“It is unthinkable Americans would re-elect Trump,” a friend said the other day. I told him to think harder. Here’s why.
Trump is president. Most presidents who want two terms get it.
He has experienced a win. First-timers find Presidential campaigns difficult; they make mistakes. Trump has a tested, winning playbook.
The economy’s strong. Whatever the full data may show, Trump benefits from the public’s perception of a healthy economy — a major factor in presidential elections.
He’s a media master. He knows how to keep the stories and cameras on himself while diverting attention from his disasters. Worst case, he can start a war; remember “Wag the Dog?” America’s gone red. In 2016 Trump won 2,600 counties, 85 percent of our continental land area. Republicans control both houses in 32 states’ legislatures — the most ever.
He’s near the finish line. With his rock-solid 42 percent he only needs 9 percent to win. The Democrat must cobble together 51 percent.
He has Russian support. Russia’s role in the 2016 election was no one-off. Their similar techniques throughout Europe and here will only intensify in 2020. Is it serious Russians can hack voting machines? Sure, but the least of our worries. When they can manipulate voters they don’t need to hack machines. Indeed, when they can foment our self-destructive civil war of words they can destroy our democracy from within without firing a shot.
Trump knows social media. He has already spent about as much on it as the top five Democratic candidates combined.
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Trump is unrestrained. His willingness to violate our Constitution, laws, social and political norms of behavior gives him a competitive advantage.
He studies and befriends authoritarian leaders. He uses their techniques. Want examples? He turns immigrants, Muslims, asylum-seekers and Democrats into “the enemy.” To expand presidential power he encourages citizens’ distrust in professional journalism, the judiciary and Congress’ constitutional powers. He transforms the Justice Department into his personal defense team.
Trump feeds his base raw meat. Democrats have ignored their base. President Franklin Roosevelt gave Democrats a coalition of the poor, working poor, working class, farmers and trade unionists. Had Democrats served and maintained that base they would win every election from school boards to the White House.
He can avoid primaries. The Democratic Party’s primary candidates can’t. They must first raise and spend money on name identification and primary contests. Some will suffer bruises to their reputations. Party activists and voters are splintered. Those supporting unsuccessful candidates may end up with less enthusiasm for the ultimate winner.
Voter suppression benefits Trump. Many Democrats who want to vote won’t be able to.
Is it hopeless for the Democratic Party’s nominee? Of course not. We have an outstanding couple dozen candidates, any one of whom I’d welcome as a next-door neighbor. But to win Democrats must start with a realistic assessment of Trump’s strengths.
• Nicholas Johnson is a native Iowan and three-time presidential appointee; his latest book is “Columns of Democracy.”