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Thursday, June 21, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I’ve seen some recent articles written by informed political observers (Salena Zito and Tim Swarens) indicating that Trump has a pretty decent chance of winning a second Presidential term in 2020. We’re still more than 2 years away from the 2020 election, but at the same time we’ve had Trump in the White House now for 18 months. Despite a lot of outrageous words and actions, his Presidency seems nowhere near collapse, notwithstanding the predictions of some that Trump would be gone within 2 years (e.g., John Kerry reportedly told an associate of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in January that Trump would be likely be out of the White House by the end of 2018). Despite approval ratings that bounce between 38 and 44%, support for Trump within the GOP remains strong, although there are some early signs that his popularity in the Midwest is beginning to wane.

Still, it looks as though the Democrats may not have an easy time retaking the White House in 2020 (we will obviously get a better fix on that following the mid-term Congressional elections this November). Democrats have some heavy thinking to do regarding who their best candidate might be. The 2020 primary field for the Dems is just starting to focus, and the situation seems to parallel the GOP situation for 2016. I.e., there are a wide range of figures expressing or hinting at their interest, with no one predominating (as Clinton did in 2016, or Trump does now with the GOP). It’s likely to be a horse-race, where the strongest runners won’t emerge from the pack until late in the process.

The biggest strategic question for the Dems is whether they should attempt recapturing some of the white working-class voters that largely defected to Trump in 2016, or whether to double-down on their “new coalition” of educated professionals and working-class people of color. This choice appears to be fairly exclusive, due to the need for ideological adjustments if the Dems wish to appeal once again to white blue collar voters, who were once key to their victories. The progressive wings of the national Democratic Party appear to be gaining in strength at the expense of the moderates (although several Democratic candidates have won local off-year congressional elections by tacking towards the center, e.g. Connor Lamb’s victory in a district south of Pittsburgh).

A strongly progressive Democrat candidate could attract educated voters and minorities, while Trump would probably retain his lock on the white working class (a question remains however regarding white working women, who went for Trump in 2016 by a small margin – more on them in a moment). In that case, the Democrats would need to increase their turnout of minority voters in the swing states. If they could restore the black turnout levels that Barack Obama gained in 2008 or even 2012, they might retake the key states of Pennsylvania and Michigan, perhaps Wisconsin. That might put them over the top. However, if they instead tried to shift enough white voters in those states, they would need to offer a more moderate, centrist-leaning standard-bearer. And right now, the Democrats don’t have too many moderates in the offing. There is really only one – Joe Biden.

In general, Joe has done well in the earliest polls regarding the Democratic candidate for 2020. A March 2018 poll asking Dems whether they were either very likely or somewhat likely to support a particular Democratic candidate in the 2020 primaries, Joe Biden topped the list at 84%, with Bernie second at 75%.

And yet, a lot of pundits just don’t think that Joe is the guy for 2020 (may not be a guy at all!). Biden is getting old, while most of the younger, upcoming figures in the Democratic Party have left Biden’s old-school lunchbox liberalism behind and tacked closer to Bernie Sanders (who is also probably too old for 2020). Back in April, Charlie Mahtesian at Politico said:

Biden revels in his role as the party’s special emissary to the middle class, and he remains the rare national Democrat who can connect with blue-collar constituencies that have long since left the fold . . . Yet it’s a sign of the times that the familiar, out-of-power Democratic hand-wringing about how to win back the white working class has quieted. It’s no longer a universally held opinion that it’s necessary or even prudent for the party to chase voters who cast a ballot for Trump. Within some party circles, working-class whites are not viewed as essential to the racially diverse coalition that they believe represents the party’s future.

The growing strength of the progressive left wing appears to confirm that the Dems don’t anticipate re-taking the hearts and minds of the white working class anytime soon. If so, then it appears that the Democrats will need to nominate someone of color, so as to get black / Hispanic turnout back to 2008 and 2012 levels (black turnout was 65% in 08 and 66.2% in 12, but fell to 59.6% in 16; Hispanic turnout also declined from 08 to 16, but not by as much – 49% to 47.6%).

