Only 21 months prior to the November 2020 election, the Democratic primary field – minus a few big names – is already taking shape. And it is undeniably clear that these Presidential hopefuls, at least on policy issues, intend to take and support some of the most liberal positions in several generations. From Medicare for All to the Green New Deal to even reparations to descendants of slaves, the shift leftward among Democrats with Presidential aspirations is occurring at a blistering pace.
And then there is the “conservative” option, one President Donald J. Trump. He of the tenuous grasp of the truth, the White House in constant chaos, the confused and dubious executive actions on tariffs and the border wall, and the perpetual investigations. That Donald Trump.
To say the least, these are unappetizing options. A gaggle of wild-eyed liberals hoping to take down a President so unpopular that he led his party to a more than 40 seat loss in the House of Representatives despite a great economy and a signature policy achievement of a tax cut for roughly 90% of Americans. Future Abraham Lincolns – or even future Ronald Reagans – these are not.
However, there is some hope for Americans who believe their options for the likely chaotic campaign of 2020 range from bad to even worse – divided government. From the perspective of a conservative not invested in expanding the “legacy” of a man who parlayed his reality TV show fame into the rehabilitation of his prior reputation as a bankrupt business failure, the best of the bad options likely involves … moving on from Donald Trump … and blocking the pipe dreams of the left by maintaining GOP control of the US Senate.
Presently, with Democratic control of the House of Representatives relatively unlikely to shift following the 2020 elections, the parties will likely focus their efforts on winning the Presidency and the United States Senate, where Republicans presently hold a 53-47 edge. Accordingly, Democrats can only take control of the Senate with 50 votes (plus a Vice Presidential tiebreaker should their party win the Presidency) or 51 votes should Donald Trump be reelected. However, based on the key races in play, it would be near impossible for a Trump reelection to result in the four seat gain required for Dems to win 51 seats and take back the Senate.
Thus, Democratic hopes for unified control of government rest upon a Presidential win and a pickup of at least three Senate seats. For Dems, this three-seat pickup – in anything but a Presidential race blowout – constitutes a perilous slog. First, Dems are almost certain to lose the Alabama Senate seat held by Judge Roy Moore-slayer Doug Jones, as it seems almost beyond comprehension that Alabama Republicans could nominate another candidate similar to Moore, who spent the better part of his 2017 special election run working to make Donald Trump look downright normal. While the other potentially competitive races (excepting the possibility of a Democratic seat in New Hampshire) are Democratic pickup opportunities, only two take place in states Trump lost in 2016 (the Colorado seat held by Republican Cory Gardner and the Maine seat held by Susan Collins). To net a three seat gain (assuming an Alabama loss), Dems would need to beat Gardner (easily their best pickup opportunity, yet still not a “sure thing”) and defeat three additional Republican incumbents in Maine (where Collins has previously been an electoral force at times when the GOP was less popular than it currently is in her state), Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, and/or Georgia. Put simply, in all but a best case scenario for Dems, a 2020 Trump loss by any non-devastating margin would likely maintain GOP Senate control and continue divided government.
Moreover, as the voting public has seen in recent American elections, midterms heavily favor the party out of Presidential power. Accordingly, in the event that a GOP-controlled Senate can thwart the first two-year agenda of a Democratic President, the GOP would likely find itself in a very strong position come the 2022 midterms. However, should Trump be reelected, while House losses (a body where Republicans have already eaten most of their worst case scenario losses) could be limited, the 2022 Senatorial races would shape up as a massive bloodbath for the right. A six-year itch (of Republican Presidential control) would generate substantial vulnerability in at least seven GOP-held seats (and possibly several more) shrinking the GOP Senate numbers into or even below the mid-40s.
For Trump skeptics who disfavor the leftist agenda in vogue among activist Democrats, a reasonably competitive loss by Trump in 2020 might be the best near term electoral outcome, allowing the party to use continued control of the Senate to block liberal legislation and setting up a potentially favorable 2022 for the right.