Eight long years

Will Donald Trump win again in 2020?

If the whispered conversations inside the press office at the Democratic national convention last July had been reported maybe the  night of 8 November 2016 would have come as less of a shock.

‘I am really hoping our being in Philadelphia helps shore up our vote in Pennsylvania. On the ground it feels like a lot of our blue collar vote – which we should be able to just bank – might be going to Trump,’ was one remark.

 ‘In 1999 we knew Al Gore was going to lose when Bill Clinton (at the end of eight years in office!) got bigger cheers at the convention. We could be looking at the same thing here,’ came another.

 In hindsight, the signs pointing towards a Donald Trump win were all there, we just did not want to see them. Sure, Hillary Clinton was a fairly unpopular candidate, and Trump seemed to be outstripping everyone’s expectations time and again with every new electoral contest, but we had Bill Clinton and his love of balloons! Balloons! Who could beat that? Oh.

 The US presidential election has been repeatedly compared to Brexit – but in lots of ways the fate of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats mirrors that of Labour in 2015, and that is why it would be naive to write a Trump 2020 victory off just yet.

 Trump did not win out of nowhere – he tapped into a country where too many people felt that the existing political structures and traditional Hill power players did not speak for them. We are not talking about one small demographic either – for all the talk of him having lost the popular vote, where he scooped up his electoral college votes he swept up votes from many of the groups that were supposed to be Clinton backers – 53 per cent of women, and 45 per cent of college-educated white women voted for Trump.

For too many voters it was worse than a sense of ‘they do not speak for us’; they were not even talking the same language. Clinton’s manifesto had more references to trans rights than coal and steel communities combined.

Jon Cruddas described the 2015 general election as Labour ‘losing to everyone, everywhere’. The author of Ed Miliband’s manifesto explains that too many groups abandoned Labour for it to be a straightforward proposition for the party to effectively target and recapture them all. The Democrats have a similar seemingly insurmountable problem.

 In addition, the Democrats will start their presidential primaries in just three years’ time – and who will their candidate be? Clinton did not exactly face strong opposition last year and as yet there are few signs that there is an obvious candidate emerging. There is talent within their party, but nobody whose stature can rival Barack Obama or either of the Clintons. Anyone who phonebanked during the 2015 Labour leadership contest knows how challenging it is to try and beat someone who has passed himself off as a rough and ready outsider when the main criticism of your candidate is that they are the bland voice of continuity. A safe pair of hands just will not cut it.

 We Brits can sympathise, for the Democrats’ woes are horribly reminiscent of our own. But (barring impeachment) we are stuck with ‘the Donald’ for the next eight years.

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Maeve McCormack is a senior consultant at Luther Pendragon and worked in the Democrats’ media team at their 2016 national convention. She tweets at @mccormackmaeve

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When considering the probability of Donald Trump’s re­‑election the statistics are not encouraging. In the last 40 years only Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr have been one-term presidents. But there is certainly no reason to throw the towel in now.

Trump’s first month in office has already shown that there is not going to be any Prince Hal to Henry V transformation now ‘the Donald’ has made it to the White House.

To his supporters, the early controversy, noise and chaos is fantastic and exactly what they voted for. As his surrogates keep saying in the media, Trump is the first politician to be attacked because he is actually delivering what he promised he would do.

On the other side, Democrats are still going through the stages of grief, feeling shocked, bruised, angry, disbelief at how this has come to pass. The US remains intensely divided with millions determined to give him hell from day one as we saw with the women’s marches across the country.

Senators and congress members are lining up to see who can be the most outraged by Trump’s latest outrageous outrage, not least by those who are looking to impress the activist base to give themselves the chance to take him on in 2020.

But as ever in politics, anger is not enough.

Now is the time to focus on the reasons for defeat. Why did the Democrats not have a better argument against economic uncertainty than Trump’s slogans? Why did college educated women vote for a sex pest rather than the first female president? Why was the modeling so off in those crucial states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan?

But crucially, they then have to move on to the next election rather than trying to fight the last one. The Trump they face will be different and the arguments need to be different. It is about the future, not the past.

This debate has been fought out in the contest to be chair of the Democratic party, with the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton surrogate Tom Perez beating Bernie Sanders’ candidate, Keith Ellison.

One good place for Democrats to start building more of an infrastructure would be with all the down-ballot races between now and 2020. One of the legitimate criticisms of Obama’s time as president, partly as a function of spending your time governing, is that the slow and steady loss of governor’s mansions, town halls and sheriff’s offices over the eight years left the Democrats far weaker.

My second plea would be to focus on ideas. Of course presidential elections are about individuals but 2016 should have taught us that the message matters too. ‘Make America great again’ was a great washing line – along the lines of ‘take back control’ – that anyone could hang their hopes and fears onto.

Finally, do not forget it is not about Trump, it is about the voters. Yes, make his life hell. Attack his policies. Fight, fight and fight again to save the country you love. But anger will not by itself deliver the fundamental requirement of any election: people who voted Republican last time need to vote Democrat the next. And four years out, it would be daft to say that cannot be done.

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Matthew Doyle is a political consultant and former adviser to Tony Blair. He tweets at @doylematthew

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