Significant black turnout could put North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan back into the blue column, and perhaps even threaten the GOP in Georgia (the one Democratic vulnerability might be Minnesota). If black turnout is the key, then the Democrats will most likely nominate Corry Booker or Kamala Harris. Right now, Senator Harris seems to be picking up momentum faster than Booker. As of June 18, Kamala Harris is just ahead of Bernie and Joe on the PredictIt betting site (you actually “purchase stock” in a candidate on PredictIt, but that is fundamentally the same as making a bet, since you either get nothing if wrong, or get a dollar for the pennies that you invest in each share of a correct choice). Right now, Kamala’s stock is listed at 17 cents, Bernie at 16, Biden 15, with Elizabeth Warren and Corry Booker tied at 10. And don’t forget about Oprah at 6! Right now Oprah says that she is not interested in running, but you never know! Another way of reading these results is that Harris is a 5.9 to 1 bet, Sanders is 6.25 to 1, Biden is 6.7 to 1, with Warren and Booker out at 10 to 1.

The British betting sites are currently giving the following odds regarding who will be the next President – Trump at 2.5 to 1 odds, Kamala Harris second at 11 to 1, Bernie Sanders with 13 to 1, Joe Biden out at 15 to 1, and Elizabeth Warren and Mike Pence both out at 17 to 1. As to the actual Democratic candidate, Harris is tied with Joe Biden at 6.5 to 1, Bernie Sanders is 7 to 1, and Oprah down at 18 to 1 (with Corry Booker way out at 21 to 1).

Overall, Harris is doing pretty well with the bettors. And yet, some doubts about Harris remain with the politicos. Right now, she has a name recognition problem, reflected in her poor showing on the March 2018 “would you support” poll that I mentioned above (that poll put Harris at 53% potential support, versus Biden’s 84% and Sanders’ 75%). Nate Silver says that Kamala Harris could be the Marco Rubio of 2020. Harris is well known in California, but was only elected to the US Senate in 2016. As such, she is still a Washington outsider (although so was Barack Obama in 2008), running against other Democrats who have been serving at a national level while waiting for opportunity. Harris would need to rapidly build a national following, which Obama accomplished in 2006 and 2007 with the help of two very talented operatives (David Axelrod and David Plouffe). Will Harris find an Axelrod and Plouffe?

As a former prosecutor, Harris has said and done some things that might not sit well with the most progressive Democratic elements, although she went out of her way as San Francisco DA and California Attorney General to be a highly progressive prosecutor. She has also been criticized for taking too much corporate money in her Senate campaign. Some lefties have even criticized her for being too much like Obama, i.e. talking like a progressive while acting “measured and pragmatic”. However, unlike “no drama Obama”, four people who worked with Harris report in interviews that she is “exceedingly high-maintenance and prone to hostile outbursts”. I myself watched several videos of Harris, and while she comes across as a highly skilled prosecutor when grilling someone at a Congressional hearing (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg), she also seems a bit too “smiley and entertaining” in certain interviews (e.g. during a chat on the Ellen Show). That may play well in California, but I’m gonna guess that Ohio likes its Presidents a bit more serious. The quiet gravity that Barack Obama commanded (or even the seriousness of purpose that Hillary Clinton often exuded) seems to be lacking in Harris for now.

But once again, it’s still early. If the Democrats do take the minority turnout route in 2020, Harris seems like the natural choice, unless Corry Booker develops himself over the next 2 years (or unless Oprah decides to drop in out of nowhere, just as Trump did for the GOP in 2015-16). Only time will tell if Kamala Harris has (or can develop) the political skills of a Barack Obama or a Donald Trump.

And one final thought on Trump’s chances for 2020. While I agree with the above-cited analysts that Trump will have many strengths going into 2020, he probably won’t gain many voters that he didn’t have in 2016, and could even lose some (especially non-college white women in the Midwest). Whereas, if the Democrats can field a politically skilled black candidate who would inspire high minority turnout, they stand to do better than Clinton did, raising the possibility of taking back some of the swing states that Clinton lost.

On the political chessboard, Trump would conceivably have a counter-move: mend his bridges with Latinos. Hispanic voters have generally favored Democrats, but Republicans have occasionally had success with them. E.g., in 2004, George W Bush garnered 40% of the Latino vote, versus 28% for Trump in 2018. If Trump could somehow split the difference in 2020, Hispanics could “checkmate” the gains that the Democrats might accrue from a black-turnout strategy.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your political leanings, Trump and his advisers seem blind to that. His standing with Hispanics started out bad, and over the 18 months of his Presidency, have not improved. In a recent YouGov poll, Trump’s approval rating was 27%, versus 43% generally. Trump continues to fight for a border wall while failing to help the “Dreamers” imperiled by his cancellation of Obama’s DACA policy. And Trump’s recent policy of separating children from Central American parents who illegally cross the border seeking asylum (separation allows the parents to be jailed and not released pending legal proceedings) seems to have backfired. (Aside from its effect on Hispanic voters, this move may also erode Trump’s support from white women; once again, female white working class voters were key to his 2016 victory, but Laura Bush’s recent condemnation of Trump’s child separation gambit may help turn centrist women against Trump).

