Donald Trump is on a winning streak for perhaps the first time in his Presidency. Earlier last month, he scored a win with the passage and signing of the USMCA agreement which replaces NAFTA. Shortly after, the President scored another win with a preliminary trade agreement with China which saw China buy billions in US goods and could lead to a dethawing of relations between the two nations. Finally, the debacle in the Democratic Iowa Caucuses, subsequent confusion over an app, and lack of clarity means the field remains muddled running into New Hampshire. To the benefit of the Trump campaign, Democratic donors continue to sit on the sidelines or spend money on likely losing candidates.
It is somewhat remarkable, considering Trump’s penchant for stepping on his own message, he has come this far. But the evidence to suggest a sitting President with a sub 50 percent approval rating is a slight favorite for reelection is staggering and staring us all in the face.
First-off, is the President’s approval rating. Even with impeachment hanging over the President’s head, his approval rating has slowly inched up. Gallup just recorded the President’s highest approval rating for his Presidency at 49 percent. Impeachment polarized the electorate but it also should have meant only the President’s base (around 40 percent) would rally around him. Instead, the President seems to have found support in formerly Republican or moderate circles. Due to the Democrats handling of impeachment, it began to be viewed as a partisan attack to the President’s benefit.
Even as this was ongoing the President scored his two biggest policy successes since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 with the passage of the USMCA and inking of a preliminary trade deal with China. On foreign policy, the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, initially viewed skeptically, has ironically boxed in Iran. The nation’s decision to withdraw from its nuclear agreement with the UN has angered Europe and while no fans of Trump, Germany, France and the UK have threatened to impose sanctions on the rogue nation.
Arguably, voters care less about foreign policy (unless shocked into it) than their pocketbooks and here the President is scoring his best ratings. While the economy has not grown at the four percent rate the President has boasted about, more importantly, wage growth has begun to skyrocket. Jobs reports, while hit and miss, are recording steady job creation in all fields. Meanwhile, both higher income and lower income households are recording wage growth right at a time the election is hitting full swing. Gallup has recorded a record high optimism for voters personal finances under the President.
Of course, the fact voters feel optimistic about the economy is somewhat nixed by the fact there are many well-off Democratic voters who feel fine about the economy but won’t vote for the President. They will be susceptible to appeals based on identity and ethics. As the saying goes, “You have to have the luxury of caring about ethics to vote on it.” But, this is where the fractured and divided nature of the Democratic primary comes in.
Far from being a united front to defeat Trump, the Democratic primary is a jumbled mix of progressiveness, centrism, identity appeals and democratic socialism. The party is being pulled in multiple directions and its electorate being fractured in likely irreconcilable ways. Exhibit A would be the Iowa Caucuses. The disaster which was the delayed results is bad enough. But, already, merely days after DNC Chair Tom Perez (a gift to Republicans who keeps on giving) declared a reconvassing of the results, after Bernie Sanders pulled ahead with 100 percent of precincts reporting, his supporters are crying foul and conspiracy. Lawyers from every campaign are camped in the state watching the re-tabulation.
It is hard not to notice from the results the strongest general election candidate, Joe Biden is likely to win the nomination. He is polling badly in New Hampshire, and his firewall in South Carolina means he could survive well into Super Tuesday. But, his struggles in Iowa among the rapidly diversifying and younger party electorate means he won’t lock up the nod for a long, long time, if he does at all. Meanwhile, Buttigieg, who really should have dropped out by now, is keeping his chances alive by performing strongly in favorable Iowa and New Hampshire. More money will flow to his campaign, and if he makes it to the general the Trump campaign will crucify his fake ethical and moral campaign campaign along cultural and globalized lines. Bernie Sanders, for all his connections to the party’s base and blue-collar workers in the Midwest, is promising massive change and nationalization of entire sectors of the economy exactly at a time when voters are feeling more optimistic about the economy. Waiting in the wings, is a Michael Bloomberg campaign spending hundreds of millions on Super Tuesday states further muddling the field and robbing any candidate with wins in the early states of momentum.
Then there are the special election results at the legislative level since last year. In both 2015 and 2017/2018, state level election results preceded massive upheavals of the political status quo (Democrats lost Kentucky, Republicans lost numerous local elections). This time, the status quo seems to be holding serve with Republicans out-running their 2017/2018 margins by significant margins. As written about prior, the Democrats dismal results last month in TX HD-28, where their nominee did worse than Clinton did in 2016, suggests a galvanized GOP base and limits the gains the party can make to put red states like Texas in play.
Statewide results in elections have not been any kinder. The most significant was Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election where conservatives came back to win a seat they had been trailing in. This was a highly polarized election where Republicans managed to win despite Democrats maxing out their performance in 2018 in urban/suburban Madison and the red Collar Counties of Milwaukee. If all states voted the same way and Pennsylvania and Michigan swung blue (Michigan more likely), Trump still could fall back on Wisconsin. Of the three, Wisconsin is most likely to stay in the President’s column.
There are even more reasons the President is riding high at the current time. Democrats miscalculated on impeachment and damaged their brand. Californians and New Yorkers might love impeaching the President, but Middle America sure doesn’t. Rather, at a time when even Republicans are calling for compromise, Democrats went all in on the most divisive action a party can take. It is little wonder they lost.
No matter which way you view the situation, the Democratic field is muddled and scattered, Americans are more optimistic about their economic future, and Republicans are united behind the President. Every Democrat has weaknesses which will be exploited to the fullest by a billion dollar Trump campaign which unlike other campaigns, does not seem to waste half its cash on needless consultants and pollsters feeding a narrative (Barack Obama and Tom Perez take notice). Coming into the heart of the election season, the President appears stronger than he has ever been and that is why Trump has to be considered a slight favorite for reelection. Sure, things will change over the course of an entire campaign but probably not as much as the media will portray. Burbling under the surface will be many non-partisan choices voters decide on (globalization, location, identity and culture) and in these areas as well the Trump campaign is better situated.