I’ve had the same conversation over the past couple of weeks with acquaintances and friends across the political spectrum. They include conservatives and Republicans, both Trump-skeptical and Trump-enthusiastic, and Democrats and liberals whose feelings about the president run the gamut from hatred to loathing. It begins like this: “He’s going to win in 2020, isn’t he?”
The tone of these conversations varies widely, from a satisfied calm among those who fell for Trump early to an impotent despair among those who had formerly believed the universe itself would somehow expel the president from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and remove him from our public life.
But the conclusion these partisans have drawn is shockingly similar: Trump will not only survive his first term but go on to a second.
Now, it is true that Democrats and liberals are holding out desperate hope that Trump might still be forced out. Just in the past day, the leaking of a letter by special counsel Robert Mueller complaining that his report’s “context” wasn’t made clear by Attorney General Bill Barr’s four-page summary has given rise to a million tweets again screaming “impeachment!”
Still, the fact that Mueller’s investigation uncovered no evidence of collusion with Russia represented a significant turn of the wheel in Trump’s favor. It dashed anti-Trump hopes that Mueller would extirpate the president.
The rueful sense among Trump haters that America might be stuck with him until 2024 may be even more true for those who still think Trump is a Putin agent. To their minds, if an exhaustive probe by a special prosecutor couldn’t prove it, this only suggests that Trump is a far more clever and supple operator than Trump-haters ever wanted to believe.
In other words, my depressed anti-Trump acquaintances are resigning themselves to what they see as a terrifying reality: If he can survive Mueller, then he can surely survive any onslaught by House Democrats and the slings and arrows of Democratic presidential candidates and his eventual Democratic rival in 2020.
It’s like the “Saturday Night Live” sketch in 1999, the day after the Clinton impeachment trial ended in his acquittal: Clinton approaches a microphone, pauses, and then says “I. Am. Bulletproof.” Trump’s haters fear that Trump has similarly proved himself bulletproof.
But it isn’t just that. You can’t beat something with nothing, and my acquaintances fear that the 20-person Democratic field is adding up to . . . nothing.
Add it up:
1) The underwhelming early performances of Liz Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kristen Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, at least as far as polling shows.
2) The weirdly invisible candidacies of former and current governors John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee.
3) The silly-to-ludicrous candidacies of Reps. Seth Moulton, Eric Swalwell and Tulsi Gabbard.
4) The old-man-yelling-at-cloud candidacies of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Given this embarrassment of non-riches, is it any wonder that the only candidate to generate spontaneous enthusiasm is the intelligent and graceful 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana? Now, Pete Buttigieg is certainly an interesting guy. But up against the Colossus of Twitter wouldn’t he seem less like the Kingslayer and more like a gnat flying around an elephant?
There is also the fact that more than two years into the Trump presidency we have sustained economic growth and extraordinarily low unemployment. The despair of the anti-Trumper is real — and based in reality.
And yet . . . my Trumpian friends need to brace themselves, too. Despite good economic news and the Mueller probe’s conclusion, his approval ratings have ticked up only the tiniest amount and are still at a level that — if unchanged — would doom his reelection hopes. And because Trump takes up so much political room in our national discussion, his actions and his words are amplified in a manner that could do him outsized harm.
I have no idea whether he is going to win in 2020 or not. But he sure could. And for those who couldn’t even conceive of the possibility that he might win the last time, the acknowledgment of this reality is a “red pill” moment out of “The Matrix” — a willingness to see the world clearly for what it is and not what they and their friends wish it to be.
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