Don't Bet on Trump in 2020
by Dave Spencer, In collaboration with Paul Gilbert
Practically Political, May 20, 2019
Looking ahead to the 2020 election, here’s a bold prediction. Donald Trump has no chance of winning a second term. Why am I willing to go out on this limb, given the unwavering loyalty of his base and with the economy doing so well? It’s very simple: I believe he will choose not to run again. What! you say. With his ego? Let me explain.
First, the Democrats have a majority in the House and we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg as far as the problems that will cause the president, both politically and legally. But rather than vote for impeachment, when the chance of Trump actually being convicted by the Senate is a long shot at best, a smarter strategy for House Democrats would be to simply hold impeachment hearings and gather more evidence and testimony to determine whether Trump has committed impeachable crimes.
While Trump’s unofficial personal attorney, Attorney General William Barr, has blocked release of the full Mueller Report so far, it will eventually come out and just as significantly, one of the smartest things Mueller did was transfer some of the cases to the Southern District of New York, which would give them the opportunity to pursue their investigations independently of his. And Mueller is going to be a private citizen shortly and the president cannot stop a private citizen from testifying.
The New York state legislature also just passed legislation that will allow president Trump’s state tax returns to be turned over to congressional committees, which would pave the way for House Democrats to obtain the president’s closely guarded financial records. This again raises the possibility that the state of New York, which includes the Southern District attorney’s continuing investigations, may turn out to be Trump’s true Achilles heel.
As far as the IRS releasing Trump’s tax returns, the White House is counting on that it can stall in the lower courts and run out the clock in 2020. Even if a Democratic challenge makes it to the Supreme Court before the election, the president assumes he will prevail. I disagree, because John Roberts is an institutionalist and based on his vote not to strike down Obamacare, I believe this court would decide 5-4 against the president because they would have a very hard time ruling against a law that is established. This is not a subpoena. This is a law that says, “The Treasury shall furnish tax returns” to the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and even a conservative court is going to have a hard time siding with the president on that one. As far as Mick Mulvaney’s defense that the “people have already voted on this,” it’s so egregious that it almost defies comment.
The article in the NY Times revealing that Trump lost over a billion dollars over ten years is not the real issue, it’s not illegal to lose money in business, although it does reinforce that the only real success Donald Trump has ever had is selling the myth of his success. But if his tax returns show he cheated, even some his supporters are going to question it and that’s going to lead to misgivings about whether he can win. I believe the tax returns are going to be the crack in the dam that Trump will be unable to plug.
Plus, look at all the other potential fissures in the president’s stonewalling strategy; suing to block evidence about his finances from Deutsche Bank (already lost in the lower court), as well as his own accounting firm, stopping testimony by Don McGahn, the emoluments lawsuit, overriding the White House security clearance process, and that’s only a partial list. These issues may be tied up in the courts for some time, but as long as they are released before the election, they will also put Trump in a bind that he will unlikely be able to escape. It’s actually very impressive that this dysfunctional administration has been able to stymie all efforts to get this information released to the public so far, but the walls are closing in. It’s like the old saying about death by a thousand cuts; Trump is not yet at the point where he’s going to bleed out, but I don’t think that point may be far off.
We also have to remember that Trump never actually thought he was going to win in 2016, so he’s already been to the top of the mountain. There must be days he sits in the Oval Office (when he’s actually working) thinking, “How the heck did I get here?” And with no experience in politics, he has been running the country like a family business, accountable to no one but himself. Anyone who thought when he was elected at age 70, that Donald Trump was actually going to transform into a statesman and man of the people drank way too much of the Kool Aid. And despite his declared invulnerability to criticism, the truth is that someone with such a thin skin must get tired of the daily deluge of disapproval, disparagement and condemnation.
Speaking of age, Trump would be nearly 80 years old by the end of his second term and every president would tell you that second terms are always harder than first terms. And if the Republicans lose the Senate in 2020, he won’t be able to get anything done legislatively. If he opts out now, he can leave with the economy still going strong and more than anything, going out a winner is what appeals the most to his narcissism, the thought of leaving a legacy of success. It’s the old idea of quit while you’re ahead. Then, he can then blame whomever is elected that should the economy go south, it was all their fault, not his. And he can start his own television network and make a fortune and as evidenced by his continuing to pursue building a Trump Tower in Russia up until the election, nothing drives Donald Trump more than money.
Another factor to take into account is if the polls show the president’s chances of winning are fading along with his approval ratings, this may also lead him to consider dropping out. He has already lost support in certain critical demographics and if you look at the three key states that gave Trump the election, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the 2018 elections for governor and senator in all six of those races were won by Democrats. And 2016 was before he made all those broken promises to working class people. Trump will now be faced with running on accomplishment, not promises, and no matter how he may spin things on Twitter, many swing voters are not going to be fooled a second time around. This president has a 40-45% approval rating, which is simply not electable. In 2016, he had to pull an inside straight, with 46%, and a good number of those voters in the three states that put Trump over the top, aren’t supporting him anymore.
Back to the legal front. If the president believes he will face criminal charges, he many be inclined to strike a deal that he and his children will be indemnified from prosecution if he agrees not to run for re-election. This may be highly unusual or implausible, but maybe not for someone who has likely considered pardoning himself. One of the things we must take into account is that while Trump is fundamentally irrational, he is driven by his own self-interest. Unless he strikes some kind of deal before he leaves office, he will have no protection from the federal prosecutors who also have the president in their sights. If it were in the best interest of the nation not to go through ordeal of bringing Trump to trial, letting him off in exchange for agreeing not to run may not feel like justice is being served, but it could spare the country even greater pain, especially when we are already so bitterly divided.
Returning to my original prediction. I believe in the next six months, all of these interrelated elements are going to reach a tipping point and both Trump and the Republican Party are going to have to make a very hard decision about 2020. I would be shocked if when faced with the very real prospect of losing an election or being found guilty of a crime, that he doesn’t fold his House of Cards and resume his pursuit of riches.
When it comes to playing political poker, Donald Trump might want to take some advice.
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away, and know when to run.