Trudeau and Trump will survive 2019 – barely
January makes every columnist a prophet. We gaze warily at the year ahead and remind ourselves again that we are paid to write, not necessarily to be right — which is why every December makes a fool of us.
Here is one lone prediction for 2019: Both Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump will survive the year, barely, their leadership intact but their long-term survival in doubt.
Trudeau’s Liberals are likely to win re-election in October. Canadians tend to re-elect their governments: Since 1993, Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien won three consecutive elections (although Paul Martin lost power in 2006 after just two years.)
But a more probable scenario for Trudeau is what happened in the election of 1972. Having won a thumping majority in 1968, Pierre Trudeau campaigned confidently on the slogan “The Land is Strong.” It wasn’t, at least in the view of Canadians, who punished him with a minority government.
Justin Trudeau has accomplishments: He legalized cannabis, brought some tax relief to the middle class, spent billions on infrastructure, opened a dialogue with Indigenous Peoples, saved NAFTA. Unemployment is the lowest in a generation.
But if we have learned anything from the rise of Trump and the threat of Brexit, anything can happen in politics today under the leadership of virtually anyone.
In a climate of discontent and volatility, fuelled by the hysteria of social media, campaigns are more unpredictable than ever. If the opposition makes a disingenuous but effective case against the carbon tax or liberal immigration, if it ignites a populist revolt over income inequity, anything is possible.
After all, if Ontario could elect the buffoonish Doug Ford, why can’t Canada elect the dull Andrew Scheer? A minority Liberal government is likely this autumn, supported by the New Democrats into next year.
Trudeau’s chances of political survival in 2019 are only slightly greater than Trump’s.
A year from now, Trump will be on his way out, one way or another.
Will special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings wound him so deeply that he is forced quickly from office? Or, will it simply make Trump unelectable in 2020?
When the report is out, the Democrats in the House of Representatives will face a pivotal decision. There is already a strong case to impeach Trump, which many liberal Democrats already embrace.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will play this one more shrewdly. Having launched investigations into Trump and his administration, she is in no rush to impeach. She will have to decide, on the basis of Mueller’s report, less whether than when to open impeachment hearings.
She could take months to do this to keep Trump off-balance and under siege. The Democrats could easily drag this into 2020 primary season, sowing doubt and division among Republicans, encouraging challengers to Trump (Mitt Romney, John Kasich) for the GOP nomination.
The Democrats in the House know that while they can indict the president with a majority vote on impeachment, only the Senate can convict. It would take 20 Republicans to join 47 Democrats to reach the necessary two-thirds majority. If the Republicans fear they are in real danger of losing the Senate in 2020 — a switch of four seats would do it — as well as the presidency, they will push out Trump to save themselves.
It may be, though, that facing impeachment and the rise of Republican challengers in the primaries, Trump will decide to quit. He might resign in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution after he leaves office.
But even if Trudeau and Trump survive 2019, all bets are off for 2020.