The Democrats 2020 problem--Generic Democrats will not be on the ballot
The 2020 campaign begins in earnest next week in Florida, when Donald Trump officially launches his reelection bid. On June 26, 20 Democratic candidates and five moderators hold the first of two nights of debates. Where do things stand?Are the millions of people who have found jobs since Trump's policies were put in place going to reward Democrats for their good fortune. It seems unlikely. I think they could be the deciding factor.
According to the polls, President Trump starts at a disadvantage. He has 44 percent approval in the Real Clear Politics average, with a net disapproval of 9 points. The most recent Quinnipiac poll has the major Democrats defeating Trump. The margins range from Joe Biden's 13-point victory to Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker's 5-points. Another recent Quinnipiac poll has Biden leading Trump by four points in Texas. Private surveys of the Lone Star State also show a tight race. Trump polls very badly among suburban women, and the growth in suburban Texas has been extraordinary. Which spells trouble.
If the election were held today, a generic Democrat would defeat Donald Trump. What makes the predictions game difficult is that Election Day isn't for 16 months, and generic Democrats do not exist. Political conditions are bound to change, for better or worse, and voters once again will make a binary choice between the incumbent and a specific progressive alternative. That alternative might not be as flawed as Hillary Clinton. But he or she will have flaws.
Do the Democrats have more than a fighting chance? Absolutely. They've won the popular vote in all but one presidential election since 1992. And yet they would be foolish beyond belief to assume Trump is destined for a single term. President Trump can't beat a generic Democrat. Lucky for him he won't be facing one.
What makes the 2020 election unique is the disjunction between objective conditions and presidential polling. Econometric models predict a Trump victory. "Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, has looked at 12 models," wrote Democrat Steven Rattner in the New York Times recently, "and Mr. Trump wins in all of them." The most famous qualitative model, Allan J. Lichtman's "13 keys to the presidency," also points to Trump's reelection.
The models aren't dispositive. Trump is such an unusual and unusually polarizing candidate that he underperformed the models last time around. He could do so again. Which makes his opponent decisive.