Anything could happen between now and November 2020, but this new Fox News poll is not good news for the president. If the vote were held today, Joe Biden would clobber him, which is no surprise. But also, a geriatric New England socialist would beat the stuffing out of Trump. So would a preachy Harvard professor and a militantly progressive black woman from the San Francisco Bay Area:
Again, anything could happen, but you know what’s probably going to happen between now and Election Day? A recession. That’s hard for any incumbent president to overcome, but this one will already be starting out in a deep hole, and I think most of us can agree that in the event of an economic downturn, is unlikely to dazzle with his scintillating competence. New from the AP:
The financial markets signaled the possibility of a U.S. recession this week, sending a jolt of anxiety to investors, companies and consumers. That’s on top of concerns over Trump’s plans to impose punishing tariffs on goods from China and word from the United Kingdom and Germany that their economies are shrinking.
Though a pre-election recession here is far from certain, a downturn would be a devastating blow to the president, who has made a strong economy his central argument for a second term. Trump advisers fear a weakened economy would hurt him with moderate Republican and independent voters who have been willing to give him a pass on some his incendiary policies and rhetoric. And White House economic advisers see few options for reversing course should the economy start to slip.
Trump has taken to blaming others for the recession fears, mostly the Federal Reserve, which he is pushing for further interest rate cuts. Yet much of the uncertainty in the markets stems from his own escalation of a trade war with China, as well as weakened economies in key countries around the world.
If the economy goes into recession, what’s the compelling argument for voting Trump? I know what the argument is for social and religious conservatives: judges. But only a minority of American voters care so strongly about judges.
The real concern is the US Senate. Currently, the GOP holds a six-seat majority (if you count the two Independent senators, who caucus with Democrats, as Democrats). Thirty-four seats are up in 2020. According to this analysis, at this point, 18 of them are in play, and four of those 18 are toss-ups. Only one of those four toss-ups — Doug Jones in Alabama — is a Democrat. Jones will probably lose no matter what — Alabama went for Trump by 30 points, and Jones only won because his GOP opponent was creepy Roy Moore.
An anti-Trump landslide at the top of the ticket could wash the GOP Senate majority away. We would then have a Democratic president and Congress — and they would be in a score-settling mood.
One more time: anything could happen between now and Election Day 2020. But a recession, which is growing more likely by the day, would be something extremely hard for Trump to overcome. The new Fox poll has Trump at 56 percent unfavorable, with only 42 percent favorable — and this is in good economic times.
UPDATE: Douthat speculates today on what a recession would mean for the country, starting with the presidency:
First, the easy part: Donald Trump loses re-election. It will be ugly and flailing and desperate and — depending on recession-era geopolitics — potentially quite dangerous, but there is no way a president so widely disliked survives the evaporation of his boom. The rules of politics have changed, but they haven’t been suspended. Polarization will keep Trump from being defeated in a landslide, but not from being beaten handily, and in a recession the Democrats can nominate any of their candidates and expect to evict the president with ease.
Read the whole thing to see why he concludes:
Having guaranteed Trump’s removal from office, in other words, the recession would also set the stage for Trumpism’s eventual return.
I see a number of pro-Trump commenters below are pointing out that the pundits didn’t see Trump coming, so their forecasts of Trump’s defeat in 2020 shouldn’t be taken seriously. Sure, that’s true — but Trump in 2016 was elected in a booming economy. Had the economy not been in good shape, Trump might have been elected anyway, riding high on economic anxiety. Neither of these factors will be present should Trump have to run for re-election in a recessionary economy. And, Trump was running against a candidate representing the incumbent White House party. Now, he is a member of the incumbent White House party.
But, as Douthat points out, getting rid of Trump doesn’t do much to address the factors that led to his rise in the first place.
Let me point out for the hundred-eleventieth time: anything can happen between now and November 2020. Polls aren’t worth much now. But they do remind us that Trump is extremely unpopular, and will have trouble getting re-elected even if the economy is in good shape next year. If it’s not, what, exactly, will he run on?