I’ve written in the past that it seems very unlikely that Donald Trump will step down at the end of his presidency, no matter how that happens. I think we may be able to dodge that bullet until 2024, because it looks like Donald Trump will not only escape impeachment, but he’s also poised to win re-election in 2020. There are a bunch of reasons why, but I want to focus on three major reasons:
1. The Mueller Report is not going to prove collusion between Donald Trump and Russia: This is probably the single biggest problem for Democrats going into 2020. After spending the last two years calling Trump a traitor, anything less than the special counsel report proving that Donald Trump himself spoke to Russian intelligence officials about the 2016 election will be a letdown that plays into Trump’s narrative about the entire investigation being a “witch hunt.” That’s not to say that Trump didn’t break any laws; he almost certainly has broken campaign finance laws at the very least. But breaking campaign finance law, and even obstruction of justice, aren’t the same as collusion, and they won’t rise to the level of convincing any Republican Senator to vote for Trump’s impeachment.
I misspoke in the opening paragraph that Trump would escape impeachment. The House, which is controlled by Democrats, may actually bring articles of impeachment against Trump (although even that seems very unlikely). Yet it’s the Senate which would actually try and convict the President if it comes to impeachment. A two-thirds vote is required to convict. That means that the Democrats, with 45 members and two independents voting with them, would need to pick up twenty Republicans to vote to reach the 67 Senators they’ll need to convict President Trump. There has been absolutely no evidence that Republicans are prepared to do that.
One of the potential events which might get Republicans to change their minds would be direct evidence of collusion. Some people are holding out hope that that evidence does indeed exist in Mueller’s future report. However, Michael Cohen’s testimony yesterday, while hyped up and entertaining, really didn’t change anything about the current political situation. He confirmed that Trump is a liar, a crook, and a racist, and that he probably broke campaign finance law. But we already knew all of that. Trump has never faced any serious consequences for those same actions, and is unlikely to face any now (especially since the Justice Department has a policy of not indicting a sitting President). Hearing Cohen confirm the same information again isn’t going to move senators now, or voters in 2020. And if Cohen is any indicator of the overall direction of the Mueller investigation, then it looks like we’re not going to get the smoking gun we’re hoping for. The people who are with Trump will remain with him. The people opposing him, on the other hand…
2. Bernie Sanders is going to wreck the Democratic primaries again: Full disclosure- I don’t like Bernie Sanders. I don’t think his ideas are nearly as radical (or well-thought out) as he claims they are. I don’t think he resonates with voters as strongly as everyone says that he does. I think he gets all of the attention he does because media reflexively defers to the old white man in the room (see: all the attention Howard Schultz got for doing literally nothing). I don’t trust any part of Bernie Sander’s platform, because I believe that while it may trickle down to people of color, it is primarily designed to help the all-important white working/middle class that politicians are obsessed with courting.
That’s just what I think though. Why don’t we get down to the facts? Here’s a fact: Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton. She was unpopular, had forty years of baggage, controversies and gaffes, and didn’t have the national media fawning over her as some sort of dark horse savior. And he STILL lost to her. I don’t really know why Sanders supporters think he could have beaten Trump if he couldn’t even beat Clinton. Besides, pandering to the white working/middle class is Trump’s bread and butter. Sanders would be trying to beat Trump at his own game, and that’s a losing proposition on its own.
Additionally, the Democratic party has decisively shifted in the direction of women, especially women of color. Black women showed up for Doug Jones in Alabama; Stacey Abrams came incredibly close to winning Georgia (with very real voter suppression happening); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are the new stars of the Democratic House caucus; Kamala Harris is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination. White women are ascendant in the party as well.
And into this clear ideological shift steps Bernie Sanders, waving the same flag he waved in 2016. You remember 2016, when it was clear that he couldn’t win yet he refused to concede and support Hillary Clinton? To be sure, there were alot of other things that contributed to Clinton’s defeat (the Comey letter, the free advertising Trump got from major media, the electoral college), but a huge part of it was also Sanders damaging Clinton in the primaries and continuing to do so even after it was clear he lost.
I don’t think Sanders has learned anything from that experience, either about the direction of the country, the party, or his own refusal to get out of the way. If he had, then he wouldn’t be running for President now. He would stand aside and let the generation of young women who are the future of the Democratic party have their time in the sun. Instead, he usurps them at every turn, and will almost certainly continue his mixture of wink-nudge misogyny and appealing to white identity politics, but from his position inside the big tent of leftist politics. That will put the eventual woman nominee (because just like in 2016, Sanders has no actual possibility of winning the nomination) in the same place Hillary was in, in terms of party unity and a bunch of left-wing dudes crying bloody murder all the way until November 2020. Bernie will beat up on the other candidates in his doomed attempt at getting into the White House, and then sulk when he inevitably fails. That worked out really well in 2016.
3. Donald Trump is the incumbent, and incumbency matters: One of the reasons that AOC skyrocketed to fame so quickly was because she defeated an incumbent representative to win her seat in the House. As of 2014, 95% of incumbents in Congress won re-election. Defeating an incumbent is something of a minor miracle in national politics.
But what about the presidency? In the ten elections where an incumbent president was on the ballot since 1945, the incumbent has won seven of them. 70% is far lower than the 95% rate for Congress, but still well beyond a 50% chance of success.
The power of already holding office cannot be understated. It doesn’t guarantee victory, but it is a very powerful advantage. Combined with Trump’s ability to manipulate people’s fears, lie his way into a holding pattern with just about everyone who opposes him, and an electoral map which favors Republicans in 2020, and it looks like the political winds are at Trump’s back heading into 2020. Those winds can absolutely change, but I’m pretty confident in saying that Trump will be reelected in 2020. That will present us with a whole new set of challenges, but I suppose that at least one of them won’t be removing a recalcitrant President from office.