Republicans and Democrats alike face rocky roads to 2020 election

Republicans and Democrats alike face rocky roads to 2020 election
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With less than 365 days until Americans cast their votes in the 2020 election, neither party should be confident that they will wake up on the first Wednesday of November next year with a resounding victory.

On one side of the aisle is a historically unpopular president facing an increasingly popular impeachment inquiry that will likely lead him to becoming the third president in our history to be impeached. It is an inquiry that will likely force Republicans in the House and Senate to vote to keep or remove a president who is turning off more and more of the electorate. It is an inquiry that, unlike the special counsel investigation, is easy for Democrats to explain and hard for Republicans to defend. As if that were not bad enough, Republican members of Congress are retiring left and right, partly to avoid what will undoubtedly become a ruthless campaign season, but also because they are fed up with defending the indefensible and being hung out to dry by a chaotic White House.

On the other side of the aisle is a party struggling to articulate what it stands for and who should be its next standard bearer. As the constant losers of the cable news messaging battle, the shock of Democrats over Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE defeating Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCollins walks impeachment tightrope Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party Hill.TV's Krystal Ball knocks Clinton's 'mean girl' comments against Sanders MORE has left them unsure of how to move forward and unable to rise to this critical moment in our history. It is one thing to get beaten by an opponent you see coming. It is another thing to get beaten by an opponent you never really took seriously. Much like Mike Tyson after his upset at the hands of Buster Douglas, Democrats lost to someone they never really took seriously. Now they are picking up the pieces and trying to figure out how to win at the ballot box again.

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The current political strategy has failed to inspire confidence in the ability of Democrats to recapture the White House in 2020. Genuine fears over alienating swing voters have created a messaging paralysis that risks turning off progressive voters and suppressing the type of fresh excitement that Democrats need to unseat a president who has a cultish following. Indeed, a shift to the left by the progressive wing of the party risks turning off moderates and independents. The voters that Democrats need to win are in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. These are very states that would make the reelection of Trump virtually impossible if Democrats win them. Issues like health care, the Green New Deal, and impeachment have left the party fractured and vulnerable.

Unlike Republicans, who have been completely dominated by Trump and his abhorrent brand of politics, Democrats have been unable to unify around one clear message or solidify around a single candidate. Rhetoric from Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Biden, Sanders tax plans would raise less revenue than claimed: studies MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden MORE has evoked angst over class warfare and attacks from candidates on opposing sides of the very same aisle. A vulnerable front runner in Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden MORE and an unknown commodity in Pete Buttigieg have left voters on the left concerned that the top tier candidates are unprepared to take on Trump in the general election.

Concerns over the vulnerabilities of the top tier candidates are certainly warranted. As Clinton learned in 2016, battle scars from a vicious primary do not always heal by Election Day. This is why it is not insane to worry whether moderates will rally around the nominee and show up to the polls if a progressive captures the party nomination or vice versa. Combine that with the solid grip that Trump has on a third of Republicans all across the country, and you can understand why Democrats are concerned if Warren is too radical or if Biden is up to the challenge. What should be a landslide victory for Democrats is looking more and more like a toss up every day.

The saving grace for Democrats will not be who they nominate or what policies they support. The deciding factor in 2020 will be the fact that Trump is a known commodity. Voters who stayed home because they did not take him seriously will go to the polls. Voters who did not like Trump, but did not like Clinton even more, will go to the polls. We will see more Americans than ever before go to the polls next year, which is what will ultimately lead to the demise of Trump. This will not be a pretty election, and Democrats cannot afford to take a single vote for granted. But this time around, Trump will not get the benefit of the doubt from voters.

Voters are tired of the chaos. They are tired of the confusion. Most of all, they are tired of the controversy. Fairly or unfairly, voters worried whether they could trust Clinton in 2016. Today, voters have no question in their minds whether they can trust Trump in 2020. After three years of lies and misdirection, investigations and hearings, and sheer exhaustion from his relentless rhetoric, voters will choose a different path forward. It will not be because they necessarily agree with what Democrats have to say, but because they understand that the current trajectory is unsustainable.

So with less than 365 days until Americans cast their votes in the 2020 election, neither party should be confident that they will wake up on the first Wednesday of November next year with a resounding victory. But if I were a betting man, I would predict that Democrats win the presidency and retain the House, sending Trump down to Florida to retire in defeat.

Michael Starr Hopkins is the founding partner of Northern Starr Strategies. He served on the Democratic presidential campaigns for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Delaney. Follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.