As an extremely estranged Republican, I’m looking ahead to the 2020 election with both cautious optimism and gnawing trepidation. Being a Never Trumper who voted for Hillary Clinton, I didn’t believe he would actually win the presidency and the following three years have turned out to exponentially worse than I ever imagined. And I’ve watched in dismay as the Republican Party has gradually become obsequious members of the Cult of Trump, without even a trace of spine or iota of courage. The fact is that the Party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan no longer adheres to any of its core principles, while blindly ignoring a fundamental question: what will be left of the GOP after Trump resigns, is convicted of impeachment (unlikely), loses or heaven forbid, serves another term?
I believe it’s still a toss-up whether President Trump can win again. If this were any other president with this kind of booming economy, the best in 50 years, he’d be untouchable. If George W. Bush or Barack Obama had run for re-election with this economy, they would win by a landslide. But this president is highly vulnerable because many people still believe that he is morally, intellectually and temperamentally unfit for the job. And if you base the likely outcome on the polls, Trump is not looking at a winning hand.
You have to remember that Trump pulled an inside straight in 2016, the election ultimately determined by a combined eighty thousand votes in three swing states. As a poker player, I know the odds of an inside straight are about six to one. So if I were looking at winning the next hand, I certainly wouldn’t bet on getting those same cards, especially when the president’s net approval ratings in those states, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, have fallen disastrously, decreasing by 17, 20 and 22 points. And in the midterm election, those three swing states all elected Democratic governors and senators and flipped some GOP House seats.
Almost all presidents running for re-election would recognize that they have to do more than simply appeal to their base and least, nominally reach out to get more voters. But this president is committed to bluffing, boasting and blustering his way to victory. While his approval rating has been rock steady at 42 to 45 percent, no president has ever not hit 50 percent during his first four years. Most polls say 48 to 52 percent of voters will definitely vote against Trump no matter what. I believe that his hardcore base, the people that go to his rallies and believe he can do no wrong, consist of no more than 25-30 percent of voters. Throw in another 5 percent that for one reason or another are supporting him, and you get to 30-35 percent. So you have roughly a 14-18 percent gap between those who are definitely voting against him and those who are definitely for him. These are not numbers that ensure a return to the Oval Office.
Here are a couple of other wildcards. In 2018, Florida voters came together in a rare bipartisan manner to give 70% approval to a measure restoring voting rights to 1.4 million non-violent felons who have paid their debt to society. Unfortunately, the state legislature passed a bill, which Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed, calling for restitutions where any fines or fees must be paid before they can regain their right to vote and it was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court. But nothing riles people up more than threatening their constitutional rights. In 2016, Trump won the state by 150,000 votes. If 15-20% of those felons turn out (and they won’t likely be supporting the party that’s trying to take away their vote), that margin is overrun. I don’t believe that President Trump can be re-elected without Florida.
It’s also common knowledge that most Republicans in Congress fear the president, but don’t like or respect him. Case in point: can you think of a single GOP member who defended Trump’s character, ethics or likeability, during the impeachment hearings? What they fear is being “primaried out.” But what happens after the 2020 primary in their states? I suspect they might actually grow a spine, particularly vulnerable Republican Senators, who won’t have to face voters again until after Trump’s second term.
In our polarized tribal society, many Republicans are not willing to admit that they voted against Trump in 2016. But I do know a lot of people who voted for him and many support most of his policies, but even they are exhausted by his irrational behavior, the childish insults, and the missteps and embarrassments on the international stage. A friend of mine in Florida who didn’t like Trump, but voted for him, said he really voted against Hillary more than he voted for Trump. He now says he’d be happy to vote for a Democrat whom he felt wasn’t too liberal and would try to restore order without instituting radical policy. Voters like him just want some normalcy and that’s an underrated dynamic in this election. George W. Bush, who was not that strong of candidate, won largely because he talked about bringing integrity back to the White House. And even though the administration is saying that impeachment is a rallying cry and going to help them, it’s actually an inedible stain. For voters who are on the fence, I believe impeachment is going to turn them away more than it’s going to bring them in.
America can survive four years of President Trump, but facing eight years would lead me to question whether or not the fundamental institutions and principles of our democracy could actually persevere, because you’re going to have a combination of a president who feels vindicated by being acquitted in the Senate and won’t be facing re-election. So there will be no incentive to behave or change, especially when he won’t have any Republicans in Congress who are going to stand up to him. There may be some who would admit off the record that they don’t want to see Trump re-elected, but the fear of being ostracized and demonized by the president is too potent a deterrent. That’s why impeachment by the House was so necessary because there has to be consequences for a president who breaks the law.
A lot can and will happen before the election, but one thing is certain. It’s time for Never Trumpers to come back out of their foxholes, and along with Not This Time swing voters, who supported Obama, but voted for Trump in 2016, reject four more years of this president’s lies, mistruths, reckless policy and unchecked power. The stark reality is that it’s now or November.