As much as I love analyzing and writing about politics, count me among those millions of Americans who are none too pleased about the fact that the 2020 presidential election has already begun more than 22 months before Election Day. But now that it’s started, the best I can do is offer some helpful guidelines on how to filter out the noise and focus on what’s really worth watching.
Let’s start with the crowded parade of Democrats knocking each other over to either officially announce their presidential candidacies or doing the somewhat safer thing by launching an “exploratory committee.” I’d print the list of all those Democrats here, but that might eat up all of my column space.
Here’s the good news: at this very early stage in the race, it makes little sense to try to analyze each and every candidate’s plusses and minuses. A more productive endeavor is to consider the key issues that voters hold to be most important, and figure out which candidate will benefit the most from developments in those issues.
For example, America’s economy continues to grow and show remarkable strength. But what if the economy turns downward with a recession and/or a more permanent stock market crash this year? In that case, Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders would likely see the biggest boost in their chances based on their long histories of calling for major economic policy changes.
In the event of a terrorist attack or some other national security emergency, former Vice President Joe Biden would probably see his stock rise, thanks to his years in the White House and as a senator on the Foreign Relations Committee.
If a major scandal or perceived assault on women’s rights returns the #MeToo to the fore, Senators Kamala Harris and Kirstin Gillibrand might reap the biggest reward as they have made women’s issues more a part of their political calling cards than some of the other Democratic women in the race.
But the bad news for every Democrat in the race is that the top issue among voters for more than a year now isn’t the economy or national security, but health care. The reason why it’s bad news for the crop of Democrats already running, or close to getting into the race, is because none of them have made any kind of unique pitch to reform the system.
Yes, most of the announced Democrats are pushing a fiscally unrealistic “Medicare for all” plan. But again, that’s something almost all of them are pushing. Thus, no one candidate has made health care a signature issue and time is running out for someone to do so.
Besides looking at the issues, the second most important factor to focus on right now doesn’t have anything to do with the Democrats at all. That’s because history tells us that the biggest indicator of whether President Donald Trump will be re-elected is whether he’s challenged by another Republican in the primary process.
Ever since 1968, every incumbent president who’s faced a serious intramural primary challenger even briefly has either lost their re-election bids or been forced to drop out.
In chronological order they are:
- President Lyndon Johnson, who dropped out after almost losing the 1968 New Hampshire primary to Senator Eugene McCarthy.
- President Gerald Ford, who lost the 1976 election after barely edging Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination.
- President Jimmy Carter, who lost to Reagan in 1980 after a tough primary challenge from Senator Edward Kennedy.
- President George H.W. Bush, who lost the 1992 election after an early effective primary challenge from Pat Buchanan.
As unpopular in some corners as incumbent Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were during their first terms, they each did not face any serious challenge in the primaries on their way to re-election.
Today, there seems to be no shortage of Republican politicians who criticize President Trump. You’d think they would love to challenge him in a primary. But so far, former Arizona Senator and Trump foil Jeff Flake has said he’s not running. Former Ohio Governor John Kasich is focusing more on his new gig at CNN, and Senator Mitt Romney is making more news lately for supporting President Trump on the border wall dispute.
In other words, President Trump’s odds of running unopposed for the 2020 GOP nomination are looking very good. Considering the amount of money needed to run for national office these days, the time frame for a serious primary challenger to jump into the race is probably another six months at the most.
That doesn’t mean President Trump will indeed be re-elected. But it does mean anyone beating him will likely have to overcome some historically long odds regardless of the president’s personal popularity.
The good news is it also means you can tune out so much of the noise already connected to this election and you can just keep an ear out for some big changes in the economy or within the Republican Party.
Until then, enjoy your own semblance of virtual quiet.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of theYeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter@jakejakeny and read his columns on 5TJT.com.