This last week I have been in New York city for an IESE custom program for European public media executives and was asked a number of times if I thought that Donald Trump would be re-elected, November 3, 2020.
Before I answer the question, I must say I published a total of 8 blog posts in which I explained why it was not possible for him to win the 2016 election so perhaps I am not the best person to ask what will happen next year.
In any case I will share my view that the outcome of the election depends on three different topics. They are the economy, what I will call impeachment plus, and finally who the Democrats pick to run against him.
The first topic is the economy. Since World War II, American presidents win re-election when the economy is going well and lose when it is not. Bloomberg Business Week is projecting that the United States will avoid a recession in 2020 and therefore suspect that Trump will be re-elected. They project 2% growth for 2020 but also say that the trade war could push that number down and that a drop in consumer or investor confidence could bring the 11 year economic expansion started by Barak Obama’s administration to a halt.
2. Crime and Punishment
The second issue has to do with the impeachment process and parallel demand that Congress be allowed to examine 8 years of Trump’s tax returns.
As I wrote in another post, it will be difficult for the Democrats to impeach Trump no matter how clear his abuse of power with Ukraine has been. The issue is that it takes two thirds of the Senate too convict and the Democrats only have 47 Senators and 2 independents they can count on. Throw in Mitt Romney and a few others and they will still be far short of the number needed.
It may also take a number of months for the Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Richard Neal, to actually get copies of Trump’s tax returns and it is unclear what they will show. The New York Times already reported that the tax returns will show that much of Trumps business success is fabricated and you can listen to what they found out here.
For me the issue is that both of these processes are putting increasing pressure on Trump and his closest circle. That pressure could lead him to lash out in unpredictable, and possibly illegal ways. There is already reports that his tweets against ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, might be a case of obstruction of justice.
Based on his history, he might actually go even farther over the line possibly adding charges to the impeachment proceedings and even making it impossible for the Republican party to continue to support him.
3. Who’s at first?
The third issue is how the democratic primaries will play out and who will be the nominee. Joe Biden is increasingly seen as a bit out of touch and may not be able to keep the party together. Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren is, in my view, the most sensible candidate but she is perceived as too far left economically to be electable by most of the people I spoke to this week.
The challenge for the Democrats is to find someone who can both carry the party’s moderate base and also get people out to vote. Hillary Clinton failed to get the millions of younger voters and minorities who supported Barak Obama to the polls and that, plus Trump’s advice from Stephen Bannon allowed him to pull off his upset victory.
How to find someone interesting enough to get out the vote and also safe – that is the challenge. So far my own favourite, California Senator, Kamala Harris, has not connected with the mainstream and has poll numbers in the single digits.
So back to the question. Trump will win if the economy is strong and he does not do anything else as stupid as trying to strong arm Ukraine on an official phone call. He will also win if the economy is more or less ok, he is not impeached and the democrats do not find a strong candidate.
He will lose, or perhaps be barred form running if he goes way over the line, is impeached, or the economy falls apart.
Finally, if the Democrats do rally around someone such as Senators Warren or Harris, Pete Buttigieg, or former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who announced yesterday, then maybe they can re-build the Obama coalition and send Donald Trump back to reality TV where he belongs.