So Donald Trump hits Davos today. On one level, to the Davos crowd, he’ll always be a guy from Queens who made his money in a grubby business. At the same time, the globalists have reason to be happier with Trump than some of his more extreme campaign rhetoric might have suggested. He gave them a huge tax cut anyway.
And most of all: Like it or not, he is presiding over a strong economy. It may not be his doing, considering that until the tax bill passed, he did nothing. But the facts are the facts.
I have a lot of conversations with liberals who say, “I can’t wait for 2020” or “2020 can’t come soon enough.” I agree. We need to get to the next election, in one piece. And Trump should be eminently beatable.
But lately I’ve been thinking. Worrying.
It’s not so much about the putative Democratic field, although I should say that I’m some distance from being bowled over by it. They have strengths—and glaring weaknesses. But let’s not make this column about them. It’s too early for all that.
What it isn’t too early for is a critical examination of some assumptions most liberals seem to be making about how beatable Trump is. I count four.
1. His approval numbers are so low he can’t possibly win.
That might be true. But I still remember the Dubya experience. If you can read this chart closely enough, you’ll see that for virtually all of 2004, Bush was below 50 percent. But in the poll that mattered, on November 2, he got 50.73 percent. Obviously, a certain percentage of voters looked at the competition, decided John Kerry was worse, and unenthusiastically stuck with the devil they knew.
As I write these words, Trump is at 41 percent, according to HuffPo Pollster. He’s not at 35 anymore. He’s made a little rebound lately. I know, it’s inconceivable to me too, but there we have it. Suppose the economy holds out all that time. Suppose he doesn’t start World War III. Suppose he just stops tweeting. You hear interviews with people in the street, people who obviously don’t know much, and the first thing they all say is, “I wish he’d stop tweeting.” What if he did?
He’d be up to 43, 44, 45. And remember—he “won” with 47 percent. That dope Jill Stein may well run again, and who knows who else. So as long as he’s within shouting distance of 47 by January 2020, his approval ratings will be nothing to take solace in.
2. People are so embarrassed by him that they can’t possibly reelect him having witnessed his behavior as president for four years.
This brings to mind Nora Ephron’s old joke about not understanding how Ronald Reagan could have been reelected as she didn’t know a soul who voted for him. That is to say, yes, liberals can’t stand the sight of the guy. The mere thought of the guy. A liberal turns on NPR in the morning and hears one of those somnolent voices say “President Trump yesterday…” and still goes “WHAT?!?”
But we cannot make the mistake of thinking that non-liberals react that way. They don’t. Obviously, conservatives don’t react that way, but I don’t mean them. I mean the sliver of people in the middle who aren’t all that political but will vote for president. My guess is these folks do find Trump kind of embarrassing, and kind of dangerous, too; but those thoughts don’t overpower everything else they think about him. It’s not inconceivable to them that the man is president. He ran, like all the others. He won. It was weird, but he won.
Trump is plausible to them as the president of the United States. They aren’t aghast at the mere idea of it. Hillary Clinton probably talked a little too much this way, assuming people’s aghastness. But non-liberals aren’t aghast, and certainly won’t be in the fall of 2020 if there’s a good economy and no wars.
3. A non-Hillary woman, without her unique baggage, can win.
Again, maybe. But I’m not so sure. Trump will run a flagrantly misogynistic campaign against any woman. And Fox News will move heaven and earth to keep Donald Trump from losing to a liberal feminist woman. It’ll be the most disgusting campaign any of us has ever seen. It will be denounced everywhere.
And it might work. Because there’s obviously a part of men’s brains, most men, that is really resistant to having a woman president. How in blazes did Trump get one-third of Latino men? His campaign was predicated on smearing Latinos as a group. But I’m not singling them out. Too many men in general voted the male vote. Trump cruised among white non-college men. But he won big among white male college grads, too—53 to 39.
The attacks will be sexist, awful, relentless. The men witnessing them will know they’re all those things. And yet, some part of the attacks will lodge in that moldy corner of men’s brains that entertains such notions and take hold. Polls won’t pick it up, as indeed they didn’t pick up Trump’s male Latino vote. But it’ll be there.
4. Robert Mueller will take care of everything.
I think he might. I still say Trump admitted to obstructing justice on national TV in that Lester Holt interview, so it’s hard for me to see how Mueller doesn’t at least pin an obstruction charge on Trump. But of course he’s the president. He can’t be indicted, at least probably not by Mueller.
And what if Mueller never finds any proof that Trump himself was in on any Russia collusion? I can picture Trump sliding out of that, what with the whole Republican Party and Fox News and all the rest of them hammering away at the investigation as illegitimate and compromised and all those other things they’re making up.
If the economy tumbles, everything’s different, and he may well be easy to beat. But if it holds, corporate America will make its peace with him. Republicans will be with him up and down. The convention will be a lovefest.
Democrats need to realize this. Their fundamental horror at the man’s very existence is not shared. They have to nominate a good candidate who has to run a good campaign. It’s depressingly easy for me to picture neither of those things happening.