With the impeachment trial moving forward and the Iowa caucuses around the corner, it’s never the wrong time to analyze Donald Trump’s reelection chances. If you care about unseating him, it doesn’t help to underestimate him, or his appeal.
Just ask Hillary Clinton.
Steve Bannon has told anyone who will listen that he won the 2016 election for Trump by hammering home three issues: immigration, the economy, and disentanglement from foreign wars. If those worked four years ago, there is no reason why they won’t work a second time.
Trump attracts plenty of ridicule for his promise-mongering about the “wall” with Mexico, but the unbuilt wall can do the same job in 2020 as the hypothetical wall did in 2016 — e.g., “Reelect me, I have to finish what Nancy Pelosi prevented me from doing, blah blah blah.”
Trump’s, harsh, cruelty-first immigration policies haven’t won him many friends in the commentariat, or in states where immigration and asylum issues aren’t integrally connected to the local economy, i.e., Massachusetts. But he will run on his record.
A Trump ad aired last fall claims “he has cut illegal immigration in half” — an exaggeration, to put it mildly. Yet The Washington Post recently reported that “the number of migrants taken into custody along the US-Mexico border has started to plateau after several straight months of decline.”
He grasped the nettle, as he promised to do.
Nobel Prize winners are never going to praise Trumponomics (Paul Krugman on Election Day, 2016: “Markets are plunging”), but in a presidential campaign, three pocketbook issues matter: (1) Is inflation under control? (2) Is gasoline more expensive? and (3) Do I have a job?
The election is several months away, but for now the answers for most Americans are Yes, No, and Yes. Advantage Trump.
Concerning foreign entanglements, Trump’s foreign policy can be politely described as incoherent. American troop deployments overseas have either declined or remained steady, depending on whom you choose to believe. When Trump was elected, my greatest fear was that he would provoke a war on the Korean peninsula. That hasn’t happened, which either exposes my poor judgment or means that Trump has acted with more restraint than I thought he would.
Trumpism spawned a spate of wheezy “Death of Democracy” articles in “thought leader” publications, e.g., The Atlantic’s “How America Ends” or The New York Times’s “How Democracy Dies.” What a charade. Trump loves democracy! American democracy has provided him with a tricked-out Boeing 747 that he can fly down to Florida to play golf, any day he wants. Not just on weekends.
Democracy is grand!
Further proof that Trump loves democracy: He has injected himself into several closely contested state elections since he became president. (Louisiana, Kentucky, and Alabama come to mind.) With mixed results, to be sure. But there is no reason to think he won’t contest this next election, and vigorously. It’ll be worth it just to keep flying his Golf Shuttle, formerly known as Air Force One.
Ah, I hear you say, but people despise Donald Trump. That is true. In one poll, 69 percent of the respondents said they dislike Trump’s admittedly loathsome personality. But the Trump campaign has that angle covered: “He’s no Mr. Nice Guy,” an ad that ran during the 2019 World Series declared, “but sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington.”
It’s easy to write off Trump as a psychiatric basket case, or an Adolf Hitler wannabe. The truth is much starker: He is a formidable candidate for reelection to the presidency of the United States.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.