Politics & Policy

How Democrats Can Blow It in 2020

(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
If the base makes the candidates adopt crazy policies, Trump could win again.

Donald Trump probably can’t win the 2020 presidential election, but the Democrats can lose it.

What I mean is that in a contest between Trump and a generic Democrat, Trump would almost surely lose if the current political climate holds through 2020. According to a Fox News poll this week, 38 percent of respondents said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for Trump, while 55 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for someone else.

Trump’s boosters are often quick to dismiss the polls, claiming they were wrong in 2016, when everyone said he had no chance of winning. The problem with this defense is that the national polls were actually pretty accurate in 2016. If you average out the 13 final national polls of 2016, they showed Hillary Clinton ahead by 3.1 percentage points. She won the popular vote — the only thing national polls measure — by 2.1 percentage points.

Trump carried the Electoral College because he won Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by 0.7 points each and Michigan by 0.2 points. A mere 78,000 votes carried the day.

Most presidents work assiduously to build on the coalition that brought them to power. President Trump has done almost the opposite, catering to his base while doing almost everything he can to alienate suburban Republicans and independents, which is why the GOP got shellacked in the midterms.

So if Trump runs — which is probably a bigger “if” than many people think — the cards are stacked against him. Fortunately for him, the Democrats will not nominate someone named Generic Democrat.

Instead, the Democrats are poised to re-create the same dynamic that got Trump the GOP nomination in the first place. While it’s technically true that Trump beat 16 opponents, as he likes to say, the truth is a bit more complicated. Trump never won a majority of votes in the primaries. He benefited from a collective-action problem in which various candidates defeated each other while a sticky plurality of voters stuck with Trump.

If the field had been narrower, with only two or three contenders other than Trump, his base of support might not have been enough. But with each additional player, the number of votes he needed to win shrank.

Right now, it’s almost easier to list the number of prominent Democrats who aren’t thinking of running. No one knows for sure, but estimates on the number of potential Democratic candidates range from 20 to 40. In that kind of field, the ability to attract a small but passionate cadre of supporters will be more important than arguments about electability. Thus, there will be an enormous incentive to replicate the Trump model of taking unorthodox positions, stated as boldly as possible, in order to win over the most passionate ideologues and activists.

Moreover, the mood among Democrats is more than a little analogous to the mood among Republicans in 2016. Hillary Clinton was a uniquely disliked and feared figure among conservatives. The argument that America would be “over” if she won found purchase among millions of Republican voters. One need only listen to a few minutes of discussion on CNN or MSNBC, or to read the op-ed pages on almost any given day, to see that a similar attitude is widespread among Democrats. If you can’t imagine chants of “Lock him up!” at the Democratic convention in 2020, you haven’t been paying attention.

Thus, the odds that the Democrats will elect their own Trump are very high. Of course, the one thing Trump fans and foes alike can agree on is that Trump is a unique political personality. But a Democratic candidate could substitute policy outlandishness for personal outlandishness quite easily. Many in the Democratic base could easily rally to someone promising to abolish ICE, deliver “Medicare for All,” repeal the Second Amendment . . . whatever. That would give Trump the ability to convince many otherwise hostile voters to cast ballots against the Democrats rather than for the incumbent.

He can’t win, but they can still lose.


Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

Most Popular

White House

For Democrats, the Party’s Over

If the Democrats are really tempted by impeachment, bring it on. Since the day after the 2016 election they have been threatening this, placing their chips on the Russian-collusion fantasy and then on the phantasmagoric charade of obstruction of justice. The attorney general accurately gave the ingredients of the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More