Think Big

There’s a Greek adage—since become an American cliché—concerning the difference between a fox and a hedgehog:  “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.”

If the Democratic Party wants to reclaim the White House in 2020, it would do well to nominate a hedgehog.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton ran for president as a fox—someone who had walked the halls of power for decades and seemingly knew everything about everything.  As a consequence—because she attempted to address every issue all at once, to be all things to all people—she came across as a woman who believed in nothing in particular other than becoming president.

By contrast, her opponent—one Donald J. Trump—ran as the know-nothing charlatan that he is—a man of appalling incuriosity and ignorance about the world around him—yet nonetheless captured a majority of the Electoral College on the strength of a single, clear and consistent message:  “I will make brown people go away.”  (In time, this would be shortened to “Make America Great Again.”)

If you want to know the story of the 2016 campaign, it’s that the candidate who knew many things was defeated by the candidate who knew (or at least said) one big thing.  My advice to the Democrats’ eventual nominee next year:  Find one big thing on which to campaign, and stick with it.

For all his bumbling and rambling in his official duties as chief executive, Donald Trump understands the power in establishing a singular, unified worldview and funneling all of his major declarations and acts toward the implementation thereof. 

Trump may careen incoherently from one policy bungle to another—ever on the defensive against a media-industrial complex that he views as an existential threat to his presidency—but his One Big Idea has remained the same:  That is, the notion that America has been taken advantage of for decades by its counterparts in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East—economically and militarily—and it’s high time the United States stand up for itself by withdrawing most of its troops, tearing up most of its treaties and, of course, building a Big Beautiful Wall on the border with its neighbors to the south.

We can argue about the wisdom of the 21st century’s leading superpower effectively withdrawing from the world stage to tend to its own private concerns—and, indeed, about whether such a thing is even possible—but we can’t deny the elemental appeal of a commander-in-chief who knows exactly what he wants for his country—particularly regarding its foreign policy—and is unrelenting in his desire to effectuate it, up to and including when public support turns against him.

Obviously, Trump’s bluster on this front has far outpaced his capacity for generating results—as would be expected of a loud-mouthed businessman who once managed to bankrupt a casino.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Trump’s singlemindedness about isolating the United States from the global community scratched a primal itch in millions of voters who wanted to send an angry message to Washington, D.C., and who regard Trump as a faithful vessel for their (self-)righteous ire.  His stick-to-itiveness vis-à-vis “America first!” carried him over the finish line on November 8, 2016, and is the one thing guaranteeing that 30-odd percent of the electorate will never, ever leave his side.  In the broadest possible sense, they always know where he stands and, rightly or wrongly, they believe he stands with them.

In 2020—as in 2018—it will be the left’s turn to vent its outrage at the incumbent administration and chart its own course forward, and the worst the Democrats could possibly do is to nominate a candidate who is timid and circumspect about saying what he or she truly believes—or worse, who says too much about too many different things, resulting in a muddled message that does nothing to inspire those who yearn to be inspired—as perhaps they haven’t been since the “Yes We Can” days of 2008.

Among the more amusing side stories from 2016 was that, in preparing for the general election, Hillary Clinton and her aides entertained at least 84 possible slogans before ultimately settling on “Stronger Together”—a fact that illustrates both how seriously the campaign took the concept of self-branding and how woefully unfocused the whole operation was, thematically-speaking.  For all her experience and expertise as a public official, Hillary could never quite explain why she, of all people, should be president of the United States—particularly not in an easy-to-remember phrase that could fit easily on a bumper sticker or a red hat.

It all comes down to the elemental question, “Why do you want to be president?”  Ted Kennedy famously couldn’t summon a coherent answer in 1980, effectively strangling his own insurgent candidacy in its crib.  In truth, very few candidates in the intervening decades have done much better, typically using the query as an opportunity for a vague laundry list of issues rather than a sweeping declaration of principle.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask that a person who presumes to become the most powerful human being on Earth at least pretend to believe in something beyond personal wish-fulfillment.  As no less than Richard Nixon observed, those who run for high office can be divided into two groups:  Those who want to do big things, and those who want to be big people.  Of course, the former can (and generally does) lead to the latter.  Wouldn’t it be nice if America’s next president understood that it doesn’t work the other way around?

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Let’s Never Do That Again

The U.S. government shut down on December 22 because Ann Coulter called Donald Trump a pussy.  It remained closed for 35 days—depriving 800,000 federal workers of their paychecks—because various right-wing pundits mused that capitulating to Nancy Pelosi would constitute the end of Trump’s presidency as we know it.  And when America’s long national nightmare finally ended on Friday evening—without any particular resolution—the president assured the nation that unless he can claim victory by February 15, he’ll be happy to close the government all over again.

Specifically, Trump opted to bring one-quarter of the federal labor force to a screeching halt because of The Wall—namely, the one along the U.S.-Mexico border whose future construction constituted more or less the entirety of Trump’s presidential campaign, has continued to be the great white whale propelling his administration’s domestic policy and is seemingly the final buoy keeping what’s left of his job approval rating afloat.

As such, “victory” in this context can mean nothing less than the actual building of an actual wall with actual funds appropriated by actual congresspeople.  For Trump to renege on his biggest, baddest campaign promise would pose something near an existential threat to his presidency and, with it, his immunity to prosecution by one Robert Mueller.

