Now that the 2018 midterms are finally, blessedly behind us, the 2020 presidential campaign can officially begin—and, with it, the mother-of-all-$64,000 questions: Who will be sworn in as commander-in-chief on January 20, 2021?
The correct answer—or at least the most likely—is Donald Trump. Like Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton before him, Trump in 2020 will carry all the built-in advantages of incumbency—money, familiarity and the presumed endorsement of his party. Add to that his utter shamelessness and Triumph of the Will-style campaign rallies, and you have a nearly unbeatable force of nature that the Democratic Party is thus far unprepared to vanquish on a national scale.
That said, if the Democrats manage to field a challenger to Trump who succeeds in becoming the 46th president, history suggests he or she will be someone none of us is taking seriously today—and probably won’t take seriously until maybe a week or two before the New Hampshire primary some 14 months from now.
Lord knows this was the case two years ago, when the very notion of Donald Trump as a public official struck the entire media-industrial complex as an absurd fever dream until around 10:30 on Election Night. So, too, was Barack Obama’s candidacy, eight years earlier, seen as a quixotic curiosity against the Hillary Clinton juggernaut until Obama nabbed one more delegate than Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and turned the entire 2008 narrative on its head.
Then there was the previous Democratic golden boy, Bill Clinton, who began the 1992 primaries all-but-unknown outside his home state of Arkansas and didn’t win a single primary until Super Tuesday—nearly a month after the Iowa caucuses, where he placed a very distant third. Going back even further, much the same was the case with Jimmy Carter—a Southern governor who emerged from essentially nowhere and charged to the front of the pack, accumulating delegates and raw popular excitement along the way.
As I see it, the lesson from this is twofold. First: If the Democrats are interested in defeating Trump in 2020, the worst they could possibly do is to nominate a known quantity. And second: Anyone who believes he or she knows how the Democratic primaries will shake out is utterly and irretrievably full of it and should be ignored for as long as possible.