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Why Trump will win in November

| Monday, February 10, 2020

With the Iowa caucus under our belts (maybe?) and New Hampshire coming up tomorrow, election season is finally here. After a year or so of jabs, one-liners, polls and drama, we’ve made it to the good stuff. Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

And as we kick off the primaries, everyone’s asking the same question: Who will face off against Trump this fall — and do they have what it takes to win? I can’t tell you who will be the Democratic nominee, but whoever they are, they’ll be facing an uphill battle. No doubt Trump’s reelection chances are fragile and so much stands between now and Election Day, but the way things are looking now, Trump, albeit in a close, hard-fought race, will be reelected on November 3rd.

This is a surprising thing to say about an incumbent whose approval rating hasn’t cracked 45% since his first week of office, but approval ratings can be misleading. Polls ask Americans how Trump’s “handling his job,” and, with this President, saying you “approve” comes with a lot of baggage. Trump’s, well, Trump. He’s crude, he’s unpredictable, he’s incredibly narcissistic, he’s petty.

But even so, you’ve got to admit, he’s down to the point and tells it like he sees it, and a lot of Americans like that for a change. Four years later and terms like “the swamp” and “Washington elites” still carry their sting. And it’s playing right into Trump’s hands. Even after three years in the Oval Office, his squabbles with “establishment” figures like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his incessant tweeting and his campaign-like rallies have kept him just as much of an outsider as he was in 2016.  Such a dual role, President and outsider, is of extreme importance. Incumbency has historically been a distinct advantage, but Trump’s maverick mentality will definitely help him woo some disillusioned voters this fall.

But if November becomes a referendum on Trump’s character, Christmas will come early for the Democrats. The strategy didn’t work out so well for the President in 2018, and it won’t do him any better now. And Trump will have no one to blame but himself because, let’s face it, he’ll be the one who decides what this election is going to look like and what it’ll be about.

In this arena, he holds near dominance over his Democratic rival. Just think about how much power Trump’s Twitter page alone has. A mere sentence or two from @realDonaldTrump could determine how the Dow Jones fairs for the next couple days, and it certainly defines the media’s relentless news cycle. Tell me the last time Trump’s written a crazy or controversial tweet and the Internet and TV news hasn’t exploded reporting it. Remember “covfefe”? Or when Trump superimposed his face on a shirtless Rocky Balboa? The media goes nuts over this stuff, and Trump absolutely loves it. It proves to him just how much power he has over the course of not only the news cycle, but our politics, on what gets talked about and what doesn’t. The Democrats have been struggling over the past few years to be more than just reactionary to the storm that is Trump, but there’s still no indication they’re even close to solving this problem. No doubt about it, Trump’s in the driver’s seat. 

But for Trump to win, he needs to use this strategic high ground to focus on the economy. This is absolutely crucial, as it may represent his only chance at winning reelection. According to a CNN poll last month, it’s one of his only policies more Americans approve than disapprove of, and decidedly so. Indeed, 55 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, with only 40 percent disapproving. That’s a whopping +15 percent in Mr. Trump’s favor, and a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll confirms this at +18% (56%-38%). These are huge leads, explaining why so many believe the economy will push the President past the finish line. And it very well might. It’s not uncommon to hear, “I don’t like Trump, but I like what he’s doing for the economy.” This isn’t forgotten on Election Day.

But there’s an even larger problem for the Democrats: The raging moderate-progressive split is threatening to tear apart their party less than a year before the general election. This is exactly what Trump wants and is something he will do everything in his power to exacerbate.

After all, his election chances hinge on such fracture and fatigue. Hillary Clinton lost because so many disillusioned Bernie supporters stayed home or voted for Jill Stein (or even Trump). It’s more than likely a very similar situation would happen if the Democrats nominated Biden, yet another Obama-era establishment figure. As for Buttigieg, the other moderate Democratic voice, we might see less of this, but his unsettling inability to excite minority voters, an ever-growing base of the Democratic Party, and his youthful inexperience may prove challenges too difficult for the South Bend mayor to overcome in November. And for Sanders and Warren, it’ll be hard persuading moderate voters to stomach socialist policies like Medicare-for-all and free college. But even worse for their chances, the Senators’ calls to ban fracking would be the final nail in the coffin for Democrats in 2020.

Trump will eat this up on the campaign trail in Rust Belt states where hundreds of thousands of jobs rely on the shale industry. Forget about the pipe dream of turning Texas blue. Or Ohio, or Pennsylvania and probably Michigan too. If this even becomes a talking point, Sanders and Warren will lose — every single time.  Americans simply aren’t ready for such radical policies, and it will show this fall if either of them become the nominee. Any way you slice it, none of the top four candidates have shown that strong, unifying ethos needed to bring together a deeply fractured party, even if the opponent is Donald Trump.

But Trump’s no perfect candidate either, nor is he invincible. Sure, he’s got the advantage, but he’s got a lot of vulnerabilities too. Perhaps focusing on a non-Medicare-for-all healthcare plan, a reform of Obamacare that stands in contrast to the President’s wishes to repeal it, may be their best bet. But that is a general election strategy, something that the candidates aren’t considering as they destroy each other in trying to keep their heads above water. The Democrats can certainly bounce back from this, but they’d be best advised to put personal egos aside now. They all want Trump out of office, but the problem is they all want to be the one who’s President. And they can’t have both. The Clinton-Sanders split cost them the election in 2016. It’ll cost them another four years in 2020.

Andrew Sveda is a freshman at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh intending to major in political science.  Besides politics, Andrew enjoys acting, playing the piano, and tennis. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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