On Tuesday, President Trump confirmed that he will run for reelection in 2020. This announcement comes a mere month into his second year in office, a whopping 980 days before the election. With Trump all in for 2020, he’s also hired Brad Parscale, his former digital media director, as his new campaign manager. My initial reaction to the news was this was a silly idea that carried political risks, but it turns out this was a good move on his part. Here are five reasons Trump’s super early announcement was politically smart.
1. It Ends All Speculation
Not seeking a second term is rare, but not unprecedented. Only three presidents (Polk, Buchanan, and Hayes) chose not to run for president a second time. Sure, most people likely assumed Trump would run for reelection, but the man can be unpredictable and some on the left quietly held out hope that he’d tire of this job and leave of his own accord. So, there was reason to believe he might end his unconventional presidency prematurely—Trump’s first wife, Ivana, thought he would. There’s also been media speculation that Trump doesn’t even like being president and misses his life in the private sector.
Even some Republican leaders considered Trump not seeking reelection a real possibility. Last year, Chris Christie suggested that Trump might want to return to the private sector after one term. “Four years is a long time, and especially for someone who has not spent a lifetime in politics, so I think those years affect him differently.” Senator Rand Paul suggested it wasn’t a done deal when asked about it on MSNBC. According to Paul, Republicans “need to know [if] President Trump [is] running for re-election.”
Well, everyone knows now.
2. It Wards Off Republican Challengers
If Republicans are speculating if Trump might seek reelection, it opens the door to speculative Republican presidential bids, even a primary. Senator Rand Paul even said, “There could well be a primary” in 2020. By announcing this early, Trump has now shut the door on that possibility. Any potential Republican candidate with a real future who thought his or her opportunity for a White House bid might come early will now hang up the gloves until 2024.
Sure, an anti-Trump Republican might wage an inconsequential campaign with the real goal of securing a gig as a contributor on Fox News or at some other network, but Trump establishing his reelection intentions early means no serious Republican will consider challenging him. Trump will be the Republican presidential candidate in 2020, and any Republicans entertaining the possibility of a 2020 bid for the presidency just had their dreams crushed.
3. It May Help Republicans in the 2018 Midterms
Trump’s approval numbers aren’t looking too shabby right now. In fact, according to Rasmussen, he’s doing better at this point in his presidency than Obama—who may have won reelection but lost big in the 2010 midterms. But, his recent statements in the wake of the Parkland shooting put him at odds with the NRA. And that’s not a good thing during a midterm election year. He doesn’t need his base thinking he’s gone soft on gun control. The gun control debate only benefits Trump and the Republican Party when the debate is with Democrats who are advocating massive gun confiscation. He needs to get the media talking about something else and, by declaring himself a candidate this early, he fires up his base during a crucial midterm election year by assuring them that he is in this for the long haul. They know the best chance to advance the Trump agenda for the next six years is to keep and expand Republican majorities in Congress.
Right now, Democrats appear more energized to vote in November, but their lack of a cohesive agenda beyond “Oppose Trump” gives the GOP an opportunity to buck the historical trend. Trump’s announcement will energize his base, and any boost in his approval ratings—even in the short term—can increase the chances of a positive outcome in November. His best hope of buoying his chances of accomplishing anything of note legislatively is to keep Republicans focused on elections and not on the media’s biased coverage of his off-the-cuff remarks.
4. It May Force Opponents to Jump in Early
The chatter surrounding Democratic contenders in 2020 includes an enormous list of prospects, most of whom seem bleak: Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mark Cuban, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama—the roster expands every week it seems. We don’t know for sure who will jump in hoping to face Trump in 2020 but it will be a crowded Democratic primary slate. Contentious primaries can get ugly and sow division in the party trying to unseat an incumbent who loves to campaign and doesn’t have to face any primary challengers.
It’s worth noting that history is on Trump’s side for winning reelection. Only five incumbent presidents have lost their reelection bids since 1900: William Taft in 1912, Herbert Hoover in 1932, Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H. W. Bush 1992. Historically, incumbents are tough to beat. Even Barack Obama was reelected despite an economy that hadn’t recovered yet and his unpopular health care law.
But, Trump is no ordinary president, media coverage of him is overwhelmingly negative, and any advantage he can get is worth taking. Democrats looking to challenge him might feel pressure to lay the groundwork for their campaigns earlier than planned to begin fundraising and seek endorsements, paving the way for an extra long primary that could drain Democrat enthusiasm and turn off crucial independent voters.
5. He’s Moved On from the Russia Collusion Story
No issue has dogged Trump’s campaign more than the endless investigation into alleged collusion between his campaign and Russia. It’s been a never-ending, costly distraction. Many on the left still believe there was collusion, that it somehow tipped the 2016 election to Trump, and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will find a smoking gun, resulting in Trump’s impeachment, then some bizarre and unconstitutional line of succession fantasy that will miraculously result in Hillary being installed as president. Trump has sent a very clear message that the Russia investigation, despite some minor indictments, is not a concern of his. He’s moved passed it, and looking toward his next election and beyond, not worrying about what Robert Mueller might dig up.
All of these reasons point to the simple truth that Trump is looking toward the future. His first State of the Union Speech rang with the same optimistic, forward-looking message. Democrats sat on their keisters and glared angrily as he led cheers for America’s virtues and for her untapped potential. So, as the left continues to stew over a past election and #resist, Trump looks to tomorrow and embraces it. He’s started the 2020 campaign season on his terms. He’s welcoming an election that’s a referendum on his agenda. He might be a political novice, but he understands branding and messaging. That’s what we have here.