A second term for Trump now looks more likely – if he really wants the job
Trump’s State of the Union address, which was well received by his base, has forced the world to take the prospect of a second term more seriously. His message to the critics is clear: engage with me, rather than hold your breath for three years and wait for regularlyscheduled programming to resume.
The conditions for a second term have been with us for a while; Trump’s poll numbers, while deflated, do seem to have hit a floor of around 35%. His fans have proved loyal, and appear happy with the job he’s doing. The economy, despite the stock market’s tricky few days, is better than it has been in years. Trump certainly cannot take all the credit, but he is the most likely beneficiary of gratitude from voters, who are relieved to be employed and to be taking home a bit more of their pay check every month.
Trump held his first 2020 fundraiser last June, not six months into his first term, and has made a routine of rallies in swing states. Campaigning is clearly the environment in which he is happiest and most in control. It is also the best defence against rumblings within the Republican Party about who might run in 2020. Names like Ben Sasse and John Kasich are clutched by moderate Republicans as talismans against Trump; aggressive fundraising is the president’s way of scaring off potential challengers to his renomination.
There is a long way to go, but Trump is heading towards having the party, the money, the message and the votes lined up for a successful re-election campaign. A second term is no longer pipe-dream territory.
I see three open issues which will determine whether this becomes reality. First, the man himself must decide that he wants to volunteer for another tour of duty. This, to me, is the most likely stumbling block. Second, the Democratic Party must continue on its current path. While the GOP has experienced something of a psychotic break over the past two years, the Democrats are, like Hillary postelection, literally wandering around in the woods. Their current strategy will guarantee defeat. Third, Trump must avoid being flattened by Tsar Bomba: the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
To the first point, Trump enjoyed a very comfortable life before assuming the office of the presidency. He has said that he doesn’t like living in the White House, or the heavy demands of the presidency, or the constant press scrutiny. Why, exactly, would he put his hand up for another four years of this, especially as it would put him at risk of the greatest public humiliation of his life? Making the decision that he wants to stay on this merry-go-round is the first and biggest determinant of whether we will see a second term.
His opponent in 2020 is the second major question, and one entirely outside of his control. As this will be the first truly open Democratic primary since 2004, the field is likely to be clown car-esque. By my count, there are about two dozen candidates who might toss their hat into the ring, presaging the sort of cage-match primary that the GOP endured in 2016. It will be bloody, and it runs the risk of selecting a wholly inappropriate candidate from the scrum.
Even if a sensible candidate emerges from the primary process relatively unscathed, the party is still likely to be directionless. The strategy is to validate their self-righteousness with earnest displays of how much they hate the president and his base. They insist that he is stupid and mean and probably a criminal. Whether or not any of that is true, it’s difficult to see how they could bring swing voters back into the Democratic fold by suggesting that they are naive or hopelessly small-minded.
For all of his faults, Trump didn’t make the 2016 cycle about him – he made it about his voters. No one in the Democratic Party seems to have grasped that yet, which is why they continue to pump out ad hominem attacks which play to their own base, but no one in the middle. Trump won’t be defeated by an opponent who makes the campaign about Trump rather than the American people.
The final question is the Russia investigation. Robert Mueller, the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee are all leading separate investigations, of which Mueller’s is potentially the most deadly. Friday’s publication of a memo alleging Democratic influence on FBI investigations is simply a throwaway line in the five-act story arc being played out. Even if he dodges civil and criminal charges, Trump might end up wearing the perception of corruption like a millstone around his neck. He is safe as long as the GOP controls both houses of Congress – but should the midterms go badly, all bets are off.
While the GOP has experienced a psychotic break over the past two years, the Democrats are, like Hillary post-election, literally wandering in the woods. Their strategy will guarantee defeat