Tuesday, November 13, 2018


I appreciate Ed Kilgore's warning: Democrats did very well in the 1982 midterms only to lose the presidential election in a landslide two years later, and something like that could happen again.
... 1982 [was] the first midterm after the election of Ronald Reagan, whose ascension to the presidency in 1980 terrified liberals every bit as much as Trump’s did in 2016. After an upbeat battle to rein in the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” Democrats won the national House popular vote by nearly 12 percent (when it’s all said and done, Democrats will have won it this year by less than 8 percent).... the future looked quite good for the Donkey Party; in mid-1982, a horse-race poll for 1984 showed Ted Kennedy (then considered the Democratic front-runner) leading Reagan by six points.

In what should be a clear warning from history for today’s Democrats, Reagan rebounded from his midterm drubbing and carried 49 states in his landslide reelection.
Kilgore knows that America is far too polarized now for any candidate to win 49 states, or any number close to 49. However, he has a point: A good 2018 doesn't mean Democrats will necessarily finish Trump off in 2020.

But there are big differences between Reagan's first term and Trump's. In 1982, Kilgore notes, "Rising unemployment rates gave [Democrats] an opening," while throughout the rest of Reagan's first term "The economy steadily improved, with the 'stagflation' of the late 1970s giving way to lower interest rates and a rising stock market." I think this is putting it mildly. The unemployment rate was 7.4% when Reagan took office in January 1981, but by October 1982, just before the midterm elections, it had risen to 10.4%. (It would rise further, to 10.8% over the next two months.) No wonder voters wanted change.

But by October 1984 the unemployment rate was back down to 7.4%. Also, inflation, which had been in double digits for most of 1981 and was above 8.5% well into 1982, was down to 4.9% by October 1984.

For Trump, the economy simply can't improve that dramatically -- unemployment is 3.7% now -- unless companies suddenly start giving workers serious wage increases, and that isn't going to happen. Trump had terrible midterms with, in all likelihood, the best economy he'll ever have.

I'm not saying that Trump can't win in 2020. He absolutely can. I still fear that the media will subject the Democratic candidate to the same withering scorn Hillary Clinton experienced in 2012, while Trump gets billions of dollars in free media coverage, just the way he did that year. I fear that Trump, like Harry Truman in 1948, might successfully run against a "do-nothing Congress," or at least a "do-nothing" House. I fear that a terrorist attack might unite Americans around Trump. And, of course, I'm sure Republicans will explore new vistas in vote suppression wherever they can, and that some brown menace -- a successor to Al Qaeda, ISIS, the "Ground Zero mosque," Ebola, the caravan, ACORN, and the New Black Panthers -- will stir Republican voters' blood and get them to the polls.

But Trump won't be able to sell 2020 as "morning in America." The things that are going well in America won't get much better by then. Also, Trump has an unquenchable psychological need to claim that carnage and chaos are abroad in the land.

I worry about 2020, but I don't worry that Trump will win because the majority of Americans will believe that America is in great shape. He'll win if he can successfully leverage the opposite message -- and that's possible.

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