Strap yourself in: 2020's likely to be quite a ride

Strap yourself in: 2020's likely to be quite a ride
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The best thing about New Year's predictions is that few remember them. Here goes and hoping:

We'll get to politics at the end, except to note — confidently — that this will be one of the most turbulent national elections with extraordinary voter engagement.

The economic outlook is the easiest. It's good and going to stay good for the next year. The prestigious Wall Street research firm, Evercore ISI, projects 2.5 percent growth in 2020 with unemployment dropping as low as 3 percent.


It's arguable how much credit Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUPS, FedEx shut down calls to handle mail-in ballots, warn of 'significant' problems: report Controversial GOP Georgia candidate attempts to distance from QAnon Trump orders TikTok parent company to sell US assets within 90 days MORE deserves for a booming economy he inherited, but about all that could go bad is what economists call an "exogenous" factor, something out of the blue like a war.

That raises North Korea as the Trump and Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnTrump dismisses forthcoming Woodward book as 'fake' New Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un Overnight Defense: Trump pushed to restore full National Guard funding | Watchdog faults Pompeo on civilian risk of Saudi arms sales MORE bromance is ending, reverting back to invective and insults. Pyongyang is advancing — not denuclearizing — its weapons systems; the U.S. is considering toughening — not reducing — economic sanctions, and China shows little interest in facilitating a peace process.

“Kim is poised to increase his tough talk and belligerence in 2020,” predicts Jung Pak, a Brookings Institution scholar and former top CIA analyst on North Korea; she has a book coming out on Kim in April.

There won't be any good news from another nuclear-sensitive hot spot, Iran. That regime is convinced Trump doesn't want a conflict in his reelection year and is uncertain about any new Democratic administration. That may make them more aggressive.

Two certainties: Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUN Security Council rejects US bid to extend Iran arms embargo Overnight Defense: US seizes Iranian fuel bound for Venezuela | Progressives cool on Biden's foreign policy | Takeaways from Israel, UAE opening diplomatic ties Has Congress captured Russia policy? MORE will continue to create trouble, including trying to mess with American elections. And there will be little change in Israel, despite the likely departure of Bibi NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE for the first time in 11 years.


Any progress in the most critical, long-range challenge of China will be only symbolic, the underlying problem may be worse a year from now.

On domestic politics, it all starts with impeachment. Senate Republicans will agree to selective witnesses — don't look for Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump touts NYC police union endorsement: 'Pro-cop all the way' Feehery: Weak mayors destroy America's great cities Coronavirus concerns emerge around debates MORE — and will dispense with the House charges in a matter of weeks. The danger for Republicans, however, is with lawsuits and leaks: Damaging stuff about Trump may emerge in the months ahead — to the dismay of his defenders.

Short of bombshell revelations, impeachment will be a political wash. In November the Democrats will hold the House, picking up a few more seats. With a more favorable battleground than 2018, the Democrats will gain Senate seats too; a net gain of three would mean control rests with whichever party elects the next president. 

The big enchilada, then: the presidential election. Wish I could duck this one. Rarely at the start of an election year has the outlook been as cloudy.

On the Democratic side, the staying power of Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOn The Money: Economists flabbergasted after Congress leaves with no deal | Markets rise as the economy struggles | Retail sales slow in July Congress exits with no deal, leaving economists flabbergasted Trump touts NYC police union endorsement: 'Pro-cop all the way' MORE has been a surprise after a series of gaffes and dismal debate performances. He has proven resilient and — along with another front-runner, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The choice: Biden-Harris vs. Trump-Pence California Democrats back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup Obamas, Clintons to headline Biden's nominating convention MORE — is in tune with the moderate progressivism and above-all-let's-beat-Trump mood of the party's voters.

If, as in the last debate, he remains steady — not a safe bet with Joe, as seen just last week in the way he mishandled what he'd do if facing a Senate subpoena in the Trump impeachment trial — and he finishes in the money in Iowa, he is an almost even shot at the nomination. If he's good enough to win that, he'd be favored to beat Trump.

As for the others, they'd be no more than 50-50, less for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Obama speechwriter Favreau: 'Hilarious' some media outlets calling Harris a moderate Trump to counter DNC with travel to swing states Progressives look to flex their muscle in next Congress after primary wins MORE (I-Vt.) and for Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Energy: Major oil companies oppose Trump admin's methane rollback | Union files unfair labor practice charge against EPA USPS inspector general reviewing DeJoy's policy changes Former Obama speechwriter Favreau: 'Hilarious' some media outlets calling Harris a moderate MORE (D-Mass.).

If Trump were normal and dialed back the screeds a little and reached out a bit more, he'd be in okay shape… but then he wouldn't be Donald Trump.

Instead the president focuses only on energizing and expanding his core support. There will be huge voter involvement and turnout this year, says Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist. He looks for a turnout that may be the highest since 1908, with as many as two-thirds of eligible voters.

Higher turnout usually works to the Democrats' advantage, with more younger and Latino voters. There are unprecedented efforts by progressive and anti-Trump forces to reach, register and then turn out these voters.

But Republicans say there are plenty of untapped Trump voters too, chiefly non-college-educated white males, and particularly in Midwestern states like Wisconsin. Those in this demographic who stayed home in 2016 may be more likely to vote for him this time.

If both sides do their job, tilt the edge slightly to the Democrats — if they can catch up to the Republicans' head start.

Most incumbent presidents running for reelection are clear favorites, as are all with a strong economy.

Donald Trump is not.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.