Alan Zendell, December 7, 2018
With the midterm elections behind us, the question on most politicians’ minds is whether Donald Trump is likely to be re-elected in 2020. It’s clear that he has a loyal base of support that represents about one third of the electorate. He won in 2016 because rust-belt blue collar workers and suburban women joined that base. There was also broad disaffection with Hillary Clinton and an “I don’t like either one of them” mentality which caused many voters to abstain.
Trump proved adept at stirring up anger and confusion, easily disrupting whatever passed for a strategy among Democrats. His lack of regard for political norms, his willingness to make outrageous comments from which he never backed down, and his disregard of the truth served him well when appealing to voters who felt left behind or disenfranchised. Get people angry enough and they’ll overturn the establishment, even if they don’t know what will replace it.
As 2019 approaches, we have nearly two years of Trump’s performance to evaluate. He lurched and stumbled through a world of laws and constitutional requirements, and proved to be either unaware or totally disdainful of both.
His attempts to overhaul immigration on his own were slapped down by the courts. His attacks on Obamacare failed, and so far have resulted only in increasing health insurance costs across the country. He has alienated most world leaders and dealt a serious blow to respect and confidence in America around the world. His base may turn a blind eye to those things, but what about everyone else?
For two years I’ve tried to screen out Trump lovers and Trump haters and focus on what people who voted for him despite not liking him had to say. In 2017, whenever Trump lied, pandered to racist elements, or displayed his lack of moral center I heard, “Yes, but…” from most of them.
The but was his one singular achievement, which amounted to jumping aboard the Republican tax cut bandwagon. Stock prices soared on speculation, and at least for one year, there was a little more money in middle-class pockets and a lot more money in already wealthy pockets, though economists forecast a trillion dollar deficit next year as a result. Unemployment continued downward to twenty-year lows, but wages remained stagnant. The sense that our economy was strong kept Trump afloat, but will that continue?
His tendency to lie and exaggerate his achievements had to eventually wear thin, and now it’s apparently becoming clear to many who voted from him in 2016 that there’s little or no substance to his brags; more importantly, he’s dangerous. Diplomacy cannot succeed when the rest of the world doesn’t believe anything our president says, and without diplomacy and trust-based negotiation, the result can only be worsening differences and an increased risk of war.
We’ve seen no substantive change from either North Korea or Iran, our relationship with Russia deteriorates weekly, and there is no evidence that Trump’s brash trade policies have done more good than harm. Voters have been paying attention, and they spoke quite eloquently during the midterm elections. Trump’s base has shrunk to its core. He’s lost the confidence of most of the voters who held their noses in 2016 and decided to take a chance on him.
His manner and his lack of respect for truth made him an unreliable international partner, leaving military strength as his only leverage in negotiations with other countries. And the one thing that bulwarked Trump’s support during 2017 turned sour in 2018, as speculative rises in market indices sputtered and floundered. As I write this, the volatile world markets are in the midst of their fourth major downturn in the last month, and the major market indices are lower than they were in January.
President Clinton inherited the lower deficits that resulted from Bush-41’s tax increases. Bush-43 inherited a balanced federal budget but his military adventurism wasted it, and Obama inherited an economy teetering on total collapse. Trump inherited the strong stable recovery that resulted from Obama’s policies, but the next two years are on him.
Sometimes it’s hard to accept that a storm is coming. The sun is shining, the air is calm, and despite forecasts and radar maps, until we see the lightning, hear the thunder, and smell the ozone, we cling to our perception that it’s a beautiful day. The economy is like that, too.
With Democrats in control of the House, Trump will not have a free ride next year, and that’s without considering what the continuing investigations of him may yield. All the elements are in place for Donald Trump to suffer a crushing defeat in 2020, but of course that will largely depend on whether the Democrats find a viable candidate and don’t manage to shoot themselves in both feet as they did in 2016.
Can Trump be defeated? Damn right he can, but the Democrats are also quite capable of squandering the opportunity. If they do, imagine the harm Trump can do with six more years.