The Memo: Is there a way back for Trump?

The Memo: Is there a way back for Trump?
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE looks to be close to the nadir of his presidency, beset by his defeat on the government shutdown, bad opinion polls, a Democratic House and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s probe.

But Republicans, including some beyond his base, insist he still has a plausible path to reelection in 2020.

First and foremost, they argue that the robust economy could yet be a magic bullet for the president, transcending all other concerns.

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Second, they suggest that the political dynamics will shift as soon as Democrats pick their nominee. At that point, Trump and his campaign will have a target on whom to focus, and may be able to frame the election as a choice rather than a referendum on the president.

Third, Trump supporters claim that Democrats could overreach, especially in any quest to impeach him.

Barry Bennett, who served as a senior adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign, insisted that a push for impeachment could “guarantee his election.”

“In terms of messaging, it is hard to turn Donald Trump into a victim — but they can do it,” Bennett said.

A former Trump White House official focused on the question of whom the Democrats might nominate.

“Trump’s best chance to win is if he is able to draw a more flawed opponent — someone who is too far to the left or also has strong likability challenges — and framing that person as the greater of two evils,” the former official said.

Trump has been badly dinged up by his defeat at the hands of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.) on the recent government shutdown.

His failure to secure funding for the southern border wall he promised during the 2016 campaign has drawn condemnation from previously supportive commentators on the right, including Lou Dobbs of the Fox Business Network and Ann Coulter.

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Democrats pour scorn on suggestions of a comeback. They argue that Trump, by his nature, polarizes the nation — and has done so to his electorally-terminal disadvantage.

They point to recent polls that show an unusual degree of certainty about 2020 voting intentions.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll published this week indicated that 56 percent of Americans polled said they “definitely” won’t vote for Trump for a second term. An earlier survey, from PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist in mid-January, contained an almost identical finding, pegging that level of opposition at 57 percent.

Democrats argue there are just too many voters who are beyond Trump’s reach.

“It’s a very, very steep incline to reelection for Donald Trump,” said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. “His real hardcore base is around, I think, 33 or 34 percent, and probably the ceiling to any potential vote is 40 to 42 percent.”

Shrum added, “I don’t think traditional rules — like the condition of the economy — apply because he doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a president. His tweets, his Pinocchios — they consume all the oxygen. Look at [the midterms in] 2018. The economy was doing very well, and in the House you had a Democratic tsunami.”

Trump, as the incumbent, could also suffer from a sense of dissatisfaction with the state of the country — a sentiment that appears to be growing.

An Associated Press/NORC poll released Tuesday found that just 28 percent of respondents believe the nation is moving in the right direction, while 70 percent said it is on the wrong track.

But some Republicans — not all of them committed Trump loyalists — take a different view.

GOP pollster David Winston contends that economic anxiety has been the overarching issue for voters for several years. If Trump addresses that, Winston argued, he could surprise the naysayers yet again.

“You have half the county living paycheck to paycheck,” Winston said. “If you get a sense that you are going to be able to break out of that cycle and do some real planning for your children, for your own retirement — ultimately people are going to be positive about that, and it will accrue to the president.”

But there is another question at the heart of Trump’s conundrum: Can he reach beyond his base?

Trump has often seemed to appeal to his hardcore supporters even at the expense of moderate voters, especially in terms of his rhetoric on subjects like the wall and the fatal violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

Voices loyal to Trump acknowledge that expanding his base will require a focused effort from a president who is often more comfortable serving up red meat to his base on Twitter or at rallies.

“The president’s base is secure. I think the president’s strategy needs to include an intensive vote hunt in the middle,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump friend and ally.

“We succeeded in 2016 by winning Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And whatever strategy they develop now will be similarly focused on nontraditional Republican voters,” Caputo said. “Sticking with Republican orthodoxy is not going to be enough.”

As always in Trump World, there are tensions bubbling just beneath the surface.

The campaign reelection effort is being helmed by Brad Parscale, a close ally of the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerFinancial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Financial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Kim Kardashian West joins Trump at White House event for ex-prisoners MORE.

Parscale was the digital director during the 2016 effort but has never run a campaign before. That leaves him open to criticism from other Trump insiders — some of whom also have axes to grind with Kushner — that his inexperience is a serious flaw.

Beyond those internal dynamics, there are genuine concerns about whether the president and those directing his election effort can bring enough discipline to the task ahead.

Reelection, the former White House official said, “will require a thoughtful strategy, the discipline to stick to it and talented people to help carry it out. Right now [Trump] doesn’t seem to have that, but he does have the advantage of incumbency and a force of nature quality that opponents will struggle to grapple with.”

Shrum, the Democratic strategist, took a succinctly different view of Trump’s chances of winning a second term in 2020.

“Is it impossible? No. Is it extremely unlikely? Yes,” he said.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.