In The Guardian, Cas Mudde, a Dutch expert on populist politics, argues that Trump is cruising toward re-election. And I’m fairly certain he’s right.
The idea that Trump will not only win in 2020 but win easily will surely strike liberals as preposterous. This is a historically unpopular president, after all. He’s a dull-witted liar whose administration is so corrupt it makes the Teapot Dome Scandal conspirators look like choir boys. Most damningly, he’s an ethnonationalist with unspeakably cruel immigration policies. Moreover, Trump elicits a physical revulsion among liberals and media elites. They hate him and the hate is palpable.
Despite all that justified outrage, Trump will nonetheless win reelection, in part for the reasons Mudde outlines: The economy is doing well, Republican voters will reliably turn out the vote, while people are unhappy with Trump, they don’t love Democrats either and Trump’s a skilled campaigner who never stopped campaigning for president.
Mudde’s right on all those points. But he misses something important. With his trade wars, Trump has proven he’s willing to upend a global economic system many Americans believe have hurt them. Trump’s tariffs may be reckless and driven by racism but they’re bold moves and big changes. With widespread discontent with the status quo, people want bold moves and big changes. And since Democrats are unwilling to enact bold change, they’re stuck as the losing party.
In his recently published memoir, A Crisis Wasted, former FCC chairman and Obama transition team member Reed Hundt outlines how Barack Obama fumbled his response to the housing crisis and the great recession. Hundt persuasively argues that Obama and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner’s insistence on a market-driven economic recovery was a disaster for regular Americans—and the Democratic party.
As the economy furiously shed jobs and thousands lost their homes, the White House was skittish about disrupting the free market and overly-concerned about the health of the financial institutions that caused the crisis. They were suspicious of bold political moves that would change people’s lives. They had the chance to make the systemic changes needed to improve the lives of everyday Americans but averred.
The banks and financiers did great while normal Americans suffered. After bleeding out thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in household wealth, employment slowly crawled back up. Democrats lost thousands of legislative seats and, ultimately the White House, because voters were frustrated with the slow pace of economic recovery. The market-friendly correctives finally worked their magic around the time Trump took office, so he gets to take credit.
When the Democrats had the White House, control of the House and a Senate super majority, they passed a watered down, ineffective stimulus package because they convinced themselves they couldn’t pass one big enough to work. Today, Trump and Mitch McConnell pass a massive, deficit-hole creating tax cut benefiting only the wealthy without breaking a sweat.
So all the disgust you and your liberal buddies feel for the coarse vulgarian in chief won’t matter if unemployment stays low and Democrats keep promising a return to a status quo no one liked.