I can still hear the faint not my president chant ringing through the streets of towns across America following the election of Donald Trump three years ago. It shook up the nation and politics generally, with ramifications across the globe. For many of the disappointed, it was a matter of holding tight before he would no doubt be rejected in 2020. Or even better, he’d be impeached before the next election even took place.
But let me tell you now: The Donald isn’t going anywhere. While he’s failed to broaden his base beyond his immediate supporters, history is on his side. The economy is doing well, unemployment is down, and he’s got more in the bank than any other past incumbent president at this stage in the campaign trail: all of which are key indicators of upcoming success. Let’s take a closer look.
It’s the economy, stupid
Very rarely has an incumbent presidential candidate gone on to win a second term when the economy is in decline. And fortunately for Donald, the US economy is very much on the up, and most importantly, in the right places. Given Trump has made few new friends, the key question for 2020 will be whether he has retained his old ones.
Here the economies of the rural, ‘forgotten’ states are significant, and they have boomed. Earlier this year it was reported that 10 states hit their lowest rates of unemployment in their histories: Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin. Nine out of ten of these states voted for Trump. White men without degrees have experienced a 3.1% wage raise over the past two years, 1.5% for black men, 1.7% for white women, and 0.6% for black women.
But is this enough? As Thomas Edsall pointed out in his excellent most recent New York Times piece where he reveals these statistics, these were the same economic conditions under which Democrats reclaimed the House last November in the midterm elections.
As the famous political philosophers ABBA once said: “it’s a rich man’s world”. Nowhere is this truer than in US elections. Not only will the successful candidate rack up hundreds of thousands of airmiles travelling across states, they need to fund cripplingly expensive ad campaigns. The price of victory ($400 million). Ads are the most significant expense for any campaign, with more than 70% of Obama’s re-election campaign expenses and 55% of Mitt Romney’s being spent on them. Literally billions of dollars are spent during election season, and nobody is better prepared for this than Trump.
The US President has already raised a whopping $30 million in the first quarter of 2019, more than both of his Democratic rivals combined. We’re still more than 18 months away from the ballot box and already the Trump campaign has spent nearly $11 million on Facebook ads since May 2018, running more than 190,000. By contrast, Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign had less than $2 million at this point in the election.
So is he really here to stay?
Before you all get too depressed, we do have to remember The Donald is nothing if not unpredictable. While campaign finance and the state of the economy are traditionally reliable indicators for the success of an incumbent president, we should know better than to rely on precedent and predictions from past elections.
Indeed, one of the reasons Trump was elected was that he represented change. Americans were bored of the same candidates (and dynasties) running the country and wanted an outsider. But Trump can’t claim this in 2020. He isn’t change anymore, he’s the incumbent.
With the full Mueller report released today fully clearing Trump of collusion with Russia, the reality of a second term feels a real possibility. For all the shiny videos emerging of Democrat candidates now pledging to change America, the cold facts remain that they lack the clear advantages Trump possesses ahead of 2020.
Sophia Stileman, Researcher