Trump seems to be shooting himself in the foot just when he could really use a “reset” with Hispanics. I’m not sure yet if Kamala Harris is the next Barack Obama; but with Trump forsaking any recourse to the Latino vote, the Democrats certainly might have an opening in 2020 if they manage to get the black voters of 2012 back to the polls. P.S. — give Senator Harris political credit for immediately holding hearings on Trump’s child separation crisis. Get out in front of a big national issue, get some national name recognition!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:14 pm      

  1. Jim,

    I have to say that I do think sometimes it’s too early for many things when it comes to the election. I think often that many things could happen, including the present prez being impeached; then then again, perhaps what the country wants is what you see in any picture of present government officialsl­­all white and all male. So I think it’s way too early to try to predict who will run for president in the 2020 election. At this point I think anything one might speculate on is simply that—speculation, even more so, perhaps simply a shot in the dark.

    If I’ve got it right, there 2 years and 4 months before the next presidential election. I can see speculating on the 2018 election coming up and wondering whether Trump will be able to influence voters. Will people vote GOP in such numbers as to make it clear that the Republicans will be running the show come Nov. 2020? Or, will it be a close race like the 2016 election was?

    To be honest, for the most part, I knew few of those you mention as possibilities for running for prez; I know only Biden and Warren. Biden is a possibility and IMO would make a good prez. I’d like very much to see Warren as prez, but then she’s female and what could possibly be the chances of a female president; it’s probably still too soon after a president of color.

    I do find myself dumbfounded that DJT is still in office. But then, as I said above, all I have to do is look at a picture of those who are running the government, and I get it immediately: The picture is ALL White and male. What I am afraid of is that for the 2020 election, the voters will want to keep the government just like that­­all white and male.

    I have seen an interview of Jerry Brown who has been in politics in California for YEARS, at least from the 1970s, maybe the 1960s. But he too, like so many of those who remember him (as I do) is also too old to run, as are Biden, Trump, name any one of those (except perhaps Kamala Harris whom you mentioned but whom I have never heard of. And I don’t care how old Elizabeth Warren is, I’d like to see her as prez.

    I think probably the “problem” is that you are much more aware of those on the East Coast who are interested in political office than I am here in the Mid-West. We are getting in knots over the 2018 election coming up as our choice of governor is between two billionaires, each of whom the “other” seems to have plenty to criticize. Then too, Obama is building his library in Chicago; so a lot of attention is going there. Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor seems to be unnaturally quiet on his plans. So, I can’t say the Mid-West/Chicago area is doing much talk about the 2020 election. But I would not eliminate Emanual running for prez when the time comes; he might be someone who suddenly will “become available”; one never knows.

    While I find DJT a less than worthy president, responsible for a lot of anxiety-making within the country for what seems like the simple reason that he likes a fight, I do find myself wondering if he might be elected again.

    When I think back on history, I think of Woodrow Wilson who was much ahead of his time with the League of Nations. Talking about reverting to “olden times” rather than advance to a kinder, better time: During WWII a ship loaded with thousands of Jewish immigrant refugees fleeing Germany from sure death reached close to America for safety and the entire ship of people was turned back, refused entry for fear they would be “Nazi spies”. The refugees from Central America remind me of WWII all over again and sending all those Jewish people seeking safety here back to certain death in Germany. The U.S. hardly has a good record when it comes to immigrants. What we claim we want, we seem to want for ourselves, but not necessarily for other peoples.

    I often find myself wondering if Obama was a grand step ahead; but too much for the majority of people in the U.S.; and I might add a female prez would also be too far ahead of her time; so, as in so many cases previously, the nation returns to what seems “normal” to them­­all white and male.

    My considered opinion is that it IS too early to talk 2020, unless for the “fun” of it. I say let’s see how Trump does getting the GOP to hold offices in this coming election.

    JIM G COMMENT: Hey Mary, don’t forget — Kamala Harris — you heard that name here first !!!

    Comment by Mary S. — June 27, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

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