An eclectic swarm of 24 Democratic presidential candidates has formed, ranging in age from 89 years old (former Sen. Mike Gravel) to 37 years old (Mayor Pete Buttigieg). Included are nine current or former U.S. senators, six women, six with racial minority heritages, and an openly gay man. Democrats are highly motivated to defeat President Trump next year.
The Democrats early “frontrunner” is former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, a gaffe-prone, 50-year political careerist who has twice previously run for president unsuccessfully. The current “runner up” among Democrats is 77-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-described “Democratic Socialist.”
Democrats’ optimism is buoyed by the fact that Trump, 73, has achieved something unprecedented for a president since the modern polling era began: he has never had a positive approval rating.
The president’s net approval rating peaked in January 2017, when he was sworn into office, when 45 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved, according to the Gallup Survey. At no point in more than two years since then has the number of people approving of his job performance exceeded those who disapprove it.
Mid-June surveys taken by Quinnipiac and Fox News show Biden with a commanding lead over Trump — 13 points according to Quinnipiac (53-40 percent) and 10 points according to Fox (49-39 percent). The Quinnipiac poll shows six Democratic hopefuls would beat Trump, the Fox survey has five Democrats defeating him.
Less noted is the fact that while Democrats are embarked on a long, divisive and financially draining contest among 24 presidential aspirants, Trump has effectively “cleared the field” of any serious GOP challenge to his re-nomination.
How could a president who is historically unpopular, careens from crisis to crisis, and faces a serious threat of impeachment cruise to re-nomination without a serious challenge? With the president’s approval rating among Republicans at an astronomical 90 percent (more than double the general population’s approval, according to a Pew Survey), what’s the point of a Republican throwing yourself in front of the Trump train? They haven’t.
Former Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., after tangling bitterly with Trump, chose not to seek re-election to the Senate in 2018. Both have declined to challenge Trump’s re-nomination in 2020.
A “trial balloon” in late December touting a GOP presidential candidacy by Purdue University President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was given no encouragement by Daniels.
A former “Never Trumper,” newly elected Utah Sen. and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced in January that he would not run against Trump next year.
The decisions made in May by Maryland’s moderate GOP Gov. Larry Hogan and Ohio’s former Gov. John Kasich that they would not oppose Trump effectively signaled the demise of the anti-Trump faction among Republican politicians. Both Hogan and Kasich had seriously explored and promoted their potential presidential candidacies.
With Hogan and Kasich out, Trump’s only opponent will be former Massachusetts Gov. (1991-1997) William Weld. Weld, 73, was the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president in 2016. His candidacy may be more symbolic than serious.
Trump’s avoiding a re-nomination contest is no small advantage. Presidents who have been denied second terms since World War II — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — had serious primary election challengers.
Trump has a huge head start for 2020 with $82 million already “banked” on March 30, and a stellar performing economy credited, in part, to tax reform and deregulation. Trump also has inviting political targets — the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party.
Whatever the polls say today — don’t “short” Trump’s re-election chances — not yet anyway.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa.