What could top­ple Trump’s re­elec­tion chances in 2020?

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON

What fac­tors usu­ally re­elect or throw out in­cum­bent pres­i­dents?

The econ­omy counts most.

Re­ces­sions, or at least chronic eco­nomic pes­simism, sink in­cum­bents. Pres­i­dents Jimmy Carter and Ge­orge H.W. Bush were tagged with slug­gish growth, high un­em­ploy­ment and a sense of per­ceived stag­na­tion – and were eas­ily de­feated.

The 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis likely ended any chance for John McCain to con­tinue eight years of Repub­li­can rule. Barack Obama cam­paigned on the mes­sage that in­cum­bent Ge­orge W. Bush was to blame for the melt­down and that McCain, his

po­ten­tial Repub­li­can suc­ces­sor, would be even worse.

A once-un­pop­u­lar in­cum­bent Ron­ald Rea­gan fought recession for three years. Yet he soared to a land­slide vic­tory in 1984 only af­ter the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct sud­denly took off at an an­nu­al­ized clip of over 7% prior to the elec­tion.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s econ­omy is still boom­ing. But his op­po­nents here and abroad are count­ing on a recession to de­rail him.

They hope that ei­ther the good times can’t last for­ever or that Trump’s trade war with China will scare in­vestors and busi­ness­peo­ple into re­trench­ment. Or per­haps mas­sive an­nual deficits and stag­ger­ing debt will fi­nally catch up to a fi­nan­cially reck­less gov­ern­ment.

China will do all it can to prompt a U.S. down­turn be­fore Novem­ber 2020 in hopes that it can get a bet­ter deal from a new Demo­cratic pres­i­dent.

Un­pop­u­lar op­tional wars are just as lethal to in­cum­bents. Viet­nam ended any chance of Lyn­don Johnson seek­ing re­elec­tion. Iraq sank the sec­ond term of Ge­orge W. Bush and al­most cost him his 2004 re­elec­tion bid. The Beng­hazi fi­asco, the col­lapse of Iraq and the rise of ISIS dur­ing Obama’s first term all made 2012 a far closer race than ex­pected.

So far, Trump has been care­ful to avoid op­tional wars, na­tion build­ing and even so-called “po­lice ac­tions.” North Korea and Iran both know that all too well. So, they are likely to push the en­ve­lope in the ex­pec­ta­tion that ei­ther Trump will have to backpedal in fear of de­feat in 2020, or that his tough stance will dis­ap­pear with the elec­tion of a more ac­com­mo­dat­ing Demo­cratic pres­i­dent.

Scan­dals also can ruin re­elec­tion bids and sec­ond pres­i­den­tial terms.

Richard Nixon’s sec­ond term was cut short by Water­gate. An im­peached Bill Clin­ton lucked out that the Mon­ica Lewin­sky episode oc­curred af­ter his suc­cess­ful re­elec­tion. Had the Iran-Con­tra scan­dal come to light in 1984 in­stead of 1986, Rea­gan might not have been re­elected in a land­slide.

The 22-month Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion of “col­lu­sion” and “ob­struc­tion” proved a big dud. So too were se­rial ef­forts by Democrats to cut short Trump’s first term.

Over the next 14 months, we may see a quite dif­fer­ent news cy­cle in which Trump’s chief ac­cusers – John Bren­nan, James Clap­per, James Comey and An­drew McCabe – are cited for im­proper or even il­le­gal con­duct in their ef­forts to un­der­mine the Trump cam­paign, tran­si­tion and pres­i­dency.

Elec­tions are not pop­u­lar­ity con­tests. If they were, Trump might well lose hand­ily, given that his ap­proval rat­ings are con­sis­tently be­low 50%. In­stead, they are choices be­tween good and bet­ter – or bad and worse – can­di­dates.

So far, the Demo­cratic de­bates have been a great gift to Trump. The fron­trun­ners ap­pear al­most un­hinged in pro­mot­ing is­sues that that are not sup­ported by a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans in polls. Those who sound moderate and cen­trist are ei­ther fad­ing or, in the case of Joe Bi­den, face is­sues of com­pe­tency, con­sis­tency and age.

Then there re­main the known un­knowns. Any­thing can hap­pen be­fore Novem­ber 2020, from a hur­ri­cane to a third-party can­di­date.

Trump, our first pres­i­dent with­out ei­ther prior mil­i­tary or po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, will re­main a volatile can­di­date. He seems in­tent on re­ply­ing to at­tacks with­out re­straint through take-no-pris­on­ers Twit­ter re­torts, some of

which turn off swing and sub­ur­ban vot­ers.

Yet no pun­dit has fig­ured out whether Trump’s Twit­ter storms are the key to revving up his base in swing states, and thus might earn him another Elec­toral Col­lege vic­tory with­out win­ning the pop­u­lar vote, or if they fi­nally will be­come too much for fence-sit­ting vot­ers.

Fi­nally, can­di­dates have to cam­paign. Some, like sup­posed 2016 shooin Hil­lary Clin­ton, do it more poorly than oth­ers.

Trump will have lots more money this time around. And he will now act like a vet­eran on the stump.

Trump will turn 74 in 2020. But his near-an­i­mal en­ergy belies his age. Some of his po­ten­tial op­po­nents – Bi­den, Bernie Sanders and El­iz­a­beth War­ren – are in their 70s and seem to show their age more than Trump does.

Add up all these fac­tors, and a cur­rently un­pop­u­lar Trump will still likely be harder to beat than his con­fi­dent me­dia de­trac­tors and en­raged pro­gres­sive crit­ics can imag­ine.

Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity, and the au­thor of “The Sec­ond World Wars: How the First Global Con­flict Was Fought and Won,” from Ba­sic Books. You can reach him by email­ing au­[email protected]

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