President Trump’s re-election chances should be in dire straits – impeachment is not usually a good look. But people shouldn’t get ahead of themselves by reading too much into the tea leaves.
The truth is that structural factors are the most important determinants of presidential electoral outcomes: the economy, his approval ratings, his incumbency, among other factors. There are vast amounts of literature demonstrating this. Trump is in a strong, if not dominant position, given his metrics. He is still as positively regarded as Obama was at this point in his presidency, because of how polarised American votes now are.
One overlooked factor in Trump’s ultimate electability or demise is his savant-like ability to drive the agenda.
Let’s look at immigration as a national priority. Put simply, Trump took an issue that had never commanded much focus and brought it to America’s attention.
He achieved this by tapping into underlying grievances and concerns about immigration and connecting them to a running series of events illustrating the ‘danger’ posed by immigrants. Sprinkle in a series of exaggerated (and headline grabbing) comments and a supportive media ecosystem and we then have Trump’s almost superhuman ability to shape the national agenda.
But Trump’s superpower appears to have gone somewhat dormant in late 2019.
Since late summer, and particularly since the impeachment inquiry formally launched, the percentage of Americans registering immigration as the main issue facing the country has dropped precipitously.
Has Trump lost his superpowers?
The underlying fundamentals have not changed. Migrant detention camps still operate along the southern border, bans on refugees are still in effect, and the ‘Squad’ (the nickname for four progressive lawmakers whom Trump recently targeted on Twitter) are still in Washington. Yet President Trump has been distracted from this once prominent issue. The possibility of impeachment has drowned out other signature issues for Trump, including immigration.
Fox News, a reliable mirror of Trumpian priorities, also pivoted away from a focus on immigration as the impeachment inquiry gains steam. A dramatic spike in mentions of the word ‘impeachment’ on FoxNews.com occurred around the same time that we see a decline in mentions of the word ‘immigration’.
From these numbers, we can see how easily Trump influences the national dialogue. His ability to keep his base focused on issues such as immigration has been key to energising his Republican base.
Looking forward, what should we expect?
It is still the case that structural factors, and his dedicated base of support put Trump in a solid position, where his odds of winning re-election in 2020 should be about 50/50.
People should not underestimate Trump’s ability to shift the agenda to be more favourable to him. Ultimately, the key for Trump will be his ability to refocus his attention on those issues, such as immigration, that resonate with his supporters. In contrast, the Democrats need to prolong the impeachment process for as long as possible. This might be the only way to staunch Trump’s ‘superpower’.
Our advice? Buckle up for Trump’s second-term, with all that implies for global political instability for the next few years.