Michigan 2020: The Road to Re-election for President Donald Trump?

As we approach 2020, the hottest topic is President Trump’s reelection odds in Michigan.  While most polling has him down in Michigan and nationally, one can’t take polling as gospel, as that was the overwhelming consensus last cycle. Considering Trump only had a 21% shot at winning Michigan in 2016 according to 538, I wouldn’t count him out just yet. Also, there is a possibility of a reverse Bradley effect given the strong opinions people hold of the President. Many articles have been written about husbands who won’t even tell their wives that they voted for Trump, making it likely that they would also be reluctant to tell a pollster.

Part of the success of Trump in 2016, besides converting many blue-collar voters to support him, was attracting the apathetic.  Trump has been successful because he doesn’t play by the rules of traditional campaigns. Often times, candidates attempt to cast themselves as the white knight who offers traditional political platitudes. Trump, on the other hand, plays the anti-hero that has been all the rage in recent pop culture – the one who fights for the right side but doesn’t go about it by following the script. That is his appeal and why he performs so well amongst white working people, and those that are looking to reap the benefits that they have been promised for so long.  There are a lot of areas in Michigan that are getting by, and that is the majority that will carry Trump if he is to win again.

The other thing Trump has going for him is the potential third party run of Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. The third party vote, and those that voted “none of the above” to protest the two major party candidates in 2016 was key for Trump. Normally the third party vote is about 1% in a presidential campaign, but that shifted significantly in 2016 as it hit 5%, which severely damaged the Clinton campaign. Compounding the issue for Democrats, it is difficult to knock off an incumbent president, which has only happened twice in my lifetime. In both instances, a third party candidate played a major role. In 1980, John Anderson took 6.6% of the vote; though previously elected as a Republican, he was running to the left of Reagan, and would be a democrat by today’s standard. He had support amongst democrats that weren’t too keen on Carter. However, a better example is 1992 and Ross Perot. He captured 19% of the vote and significantly eroded support for President George H.W. Bush.

Howard Schultz is presenting himself as a centrist, but if you’ve paid attention to some of the progressive policies of Starbucks over the years, it is clear that he leans left socially. While he may be more centrist than the current crop of democratic candidates who are trying to appeal to the Bernie supporters and the AOC wing, it is likely that he will pull votes away from the democratic nominee in 2020 if he follows through with an independent run.

Despite the President’s tenuous relationship with the press, they played a role in his election by providing him with thousands of hours of free TV coverage last cycle. Many democrats assumed that if Trump captured the Republican nomination, it would ensure a Hillary victory, which inevitably kept some voters home on election night. I don’t doubt it could happen again. Democrats are already talking about his demise, whether it be him losing in 2020 or being impeached over various issues. This further feeds into Trump derangement syndrome, where any legitimate argument is drowned out by crazy-eyed individuals with wild conspiracy theories that do nothing but turn off voters.

The fact that Trump won’t likely have a serious primary certainly gives him an edge, which allows him to continue to get his message out. The sheer size of the Democratic primary currently makes it incredibly difficult to stand out amongst the field. By examining the 2012 and 2016 GOP primaries, most of the candidates might’ve gotten two minutes of air time. Since  Trump didn’t conform to standard practices, he was able to dominate his opponents. It’s early, but at this point, the Democratic field lacks anyone with such a strong personality. That unknown gives Trump an advantage.

Moving forward, I wouldn’t count Trump out despite what the polling data shows.  His unorthodox approach to campaigning makes a traditional political playbook irrelevant to some degree. Think of it from a boxers’ perspective:   fighting a southpaw is tough to defend because your natural instincts are flipped. It’s interesting that a conservative candidate is the left-hand fighter in this scenario. Trump is also the busier fighter, throwing shots from every direction. They may not be a direct hit,  but they look effective and as a result, the opponent loses their footing trying to respond to everything all at once While Trump has little interest in policy details or basic facts, he excels at branding and knowing how to create slogans for his opponents that are easy to remember. And because Trump enjoys fighting dirty, he will repeat these quips and phrases until they’re part of our collective political lexicon.

If Trump utilizes the same playbook as 2016 and spins his non-accomplishments into accomplishments he will be in a solid position heading into the election. Trump is who he is, and that is refreshing to a lot of people, especially his base. If he can bring back enough of those voters who defected or simply just sat-out the midterm elections he will be on his way to a second term and will continue his push to Make America Great Again.