Jamelle Bouie observes
Trump’s approval rating is nearly 10 points under water, meaning that over all, people disapprove of his performance as president by a large margin (52.3 to 42.7 percent); in several recent polls he loses hypothetical matchups with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg; and as of April, 52 percent of registered voters said they “definitely” wouldn’t vote for him in 2020. He still has the economy on his side, but if the president doesn’t try to reach out to voters outside of his base — if he doesn’t try to appeal to Democrats and Republicans who rejected him in 2016 — there’s a good chance he’ll lose re-election.
There is a good chance he'll lose if he doesn't. There also is a good chance he won't lose. And there is a good chance he will lose if and only if he tacks to the center.
We won't know for 16 months. But we do can guess that whatever approach Trump takes will be the wise choice strategically. However, Bouie is uncertain, arguing that it is
striking to see how far the president is from the center of American politics. The most expansive Democratic proposals for strengthening the social safety net are far closer to the political mainstream than the great majority of Trump’s actions as president. And he shows no sign of changing course. Trump is still committed to his base, still obsessed with mobilizing his strongest supporters. This may get big crowds in friendly territory, but it might not be enough to win a second term in 2020.
Although we won't know whether the strategy the President employs will bring him success a year from November, we do know how Trump survived- maybe even thrived from- the most serious crisis of his 2016 campaign. In an excerpt in Politico from Timothy Alberta's new book about Trump and the GOP, we learn that the pressure upon the candidate to bow out of the race after release of the Access Hollywood tape was even greater than had been supposed.
When the Repub candidate was heard on tape bragging about sexual assault, much of the GOP elite it could win the presidency only if he stepped aside in favor of Mike Pence. With the second presidential debate looming, Trump could have relinquished his run or at least tried to gut it out by muddling through the controversy.
But he would do neither. Instead, he counter-attacked, in part by "bringing up Bill Clinton’s history of being 'abusive to women'" and by creating
without question, the ugliest and most vitriolic presidential debate in the mass-communication era. And it was exactly what Trump needed. Facing pressure unlike any White House hopeful in memory, the Republican nominee didn’t just get off the mat; he came up swinging. It made all the difference. Within 48 hours the bleeding had stopped: Republicans ceased their calls for his withdrawal, Pence dutifully returned to the stump and his campaign went on as though nothing had happened.
"With this," Greg Sargent comments, "Trump displayed a remarkable, if perhaps instinctual, grasp of how to survive in today’s GOP. While he did issue a video apology, what really rescued Trump was going ferociously on the attack, which crucially included threatening to put the real enemy in prison."
Donald Trump makes periodic tactical mistakes, but has a keen grasp of strategy. He understood he needed to go on the attack and project an image of strength. (He also may have discovered that, at base, Americans are simply not appalled by sexual assault.) The President will at times deviate from that between now and November 2020 if he senses that a feint is conducive to his image. However, it is not clear that his mix of ideological extremism, hostility toward American citizens, and overt ethnic and gender bias will decrease his odds of re-election.