The scariest question in American politics might be ‘what happens in 2020?’


Based on the current momentum, it is unlikely that Donald Trump will be on the ballot in November of 2020. Between scandals, investigations, his obvious frustration with Washington, Washington’s frustration with Trump, looming primary challenges and his age (74 in 2020), a second Trump administration probably isn’t in the cards. That still leaves the question of what comes after that?

Despite Trump’s ever decreasing poll numbers, there is little that would indicate that the people who voted for Trump wouldn’t vote for a different Republican. There is also little to indicate that a Democratic landslide is in the offing or that there will be broad ideological support for the Democrats even if they should secure a win.

According to polling, Democrats do well on issues like the environment, health care and 'helping the middle class'. However Republicans and Democrats are roughly tied, or the Republicans have an advantage on the economy, foreign policy, immigration, taxes, infrastructure, reforming Washington and dealing with ISIS and Iraq. Donald Trump's poll numbers are abysmal and a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of the GOP but almost 50% of the public has an unfavorable view of the Democrats as well.

So while Trump and the Republicans are vulnerable, it is not aclear that the Democrats are successfully taking advantage of the opportunity. According to CNN's polling, 52% of Americans see Democrats as only standing against Trump but not for anything else specifically. They also note that the percentage of people saying that they have a favorable impression of the Democrats hasn't budged since the 2016 convention. And before people start saying that the agenda of Bernie Sanders is what will move people to the Dems side, polling doesn't support that either. While the poll is old, in February people had a less favorable view of Sanders ally Elizabeth Warren than 'a generic Democrat'.

In fact, in my opinion, it would be disastrous for the Democrats to repeat anything like the Sanders vs. Clinton debacle of 2016.  The Democratic ticket will be wide open with dozens of contenders (from Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker and Kamala Harris to Mark Zuckerberg) potentially vying the nomination, but it will be critically important for Democrats to go into their 2020 convention united behind the primary winner.

The Republican side will be equally wide open and potentially more contentious, with or without Trump in the mix but that won't be the Democrats only worry. The wildcard for both parties is Emmanuel Macron.  With a bitterly divided French electorate, Marcon launched a new centrist party and came out of nowhere to resoundingly win the French election. With the American public bitterly divided and both parties at or near majority unfavorability, there is increasing chatter about the possibility of doing that here and potentially a good deal of money to back such an effort.

In 2016, Michael Bloomberg suggested that he might run if Sanders and Trump were the nominees. If a serious 3rd party attempt were made in 2020, the most likely candidates would be Mark Zuckerberg, Arnold Schwartznegger or Seth Moulton.

The risk here isn't necessarily that an independent candidate would be a bad step for a divided America. The risk is that the United States could face another four years where the president does not have a mandate or majority support from the beginning.

However, in order to avoid that scenario, the Democrats (or the Republicans) would have to put together a ticket and a platform that appealed their base while convincing centrists and independents that they had changed and it wasn't going to be business as usual.

This would be very difficult for Republicans to accomplish given that they cannot seem to unite their base at the moment. Despite currently holding the White House, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court and most of the country's governorships and state legislatures, Republicans are having a hard time passing any major legislation because of disunity and an unwillingness to compromise even among themselves.

Democrats, may not fare much better though. In order to be successful, they will have to field candidates who are credible on health care, education and the environment but who are also able to convince people that they understand business, economics, and foreign policy. They will have to appease the Sanders wing of the party as well as the Obama/Clinton wing and moderate independents. They will have to have a civil rights platform that addresses the concerns of women and BLM and an immigration platform that is almost the opposite of Donald Trumps, without seeming overly focused on 'identity politics'.

The left, along with much of the center and even parts of the Republican establishment are currently united in their dislike of Donald Trump. However, that doesn't mean that they are united on the question of what they want instead. There is an opportunity coming up in 2018 and especially in 2020 to reverse course on the current destructive agenda. There is a chance to avoid directionless, unpopular government that is ripe for exploitation by foreign powers and domestic opportunists.

In order to do that though, Democrats are going to need to think beyond merely hating Donald Trump and trying to put out one fire at a time. They will need candidates and a platform that represents a consensus for most of those who dislike Trump while still addressing the specific concerns of a number of key constituencies.

It is going to take a great deal of work, consultation and careful listening to find that platform and those candidates. If the Democrats become complacent, if they don't do the work, if they rely solely on the unpopularity of Donald Trump to propel them to power, they could easily find themselves no better off than they are now in four years.

Likewise, individuals seeking a replacement for Trump need to think hard about what they absolutely need. America is ready for a political 'revolution' but it may not be the political revolution you want. If Trumps foes devolve into drawing lines in the sand and pushing rigid purity tests,  it could mean another four years of Trump (or a Trump substitute). Even in victory it could put a left-leaning government where the Republicans are now; with all the power but unable to move any legislation. 
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