Trump is on the path to reelection
In a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, many Americans reported that they are dissatisfied with President Trump and find his behavior grossly offensive. Yet Trump appears on course for reelection.
Why? First, a good economy. Presidents who preside over a strong economy are favored to be reelected.
Second, Trump is a master at gaining media attention and dominating narrative. Reality TV gave Trump an understanding of what plays well on broadcast media. His unfiltered tweets lay out his agenda, attack opponents and directly communicate with the national audience.
Third, presidential elections are determined by state electoral votes, not by popular vote. Trump maintains strong support in key battleground states in the industrial Midwest and in traditional Republican-leaning states.
Most states and regions have become reliably Democratic or Republican. The 2016 presidential election saw three states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — that had been Democratic since the 1980s give their electoral votes by narrow margins to Trump.
Fourth, Trump has excellent political instincts. His attack on “the squad” of four left-leaning House Democrats was brilliant political strategy. It has proved popular with his base and succeeded in wedding those progressive, controversial lawmakers to the Democratic Party.
Prior to Trump’s attacks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and many House Democrats attempted to restrain “the squad” from attacking and from encouraging primary challenges to moderate Democratic House members. They were also distancing the party from the left-leaning agenda of “the squad.” The Trump attacks forced Pelosi and Democrats to support “the squad” and mute any criticism of their behavior or agenda.
Fifth, deep and seemingly unbridgeable divisions among Democrats help Trump — especially in battleground states. Progressive left and moderate Democrats are at odds over election tactics, strategy and policy direction. Progressives have distanced themselves from a working class negatively impacted by globalization and unfair trade practices.
Progressives embrace liberal cultural and social values, open borders, a globalized economy, extreme environmental policies, government-only medical coverage and extensive social safety net programming.
Unfortunately, they believe that appealing to the moderate social and cultural outlook of the working class would compromise the progressive agenda and would be futile. Therefore, they say, “Why bother?”
They assume that a progressive presidential candidate will attract enough women, people of color, young voters, the better educated and those who have succeeded in the new economy to give the Democrats an Electoral College victory. They believe that this coalition is the new backbone of the Democratic Party.
Their assumption is unproven, and this coalition does not as yet constitute a majority in key Rust Belt battleground states. Worse, it repeats the flawed strategy of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign.
Trump could not hope for a better scenario. He is assured free range among the working class — once the backbone of the Democratic Party coalition. An overlay of voting in counties dominated by the working class in battleground states shows President Obama’s voters supporting Trump in 2016.
Progressive voters will not support a moderate Democratic candidate, and moderate voters will not support a progressive Democratic candidate. Not a good situation for Democrats. Without unity, no Democratic candidate can prevail.
Finally, Trump maintains populist appeal. Populists such as Trump reach out to the common citizens who believe that their interests and concerns are not addressed by establishment governing and economic and social institutions.
And Trump offers corrective public policy action to resolve long-ignored problems such as globalization (reassess global alliances and commerce) unfair trade (impose tariffs) and illegal immigration (restrict immigration).
Defeating Trump will not be easy. His character flaws and offensiveness were well-known prior to the 2016 election. He still won. Trump would like to make the 2020 election about “the squad.” Democrats must avoid taking Trump’s bait.
Democrats need to put together a winning coalition of states to achieve an Electoral College victory. They need to reach out to their former working-class base, acknowledge their concerns and values, and offer viable solutions to the problems that impact them. Then perhaps a Democratic candidate can beat Trump.
Joshua Sandman, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at the University of New Haven. He has studied the presidency for more than five decades.