The 2020 presidential campaign has been underway for nearly six months, but President Trump has been wisely planning for his reelection campaign for over three years.
No longer a scrappy first-time candidate, Mr. Trump is effectively wielding the significant powers of incumbency. Our last three incumbent presidents were reelected.
Mr. Trump’s head start has allowed his reelection team to begin actively raising money (they’ve already raised well over $100 million), launch a sophisticated digital operation, and build a substantial reelection campaign apparatus.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have 24 active presidential candidates and likely face a long and divisive primary race ahead of them.
Despite these organizational advantages, Mr. Trump is no sure bet to be reelected based on current data. The Real Clear Politics national average of recent polls puts his job approval right at 44 %.
Head-to-head national polls and battleground state polls have a range of potential Democratic nominees leading Mr. Trump by varying margins. But I would not put much credibility in these polls at this point.
The Democratic nominee will be more clearly defined once the nomination contest is decided. His or her strengths and weaknesses will be more widely known, and the political environment will likely be different than it is now.
In fact, until the Democrats have a nominee, I would not focus much on polling at all.
The Democratic nominee may offer an attractive option to either progressives or to independents, but probably not to both. The tricky task of winning back Rust Belt states from Mr. Trump will remain a problem.
This does not mean the president should sit back and wait. He has another 12 months to continue building on his advantages in the race.
Here is a short list of what he needs to do to maximize his chances for reelection:
⦁ Settle the trade dispute with China. There’s much at stake in Mr. Trump’s trade war with Beijing. Unlike his predecessors, he is committed to changing the unfair trade relationship to our advantage. Several rounds of tariffs have risked wiping out the benefits of the Republican tax cut, burdening farmers in particular. The markets are hoping a China trade deal can be announced at the G-20 later this month or soon thereafter. The China trade war cannot continue through the 2020 election, but President Trump cannot afford to lose the battle either.
⦁ Keep the economy humming. The economic outlook remains strong, although there are some warning signs of a slowdown. Mr. Trump’s job approval on the economy is a strong 50 %. Wages are rising for the first time in two decades, private sector hiring is at record levels, exports are up, and the stock market is again nearing a record high. A president can’t control global growth or revive a weakening Europe, but he can continue to advance policies that strengthen the economy at home. If 2020 is about the economy, Mr. Trump will win.
⦁ Expand the map. Three states provided a path to victory in 2016: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Take any of those away and Mr. Trump must add another state to win. This presidential election may come down to those three states, but the Trump campaign is rightly looking to other opportunities, which may include targeting Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada or Colorado. If the Trump campaign can turn even one new state red, it will make the Democratic path to victory difficult.
⦁ Grow the base. The president’s rock-solid base appears to be 40 % of the electorate. That is enough to sustain a president in office, but it is not enough to win a second term. The Trump reelection campaign needs to find ways to attract new voter blocs over the next year, whether that be through Catholic and Jewish voters, Hispanic voters, pro-life voters or some other subgroup.
⦁ Define the opponent. President Obama won reelection in 2012 partly because he defined GOP rival Mitt Romney in the summer of 2012 at a time when Romney’s campaign was broke. Mr. Romney never recovered. The Trump campaign may have a similar opportunity late in the primary calendar and they should be prepared to strike.
⦁ Ignore the Democratic primary. It may be difficult, but Mr. Trump should resist the urge to share his thoughts on the Democratic primary every day. Right now, he is helping boost Joseph R. Biden by attacking him, rallying Democrats behind the former vice president and building himself up as a potential nominee. Mr. Trump’s ability to affect the Democratic primary is marginal and he should save his best attacks for the right time.
President Trump is at least a 50-50 shot for reelection, but he has the power to better his odds, no matter who emerges as his opponent.
By continuing to deliver on his promises, expanding the map, displaying a little more discipline, growing his base, and aggressively raising money, Mr. Trump can go a long way to ensuring he will be reelected in 2020.
⦁ Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney reelection campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.
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