Trigger warning: What follows might cause serious anguish to many readers.
Why is the smart money on Donald Trump winning re-election next year?
It’s all about the Benjamins: Trump’s campaign reported raising $30 million during the first three months of 2019. Add up his campaign’s cash on hand with the Republican National Committee, and you’re talking about a combined $82 million, for a candidate who spent half as much as his opponent least time around, when he was running for office for the first time, and won.
To put that in perspective, President Obama had less than $2 million at this point in his reelection campaign. Or, as The New York Times broke it down, “Trump’s $30 million haul is about the size of what Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris—the top two Democratic fund-raisers so far in the 2020 field—raised combined in the first quarter.”
But it’s not just Trump’s advantage in campaign cash that puts him in the fabled catbird seat.
Think about your own family’s cash-on-hand situation. The good news for Trump is that, according to a new CNN poll, 71 percent of us “say the nation’s economy is in good shape.” This is why economic models are predicting Trump’s re-election, and it’s one of the main reasons analysts at Goldman Sachs say Trump’s re-election is more likely than not. If the “it’s the economy, stupid” mantra holds true, then Trump is probably on track to win—especially if his lobbying of the Fed to cut interest rates pays off. But let’s face it, the wind is at his back in other ways, too.
For one thing, there’s recent history. Since 1980, four out of five presidents have won re-election. And the last two presidents who lost—Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush—both faced bruising primary challenges (Ted Kennedy and Pat Buchanan, respectively). Despite the internecine resistance that Trump surmounted in 2016 and with all due respect for William Weld and the “Never Trump” movement now, there’s no sign yet that the GOP resistance can hobble Trump, let alone fell him.
Trump is also a known commodity, and the potential for some new scandal to harm him seems almost laughable. To mix metaphors, his baggage is baked into the cake. With the exception of Joe Biden and maybe Bernie Sanders, that isn’t the case for his potential Democratic opponents.
What is more, Trump has worked assiduously to undermine the media’s credibility, making it appear highly unlikely that some new scandal or gaffe would hurt him with voters, while Democrats remain susceptible to new, damaging information.
And that dirt is being dug up now. As Politico recently reported, “Opposition research books are already being assembled. Political detectives are scouring archives, public records, real-time video and decades of old footage.” Nor is Trump merely husbanding footage for the future. Unlike George W. Bush, who generally remained silent while Democrats selected their nominee in 2003 and 2004, Trump isn’t likely to allow a vacuum. He’s going to define his likely Democratic opponents in real time.
In some ways, Democrats are already doing Trump’s dirty work for him―handicapping their own chances by voluntarily restraining their own fundraising and forcing each other to comply with progressive, social justice litmus tests—and by leaking negative stories about each other.
And don’t forget about the freshmen. Whether it’s the Green New Deal, socialism, single-payer healthcare, reparations, or whatever culture war issue Reps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar are helping gin up on Twitter, Trump will have plenty of fodder. And he will use it to try to win those working-class white voters in vital Rust Belt states that helped him carry the Electoral College in 2016.
Of course, the biggest X factor is who the Democrats finally nominate. In my estimation, Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg would probably have the best chance of overcoming the obstacles laid out in this column—Biden, because he is a known commodity and can appeal to the Rust Belt states, and Buttigieg, because he is a breath of fresh air who, in almost every way (he’s a millennial veteran and a Rhodes Scholar), is the exact opposite of Trump.
But can any of these two white men survive a Democratic primary in an era where identity politics is on the rise? That remains to be seen.
Anything can happen in a world where a vulgarian like Trump could get elected in the first place. His approval ratings are still low. But even if they were high, that still wouldn’t mean his re-election is a foregone conclusion. Both President Bushes had some of the highest approval ratings in Gallup’s history at some point in their first terms; one lost re-election and the other barely won.
All this to say that—as amazing as it might sound—the smart money is on Donald J. Trump to be re-elected in 2020.
Don’t worry, I’m freaked out, too.