeating each other, that they are not yet turning their attention to defeating Trump.
Trump, I believe, is a president who dirties the office that he holds. Many of his policies are made without a thought as to what is best for the United States; his trade tariffs have effectively acted as the largest increase in tax since 1993; his immigration policies have ripped families apart at the Southern border; his reckless rhetoric has stoked the fears of the alt-right, causing national division and harm.
None of this seems to matter. Still, it is being questioned whether the Democrats can defeat him in 2020. 10 years ago, there would be no doubt about the Democratic victory. Somehow, Trump has found a method that works. A way to speak to Americans who have never voted before, who felt abandoned by establishment politics in D.C. As a liberal, this is hard to understand. But in the American system, this has worked.
There is still chance for a Democratic Victory in 2020; all hope is not yet lost. No one is denying that, with a figurehead and a united message, the Democrats may be able to put up a fight for those swing voters in key states. Trump’s approval rating has been low throughout his presidency, and there has been a surge in Democratic registration and activism since Trump’s inauguration.
But Trump doesn’t have to be popular to win; he just has to be popular with the deciding votes in the deciding states. The unpredictability of American politics and the lack of change in both the political mood and the approach of the Democrats to the Presidential election means that, despite what we may wish, Trump does not need to be fearful of 2020. I am just waiting for the Democrats to start fighting Trump instead of each other. That should be the point at which this election turns around.