A sec­ond term for Trump now looks more likely – if he re­ally wants the job

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - READ MORE at tele­graph.co.uk/ opin­ion Molly Kiniry is a re­searcher at the Le­ga­tum In­sti­tute MOLLY KINIRY

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

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