I ask what is Trump scared of because of the president’s bizarre reelection campaign. In fact, it is impossible to determine what the president’s plans are from his behavior.
Additionally, the few things we know about Trump’s 2020 plans add to the confusion. The confusing highlights of Trump 2020 include:
First, Donald J. Trump has not said if he intends to seek reelection. Instead, Trump makes cryptic remarks about November 2020 in speeches like the one to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Importantly, Trump mentions “November 2020,” but he does not name a candidate.
Is There a Trump Campaign without Trump?
Second, there is a massive, well-financed, and well-organized Trump reelection effort they label “Trump Victory.” However, Trump Victory is run by the Republican National Committee (RNC), not Trump. In fact, Politico claims, the RNC is merging with the Trump campaign.
Third, the Trump campaign appears to have begun without Trump. For instance, Trump Victory spent $161,285 on Twitter advertising between April 7 and April 13, NBC News estimates. However, the Donald has not made it official.
Fourth, the Republican Establishment is working hard to crush any attempt at a primary challenge to Trump. For instance, GOP leaders are inserting “Trumpist yes men in regional party leadership positions—including in the crucial early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina,” Reason’s Matt Welch observes.
“Some of those apparatchiks have wondered out loud whether the party even should hold primaries next year,” Welch notes. Hence, the Grand Old Party (GOP) is doing everything in its power to make the primaries safe for Trump.
What are Republicans scared of?
My conclusion is that Republican leaders are to trying to force Trump to run in 2020. To explain, Republican strategists could believe the only way they can win next year is with Trump on the ticket.
Thus, GOP leaders are doing everything in their power to force Trump to seek reelection. Specifically, party leaders could fear a repeat of 2018 when Republicans lost the House of Representatives and governors’ mansions all over the United States.
An obvious goal of Trump Victory is to get the highest turnout possible from the Republican base. That base includes poor whites, rural residents, and working-class whites who can be hard to mobilize. Notably, Trump is one of the few politicians capable of mobilizing the GOP’s base.
Are Republicans afraid of 2012 all over again?
Oddly, Republicans could be afraid of a repeat of 2008 or 2012. To clarify, in both years the GOP ran a boring upper-class white guy for president and lost.
In particular, 2012 when polls falsely predicted a close race between Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts) haunts Republicans. To explain, Real Clear Politics’ Average of Polls for 31 October through 5 November put Obama at 48.8% and Romney at 48.1.%
However, Obama won the election with a clear majority of both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Specifically Obama received 65.466 million popular votes and 332 Electoral College votes, 270 to Win calculates. Romney lost with 60.589 popular votes and 206 Electoral College Votes.
Thus, the Republican establishment suffered a stunning defeat in 2012. Its base abandoned the party’s handpicked candidate. Looking back, the Republican leadership has never recovered from that defeat.
Why Republicans are Afraid of a Contested Primary
Under these circumstances, the Republican leaders are trying to avoid a primary contest at all cost.
The RNC wants to a avoid a contested primary, because no incumbent President has won reelection after a contested primary in over half a century. In fact, the last President reelected after a contested primary was Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ, (D-Texas) in 1964.
Since, then every President who faced a serious primary challenge lost the reelection, or dropped out. This includes, LBJ in 1968, Gerald Ford (R-Michigan) in 1976, Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia) in 1980, and George H. W. Bush (R-Texas) in 1992.
Notably, a primary challenge does not have to be that formidable to hurt a sitting president. Specifically, historians believe Patrick J. Buchanan fatally damaged George H. W. Bush’s reelection efforts in 1992 by winning just 37% of the vote in one primary, New Hampshire.
Therefore, even modest primary challenges like that of William Weld (R-Massachusetts) scare Republican leaders to death. To explain, Weld is the only official Republican presidential candidate. Interestingly, the Emerson Poll estimates just 15% of Republicans favor Weld over Trump.
Are Republicans Setting Themselves up for Defeat in 2020?
Strangely, the Republicans could repeat the mistakes Democrats made in the 2016 presidential race.
First, Democratic leaders insisted on ramming an unpopular and controversial candidate; Clinton, down the base’s throat. Second, party leaders went out their way to block any primary challenge to Hillary.
Third, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) worked closely with Hillary. In fact, former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile alleges the DNC and Hillary sabotaged U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) primary challenge to Hillary.
Fourth, the Democrats bet everything on Clinton’s star power and a centralized, high-tech, campaign organization. Hence, the Democrats were incapable of responding to Trump’s strong grassroots appeal and unorthodox tactics.
Oddly, the Republicans appear to be repeating the Democrats’ mistakes in 2016. In particular, some GOP leaders think Trump’s star power and a centralized high-tech campaign will overcome the growing unpopularity of their out of touch conservative agenda.
How the Republicans could Lose in 2020
Consequently, there are three likely ways that Republicans could lose in 2020.
First, Trump does not run, and the GOP nominates a boring white male party hack like Vice President Mike Pence (R-Indiana). However, Trump could help a GOP nominee by campaigning for him.
On the other hand, the Democratic experience in 2016 proves a president’s popularity does not always rub off on a party’s candidate. Remember, Obama’s appearances on the campaign trail did little to help Clinton in 2016.
Second, Republicans can damage themselves severely with a nasty primary battle. Notably, a popular challenger could come out of the woodwork and turn large segments of the party’s base against its leaders. This is exactly what happened with Sanders v. Clinton in 2016.
Third, the RNC’s centralized Trump Victory team could run a clumsy top-down campaign that offends and drives away large numbers of voters. That’s exactly what happened to Hillary in 2016. Many Democrats stayed away because they resented being told how to vote by party leaders.
Does this Poll Predict the Outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election?
It is easy to see why the RNC wants Trump to run again. Under the current conditions, the Donald is a very competitive presidential candidate.
In fact, the April 11 to April 14 Emerson Poll shows Trump beating two of the six most probable Democratic candidates. Specially Emerson estimates Trump could beat Pete Buttigieg (D-Indiana) 51% to 49% and US Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts) 52% to 48%.
Significantly, Emerson shows Trump and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) Harris tied at 50% to 50%. This is big because I think Harris is the most probable Democratic nominee.
However, Emerson shows Trump losing to three other Democrats. For instance, Former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) beats Trump by 53% to 47%. Texas golden boy Benito O’Rourke (D-Paso) is 51% to 49% over Trump. Finally, Sanders could beat Trump by 51% to 48%.
Pollsters Ignore Andrew Yang the Trump of 2020
Unfortunately, the Emerson Poll ignores several potent Democratic challengers. In particular, it ignores the most dangerous dark horse candidate Andrew Yang (D-New York).
Yang polls low; around 3% according to Emerson, but he has a huge internet presence, and rivals Sanders in fund raising. Namely, Yang is raising enough money to qualify for the Democratic debates, FiveThirtyEight claims. Plus Emerson estimates Yang out polls well-known candidates like U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).
Moreover, Yang has some intriguing similarities to Trump. Like Trump, Yang is an outsider businessman with an unorthodox style, a huge internet following, and grassroots appeal. Plus, like Trump, Yang is a shrewd strategist and a media-savvy campaigner.
Notably, I think Yang has a blockbuster issue in Basic Income that could put him over the top. In addition, Yang is the only candidate discussing technological unemployment. That could help Yang like Trump’s laser-like focus on immigration and trade helped him in 2016.
In the final analysis, Trump is a very competitive candidate but Republicans are taking a huge risk by betting everything on him. Therefore, we are likely to see some huge surprises in next year’s presidential election.