From August 8-18, the 24 candidates for the Democratic nomination converged at the Des Moines Register-sponsored Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. A popular forum for politicians to speak to fair-goers, many reporters noticed a unifying theme - the amount of criticism targeted at President Trump.
“[Trump] is currying favor with white supremacists” (Independent), claimed former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar claimed that Trump was “using farmers like poker chips at one of his bankrupt casinos”.
Just recently, several candidates, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, called the President a white supremacist, thereby supporting Vice President Biden’s criticism. Others built on to these comments, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont claiming that Trump was an “idiot” (Newsweek).
Democrats clearly believe that the public despises Trump’s behavior and that criticizing him is a simple way of avoiding mentioning other candidates at this stage. They are, however, clearly mistaken in assuming that the 2020 race will be an easy, straight-up-and-down referendum on the president’s moral behavior, as recent polls in battleground states have shown. President Trump’s most recent approval rating stands at roughly 42%, which is where he stood at the start of his term in January 2017 and even during the last weeks of the 2016 campaign. Trump’s approval ratings are historically low, but unlike previous presidents, Trump has not seen as big a deviation in his rating. To put this in perspective, the Mueller report and testimonies, Charlottesville, Stormy Daniels, the Access Hollywood tape, and the countless other scandals that have plagued the Trump administration have had little to no impact on the way Americans view him.
The President is also aided by a Democratic Party that seemingly misunderstands the public mood. In 2018, Democrats won back the House of Representatives by winning over moderate, suburban districts. This was done by promising access to healthcare and touting the success of Obamacare. Candidates like Andrew Gillum for Florida Governor, Stacey Abrams for Georgia Governor, and even the much-fawned over Beto O’Rourke (now running for president) all suffered losses. It was not a good night for progressivism, but it was for Democrats as a whole.
Nevertheless, Democrats have continued to espouse complete support for Medicare-for-All (despite a majority of Americans disapproving of it) as well as the Green New Deal. Other progressive proposals like the cancellation of student debt and free college tuition are also unfavored. And yet some of the other Democratic frontrunners such as Senators Warren and Sanders continue to express support for these policies, as shown in the two rounds of debates in June and July.
Lastly, it is the electoral college that is the President’s greatest strength. Democrats must be wary of Republican midterm wins in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina, all of which possess significant electoral votes and seem to be solid Republican states for 2020 despite former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 successes. Trump’s strength in these states will force Democrats to carry the “blue wall” of electoral vote-rich swing states in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, of which 4 went to Trump in the 2016 election. “Sun Belt” states such as Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and perhaps even Texas will also be crucial for a Democratic win.
Ultimately, a Democratic challenger will find it difficult to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. All hope, however, should not be lost for the Democrats. Much of President Trump’s strength in Midwestern battlegrounds such as Wisconsin relied on the state of the economy. As of writing, stock markets around the world have plunged amid fears of a recession, brought on by an “inverted yield curve”. A weakened economy would play right into the hands of the Democrats, and a strong, organized campaign focusing on this message would help return one of their own to the White House.