It’s never too early to look ahead to the next election. Donald Trump hasn’t even been sworn in and liberals are already figuring out the best way to beat him in 2020.
But will he even run? Trump wants eight years in the White House, but we’re talking about a man with a track record as a serial-liar. Trump’s no spring-chicken and will be 74 in 2020, older than Ronald Reagan in 1984, and may well not have any motivation to win another four years in a house he apparently doesn’t want to live in. If Trump fulfils all expectations as an inept Head of State he would be facing a tough election campaign without the strong support of the GOP leadership. It would be unprecedented in modern American politics, but after the political shock horrors of 2016, not unthinkable.
Even if he were to ignore feelings in his party and run for another term, a serious challenge at the primary stage might spell the end for Trump’s political aspirations. No incumbent President who’s faced a serious candidate at the primaries has ever gone onto to win the election, regardless of whether they eventually got their party’s nomination. In 1976, Gerald Ford narrowly defeated Ronal Reagan at the Republican Convention by just 117 votes. After Reagan’s concession speech, many delegates felt they had voted for the wrong candidate, which was confirmed when Ford later lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Trump could face opposition from several places. Paul Ryan would be an obvious suspect; assuming the Speaker remains in that office (and it looks very much like he will), he would be able to present himself as a more reasonable Republican, a grown-up who gets things done and can (at least superficially) work with the unorthodox President. Tensions may have built up in several areas, including over Russia. Given Trump’s pro-Putin stance and the visceral anti-Moscow feeling among traditional Republicans; we can expect an early standoff if Trump rescinds Obama’s executive order expelling 35 Russian diplomats. More importantly, Ryan will do his utmost to ensure Trump cannot win another term as President, for several reasons. Firstly, Trump is unlikely to fulfil many of his key electoral pledges, namely building a wall on the Mexican border. Secondly, Trump will not be able to play the ‘anti-establishment’ card in 2020 – when you've been President of the United States for four years, you're pretty darn ‘establishment’. Voters still angry and dissatisfied with the status quo will not choose Trump to give a kick to the political classes if he’s already become a card-carrying member of the élites.
While Ryan might attempt to swoop in as the saviour of the GOP, he might struggle in the primaries, being seen by many core Republican voters, especially evangelical conservatives in the Bible Belt, as not conservative enough. Florida’s Ted Cruz, an ambitious Senator famous for shutting down the US government over Obamacare in 2013, may well choose to run again as a dangerous primary challenger. Portraying himself as a ‘real’ conservative and genuine advocate of Republicanism, Cruz’s campaign could portray Trump’s political ambition as a betrayal to the Republican voter base,
The potential Democratic opposition is less predictable. Although moderates could argue that Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes, her unpopularity and embodiment of the American political elite would make a similar candidate less appealing. Many on the left of the party see Sanders or Warren as the only candidates with the appeal to beat Trump and a Republican party with an increasingly vocal right-wing voice.
Sanders will be 79 in 2020, and his health and age would probably prevent him getting the nomination if he attempted to re-run. Elizabeth Warren will be 71, which would still make her the oldest President if she won, but only marginally and Trump and Clinton have shown that age is not an obstacle for a serious Presidential campaign. Then there’s the more moderate Joe Biden, the hugely popular Vice President who, supporters would say, can appeal to the ‘Bubba’ vote like Bill Clinton did in 1992 and 1996. He’ll be 78 in 2020, but, after joking about it, he still hasn’t ruled it out.
Or there could be a much younger candidate, à la Senator Obama of Illinois in 2008. Julian Castro and Cory Booker could give a new face to the Democratic Party, revitalising and reenergising it in order to take back the White House. Whatever happens, there will need to be some serious reflection and change in the Democratic Party, especially if they want to have a hope of gaining back the Senate in 2018 in addition to the Presidency in 2020.
A lot of speculations have been made in this article, and who knows what’ll happen? Nobody could have predicted Trump’s win last year, and there are surely surprises in store next time round. But there’s a strong case to be made that the 2020 presidential election could be even more of a rollercoaster than in 2016.