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Op-ed: Why Trump Will Be Hard To Beat In 2020

There’s no denying that Donald Trump is a political juggernaut. Even though it seems ludicrous to some, he should be considered the favourite to win the general election in November, regardless of his opponent. And here’s why:

Trump shocked the entire world when he beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 in a fairytale (or nightmare, depending on how you see it) ascendancy to the White House. It is the greatest political underdog story in the United States of the 21st Century (barring perhaps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win in New York’s 14th congressional district against mainstay Joe Crowley) and, love him or hate him, you cannot take that away from Trump. And, considering some of his disastrous decisions taken while in office, one would think that it’s a no-brainer to elect anybody that wins the Democratic nomination in 2020.

To mention just a few things, Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, tore up the Iran Nuclear Deal, barred transgender people from serving in the military, made a massive miscalculation and pulled thousands of troops out of Northern Syria without an adequate exit strategy. He’s made himself cosy with dictators like Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman. For goodness sake, the man almost certainly would have been impeached if not for a Republican-controlled Senate!

Let’s not forget, however, that Trump made it into office, despite calling Muslims terrorists, Mexicans rapists, mocking disabled reporters, boasting about grabbing women by the genitalia and amidst a scandal of cheating on his wife with a pornstar.

And, let’s not forget that Americans voted George W Bush into office for a second term, despite the fact that he was the incumbent in the oval office for the 9/11 attacks and that he is an objectively unintelligent man in general. In short, what would serve as automatic disqualifiers to most people around the world is not necessarily the case for American voters.

And this is just the start of the argument for why Trump is going to be very, very hard to beat. The impeachment trial was a terrible political miscalculation on behalf of Democratic leadership and, as was the case with Bill Clinton, when he was acquitted from his impeachment trial in the late 90s, Trump’s popularity actually rose to a personal high of 49%. Unlike Clinton, though, Trump will be seeking re-election and the consequences will be far more tangible. The impeachment trial has only served to embolden Trump and his supporters. Regardless of the details, the facts, the testimonies, the end result is that Democrats tried and failed to unseat him.

Furthermore, Trump will get to tout his own policy decisions and argue that America’s economy is in great condition – with a higher GDP than ever and a soaring stock market. Forget the fact that his tax cuts disproportionately benefited the rich and that a booming stock market doesn’t serve the average American’s needs at all. Unemployment is low, but wages are as stagnant as ever and many of the people who have jobs have to work two jobs just to put food on the table. But, if the numbers are there, Trump gets to boast that GDP is high and unemployment is low, so he can forever boast about being a great businessman and the president that’s good for the economy. And the majority of Americans aren’t economists – they don’t understand the nuances, such as that GDP isn’t a reliable indicator of the overall health of an economy… they just hear black-and-white statements and vote with their gut. They read the headlines and couldn’t care less about the fine-print.

And this is not to insult Americans and call them stupid or ignorant – it’s just basic political hoodwinking and occurs all around the world. Trump is just especially good at it. Simple and narrow-minded as Trump may be, he’s an exceptional marketer. He’s turned the American political system into a reality TV show and even I just can’t change the channel…

And this is the crux of the argument: Trump’s never-ending campaign trail. Take a look at any president in history and you’ll note that their campaigns lasted for the months building up to the general election and, once all the ballots were accounted for, they shut up shop until the next election. Trump, however, has not. While he’s been in office, Trump has continually made time to go on rallies. And the New Hampshire primaries have reflected just how effectively he’s managed to galvanise his loyal band of supporters. Make America Great Again has turned from a campaign slogan into a brand. Barrack Obama ran his 2008 campaign on a single word, “Change”. That campaign promise faded mere months after he was sworn in, Trump’s MAGA branding has persisted throughout three ostensibly disastrous years and he’s able to pack out arenas in any part of the country while his passionate support base chants “four more years!”

And it reflects at the voting booths as well. Traditionally, voters don’t tend to show up to vote for incumbents at primaries and it’s usually considered a given that the sitting president will march through to the general elections without any fuss. In fact, sitting presidents have only lost their party’s nomination on five occasions and only once in the form of an elected president (Franklin Pierce – 14th President, 1852-1856). The others, John Tyler (1841-1844), Millard Fillmore (1850-1852), Andrew Johnson (1865-1868) and Chester Arthur (1881-1884) all lost the nomination as presidents that ascended to the presidency as vice-presidents that replaced incumbents who died in office.

However, Trump has not rested on his laurels and he’s been following Democrats every step of the way on the primary trail. While several democratic candidates were absent from the Iowa trail due to Trump’s impeachment trial, he was in the state just days before the caucuses. In New Hampshire, he visited the state on the eve of the primaries and he is also expected to hold rallies in Nevada, South Carolina before their primaries on 22 and 29 February, respectively, as well as in Colorado before Super Tuesday on 3 March. And the proof is in the pudding when you measure Trump against other incumbents in recent history.

129,696 turned out to vote for Trump in New Hampshire – compared to 49,080 for Obama in 2012; 53,962 for Bush in 2004; 76,797 for Clinton in 1996 and 65,033 for Ronald Reagan in 1984. Of course, one could argue that the American population has grown rather significantly since Reagan’s re-election campaign, for example, but the cold, hard fact is that Trump walks away from a critical state in elections (one that he lost in in 2016’s general election) with a record-breaking turnout.

Granted, Trump walked away with an 85,6% share of the votes, as well as all 22 of the available delegates, and you’ve probably never heard of any of his opponents – such as Bill Weld, Mary Maxwell or Joe Walsh. However, perhaps the biggest deciding factor in any election in the US. Trump managed to get well over 100,000 voters to take to the voting booths on a Tuesday for an inconsequential election that was effectively a formality. To give you some perspective, only 743,117 turned out in total for the general election on 8 November 2016 and 285,916 for the Republican primary on 9 February that year. It’s an important, yet completely understated, fact that Trump is able to rally such a religious army of supporters through his arrogant, divisive, unabashed and attention-seeking speeches. He’s drawn attention away from the democratic winners and geared supporters up for the general election.

Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders campaigns at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. (Photo by Preston Ehrler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Preston Ehrler | LightRocket | Getty Images [CNBC]

In comparison, even though the Democratic primary was far more closely contested, the closest candidate to boast Trump’s figures with regards to votes was the winner, Bernie Sanders who accumulated 76,355 out of 298,523 votes in total.

And, while Sanders definitely has his own immovable army of supporters and a grassroots movement that is inspiring voters, especially young voters and people of colour, to turn up at the voting stations, there remains a chance that uninspiring centrist candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar or former New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg could win the democratic nomination. For voters to turn up at primaries and for them to cast their votes at the general election are two different stories, but Trump’s ability to instill passion in Americans that have grown disillusioned with the political system. Not to mention, Teflon Don is practically immune to any criticism while the media has not even hesitated to smear the Sanders campaign with everything they can. There’s no telling whether the establishment or the establishment media will back Trump or Sanders in a general election showdown.

There’s no question that Sanders is a bigger threat to the establishment than Trump, who will undoubtedly push for more war, tax cuts and the perpetuation of the inherent corruption that has plagued American politics for far too long.

At the end of the day, for all his faults, regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, to underestimate Donald Trump and not to consider him as the favourite for the election on 3 November will only serve to weaken the Democrats’ chances and a repeat of Hillary Clinton’s embarrassing showing in 2016.

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