February 24, 2019

Beating Trump in 2020

Trump 2042378 640

Those of us on the political left have quite a few presidential candidates to consider, and we'll likely have at least a few more before we head into the primaries. It remains to be seen whether any of them will have a realistic chance of winning a general election after what is sure to be a divisive primary; however, I look forward to learning more about each of them and why they think they deserve our support. If the primary was held today and all the candidates who are running so far were on the ballot, I am not sure how I'd vote. Fortunately, I have plenty of time to figure that out.

I thought it might be fun in this post to take a quick look at what the Democratic Party needs to do in order to be competitive in the 2020 general election. I think much of this will strike most people as fairly obvious; however, I am already beginning to see evidence on social media that some on the left are determined to disregard most of it. Perhaps that means it is worth mentioning even if it is obvious to many.

Let's start by considering what those of us on the political left are up against. The last poll I saw (and these change too quickly to keep up with) had President Trump's approval rating as somewhere between 80-85% among Republicans, 6% among Democrats, and 33% among Independents. These numbers are extremely impressive for a president who has behaved (and continues to behave) like Trump has. It is also worth noting that Trump has delivered (or is in the process of delivering) on many of the promises he made to those who voted for him in 2016. He got corporate tax cuts through, he's packing courts with conservative judges, he's pulled out of treaties his base didn't like, and he'll likely build at least some of his border wall (although it does not appear that Mexico will pay for it). He's going to go into the 2020 election with lots of accomplishments. He'll be hard to beat.

Using the numbers above as a guide, it seems safe to say that the Democratic Party will need to field a candidate capable of getting at least 80-85% of Democrats to support them as we approach a general election. Given the deep and largely unresolved divide within the Democratic Party, this will be challenging; however, it is certainly possible. The strong dislike of Trump will help, and the path becomes far easier if we can somehow avoid demonizing the candidates we do not like throughout the primary process. That will be easier said than done, though. It still isn't clear, for example, that the progressive wing of the party is willing to support a more moderate/centrist/establishment candidate or vice-versa.

Suppose that the Democrats do manage to find a candidate and rally behind him or her in sufficient numbers. It seems like it would be helpful if this candidate could exceed Trump's numbers among Independents. That way, the Democrats would have someone behind whom they could unite while attracting good numbers of Independents. On the other hand, Trump appears to have found a very different path to victory in 2016 where he focused almost exclusively on his base. Democrats will have to decide how important it will be for them to appeal to Independents or to focus more on their base.

Sadly, a Democratic candidate with strong appeal among both Democrats and Independents can still lose. In the end, it comes down to voter turnout. Can the Democrats build the sort of enthusiasm that will translate into votes in the states that count? That may be the biggest challenge of all. Perhaps the "Obama coalition" approach is still viable, but I think it is possible that a new strategy will be needed. I realize this can still change, but it is difficult to imagine any of the Democratic candidates currently in the race being able to generate the same level of enthusiasm President Obama did.

Atheist Voters

Since this is an atheist blog, I cannot resist pointing out something I find important for us to remember in this context. Trump is going to have the support of large numbers of well-organized and highly motivated evangelical fundamentalist Christians. In previous elections, they have been far more likely to show up to vote than atheists. Are we willing to change that this time? Are we ready to organize and make a difference?

I realize that some atheists will undoubtedly vote for Trump again. It may strike some as odd that I am mentioning atheists in a post about Democrats beating Trump. I'd like to see atheists become far more politically active than we have been, and that includes atheists of all political viewpoints. I am okay with the fact that some will vote for Trump. Of course, none of that changes the fact that I'd also like to see Trump go away.