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Trump is still on track to win reelection

Back in December, I penned an op-ed here making the case that President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE would likely win reelection. At the time, Newsweek insinuated I was off my rocker. They were not alone; throngs of folks on social media and via email informed me that I probably rode the short bus to school in my early years and that everyone would be better served if I just went away.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Trump is even closer to winning reelection now than he was at the end of last year. I am not alone in this observation. The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter is seeing the playing field much the same way I am.

Heading into 2020, Trump’s primary strengths remain incumbency — since 1900, nearly 80 percent of incumbent presidents have been reelected — and the economy.  Since FDR, every incumbent president, “who has avoided a recession in the lead-up to an election year was reelected.” A trade truce or deal with China will most likely ensure a recession does not occur before next November.

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Contrarians point to national polls and the slew of battleground state surveys, including Florida, and argue Trump is losing “bigly” to a handful of candidates and is therefore toast. The situation is certainly not ideal for Trump, but early polling from previous presidential tilts suggests the media and anti-Trump forces are getting way ahead of themselves. Who can forget that in June of 1983, eventual Democratic nominee Walter Mondale was leading President Ronald Regan by 10 points or that in June of 2011 a generic Republican presidential candidate was leading President Obama by 5 points?

Unless something totally unforeseen happens such as a major military conflict, the global economy tanks, a Thomas Eagleton situation grips the Democratic Party, Trump becomes ill, etc., this is going to be a close race — the country is just that evenly divided, and thus the race will likely be decided by just a handful of states. (Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.)

The biggest hurdle the Trump reelect faces is that his disapproval rating has hovered above 50 percent for quite some time. The Democrats can thank their willing accomplices in the press big time for that.

So what does Trump need to do to win reelection? His team can start by taking a page out of the 2012 Obama campaign playbook — and that is precisely what the Trump campaign is doing.

As Obama 2012 campaign aide Ben LaBolt points out, recent successful incumbent presidents prevailed “by executing a two-year campaign to exploit a contentious primary on the other side, reconnect with their base of supporters, and define the election as a choice, not a referendum.” After all, who can forget Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRatings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election MORE being labeled a serial dog-abuser long before he received the 2012 Republican presidential nomination as a result of once taking a family trip with the dog riding in its crate on the car roof?

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Yes, the Trump reelect didn’t officially kick off until mid-June of 2019 in Florida; a must-win state for Trump and the crown jewel of his campaign’s electoral strategy. But since March, the president has held numerous rallies in other key battleground states to remind his core supporters exactly what is at stake in 2020. Given that Trump is a dogged campaigner, this will most certainly continue.

What has been eluding the Trump campaign is how to best disqualify the 2020 Democratic field before the party is able to officially select a nominee — but the campaign’s prayers may have been answered thanks to an assist from Democrats themselves. Yes, the Democratic contenders have been on an insane race to the left in an effort to win over their primary voters. From single-payer health care and the elimination of private health insurance to free college and massive student loan debt forgiveness to letting imprisoned convicts vote, there seems to be no line they aren’t willing to cross in their pandering. Normally, all of this would be disqualifying on its face, but it hasn’t yet proven to be an albatross for the blue team’s general election chances.

That all changed during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debates in Miami. When former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus MORE, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Watch live: Biden participates in HBCU homecoming Jennifer Aniston: 'It's not funny to vote for Kanye' MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Trump's debate performance was too little, too late Final debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit MORE (I-Vt.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegLGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Buttigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 MORE and the others on the debate stage all raised their hands indicating their respective government health plans would provide coverage for illegal immigrants, they gave the Trump reelect the opening it needed to move 2020 from a referendum on Trump to a choice election.

This came as part of a one-two punch to working-class voters given that in the previous night’s debate, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro called for the decriminalization of illegal border crossings.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE can claim that government health care for illegal immigrants “is not a handout” until he is blue in the face. But what he and the 2020 Democrats fail to appreciate is exactly how tone-deaf their stance is in terms of the voters they need to recapture the White House in 2020; those residing in the more than 200 Obama-Trump “pivot” counties.

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On illegal immigration, 2020 Democrats aren’t even trying to hide the ball. Their message is loud and clear: Every illegal immigrant who crosses the border for whatever reason should not be detained and just about all should get to stay indefinitely — complete with benefits from free health care to free education and maybe even free puppies by the time this campaign is over.

And when it comes to the taxpayer’s dime, what voters are hearing is that illegal immigrants come first and certainly before Americans citizens and the working class. Even New York Magazine’s Andrew Sullivan, who is no fan of Trump, is proclaiming that “the Democratic candidates are in a bubble on immigration.”

We are still a long way from Election Day 2020; things could certainly change. But at the rate the Democrats are going, it’s hard to see how Trump doesn’t win a close one. Stay tuned. 

Ford O'Connell served as director of rural outreach for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; he runs a political consulting business, is an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, and is a regular commentator on FOX Business. O’Connell is also an attorney. Follow him on Twitter @FordOConnell.