Democrats are coming out of the woodwork to run against President Trump, and we’ve been covering them as they make their moves toward launching campaigns. However, what about the President’s re-election efforts? Donald Trump already announced his intention to run for re-election in 2020 and has been assembling a team to handle the next campaign. The government shutdown battle is still raging, but this could be old news by the time the 2020 presidential election rolls around.
Where does the President’s campaign stand today? Here’s a look at what is happening with the Trump 2020 re-election effort.
Trump Compared to Clinton, Obama
In an article on RealClearPolitics, conservative writer Victor Davis Hanson argues that, despite his troubles and lagging poll numbers, the President still stands a good chance at winning in 2020:
In early 1994, Bill Clinton’s approval rating after two years in office hovered around a dismal 40 percent. The first midterm elections of the Clinton presidency were an utter disaster.
A new generation of younger, more conservative Republicans led by firebrand Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” gave Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Republicans also picked up eight Senate seats in 1994 to take majority control of both houses of Congress.
It was no wonder that Republicans thought the 1996 presidential election would be a Republican shoo-in. But Republicans nominated 73-year-old Senate leader Bob Dole, a sober but otherwise uninspired Washington fixture.
By September of 1996, “comeback kid” Clinton had a Gallup approval rating of 60 percent. Dole was crushed in an Electoral College landslide.
Barack Obama was given a similarly dismal prognosis after the 2010 midterms, when Democrats lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats. Republicans regained majority control of the House, though Democrats clung to a narrow majority in the Senate. At the time, Obama had an approval rating in the mid-40s.
Hanson’s comparisons to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom suffered heavy midterm losses yet went on to easily win a second term, could be appropriate. Republicans were clobbered in the 2018 midterms by overwhelming Democratic voter turnout.
Many analysts thought that based on the state of the economy alone, President Obama could have been beatable in 2012 if only Republicans came up with the right candidate. Mitt Romney was incapable of closing the deal, however, and handed Obama an easy victory.
Democrats will need to work carefully through the primary season to find a voice for their platform which voters would feel comfortable with and provide a reason to abandon the current administration midstream.
Shutdown Hurting Trump’s Poll Numbers (Temporarily?)
I said in the intro that the shutdown could be old news by Election Day 2020, and that’s true. FiveThirtyEight is tracking the President’s approval numbers and, so far, concludes similarly that, by and large, the shutdown fight probably won’t bleed into the 2020 election, unless it drags on literally “for years” as the President suggested it could:
So all of that sounds pretty bad for Trump. But will any of it really matter to Trump’s political standing, in the long run?
The glib answer is “probably not.” We’re a loooong way from the presidential election. And presidential approval ratings, as well as those for congressional leaders, typically rebound within a couple of months of a shutdown ending. A shutdown in October 2013 that caused a steep decline in ratings for congressional Republicans didn’t prevent them from having a terrific midterm in 2014, for instance.
Also consider the insane velocity of the news cycle under President Trump. If the shutdown were to end on Feb. 15, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation were to drop the next day, would anyone still be talking about the shutdown?
Moreover, there hasn’t been that much of a shift, so far. In the context of the narrow historic range of President Trump’s approval ratings, which have rarely been higher than 43 percent or lower than 37 percent, a 2-point shift might seem relatively large. But it’s still just 2 points, when many past presidents saw there numbers gyrate up and down by 5 or 10 points at a time.
Still, the political age of Trump is unpredictable, and things literally could change within the hour to set the President’s course on a new trend line. FiveThirtyEight offers these caveats in their analysis:
For one thing, there’s no particular sign that the shutdown is set to end any time soon. And if the decline in Trump’s approval rating were to continue at the same rate that it has so far, it would take his political standing from bad to worse. By Jan. 29, for example, the day that Trump was originally set to deliver the State of the Union address before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disinvited him from addressing Congress, his approval rating would be 39.3 percent, and his disapproval rating would be 55.9 percent. By March 1, at which point funding for federal food stamps could run out, his approval rating and disapproval rating would be 36.9 percent and 58.4 percent, respectively, roughly matching the lowest point of his presidency so far.
In addition, because this is already the longest shutdown in U.S. history, past precedent for the political impact of shutdowns may not be fully informative. There’s the possibility that the shutdown ends not with a whimper (with Trump caving or with he and Pelosi anticlimactically reaching a compromise) but instead with a literal or proverbial bang, such as the government bungling a response to a natural or man-made disaster.
Since the shutdown is still ongoing, we don’t know the ending yet so it’s impossible to fully bake it into the minds of voters.
Trump 2020 Campaign Starts With Shutdown
As Politico reports, the Trump 2020 campaign team had the shutdown grenade dropped in their laps, and they’re still trying to make the best of it:
Some Trump campaign aides worry that his showdown with congressional Democrats is framing his 2020 bid in a dangerously divisive way. But they say they are trying to make the best of it by using the shutdown fight to fire up his core supporters, raise money and collect voter data that will aid his reelection fight.
“We’re making lemonade out of lemons,” said a person familiar with the campaign.
As polling turns increasingly against the president, and White House officials try to find a solution to what some consider a pointless standoff, Trump aides and advisers are worried that the president is doing his 2020 Democratic challengers an early favor.
Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Pascale, argues that the issue of border wall funding ultimately benefits the President. Sorta:
“If you look at the people who are kind of these swing voters, who possibly may not like him for personality or other reasons, the No. 1 reason they will vote for him is because of his stance on border security,” Parscale told Fox News last week.
Parscale declined to offer hard numbers, and data from independent sources suggests the issue is mostly hurting the president. On Twitter, Parscale cited a Morning Consult poll indicating that a plurality of voters believe there is a “crisis” on the southern border. But the same poll showed just 44 percent support building a wall to solve it — while 47 percent oppose it — and the poll does not indicate that the issue is translating to higher support for Trump personally.
Voters tend to like issues of national security, like securing the border. On balance, however, when asked whether it’s worth shutting down the government to do so, the scales tip away from the President.
Parscale’s “lemonade” is pretty bitter, but that’s his job as Trump campaign manager. Serve it up anyway and hope the messaging works. In the meantime, the entire ordeal is an easy target for Democrats as they announce their presidential campaigns and take questions on border wall funding and other shutdown matters.
“All-base, All-the-time Strategy”
The FiveThirtyEight article concludes with this:
There’s plenty of time for Trump’s numbers to improve, but for now, they’re getting worse. So while the shutdown’s consequences may not last into 2020, it has been another step in the wrong direction at a moment when presidents have usually pivoted to the center.
The shutdown works with the President’s base. The same base that elected him in 2016. The calculation has been made, by the President alone, at least, that he stands a better chance at winning with the base than by trying to broaden his appeal over the next 2 years with a pivot to the center, as is the norm for “traditional” presidents.
What we may be witnessing, in relation to the shutdown, is the Trump 2020 campaign opener. If you enjoyed the tumult and awe of his ride through the 2015-2016 primary season, welcome to 2019-2020. In some ways, it’s interesting to watch as Democrats announce their campaigns and seem to get lost in the cycle of shutdown news.
Was that part an intentional calculation by the President’s team to capture the entirety of the January news cycle to blunt the torrent of Democratic campaign announcements? That might be a bridge too far to attribute the move as such a deep calculation, but perhaps it’s an unintended consequence the Trump 2020 campaign team might actually be appreciating.