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Five questions for Trump's 2020 hopes

Five questions for Trump's 2020 hopes
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Voters will decide whether to give President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE a second term in just 11 months. 

The most divisive president of modern times has endured historically low approval numbers, but he cannot be counted out for reelection — in part because polling in the key battleground states indicates he is competitive with his would-be Democratic challengers.

What are the big questions that will affect Trump’s chances?

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How much does impeachment taint him?
 

Trump is the third American president to be impeached. But in contrast to the other two— President Andrew Johnson and President Clinton — Trump has taken that hit in his first term. 

Will voters balk at reelecting an impeached president? Or will his supporters rally to his side?

The president has blasted back at the impeachment effort, alleging it to be a “hoax” despite an abundance of damaging evidence. House Democrats say they had no choice but to impeach him.

Will it all matter electorally? 

Trump’s approval ratings have been stagnant over the past year. There is little sign that impeachment has moved them much in either direction. 

There has been a bit more variance in polling on impeachment itself. Support rose sharply around the time that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election Overnight Health Care: House Dem report blasts Trump coronavirus response | Regeneron halts trial of antibody drug in sickest hospitalized patients | McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 MORE (D-Calif) announced her backing for the effort at the end of September, and it has eroded slightly since the House impeached Trump earlier this month. 

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But the issue cleaves an already polarized nation.

Data site FiveThirtyEight’s polling average as of Friday showed 47.8 percent backing the impeachment effort and 46 percent against it.

The real power of impeachment may be whether it can be used to drive voters — pro- or anti-Trump — to the polls come November. The answer won’t be known until the results come in.


Where does the economy go? 

The economy is Trump’s strongest card. 

The unemployment rate was 3.5 percent in November — tied with September’s figure, which was the lowest in half a century.

The stock market is also breaking records. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is at around 28,500 points, having been at approximately 19,800 when Trump took office.

If the economy stays strong, it will be a huge asset for Trump in his reelection bid.

Such an outcome is likely but far from certain. A Bloomberg Economics model puts the chances of recession over the next 12 months at 29 percent — though that was a significant drop from earlier in the year.

A recession would likely need to hit hard — and in the first half of the year — to really impact Trump’s election campaign. Right now, that seems unlikely.


Can he expand support beyond his base?

Trump has broken with his predecessors in just about every way — and one is his apparent disdain for seeking middle ground.

In his rhetoric, and on hot-button topics such as immigration, Trump has catered to his base at every step.

The strategy has obvious limitations.

Trump, uniquely in the modern history of polling, has never been above 50 percent approval in Gallup polling. 

As of Friday, he was underwater in terms of job approval in the survey averages of both FiveThirtyEight (42.6 percent approval to 52.9 percent disapproval) and RealClearPolitics (44.4 percent to 52.1 percent).

There are some issues that Trump can point to that have bipartisan appeal. The two most prominent examples are prison reform and trade.

On the latter, labor unions are among the backers of the new Trump-backed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, set to supersede the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

But there is plenty of evidence that Trump’s personality and tone are more important and detrimental, at least to people outside his base.

An Economist-YouGov poll released in late December, for example, showed his job approval underwater with women by a huge margin: 53 percent disapproved and only 38 percent approved. 

It’s true that, in 2016, Trump won despite having worse favorability ratings than any other major party candidate in history — including his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump may continue to campaign after Election Day if results are not finalized: report Hillicon Valley: Biden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked | Majority of voters in three swing states saw ads on social media questioning election validity: poll | Harris more often the target of online misinformation Analysis: Where the swing states stand in Trump-Biden battle MORE.

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But he threaded a needle on that occasion, winning three crucial states by an aggregate 77,000 votes.

It’ll be extraordinarily tough to pull off that trick again, especially if his polling numbers stay where they are.


Whom will Democrats choose to run against him?

The contest for the Democratic nomination, with only a month to go before the Iowa caucuses, is a four-horse race.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll Ivanka Trump raises million in a week for father's campaign On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTlaib, Ocasio-Cortez offer bill to create national public banking system Cutting defense spending by 10 percent would debilitate America's military The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Election night could be a bit messy MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren has expressed interest in being Biden's Treasury secretary: report The Democrats' 50 state strategy never reached rural America What a Biden administration should look like MORE (D-Mass.) or South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegWhat a Biden administration should look like Conservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls LGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress MORE (D) could all plausibly win.

Biden’s campaign has made his purported electability against Trump a central rationale for his candidacy. There is some evidence to back up that contention but, it’s hardly conclusive.

Biden’s strongest card is that he appears to do better against Trump in some of the key states that decided the last election — but even so, his edge over his Democratic rivals in that regard tends to amount to only a couple of percentage points.

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There are also questions about whether the 77-year-old Biden, who has been a national political figure for almost half a century, would stand up to months of attacks at the hands of the well-financed Trump campaign and its surrogates.

Sanders and Warren are each betting that the Democratic Party — and the nation at large — is ready for more fundamental change than the incremental approach favored by Biden. Their supporters argue that their focus on working Americans would resonate in a general election. The skeptics worry that they could be portrayed as outside the American mainstream. 

Buttigieg is, in essence, offering a similar political vision to Biden’s. But whether the nation is ready to elect a 37-year-old who has never held any office higher than mayor remains to be seen. Buttigieg would also be the first openly gay nominee of a major party.


How much will Trump’s money advantage matter?

The money race hasn’t received nearly as much attention as Trump’s impeachment or his standing in opinion polls — but it could be as important as anything else.

Trump has a huge money advantage already, and those running to replace him will probably never close it.

By the end of the third quarter — the most recent period for which detailed financial information is available — the combined efforts of Trump and the Republican National Committee had raised more than $300 million in 2019. At that time, the Trump team had $158 million cash on hand.

The cash-on-hand figure outpaced even the most well-financed Democratic contenders by a margin of about 5-to-1. At the time, Sanders had $33.7 million, Warren $25.7 million, Buttigieg $23.4 million and Biden — who has struggled with fundraising — only $9 million.

Of course, whoever becomes the Democratic nominee will experience a surge as the party’s donors, big and small, get behind her or him. But Trump is already outspending Democrats by a wide margin on social media and can also ramp up his operations in the key states.

Money isn’t everything — as Trump himself proved when he won the 2016 election against opponents in both the GOP primary and the general election who were better funded.

But money gives the president an edge that he didn’t have in 2016 — and if the election is tight again, it could be decisive.