When an incumbent president faces a general election, the overriding theme of the campaign will be that president’s performance over the previous four years. This encompasses the state of the nation, as compared to where it stood under the chief executive’s predecessor. As Ronald Reagan put it in 1980: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Considering the current economic conditions, President Donald Trump’s 2020 challenger will not find it easy to defeat him on those scores. The opposition party’s problems could run much deeper than merely campaigning against the president, though. A perfect storm may be gathering against the Democratic Party fishing boat, one that could inflict fatal damage, not just capsizing its vessel, like Guam, but actually sending it to the bottom of the ocean, like the Titanic.
Aside from the tough prospect of convincing American voters that the economy is not doing well and would work better under a Democrat president, the eventual challenger to Trump has two additional obstacles to overcome – issues that may also negatively affect down-ballot races for the Democrats.
The Great Mueller Disappointment
One hurdle is the special counsel report on the investigation into alleged collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian officials. Robert Mueller’s team of attorneys and investigators – after 22 months and millions of dollars spent – drew a blank on the collusion question, just as the FBI before them had done. No matter how the Democrats and their media minions attempt to spin it, the widely promised evidence that the president received help from, or was working on behalf of, the Russians did not materialize. There is no escaping the fact that this is a massive blow for the president’s opponents.
For Democrats, the optics of continuing to pursue the matter – even after investigations by Congress, the FBI, and the special counsel all failed to turn up evidence against Trump – will not work to their advantage. Even reasonable Democratic voters cannot help but suspect that the entire collusion theory was driven by purely political motives. Once the Democratic Party presidential nomination has been decided and the campaign begins in earnest, Democrats in Congress – and on the campaign trail – will find it hard to dispel the feeling that ongoing investigations are little more than an attempt to influence the election.
The Struggle of Ideology
Another hurdle for those looking to unseat Trump is the ideological position of the Democratic Party. Since the 2018 midterm elections, it is clear that the party appears – whether true or not – to have lurched far to the political left. There are still plenty of moderate, down-ballot Democrats, but every presidential contender has embraced policies and proposals far out of the mainstream. The question is: Will the eventual Democratic nominee be able to move back toward the center without losing all credibility and – more importantly for his or her chances – without losing the growing progressive/socialist wing of the party?
Just as conservatives feel that the Republican Party establishment has failed them time and time again, so the more extreme left of the Democratic Party appears to be growing weary of its own establishment figures and policies. The party may be able to survive that growing internal struggle if, in 2020, it manages to achieve at least one of two goals: winning the White House or winning the Senate, while retaining control of the House of Representatives, of course.
Should the Democratic Party emerge from the 2020 election with neither of these goals attained, it may be the end of the line. The party may survive in name only, but the ideological cracks that appeared post-Obama could easily widen into fissures that will swallow either the progressives or the more traditional liberal Democrats.
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