Get ready for a nasty 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Jonah Gold­berg

Here’s a fun New Year’s pre­dic­tion for you: The 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign will be even uglier than the 2016 con­test.

In part, that’s due to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­cum­bency. In 2016, Mr. Trump al­most surely did not think he’d win. Through­out his cam­paign, he would drop hints about an “exit strat­egy.” Ex­iles and mem­bers in good stand­ing of Trump World ad­mit both on and off the record that his was a protest can­di­dacy or a pub­lic­ity stunt.

In other words, Pres­i­dent Trump in 2020 has a lot more to lose than Can­di­date Trump had in 2016.

Sec­ond, there’s no ev­i­dence that Mr. Trump has ma­tured with the job. He in­sists that be­ing “pres­i­den­tial” is not an op­tion be­cause that would be “bor­ing.” His will­ing­ness to use the near­est weapon to hand, rhetor­i­cally, is undi­min­ished. But the re­sources at his dis­posal — both his of­fi­cial pow­ers and his abil­ity to em­ploy tra­di­tional and so­cial me­dia — are greatly en­hanced. Can­di­date Trump could not pres­sure a for­eign power to help muddy a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent. Pres­i­dent Trump could and al­most cer­tainly did.

Third, un­like in 2016, when he was ex­e­cut­ing a hos­tile takeover of a party and a con­ser­va­tive me­dia es­tab­lish­ment that si­mul­ta­ne­ously dis­liked him and un­der­es­ti­mated him, Mr. Trump now has the sup­port of both.

Last, the Trump pres­i­dency, un­like the Rea­gan pres­i­dency, has not elicited from the Democrats the kind of se­ri­ous­ness of mind about electabil­ity that pulled the

Democrats back to the cen­ter. In re­sponse to Mr. Trump’s elec­tion, the Democrats have even moved to the left of Barack Obama, leav­ing Obama’s 77-year-old, gaffe-prone vice pres­i­dent, Joe Bi­den, to run al­most alone as a po­lit­i­cally mod­er­ate can­di­date.

We’re al­ready see­ing ev­i­dence of how the cam­paign will go. Here are two re­cent ex­am­ples.

First, on Fri­day night, the pres­i­dent retweeted (and then deleted) a post nam­ing the whistle­blower in the Ukraine af­fair. If Can­di­date Trump had done some­thing like that, crit­i­cism from the right would have been deaf­en­ing.

Then on Sun­day night, at an event in Milford, New Hamp­shire, the fa­mously tac­tile Mr. Bi­den was greeted by a hand­ful of protesters. “Don’t touch kids, you per­vert!” one man, who claimed not to be a Trump sup­porter, shouted. A woman started a brief chant of “Quid Pro Joe!”

For the record, Mr. Bi­den isn’t a per­vert; he’s an all-too-handsy politi­cian from a by­gone era of glad-hand­ing, back-slap­ping and hug­ging. But, given the new rules of the “Me Too” era, it’s easy enough to make the in­sin­u­a­tion, and sev­eral Democrats have.

It would be in­for­ma­tive if a re­porter had con­firmed whether the protesters were free agents, Mr. Trump plants or emis­saries for one of Mr. Bi­den’s Demo­cratic ri­vals. But in the big pic­ture it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, be­cause Mr. Trump boost­ers and even the main­stream me­dia were ea­ger to give the in­ci­dent the kind of so­cial me­dia vi­ral­ity Team Trump loves. Count­less Twit­ter ac­counts used the in­ci­dent to spread the charge, of­ten sprin­kled with the kind of so­bri­quet Mr. Trump loves, “Dirty Joe.”

Of course, that nick­name is use­ful for the other charge near and dear to Trump World: that it’s Mr. Bi­den who’s cor­rupt, not the pres­i­dent. At times the ar­gu­ment be­comes a kind of dys­func­tional mo­bius strip. “Quid Pro Quo Joe,” they claim, out­ra­geously did what Mr. Trump is ac­cused of by im­prop­erly pres­sur­ing the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment. (Ev­i­dence of this is scant.) But if Mr. Trump im­prop­erly pres­sured the Ukraini­ans (as am­ple ev­i­dence sug­gests) would that be an out­rage? “Of course not! All for­eign pol­icy is about quid pro quo!”

If Mr. Bi­den be­comes the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, this is pre­cisely how the cam­paign will play out: a kind of louder echo of 2016. A vast en­deavor of “I know you are but what am I?” in which the pres­i­dent in­vites the ma­chin­ery at his dis­posal to muddy the wa­ters enough that ev­ery­one seems equally dirty. As with his cam­paign against Hil­lary Clin­ton, the pres­i­dent can’t make a ma­jor­ity like him, but he can cer­tainly turn vot­ers against his op­po­nent.

Of course, Mr. Bi­den might not be the nom­i­nee. But there’s no rea­son to be­lieve that would change Mr. Trump’s be­hav­ior, when the pres­i­dency hasn’t. And the other pos­si­ble nom­i­nees are suf­fi­ciently left wing to make Mr. Trump’s job even eas­ier.

So cheer up, the worst is yet to come. Jonah Gold­berg is edi­tor-in-chief of The Dis­patch and the host of The Rem­nant pod­cast. His Twit­ter han­dle is @Jon­ahDis­patch.

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