The big news next year: Trump loses election — or maybe not

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What will happen in the 2020 elections — what will the news be one year from now? Beyond Trump as the Republican nominee, either Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren as the Democratic nominee and a Democratic majority in the House, everything is up in the air. The polling numbers and political dynamics are more contradictory than ever.

On the surface, Donald Trump’s political future looks grim. Outside of the immediate aftermath of his inauguration, he’s never had a net positive approval rating, even the Rassmussen poll has him at 54 percent disapproval. He has polled behind Joe Biden on every national ballot test and in every swing state, except Florida.

Trump will be impeached by the House and faces multiple other legal actions. He is detested by Democratic voters to the extent that any nominee will have a fully unified party behind him or her.

But when you dig into the numbers, Trump has some important underlying strength. For one thing, each of the top Democrats are viewed unfavorably. The Economist poll consistently has the top three Democrats (Biden, Warren and Sanders) at net negative approval, including the most recent poll. The Harris/Harvard poll has better numbers for the Democrats, but Biden and Sanders are still under 50 percent and Elizabeth Warren has a worse favorability (39 percent) than Trump (41 percent) — but lower unfavorable (43 percent to 54 percent).

Trump has other advantages. Critically, when a putative Trump issue platform (lower taxes, less regulation, cut illegal immigration and oppose China) is pitted against a hypothetical Warren platform (green new deal, Medicare for all, free college tuition, more immigration and higher taxes), the Trump platform wins 60 percent to 40 percent. He scores well on attributes like “strong” and “effective” with net positive views overall and — importantly — by independents. The problem for Trump is his character. Only 21 percent of voters overall view Trump as “honest” — and just 49 percent of Republicans. The Trump campaign clearly recognizes this dynamic with its new ad campaign.

So, what will the 2020 general election hold? Any predictions will have an enormous margin of error. Since the presidential race will likely be decided by how individual states vote, we need good state polling data — which we don’t have. The state-level polls are infrequent and plagued by uneven poll quality and small sample sizes. We have seen very consistently that Biden leads by solid margins in swing states and must-have Trump states. The margin with Warren is closer, and she is often behind Trump.

All the current polling points to Trump losing to a Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket but defeating an Elizabeth Warren/Pete Buttigieg ticket. Warren has moved too far to the left, and the claim by hardcore progressives that only a true believer can win is utter wishful thinking. Trump is so hated by Democratic voters that any candidate with a “D” next to his or her name will have nearly unanimous party support. Independents will decide the election — and they are much closer in ideology to Trump than to Warren.

As for Biden, Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” epithet is probably helping the former Vice President than hurting him. Trump’s approval ratings are clearly being suppressed by his personal character and his inflammatory use of Twitter — where his activity is disapproved by 57 percent of voters — with his GOP approval at only 57 percent, one of his lowest Republican scores. Biden is a gray candidate sitting towards the middle of the political spectrum. His gaffes are almost inconsequential when compared to Trump’s Twitter meltdowns. Trump is exhausting the patience of the public to the extent he would likely lose to a safe, dull Democrat — but not to the extent that swing voters would take a chance on Warren’s radicalism.

For Vice President, Harris and Buttigieg are the most logical complements for Biden and Warren, respectively. Harris checks the gender and racial boxes Biden fails and is certainly enhancing her standing by (strategically) throwing darts at Warren. Buttigieg provides gender balance and a moderate sensibility. Warren might even think he could bring in some votes in the Midwest.

In the end, Trump has a small advantage overall — not because of the numbers, but because he has a significant important intangible, an intangible that put him over the top in 2016: Trump and his team are focused on winning and nothing else. Trump doesn’t care about the popular vote or what the political establishment thinks. Getting a plurality of the votes in states representing a majority of the Electoral College is all that matters to him. Pleasing the New York/Washington D.C. cognoscenti and the woke Twitter police matter not at all — in fact, they are very profitable (and easily duped) foils.

Any Democratic nominee will be subject to the straitjacket of political correctness, quotas and demands from their fractious, squabbling coalition. The Democrats excessively indulge niche interests like the New York Times, Saturday Night Live, the Washington D.C. cocktail circuit and the elites of the Acela Corridor in general.

There is no question that Trump has it within himself to self-destruct and make a key mistake leading up to Election Day. But if the Democratic nominee spends too much effort placating the elite special interests and the Twitter mob, Trump has the upper hand.

In the end, the race will come down who makes the fewest mistakes.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, is a public affairs consultant who specialized in Pennsylvania judicial elections. He earned his PhD in public policy from University of Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 Democratic candidates 2020 election Donald Trump Efforts to impeach Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg

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