Whatever the polls say, Donald Trump could be re-elected.
Both he and the Democrats have focused great attention on the Mueller report. By finding that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russian meddlers, it may end up absolving Trump of many other charges or complaints. Some voters are sure to see it that way.
His chances for victory may rate better than his personal popularity, because he appeals to millions of Americans who worry about their meager savings and dislike changes taking place in the country. Despite low unemployment, these people have not shared in the nation’s prosperity.
Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has reached sobering conclusions, finding “the U.S. has the highest level of economic inequality among developed countries. It has the world’s greatest per capita health expenditures yet the lowest life expectancy among comparable countries.”
Even worse, the gap between average people and the most wealthy is huge. Stiglitz notes that three Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent. To be clear, that’s three people, not three percent. And the percentage of children earning more than their parents, a sign of economic progress, is tumbling.
American productivity is climbing. But the benefits do not show up in the wages of production and nonsupervisory workers. Investors and owners are picking up the gains.
Under the Republican tax cut, the breaks have mostly gone to the wealthy. Middle-income taxpayers saw their withholding tax lowered before the 2018 elections, but their expected tax refunds shrink after those elections.
Still, some voters do not hold Trump responsible. They believe their taxes can be reduced by cutting government spending. Reduced regulation, which Trump is providing, costs less. A tough trade policy slows imports, creating more jobs at home, though it may also cut exports.
The dominant political mantra remains “jobs, jobs, jobs.” It seems to matter little if the price of today’s low unemployment is less environmental protection and lower quality health care.
Trump promises recovery of the declining manufacturing economy. He appeals to people who regret the growing influence of women and minorities. He wants to build trade and immigration walls to protect the country. “America First” means an increasingly isolated country, seeking to regain its past.
Even though demographic change is inevitable, some see it as having been sped up by allowing an “invasion” of immigrants, legal and illegal. Trump’s Wall is a powerful symbol of resistance to change. The key word in “Make America Great Again” has been “Again.” Some people like what that implies.
Whether Trump utters untruths almost daily or focuses excessively on himself or treats others with disrespect matters far less to some voters than his policies of lower taxes, fewer imports, reduced immigration and less regulation. His policies may be enough to get him re-elected, even by voters who don’t like him.
Many Democrats believe that his faults, now widely recognized, will be enough to bring his defeat. His popularity remains relatively low. In short, they think Trump will defeat himself. That’s why there are so many candidates. Win the primaries, they think, and you win the presidency.
Their view gets some support from the 2018 congressional elections. Republicans lost control of the House and gained less than expected in the Senate, because of voters’ negative view of Trump. Will the Mueller report change opinions about him?
Some Democratic candidates believe voters are ready for a sharp, almost revolutionary, reversal. They argue for an increased role for government to deal with climate change, public health care and education. The necessary funds would come from an increase in taxes on the most wealthy.
These Democrats see the reaction to Trump giving them the opportunity to focus on increased government action, not leaving the country entirely to the private sector and competition. They may remind voters of the sad story of leaving regulation of the crash-prone 737 Max 8 to Boeing, its manufacturer.
The Democrats divide between moderates and self-styled democratic socialists. They split between middle-of-the-road policies and an extreme shift away from Trump. Will the Democrats remain divided, benefiting Trump, or will the primaries yield a unifying view of how much change their voters want?
Meanwhile, Trump and his loyal Republicans seem ready to stick with catering to public longing for the disappearing past. The worries of middle class families could work to Trump’s political advantage.
The 2020 election is as likely to be about the temper of the American people as about Trump’s character. It will really be about us and what we want.