Saturday, December 28, 2019

Race for the White House 2020 # 52

The end of the 1980's felt like a very big deal to me. Of course, I was pretty young then. The end of the 90's and the ushering in of Y2K definitely had its own feel as well. The past twenty years of history have been more like a blur, but of course much has happened, even if it is hard to immediately identify events with the 2000's or the 2010's. They sort of feel like the same. Most likely though, the "20's" are going to have a very distinctive feel. What will the world and specifically American politics look like ten years in the future? It is almost hard to know for certain, but as this Millennium began, we probably would not have bet on having had an African-American President within 20 years, and when this last decade kicked off, very few people could have ever dreamed that Donald Trump would be President.

There are lots of retrospective looks back at the decade this week. I am intending to do something pretty brief, as the Presidential contest is in a bit of a recess at the moment. When the "Twenty-teens" began (and this is something  I need to work on because I think it makes more sense and is a lot easier to say "Twenty Twenty..", even though I have been saying "Two Thousand... for as long as I can remember and it may be difficult to stop...) we were not that far removed from a large and historic Democrat victory in the year 2008. Many felt the election of Obama had signified a major realignment in America and that the Republican Party could even have a hard time surviving.

By the beginning of 2010 though, Obama was not exactly soaring in popularity and there had already been many signs, the Tea Party Movement for example, of opposition to his policies. Still, people tended to have personal respect for Obama, although political rhetoric was often heated. Republicans won the House of Representatives in the midterms that year, but were disappointed in not taking the Senate as well, largely because many the party nominated too many candidates that proved to be overly controversial or divisive.

Republicans had a great opportunity to try to make Obama a one-term President, but many felt that they would never be able to quite get their act together to defeat an incumbent. Ultimately, that proved to be correct. Mitt Romney was a strong and credible nominee, who had to fight harder than he should have against vastly weaker opponents in the 2012 primary season. He came fairly close to defeating an incumbent, and did a good deal better than the nominee in the last open election, but it was not enough as Obama's infrastructural advantages in the swing states gave him a stealth but significant edge. The Republican Party ended 2012 in better shape than it began the decade, but it still felt like a huge lost opportunity and many in the party expressed doom at the direction the country had moved in. While Obama's policies were far from universally supported, he simply managed to maintain the support of many casual voters who feared how they would be looked at if they voted to remove the nation's first minority President.

Obama did not move to the center as he began his second term and more frequently challenged the motives and compassion of his conservative opponents. His poll numbers moved downward as a well-organized and more disciplined Republican Party won a huge 2014 midterm landslide, in which they would take both Houses of Congress. Just about every competitive candidate that Obama campaigned for in that cycle wound up losing and he would go into his lame duck years apparently more concerned about his own legacy than the future of his Democrat Party.

A large and distinguished field of Republican Presidential contenders for 2016 emerged. Ultimately, there were too many experienced and respected candidates to matter. The populist twinges in the GOP which first started to gain notice in the Tea Party movement insisted that "outsiders" were more important than past results in other public offices. Few thought long-time political tease Donald Trump would run, but he did. Once he announced, many (myself included) thought he would be a joke as a candidate, but he had a solid base of support and to the pleasure of many but the dismay of more, took advantage of a divided and politically inept Republican field to become the surprise nominee. To be certain far more Republicans wanted someone else than wanted Trump, and they likely had him way down on their list, but the math worked out for Trump.

In the meantime, Hillary Clinton's second run for the Presidency was supposed to be a coronation, but hampered by weak political skills and controversy over her ethics, she struggled to put away socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. Ultimately, she prevailed with the not so subtle help of the party and was on to face Trump.

Clinton was supposed to win in a landslide and become America's first female President and for much of the campaign it looked like that would happen. However, she continued to be a weak candidate, who took many states for granted, and Trump, while strongly unpopular at large, was able to make the narrative of "Crooked Hillary" stick. She won the popular vote, and not by a statistically small margin, but he won most of the swing states and was improbably President-Elect. Once again, it was proven quiet difficult for a party to win three consecutive Presidential elections. Obama was still fairly popular personally but people wanted to move in a new direction from many of his liberal policies, and even many who had supported Obama previously found themselves drawn to Trump's populism, which mixed left and right wing elements.

