November 17, 2018

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Don't dismiss Trump's chances in 2020

When it comes to an incumbent's odds of winning, the economy is everything

Opinion

Don’t start writing Donald Trump’s political obituary any time soon.

The U.S. president suffered a significant setback in Tuesday’s midterms as the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, setting up two years of potentially serious trouble for him.

However, Trump still has a good chance of winning a second term in 2020, assuming he’s still in office. Despite his unprecedented behaviour and having violated virtually every political norm, he is, after all, the incumbent.

Since 1933, only three elected presidents have sought and failed to win a second term: Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. All three led a nation suffering major economic woes — the Great Depression, high inflation and the energy crisis, and a recession, respectively.

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Don’t start writing Donald Trump’s political obituary any time soon.

The U.S. president suffered a significant setback in Tuesday’s midterms as the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, setting up two years of potentially serious trouble for him.

However, Trump still has a good chance of winning a second term in 2020, assuming he’s still in office. Despite his unprecedented behaviour and having violated virtually every political norm, he is, after all, the incumbent.

Since 1933, only three elected presidents have sought and failed to win a second term: Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. All three led a nation suffering major economic woes — the Great Depression, high inflation and the energy crisis, and a recession, respectively.

Perhaps historical precedent is irrelevant in the upheaval of the Trump era of politics. But if the U.S. economy is doing well in 2020, regardless of whether it’s because of, or in spite of, his administration’s policies, it’s perhaps more likely than not that he will win a second term.

Evan Vucci / The Associated Press Files</p><p>Supporters cheer as U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Fargo, N.D., in June.</p></p>

Evan Vucci / The Associated Press Files

Supporters cheer as U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Fargo, N.D., in June.

Part of the reason it’s difficult to defeat an incumbent president is because they are all but assured of winning their party’s nomination. Candidates from the other party can exhaust their efforts competing for the nomination, sometimes in a large field. As many as 30 Democrats are considering White House bids in 2020, the McClatchy news agency reported Wednesday, although it’s expected about half that many will actually declare their candidacy.

Another factor in 2020 will be Trump’s ardently devoted base. It can be argued playing to his hardcore supporters will hurt him, leading him further from mainstream voters, but there is no denying their fervour.

This summer, I covered a Make America Great Again rally at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. Trump was there to support Rep. Kevin Cramer in his bid to beat U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a vulnerable Democrat in a solidly Republican state where the president is particularly popular.

Thousands of supporters, many wearing MAGA hats and red shirts, stood all day in blistering heat for a chance to see Trump. Those who made it inside bought political merchandise, screamed their support and cheered relentlessly. They dutifully booed the journalists working on the arena floor and the political foes Trump mentioned.

It was a typical Trump rally.

I returned to Fargo last week to report on a much smaller Democratic campaign rally a few days before the midterm elections. As the star of the event was speaking, I noticed some people were leaving.

Many people may hate the rhetoric and policies of Donald Trump, but few can dispute his ability to draw crowds wherever he goes.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Many people may hate the rhetoric and policies of Donald Trump, but few can dispute his ability to draw crowds wherever he goes. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Most people stayed for Joe Biden’s nearly 45-minute stump speech, cheering and chanting, and the few who left quietly probably had somewhere else to be. They had been standing for hours at the Fargo Air Museum, queuing up outside and listening to 10 speeches before Biden took the stage.

The crowd seemed to like Biden, who is considering running for president in 2020, and many people stayed to take selfies with him and shake his hand. There was no comparison with the frenzy of a Trump rally, but that’s no knock on the former vice-president. He’s not the president, nor even a past president. He hasn’t said he’s running in 2020. He didn’t organize the midday event, and he was in a GOP state stumping for Heitkamp, who trailed significantly in the polls and ended up losing her seat.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Tuesday, Biden led a hypothetical field of Democratic presidential candidates with 29 per cent support. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was second with 22 per cent, and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts were tied for third. All but Warren would have defeated Trump in a hypothetical popular vote held that day, the poll found.

That doesn’t mean much, if anything. Reuters noted Jeb Bush was the GOP frontrunner after the 2014 midterms but fared poorly and dropped out of the race.

In Fargo last week, with the midterms on their mind, Democrats likely saw Biden more as an elder party statesman than a future candidate. But I couldn’t help but notice how some people left the rally during his speech.

Many, many people hate Trump, his policies and his rhetoric. Some avidly follow his presidency, pointing out falsehoods, exaggerations and inconsistencies. Others, no doubt, wish they could avoid hearing from the omnipresent president.

But when Trump comes to town, his supporters line up by the thousands, willing to spend hours standing in the blazing sun to hear him speak, even if it’s about an election where he’s not on the ballot.

When he does, no one walks out.

Adam Treusch is assistant city editor at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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