It’s only March 2019, but the 2020 presidential race is already heating up. As more and more Democrats enter the race, the committee to re-elect the president is hard at work. Democrats who think Donald Trump is vulnerable are in for a rude awakening.
Here are five paths to victory for the president.
1. It’s the economy, stupid
Trump suffers from a low approval rating — 42 percent in a recent CNN poll — but he enjoys a very strong economy. That same CNN poll found that 71 percent of Americans view the U.S. economy as “very good” or “somewhat good.” That was the highest number CNN has measured at any point since February 2001, when 80 percent of Americans thought the economy was strong.
As Politico‘s Ben White and Steven Shepard reported Thursday, economic analysts predicted a huge Trump victory.
“The economy is just so damn strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,” Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, told Politico. TrendMacrolytics predicted Trump’s 2016 victory when most polls gave Hillary Clinton a tremendous edge. As for the strong economy, Luskin said, “I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.”
“It would have to slow a lot to still be not pretty good,” Luskin added. His model, based on GDP growth, gas prices, inflation, disposable income, tax burden, and payrolls, predicts a Trump victory with 294 electoral votes.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, has 12 models for the race, and Trump wins in each one.
“If the election were held today, Trump would win according to the models and pretty handily,” he told Politico. “In three or four of them it would be pretty close. He’s got low gas prices, low unemployment and a lot of other political variables at his back. The only exception is his popularity, which matters a lot. If that falls off a cliff it would make a big difference.”
The strong Trump economy has received surprisingly sparse news coverage, but Americans still know things are good. Unemployment is down, wages are up, and the outlook is good. These things could change by 2020 — after all, the election is 20 months away — but as of now, the economy is a tremendous asset for Trump, and he should run on it.
2. The Democrats’ Southern strategy
Southern Democrats who barely lost their elections last year have become celebrities in the Democratic Party. Former Rep. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke (D-Texas) has entered the race. Former Vice President Joe Biden is considering entering the race with a vice presidential candidate — Stacey Abrams, the unsuccessful candidate for governor in Georgia. Andrew Gillum, the former Tallahassee mayor who lost the governorship of Florida to Ron DeSantis, still grabs headlines and media attention.
Democrats are inspired by candidates from red states who promise to flip their states blue. The problem is, that hasn’t happened yet — and it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
On Thursday morning, David Drucker, senior political correspondent for the Washington Examiner, told MSNBC this is a losing strategy for Democrats.
“I think Democrats would be foolish to decide ‘Now we’re going to pivot to a Sun Belt strategy where we’re gaining and we’re getting there, but we’re not quite there,'” Drucker said. “Don’t forget, Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, Beto O’Rourke, they came close. They were pretty remarkable campaigns. They all lost.”
O’Rourke, the biggest celebrity candidate of this Sun Belt strategy, failed to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), despite Cruz’s loss in the 2016 Republican primary and his unpopularity.
Drucker suggested Democrats focus on the Midwest, where Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 partially because she did not campaign there.
“Where did Democrats do pretty well? They did pretty well in Ohio, where they held a Senate seat; Wisconsin, where they held a Senate seat; Pennsylvania, where they held a Senate seat; also did well in governors’ races and I’m leaving out Michigan, another very important state,” Drucker noted. He suggested that 2020 Democrats need to act like leaders, not followers of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her Green New Deal.
Trump outperformed in the Midwest, and that gave him the election. If Democrats try a desperate “hopeful” Sun Belt strategy, they may lose big time. In fact, Hillary Clinton campaigned in states she was less likely to win, failing to shore up the states she really needed to carry in 2016. The Sun Belt strategy may lead 2020 Democrats to make the same mistake.
President Trump received a standing ovation at the State of the Union when he declared, “America will never be a socialist country!” Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence repeated this powerful line at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
This is a powerful message. Not only did free markets and individual liberty fuel America’s prosperity in the past, but even the term “capitalism” enjoys more support than “socialism.” A recent Fox News poll showed that Americans are two times more likely to support capitalism (57 percent) than socialism (25 percent). A full 59 percent say they have an unfavorable view of socialism, while only 28 percent say they have an unfavorable view of capitalism.
Despite this, some 2020 candidates openly declare themselves “democratic socialists.” Even some of the more moderate candidates — like former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — have refused to identify themselves as “capitalists” or believers in “capitalism.”
CNN’s John Avlon carried water for them, suggesting that Trump’s attacks on big government Democrats as socialist are “baseless.” Avlon assured viewers that Hickenlooper and Gabbard are capitalists, whatever they may say.
Avlon’s segment proved quite telling. His decision to defend capitalism and these more moderate candidates as capitalists suggests that even CNN knows Democrats shoot themselves in the foot by identifying as socialist and pushing big government policies. Trump’s attacks on socialism seem to have hit a nerve.
Liberals seem to have a stranglehold on American culture, and Trump’s complaints about Hollywood and the media hit a nerve. The president can hit the same nerve by defending American culture and the institutions rooted in the U.S. Constitution against attacks from 2020 Democrats.
As soon as Democrats took over the House of Representatives, they pushed legislation to change the rules of the game in American politics. Their legislation would abolish the Electoral College, make voter registration automatic, repeal state voting laws, limit free speech in politics, and provide government funding for political candidates.
These “good government” reforms would alter the playing field, giving Democrats an advantage. Trump can and should attack them as a not-so-subtle attempt to subvert the electoral process.
Leading 2020 Democrats have called for packing the Supreme Court, imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices, or reorganizing the Court altogether. Trump should defend the Court as it stands, pushing back against these radical proposals.
Perhaps most egregious, many 2020 Democrats have openly called for eliminating the Electoral College — campaigning for president by calling for getting rid of the way the Constitution stipulates people get elected to the presidency. Even if they are right, this is still perverse.
Last but certainly not least, President Trump should campaign on abortion. This year, Democrats have defended various kinds of abortion legislation that falls far outside the mainstream of American views on the issue.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed and celebrated a law that allows abortion up until the moment of birth, repeals protections for babies who survive abortion, and removes protections for wanted babies and their mothers. Cuomo lit up the One World Trade Center with pink lights to celebrate.
In Virginia, a Democrat testified that her abortion bill would make abortion legal up until the beginning of labor. Then Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) defended infanticide — the killing of babies born alive in a botched abortion.
Just this week, Beto O’Rourke doubled down on supporting third-trimester abortions, even though a baby in the third trimester can survive outside of the womb and such abortions are not medically necessary. A full 60 percent of Democrats, 92 percent of Republicans, and 72 percent of Independents support restricting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy or to cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother.
A majority of American adults (52 percent) agreed that life begins either at conception (42 percent) or in the first three months of pregnancy (10 percent). Only 19 percent said life begins when a fetus is viable outside the womb, and 13 percent said life begins when the baby is born.
This means 71 percent of Americans think life has begun by the third trimester, when an unborn baby can survive outside the womb.
If more 2020 Democrats take up O’Rourke’s stance, or if O’Rourke wins the primary, Trump should return to this issue again and again.
It is far too early to predict a Trump victory in 2020, but many signs are positive. The president also has many positions that enjoy broad support among Americans, if he can deliver the message well. These five paths to victory should help in the next two years.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.