It happened again today. I got asked whether I think Trump will win re-election this year. The question often comes from nervous and/or incredulous non-Americans who are desperately trying to understand what is going on in the World’s Greatest Democracy™. Since I have a ready answer, I figured I’d go on the public record with my prediction.
Yep. For sure. He’s getting four more years.
Even though Trump overstates how well the economy is doing – and he’s largely the beneficiary of a continued expansion that has somehow managed to weather his trade wars – there’s no doubt that it’s also strong enough to give his campaign some lift. Absolutely, the economy can be better structured to benefit more people and not just the wealthy, but the Democrats messaging on that is muddled. More on that below. (Plus, absolutely no decent person is going to root for a collapsing economy just to win one election.)
Trump has also delivered just enough on some of his campaign promises to hold his voting bloc together. The depressingly long list:
- He got massive tax cuts passed. (Aggravating the federal deficit, of course. Remember when Republicans cared about that?)
- He tried to kill the Affordable Care Act (only to be thwarted by John McCain).
- Working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he has helped to make the federal judiciary far more conservative for many years to come. (McConnell and Republican stymied Pres. Obama for years in this area, mostly famously with a Supreme Court seat, until they got the president they needed.)
- Using a legally suspect maneuver, he took funds from the military budget to begin building structures that he claims constitute a wall with Mexico.
- He has continued to limit immigration and travel to the US in ways celebrated by conservative activists.
- Perhaps most importantly, he has kept right-wing Christian evangelicals happy. Again, he delivered on two Supreme Court justices that might, eventually, overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. He continues to speak their language unapologetically (though almost certainly hypocritically.) And he is delivering on some of their theologically-inspired foreign policy goals for Israel.
- Also in foreign policy, he’s gotten “tough” in the Middle East, confronting Iran by walking away from the nuclear agreement negotiated by Obama and Europe and, of course, risking starting a war by assassinating Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani.
- Also in the Middle East, let’s not forget the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (even if that might not matter too much).
- He has confronted China, all the while speaking in ways that could have come from old-fashioned union Democrats by promising that plants will be saved (even if he hasn’t really delivered).
- With the Democrats help(!), he even got a revision to the NAFTA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico passed (which was very controversial with unions at the time of its passage).
That’s just what I can think of off the top of my head without one single internet search. I’d probably find more that would ring his supporters’ bells.
Even without some of those accomplishments, his grip on his voting base seems absolutely secure. Despite multiple gaffes, offensive remarks, nutball tweets, wild staff turnover and recriminations from former employees, massive pain among farmers from the trade wars, outright lies, and scandals that led to impeachment, the grip of the personality cult of Trump is just as tight as ever. Hey, Mexico isn’t even paying for the wall. Doesn’t matter.
Oh, and lest we forget, the GOP still has that structural advantage in the Electoral College. Rural states, which lean GOP, have outsized importance, so much so that even when Democratic candidates win the popular vote, they can’t win the White House.
Which naturally leads me to Trump’s opponents – the Democrats. What to say? Frankly, the Democrats just don’t seem very good at politics. Despite winning the House in 2018, they’re still digging out from the losses of the Obama years, and getting the Senate back any time soon is a long shot. Clearly the Democrats need a new playbook, but they can’t agree on what that is. Personally, I think it’s by embracing more policies of the left, specifically repudiating the 40-year, bi-partisan program that has left most Americans in stagnant or declining economic conditions. Others argue that we need a solid return to the center, which will attract enough Democrats and disaffected Republicans to break the Trumpian spell. I’m going to leave this debate here for now. Plenty more to come.
In the end, I don’t think it looks good. As of now, I’m certain Trump is going to hold on to the White House.
Here’s to hoping that this analysis is as spectacularly bad as an Iowa Democratic caucus.