Republicans tended to be elated that Clinton was denied and that they would be able to do such things as nominate the next Justice to the Supreme Court. Some thought only Trump had what it took to beat her, but I strongly disagree. The evidence clearly shows that a more "normal" Republican would have beaten Clinton and done so far more easily. While some Trump voters may have stayed at home or even voted Democrat, the number of center-right upscale voters, who had supported John McCain and Romney before, and who refused to vote for Trump would have brought about an even greater coalition. The opposition to Hillary Clinton and national Democrats in rural and blue-collar parts of the country (among white voters) was significant enough that those voters would have supported virtually any other GOP nominee. Despite what some Trump die-hards claim, there is not much evidence that African-Americans, Latinos, or Asian-Americans are more supportive of him than they would have been with other Republicans. It is hard to ignore long-term demographic disaster for the GOP is Trumpism, with its roots in white resentment politics, is not ultimately supplanted by something that can build a larger coalition.

The last three years of Donald Trump as President have been interesting to say the least. His Administration has seen some big political wins, as well as major losses, such as the Democrats' landslide 2018 midterm cycle. Trump has also of course been under the shadow of personal corruption from Day 1 and is currently impeached and awaiting a trial that seems set up for him to survive Constitutionally.

Republican renegades of the NeverTrump variety, such as yours truly, continue to speak out in moral and policy terms against the man's occupation of the Oval Office but for now, he continues to hold the support of the vast majority of Republicans. Some like everything he does. Some like what he does but not so much what he says. Many others simply fear for the country if the Democrats take over and feel they have no other choice. In what I consider a lost opportunity for the country, there is virtually no movement underway for a "centrist" Presidential candidate in the general election.

This means that within a few short months, Trump is likely to be facing off one on one with a Democrat again. Their field is even larger than what Republicans had in 2016, although many have already dropped out. Polls show that general election matchups could go either way, which should strike fear in the hearts of partisans of both parties.

Right now, be it due to specific policies or worldwide cycles, the American economy is perceived as strong. Holiday sales this past month set records as the does the stock market. Trump will get credit for much of this whether he deserves to or not. He is not disciplined enough to use this to optimal political advantage and thus, many people will overlook the economy just to vote out Trump. However, there is a chance that many voters who want a new President will reluctantly stick with him.

Trump's job approval numbers are not great, though people will argue about whether the current impeachment saga has helped or hurt him in this regard. Nonetheless, the eventual Democrat nominee will have personal and political baggage to deal with.  Many feel that former Vice President Joe Biden is the "safe" choice, and they may be right. He looks like the candidate best equipped to take back those who took a chance on Trump in 2016. Biden still has to win the nomination though. He may be able to do so, similar to how Romney was in his party in 2016, but it will not be easy, with all the opponents he is facing. Then, having Biden in the news every day, with his long-time history of gaffes and weird statements, may prove to be a white knuckle ride.

If not Biden, then whom? A completely fresh face like Pete Buttigieg? There are pros and cons to that possibility for Democrats. A billionaire unapologetic capitalist like Mike Bloomberg? He could potentially even win my vote in November, but he will only get there is the party is beyond desperate and Biden, Buttigieg, and others are all vanquished by an ugly primary process.

Then, that leaves Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, two left-wing Senators who are fishing from the same pond of voters. Sanders made a lot of noise the last time, but is still an avowed socialist and is the oldest (though not by far) candidate in the field. Warren looked like she had passed Sanders for several months this year and I thought she was the most likely person to become the nominee. Now, she has struggled and Sanders looks like he is above her again. I honestly have no clue who might emerge as the Democrats' nominee. Perhaps a wild, contested convention that turns to Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey might be their best bet. Of course, to the consternation of many on the left, I will say the best chance to oust Trump for the sake of the Republic, would have been for Democrats to work out a deal with NeverTrump Republicans in which they would find a "centrist" candidate to agree on in 2020 with the understanding that the ideological battles would resume after that.

So, get ready for a wild 2020. We have not gotten to this perilous time by accident. There have been so many missed opportunities for both Democrats and Republicans to take advantage of the end of this decade.

Biden vs. Trump? My hunch is Biden would win. Maybe a close one, maybe not so close. Warren vs. Trump? Coin-toss. Sanders vs. Trump? Say hello to "Four More Years."

For me, I am supporting Joe Walsh, on principle, in his quixotic bid on any Republican ballot that is not rigged to keep him off of. After all, despite his past faults, he is the only actual conservative running for President. I have no idea what I will find myself doing in November, except to say I will never vote for Donald Trump and will not be able to bring myself to vote for a far-left Democrat who holds positions that are completely counter to my values. Perhaps luckily for me though, I do not live in a swing state.

Ten years from now, as we are about to say hello to the Thirties, what will Americans say about the Twenties? It is entirely possible our entire political system would have been realigned by then, or maybe things will remain at loggerheads as they seem to be now.

If the Twenties are to "roar", hopefully, it will be in a positive way, not for any particular political party, but for a "New Birth of Freedom" that America desperately needs.


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