In 2016, Donald Trump overwhelmed 16 qualified Republican primary rivals and became the first major-party presidential nominee with no prior political or military experience. Against even greater odds, Trump defeated in the general election a far better-funded and more politically connected Hillary Clinton.
What are his chances of repeating that surprising victory in 2020?
In 2016, Trump had no record to run on. That blank slate fueled claims that such a political novice could not possibly succeed. It also added an element of mystery and excitement, with the possibility that an outsider could come into town to clean up the mess.
Trump now has a record, not just promises. Of course, his base supporters and furious opponents have widely different views of the Trump economy and foreign policy.
Yet many independents will see successes since 2017, even if some are turned off by Trump’s tweets. Still, if things at home and abroad stay about the same or improve, without a war or recession, Trump will likely win enough swing states to repeat his 2016 Electoral College victory.
If, however, unemployment spikes, inflation returns or we get into a war, he may not.
At about the same time in their respective presidencies, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had approval ratings similar to Trump’s. In Clinton’s first midterms, Democrats lost 14 more House seats than Republicans lost last November. Democrats under Obama lost 23 more seats in his first midterms than Republicans lost under Trump. Democrats lost eight Senate seats in 1994 during Clinton’s first term. They lost six Senate seats in 2010 during Obama’s first term. Republicans actually picked up two Senate seats last fall.
Yet Clinton and Obama handily won re-election over, respectively, Bob Dole and Mitt Romney. In other words, the 2020 election is likely Trump’s to win or lose.