DONALD JOHN TRUMP
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is rolling into a post-Independence Day weekend at his Bedminster, N.J., property with reason to feel good about himself and his reelection prospects for 2020.
A number of things are going Trump’s way, leaving him better positioned for victory in a second term.
The first is the economy, which is showing little sign of slowing down.
The monthly employment report issued on Friday showed the economy gained 224,000 jobs in June. Even with minor revisions to job gains in April and May, the economy has added an average of 171,000 jobs over the past three months — a healthy figure.
Wages ticked up slightly, and according to the report are up 3.1 percent for hourly workers over the past 12 months. This is still sluggish, but far from dire news for Trump.
The stock market is also soaring, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average setting a new record high this week on optimism about an end to the U.S.-China trade war — and hopes that the Federal Reserve might lower interest rates.
Markets dropped Friday on the solid jobs report — which reduced the likelihood of a Fed rate cut — and it would be a fool’s errand to predict markets will definitively grow between now and November 2020.
In the big picture, however, markets are up significantly since Trump’s election and will be something he can point to as a positive from his first four years in office.
Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Friday that the recent stock rally and strong jobs report proved that Trump’s policies have fueled «a very strong prosperity cycle.»
“We have very good pro-growth policies, low taxes, deregulation, opening energy, trade reform,» Kudlow said on Bloomberg TV. «I think the incentives of our supply-side policies are working.»
All of this is good news for an incumbent president.
As GOP strategist Ford O’Connell wrote in The Hill this week, the power of incumbency is already a huge predictor. Only a handful of presidents running for reelection have lost since 1900. The number who have lost while managing a strong economy are fewer.
It’s no wonder Trump was in a good mood on Friday.
“We had great numbers this morning,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “Those were really unexpectedly good, and our country continues to do really well—really, really well.”
The second good thing going for Trump is the divisive Democratic presidential primary.
The White House clearly fears former Vice President Joe Biden, a centrist seen as a strong potential nominee in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which Trump took from Democrats in 2016.
Biden remains the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, but he has taken some serious hits and is now seen as weakened. If he emerges as the nominee, there will be questions about whether progressives will be motivated to back him — even against Trump.
Separately, Biden’s unsteady debate performance has undercut his perceived strengths as a candidate, and raised questions about whether he is a step too slow on the campaign trail.
A Biden campaign collapse would raise the likelihood that the Democratic Party will nominate a more progressive standard-bearer, something Republicans are openly hoping for. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) think a Democratic candidate openly backing “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal climate change plan will turn off voters in a general election.
Similarly, they are delighted to see Democrats talking about providing health care to immigrants who are in the country illegally, seeing it as an issue that will motivate Trump voters to go to the polls and one that could lose Democrats the support of independents.
This GOP calculation may be wrong.
It’s far from clear that Biden is the best candidate the party has to offer in 2020, though head-to-head polls pitting top Democrats against Trump suggest that he is for now.
Plenty of Democrats think the best thing that can happen for their party is to nominate a candidate who will most inspire their progressive base. They believe any Democrat running against Trump will benefit from voter discontent with the Trump White House — and that 2020 will not be a rerun of the 2016 presidential race.
It hasn’t been a rosy year for the president, who polls show would be beaten in head-to-head matchups not only by Biden, but by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Trump is also embroiled in a damaging controversy surrounding the treatment of migrants detained at the southern border, one that has the potential to turn voters away from the White House. And he’s suffered losses in the courts on everything from his long-desired wall on the Mexican border to his effort to add a question about citizenship to the U.S. census.
Trump will run for reelection on the strength of his economic stewardship, making the economy the single most important factor in the campaign.
In fact, some political models would predict an easy reelection win for the president given historic trends for presidents running for reelection during solid economic times.
Yale professor Ray Fair’s model, which leans on the nation’s growth in gross domestic product to calculate the likely winner of the presidential race, currently predicts the Democratic candidate winning about 45 percent of the vote in a two-party contest.
Fair’s predictive model was off 7 percentage points in 2016, something the professor blamed on Trump’s divisive personality. The current analysis, he notes, does not take into account the personalities of the contenders.
This remains the biggest reason why Democrats think they can turn Trump out of office next year. They feel the nation has tired of his divisive presidency, and some see his election in 2016 as a bit of a fluke.
Trump wants to prove them wrong, and it’s clear he wants the race to be a referendum on the Democratic candidate. Just as in 2016, he will throw money and dirt at his opponent.
In another positive for Trump, it’s clear the money will be there.
The Republican National Committee and Trump’s campaign this week reported they had raised $105 million for his reelection campaign.
It will be used to tar a Democratic candidate, leaving one thing certain: As negative as the 2016 presidential contest was, it may be nothing compared to 2020.