Kicking off his reelection campaign in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday evening, Donald Trump was full of spirit and rage. We saw a president who believes he has been treated terribly unjustly by Democrats, the media, and everyone in between — and boy, does he want us to know it. "Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage,” Trump said. “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it. Not acceptable. It's not going to happen."
Annihilation, then, is the stake in this fight. But while there was a sustaining theme of anger in Trump's speech, there was also one of resolve: the president and his supporters believe he is deserving of a second term.
Donald Trump's more hyperbolic impulses of his 2016 campaign seem set to once again be unleashed. And if you think his expectations of reelection are delusional, think again.
It's the economy, stupid. It was no surprise last night that Trump devoted so much of his rally to the theme of economic prosperity. Because regardless of his particular reasoning for it, the US economy is undoubtedly strong. American economic growth remains the envy of the western world and unemployment is at record lows, including for minorities who are seeing historic employment rates. But this time Trump has more than a business record and strong economy at his back.
It isn't yet reflected in the polling data — which will remain relatively simple until January 2020 — but Trump no longer needs to grapple with the fears of those voters who worried in 2016 that he might blow up the world. Whatever one thinks of his North Korean diplomacy, the possibility of a nuclear war floated by Trump’s critics in 2016 doesn’t look so realistic any more.
At the same time, conservatives view Trump with far more favor than in 2016. True, even some of the most ardent Trump fans recoil at the president's personal insults and evident narcissism on Twitter. But the populist president's appointment of conservative Supreme Court judges, his tax cuts, his investments in the military, and his unwillingness to kowtow to Democrats are strong redoubts in getting out the conservative base. So while Trump is despised by most Democrats, he is hugely popular with most Republicans, and tolerable for most independents. Democrats might win most of those independents, but they'll have to fight for them.
The question for Democrats, then, is: who is best placed to defeat Trump and advance a progressive agenda?
The Trump campaign is banking on that being a far harder question than it might seem. After all, the Democratic Party has moved considerably further to the left since 2016. Last time around, policies such as Medicare-for-all and multi-trillion dollar spending on green energy were "socialist" outliers belonging to Bernie Sanders. Today they are prerequisites for Democratic party establishment credibility. But while progressive Democrats take cheer in their mastery of the party ideology, Democrats focused on White House accession have more reason to fear. Because you can bet that now Republicans are in reelection mode they will be relentless in fostering a clear narrative to the American people: "The rich cannot pay for these programs alone — you’re going to have to. And it's going to hurt your pay packet."
Democrats do have a secret weapon. One with a familiar name: Joe Biden. The proud servant of President Obama, Biden's loyalty makes him near-universally respected by Democrats. Biden has the party credibility, the organizing support, the donor base, and the charm to hurt Trump where the president can least afford it: in the moderate blue-collar families of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Use an interactive electoral college map and you'll see that if Biden wins those mid-western states and retains those that Clinton won in 2016, he's over the finish line.
But coronate Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris as the nominee? Well, then Democrats have a much more complicated ball game.
To borrow from an American baseball analogy, there are a lot of curve balls coming between now and 3 November 2020.
Tom Rogan is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner
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