Donald Trump 2020 re-election in jeopardy as resistance holds firm

August 28, 2018

President Trump threaded the needle in his upset victory in 2016, winning three key states by a combined 77,744 votes. Doing it again in 2020 is looking increasingly tricky.

Nearly halfway through his term, the president has seen signs of slippage among the voters who put him in the White House and has shown little ability to expand his support by winning over voters who backed Democrat Hillary Clinton or stayed home on Election Day in 2016.

Among those is Atlanta music composer Kendall Simpson, who wasn’t a fan of Mr. Trump’s in the last election, when he voted for Mrs. Clinton. He now says he despises the president.

“I’m not disappointed; that’s not the right word. I’m just shocked that we are in the situation that we are in with him,” said the registered Democrat, who advises the dance department at Emory University. “He’s got his base, and that’s all he’s got. And the rest of us are just trying to hold on to decency.”

Mr. Trump took office vowing to win over the hearts and minds of Clinton voters and predicted that relentless “winning” with the economy and national security would erase any doubts about him. Instead, Clinton voters grow more adamant in their opposition to the president.

An Economist/YouGov poll this month highlighted the steadfast resistance among Clinton voters, with 88 percent saying they had a “very unfavorable” view of Mr. Trump. Another 6 percent recorded a “somewhat unfavorable” view.

The president shouldn’t take solace in other polls either, said Marc J. Hetherington, a scholar of voter behavior at Vanderbilt University.

“I’d be at least a little surprised if those percentages are quite that high,” he said. “It is rare to get anything close to zero [in margin of error] because a nontrivial number of people aren’t really paying attention when they answer questions.”

Mr. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by 2.9 million votes, according to the Federal Election Commission’s final tally, but won the Electoral College 304-227.

His victories in three states that went Democratic in recent elections Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania put him over the top, but he won those states by fewer than 11,000 votes, 23,000 votes and 45,000 votes respectively.

Demographic shifts alone could eat into those margins in 2020. Mr. Trump’s support comes generally from older voters, and many thousands of liberal-leaning voters come of age each year.

Democrats also have vowed not to be outdone by Republican targeting efforts as they were in 2016.

“For a Democrat to win in 2020, he or she only needs to re-create Hillary’s performance, with about 70,000 voters’ worth of better targeting,” said Democratic Party strategist Christy Setzer.

Mr. Trump enjoys overwhelming approval among Republicans, and fiercely loyal fans turn out by the thousands for his rallies.

Still, the president has practically no wiggle room to shed supporters, and his base a hodgepodge of disaffected Republicans and blue-collar Democrats shows signs of fraying.

A litany of complaints from one-time Trump voters can be glimpsed at the Twitter retweet site @TrumpRegrets.

The defectors rail against his bullying of opponents on Twitter, his disdain for the press and his performance on the world stage.

“I voted for you and you, embarrassed us. lost my vote. and I fought alot people over you. #neveragain,” tweeted Ernest Garcia of San Antonio.

Finding Clinton voters who say they will turn out for Mr. Trump is next to impossible.

“I don’t see the Trump coalition expanding at this point. With whom? With millennials? No. With minorities? No. With college-educated women? No,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Madonna didn’t rule out a repeat of Mr. Trump’s Electoral College win. He said a lot can happen between now and November 2020.

“I’m not among the political scientists who say he can’t get re-elected,” he said. “His coalition has remained firm. That is the big takeaway.”

Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans has been steady at or above 80 percent, a sign that his core base is sticking with him.

The White House political team remains confident in Mr. Trump’s political instincts. They note that he continues to draw Democrats and other people who don’t usually vote to his rallies, which played a large role in building the coalition that unexpectedly carried him to the White House in 2016.

The political team estimated that one-third of the crowd at Trump rallies are Democrats.

Republican Party pollster Jim McLaughlin, who conducted work for the Trump 2016 campaign, said the president still has a shot at expanding his support.

“The problem for the White House at this point in time is they haven’t expanded the base as much as they would like. But he still has time to do that before 2020. Some of that is going to depend on who the Democrats nominate,” he said.

Top issues for Americans of having economic and national security favor Mr. Trump as he heads into a re-election race.

“The tax cuts helped my paycheck,” said Bryant Butala, 29, a truck driver from northeastern Pennsylvania. He said he would vote again for Mr. Trump “no matter what.”

Mr. Trump’s re-election support numbers look similar to those of Presidents Obama and Clinton nearing the midpoint of their first terms.

An analysis by Gallup in April found 37 percent of voters said Mr. Trump deserved a second term, and his job approval numbers are about the same now as they were in April.

Mr. Obama had the same share 37 percent saying he deserved re-election in October 2010. But Mr. Obama won election with nearly 70 million votes, or 10 million more than his Republican opponent that year, meaning he could afford some attrition in his 2012 run.

Mr. Trump, though, needs to be more like President George W. Bush, who also lost the popular vote, to Democrat Al Gore in 2000, but won the Electoral College and thus the White House.

Gallup said Mr. Bush had re-election support from 60 percent of voters in September 2002, having expanded his base by winning over Gore voters with his handling of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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