As left-leaning people hunker down for the Trumpocalypse, we naturally think about the 2020 election. I don’t think Trump is going to serve the duration of his first term—I think he’s going to hate being president and will resign partway through—but I could be wrong. So let’s suppose that the Democratic nominee will be running against Trump. What will that look like? It will look bad for the Democrats.
On the Trump side:
- Trump feels completely unconstrained by normal rules of political behavior or ethics, as evidenced by his refusal to release his tax returns, his refusal to divest from his businesses, and his nepotistic appointments.
- Trump has had Roger Stone and Paul Manafort as campaign consultants (the two have been business partners). Roger Stone was literally part of Nixon’s dirty tricks team. Paul Manafort has helped burnish the reputation of dictators around the world, and is one of Trump’s connections to Russia.
- Trump did not run on policy, he ran on personality, and to the extent that he offered policy ideas, he was staking out some ground that would normally belong to the Democrats anyhow.
- Trump’s supporters will put up with the basest behavior from their candidate, sometimes denying the evidence of their lying eyes, or saying it’s not so bad. Trump himself thinks he can get away with murder.
On the Democrat’s side:
- Many Democratic voters were understandably upset with Hillary Clinton when the hardball tactics her campaign used against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election were brought to light (apparently with Russian help). It’s not clear whether this alienated enough potential HRC voters to swing the election, but considering how close the election was, it’s plausible.
- Democratic voters expect some kind of Democratic-looking policies from their candidates.
Where this leaves us:
- We can expect Trump to make use of every power, legal and illegal, at his disposal when running against the Democratic nominee, and he’ll have people on tap with relevant experience.
- It is demonstrably impossible for Trump to alienate his supporters, but we’ve seen it’s easy for Democrats to alienate theirs.
- Democratic candidates will fight personality with policy, using at least some policies that Trump has already staked out as his own.
- Democratic voters will expect their candidates to behave like the primary campaign is the Spring Cotillion, but will need someone prepared to play hardball in the general election. The two probably cannot be reconciled.