President Trump gave his State of the Trump Administration speech recently. As usual, I only listened so as to avoid the visual distractions. Evidently, I missed some cool stuff: Speaker Pelosi’s walrus clap and the female Democratic representatives decked out in white. The optics are the show but the words are the content, and President Trump’s words were the opener to his 2020 reelection campaign.
I was mildly surprised by how few new policy proposals he made. He mentioned HIV/AIDS and childhood cancer and school choice and paid family leave, but mostly he talked about his main battle themes: immigration, America First, reforming health care and “ridiculous partisan investigations.” At the end of the speech he tried some lofty rhetoric, but few presidents do lofty rhetoric well and he certainly is not among them. In the last fifty years Reagan and Obama have pulled off lofty rhetoric – that’s it.
I have a theory that President Trump is running for reelection because campaigning and connecting with his base are the parts of the presidency he enjoys most – maybe the only parts he does enjoy. He loves the free form rallies where, unlike the State of the Union address, he can and does say anything. If he wins in 2020, he gets to be in the biggest spotlight of them all for four more years and even as a lame duck he could campaign for loyalists in 2022 and 2024. If he loses in 2020 he goes back to his other favorite activity – running the Trump business empire.
Many Democrats are hoping he’ll be out of office by 2020 or at least so damaged that he’ll be a pushover, but barring a very unlikely successful impeachment or a resignation in disgrace or (my favorite scenario) a retirement, President Trump will be an extremely formidable incumbent, and historically the track record of incumbents getting reelected is pretty good.
Democrats must identify an opponent who can go fifteen rounds of cage fighting, with knives permitted, and get the decision at the final bell. Let’s take a look at who might pull this off. At least thirty have said they’re interested.
Given what happened in the GOP in 2016, it’s risky to write off anyone’s candidacy as a joke. Nonetheless, we should start with conventional wisdom. We can rule out current or former House members. This includes Beto O’Rourke. We can rule out current or former mayors. We can rule out anyone with no previous experience in government – we are talking about the Democratic Party, after all.
We can rule out any African-American. Barack Obama checked that box for the foreseeable future. We can rule out Sen. Sherrod Brown. He is an institution in Ohio and respected within the party but his damaged voice is a serious handicap. We can rule out Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She has shot herself in the foot multiple times with her ancestry debacle. We can rule out Bernie Sanders, whose moment in the sun has passed.
That leaves, in February 2019, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from NY, Sen. Amy Klobuchar from MN, and former VP Joe Biden. Back to my original scenario: Who of these three can win a fifteen-round cage fight without rules against Donald Trump and his conservative media minions?