Just over 3 years ago, primary election results from the states of Iowa and New Hampshire, among others, began to roll in, officially beginning one of the most bizarre and contentious presidential elections in the recent past. Donald Trump, the ultra-rich dark horse candidate who had previously been known for the phrase “You’re fired!” was known instead for “Make America Great Again,” as well as “Build the Wall.” Even as Trump swept these early primaries, there were doubts within the party regarding his ability to win the election against the powerhouse Democrats- notably, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, among others. Moreover, there was widespread speculation about his ability to lead the country if, defying all polls and predictions, Donald Trump were to take the presidency.
Fast forward to 2019. Despite scandals, investigations, the recent government shutdown and a string of cringeworthy tweets, Donald Trump is the President of the United States. While his approval ratings are not far below those which his two predecessors commanded at this point in their terms, President Trump has scores of high-profile critics who, as a combination of passion and access to social media, are some of the most prominent voices in mainstream news. On the other end of the spectrum, Trump’s supporters are just as impassioned as his critics. In many areas, Trump hats, bumper stickers and yard signs are just another part of the scenery, and the president’s supporters in the mainstream media are just as fierce as their opposition. Despite the ideals of national unity espoused by the speechwriter for Trump’s recent State of the Union address, the United States is in a state of extreme division that is not helped by the president’s penchant for name calling and his often-brash presentation of his opinions.
This election cycle, therefore, is sure to be just as groundbreaking as the one that placed Trump in office. Two questions will prevail during the next year of campaigning and mud-slinging—the question of Trump’s place in the Republican primaries as the incumbent president and, more so, the question of his competition from the left—especially who it will be and which strategies they will employ to oust the president from the White House.
Since the beginning of his term as president, Trump has enjoyed support from many within his own party. However, not all Republicans agree with the president’s rhetoric, his policies, and his actions. This division allows the inevitable con-tenders in the Republican primaries ammunition against Trump’s re-election campaign. Although there are no declared candidates for 2020 from the Republican party bar Trump, headlines are still abuzz with names like Mitt Romney, John Kasich, Ted Cruz and even Mark Cuban. These opponents range from seasoned political veterans to TV personalities. Strategies from these candidates upon first glance could be attempting any sort of angle, from hardened politicians attempting to provide a foil to President Trump’s volatility to businessmen like Cuban playing the same outsider card that President Trump played in 2016—this time with a dash more of social justice. More of a social-centrist move, like that advocated by Cuban, could only help the party, especially with regard to tense subjects such as abortion, social welfare systems and the LGBTQ+ community—all topics that the GOP has historically been somewhat hostile to.
On the left, the field of declared Democratic nominees is filling out day by day with staunch anti-Trump candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. The field of undeclared candidates who have hinted at a bid is filled with other recognisable names like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke. These candidates, whether declared or potential, are fundamentally opposed to many of the stances held by the White House now, especially over Trump’s actions regarding immigration. Most have openly declared their support for the newly proposed ‘Green New Deal’ which proposes radical solutions to combat American carbon output as well as a greater government role in vulnerable communities, healthcare, and other sectors. While many Republicans, including Trump, vehemently oppose the deal, nearly all of the key Democratic candidates aforementioned have expressed support for the plan. While placing themselves in direct conflict with the current administration, the supporters of the deal seem to be turning to liberal hope, hoping that voters who have tired of the president’s rhetoric regarding environmental issues and marginalised communities will follow.
Through examination of these pol-icy divisions and more, it is not an exaggeration to predict that the 2020 race is likely to be just as divisive as the 2016 presidential race was. It is a judgement on President Trump’s leadership so far. This judgement will unfortunately split the nation along partisan lines in an exaggerated version of the Twitter battles that have been raging since Trump announced his candidacy in 2015. In fighting along these lines, it is interesting to speculate about the strategies that each party will employ and, overall, what any candidate needs to do in order to defeat the incumbent president.
On the Republican side, if the party wants to win it will most likely be in its best interest to rally behind Trump rather than splitting itself. It is very likely that President Trump will win the nomination from his party. In debate, Trump has already stream rolled over potentials John Kasich and Ted Cruz and would surely do it again. Mark Cuban is an outsider, and as more of a social centrist, he could have a very interesting impact on the party should he choose to run. Mitt Romney, the twice-defeated nominee, could have the finesse to knock Trump out if only his policies were to stand out and appeal to the wider base of GOP voters, including moderates. All in all, however, Trump as a sizeable base of Republican support and it would be a shocking upset to see that base turn to another candidate.
If the Republicans divide themselves enough, the Democrats just might have a chance to take the White House. Alongside the use of a possible Republican schism, the Democrats need to carefully curate their image both in the lead-up to the primaries and through the candidate that is chosen to lead the party in the general election. Contrast in demeanour will be very important—it will be vital for the Democrats to remain calm under Trump’s pressure during debate without seeming weak and rolling over. In addition, a more positive, yet firm, image might be able to poach more moderate Republicans from voting with their party—especially those who follow the lead of Bob Corker (another possible 2020 hopeful) and Jeff Flake in their well-known disapproval of President Trump.
Another vital aspect is connection with and mobilisation of voters—the increased use of Twitter by various politicians has changed the playing field in American politics. Only time will tell who the frontrunners are in the primaries for Biden, Warren, Sanders and Booker are all important names in the party who have faced Trump’s Twitter tirades already—a possible sign of insecurity from the president. Perhaps, then, more of a political underdog would do better in the primaries. Some point to Beto O’Rourke as up and coming powerhouse of the party, especially due to his border policies and his appeal to younger voters, among other attributes. Kamala Harris, a long-term politician from California, is another name to watch as her campaign gains momentum with every moment. The views associated with all of these candidates will make debates against Trump very turbulent, as will the scandal associated with Senator Warren’s ancestry.
All of these factors and strategy possibilities bring forth questions that can only be answered throughout the course of this campaign. In challenging President Trump, who will the Democrats attempt to appease in order to gain a majority? How will policy orientations, like the Green New Deal on the left and trade and immigration policies on the right, impact the popular vote? What promises will Trump make this campaign cycle? Speculation, as many pollsters learned during the last election, has its errors. What we do know is that there are already a lot of players to play (and complicate) this game, that Trump’s re-election is by no means a foregone conclusion, and that whatever choice the American people make in 2020 will be a choice on the values and future of the country.