Photo credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
It’s more than one year out from the 2020 presidential election. So, it’s ridiculous to label Trump, ex-president Trump. But with polls showing every major Democratic presidential candidate beating Trump by solid, if not hefty margins, the juicy temptation is to put the “ex” in front of his presidency.
One reason for that is because no sitting president stretching back to the FDR days has had the lousy poll numbers that Trump has one year out from the election. In most cases the incumbents favorable polling numbers months before the election have spelled certain victory. What makes the hole deeper for Trump to climb out of is Trump. He’s the most polarizing incumbent President in modern political history. At the same time, he’s the most loathed President by millions of Americans. He’s certainly worked overtime to earn their animosity. It would fill up a small telephone book to list the countless digs, insults, barbs, and taunts he’s hurled at just about anyone and everyone, along with the racist insults and the fury over his naked immigrant baiting.
Even Trump seems to be dripping a little sweat over the polls and the barrage of gleeful quips that paint him as a sure loser. Given the depth of the hostility, and the polarization, there’s real cause for him to worry. But worry doesn’t make him an ex-president. The Democrats still have a hard road ahead to shake out their eventual nominee. And that nominee must do several things to be competitive. He or she must unite the two fractious wings of the Democratic party.
This means drumming up enthusiasm and boosting turnout among progressives, and Black and Hispanic voters. At the same time the Democratic nominee must not make centrist and party regulars nervous by going too far off the political deep end with untenable radical proposals. That’s especially important in the six states that will decide the White House; states that Trump won in 2016. Democrats will need every vote they can get to offset the passion and numbers that Trump almost certainly will get from the voters who put him over the top in 2016. That’s the non-college educated, lower income, rural and blue- collar whites, and white evangelicals. It will be a pure numbers game in those states. It will come down to which side can fire-up their core supporters and pad those numbers with voters who didn’t vote in 2016. For the Democrats, there were a lot of voters who fit that bill. They were young, Black, Hispanic, and LGBT. They made it clear that they didn’t like Hillary Clinton and that the Democrats didn’t have anything to offer them. Their absence was conspicuous and polls that compared the turnout for Obama in 2008 and 2012 showed a marked drop-off in votes for Clinton in 2016 in some of the key swing states.
There are already some patchy warning signs that a lot of voters that the Democrats desperately need in 2020 aren’t doing handstands over the prospect of a Joe Biden nomination. The cracks about his gaffes, continuing shots at his backing of the Iraq war, the crime bill, and his opposition to bussing, and being a beltway party insider, are a turn-off. Whether this is a deal breaker with many progressives and some Blacks, is hard to say more than a year out from the election.
The oft stated political article of faith is that Trump won in the key swing states in 2016 with his quasi populist bring the jobs back, industry, and American products to the U.S. pitch. But surveys of voter attitudes in those states that dug deeper found that this is more window dressing than anything else. Trump touched a raw, festering, nerve of racial animus that always lurks beneath the surface within many white voters in those states. Tapping that animus has been a staple in the GOP playbook stretching back to the Nixon years. Trump just does it louder, cruder, and more in your face than any of the other GOP presidential contenders.
He’ll do it again, and again in the run-up to the election. In fact, he’s said as much. His naked immigrant and race baiting worked in 2016 so he banks on it to work again in 2020. This has a big political pay-off. It keeps the racial pot stirring, deflects, distracts, and diverts attention from his bumbling, inept, policy failures, flawed legislative initiatives, the revolving door of coming and going appointees. Most importantly, it serves to pivot away from anything connected with talk of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and Trump’s Russia dealings. He’ll have a united Republican party, massive use of vote suppression ploys, and a King’s ransom in campaign cash in his coffers.
So, an election that’s more than one year out is still Trumps to win or lose. Or put another way, whether we can call him ex-President Trump.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is Who Can Beat Trump: America’s Choice 2020 (Amazon Kindle). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network