President Trump will formally kick off his reelection bid Tuesday night in Florida, a state that might be the perfect metaphor for Trump’s chances for reelection.
On the one hand, even top Florida Democrats concede Trump appears to be a commanding position to win a swing state so pivotal that it decided the presidential election two decades ago. On the other hand, Trump could crush Florida and still easily lose reelection.
So, with just over 500 days until November 2020, two things appear to be true: Defeating Trump will be harder than many Democrats think and, yet, his path to victory isn’t obvious at all.
The case for how Trump will be reelected
It’s largely rooted in theory and history. For example, no sitting president has ever lost reelection with an economy this strong. The nationwide unemployment rate has not been this low in 60 years. The market is looking up. Interest rates are holding low. And, so far, there has been no long-term economic downside to presiding over the longest federal government shutdown in history — or for threatening trade wars with Mexico and China.
Incumbent presidents in the modern era have been more likely than not to be reelected. The last four out of five presidents had second terms (including the last three in a row). An increasingly nationalized media may have boosted the power of incumbency — and certainly the last two years have been all Trump all the time on cable news.
And, Trump is on track to have a head start over the eventual Democratic nominee. With 24 candidates in a primary that doesn’t allow for a front-runner to quickly snap up delegates, it is possible — even likely — the nominee won’t be decided until the convention. In this case, Trump would be sitting on a huge unspent bank account that could expand the map of swing states to New Mexico, Colorado, and Oregon (as his team has hinted in recent weeks).
Come the general election, Trump’s team will have been setting up a campaign and planning for four years, the Democratic nominee will be scrambling to reset a national campaign — and win — in just five months.
The case for how Trump will lose
There is a reason why Trump fired some of his campaign pollsters this week: Not only did they allegedly leak private survey numbers to the press, but the figures showed him losing to former vice president Joe Biden in a number of battleground states.
ABC News reported Friday that one 17-state poll the campaign commissioned in March showed Trump behind Biden by double digits in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and even Florida.
Indeed, polls show the president in a really bad position. Going back to Harry Truman, only one president has had a worse approval rating at this point in their presidency — Jimmy Carter.
But beyond the national approval rating, Trump doesn’t have much of a path to victory in the Electoral College, at least at the moment.
First, consider the raw math of the Electoral College in the context of the 2020 election. All the Democratic nominee would need to win is take the same states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and then win back traditionally Democratic-leaning states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. That would give the Democrat 278 electoral votes — a few more than the 270 needed — even if Trump won large swing states like Ohio and Florida.
And surveys show Trump’s standing in those three states isn’t good. A poll released Tuesday looked at all three states and found Trump’s approval rating underwater there. And in the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats were elected governors and senators in all three — Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Of course there is a major caveat to all of the above: Polls also showed Trump wouldn’t be elected in the first place in 2016.
And yet . . .
Going forward, there are three things to watch that could change the dynamics of the race. Economists say the United States has been due for a market correction for some time. Will the economy tank in the next year? And how about abroad: Will the United States be in a war with Iran? And, maybe more importantly, how strong of a candidate will Democrats put up against Trump?