Indeed, if the Longest Government Shutdown in History taught us anything, it’s that Donald Trump’s selfishness knows no bounds.  That he will gladly throw the entire country under the bus to assert his own manliness and save his own skin.  That he values nothing so much as his own survival—and possibly nothing else at all.  That he regards his loyal fanbase as a mere prop with which to puff up his own vanity—and, when necessary, as a battering ram against all perceived enemies, foreign and domestic.

Think it can’t get worse?  It can always get worse, and if America’s current chief executive excels at anything, it’s finding the bottom of the barrel and drilling a trap door underneath it.

If you’re looking for statesmanship in the Oval Office, all you can do is look to 2020.

Were you to ask me, here in January 2019, what kind of person I would like to see as Trump’s eventual successor—temperamentally, characterologically—I would simply point to the 35-day fiasco the nation just endured and say, “Someone who would not allow a mess like that to ever occur.”

While I admire elected officials who feel passionately about major issues and express their views strongly and clearly, I would never support a presidential candidate who is so single-minded about a particular policy that he would callously deny a month’s pay to 800,000 American workers in order to get what he wants, exactly the way he wants it.

Nor would I support a prospective commander-in-chief whose official acts are so easily and obviously swayed by a gang of radio and TV personalities whom a supermajority of the public finds repulsive.  Whose self-esteem is so fragile, his innate sense of right and wrong so tenuous, that he will gingerly flush billions of dollars in productivity down the toilet in order to prove that, as a leader, he isn’t entirely impotent.  Whose solipsism is so all-consuming that when he is informed—as Trump was in early 2017—that his tax policy will likely wreck the American economy within a decade, his only response is to say, “Yeah, but I won’t be here.”

What I would like in our 46th president—whoever she may be—is someone sufficiently grown-up to resolve a complex issue like immigration without holding nearly a million federal employees and their families for ransom.  Someone who will negotiate in good faith and not view every disagreement as a zero-sum game.  Someone who will assume responsibility for her failures and share credit for her successes.  Someone who will lead by example and not perpetually be on the lookout for someone else to blame.

Someone who is interested in expanding her base of support, rather than merely solidifying the 30-odd percent of the population who will blindly follow her off a cliff.  Someone confident enough to trust her own instincts, but also humble enough to confide in those wiser and more experienced than she.  Someone who values country over party and understands that we live in a nation of laws and not men.

Will the Democratic Party nominate such a person at its convention in July 2020?  And will America elect her on Tuesday, November 3?

Can we afford not to?

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I Like Liz

Elizabeth Warren spent last weekend campaigning for president in Iowa, and because there is nothing else going on in the world, a large gaggle of reporters and pundits tailed her every move.  What’s more, because Warren has apparently never expressed her views on any political issues—like, say, income inequality, Wall Street corruption or the character of Donald Trump—the media felt it had no choice but to engage in a round-the-clock debate about whether Senator Warren is “likable” enough to be elected commander-in-chief.

Predictably, Warren’s supporters—and women in general—made the utterly valid observation that only female presidential candidates seem to be asked this sort of question right out of the gate—and with some regularity thereafter—while male candidates tend to be asked very seldom, if at all.  What’s more, since the 2020 Democratic primary process will likely be the first with multiple female contenders, perhaps this would be a good time to retire this inherently sexist act of punditry once and for all.

In the interest of political correctness and basic gender equity, this plea makes sense as far as it goes.  As someone who is still slightly miffed at President Obama for informing Hillary Clinton, “You’re likable enough” in January 2008, I would be positively thrilled if America’s leading news organizations spent more time asking if a candidate is capable and qualified to be leader of what’s left of the free world, and less time treating her like a beauty queen contestant or a prospective member of a college sorority.

However, since nothing like that is going to happen before November 2020, I think the more fruitful conversation we ought to have concerns the meaning of the word “likable,” and whether it isn’t such a bad metric for choosing a leader after all.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because I found him more likable than John McCain.  For instance, I liked Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War, and the eloquence with which he argued for its end.  I liked his optimism about America in general and our political system in particular.  I liked his penchant for speaking in paragraphs instead of slogans, and for giving his opponents the moral benefit of the doubt.  I liked his dry sense of humor and Ivy League education.  I liked his seriousness of purpose and lightness of touch.  I liked Michelle.

And yes, I would’ve preferred to have had a beer with Obama instead of McCain.  Why?  Because of the two men, Obama probably would’ve had more interesting things to say—and, unlike McCain, would’ve required a little loosening up before saying them.

Of course, for decades now, the concept of likability in a politician has been reduced merely to that final metric—“Would this person be fun to drink with?”—and for just as long, virtually every wannabe commander-in-chief has done his or her damnedest to be that very person—typically, by running into the nearest bar and ordering a local pint.

While the more sober-minded among us might dismiss this dynamic as silly and counterproductive to our political process—what, pray tell, does being gossipy and gregarious have to do with running the world’s largest bureaucracy?—it’s worth asking why we have such a shallow and limited conception of likability in the first place.

In short:  Why don’t we “like” our leaders for their qualities as leaders, rather than just their qualities (or lack thereof) as regular Joes and Janes?

As a Massachusetts resident who has already voted for Elizabeth Warren twice, I find quite a bit to like about someone who effectively birthed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a decade ago and continues to spend every waking hour defending its core ideals.  I like how Warren imbues every syllable she utters with a combustible, fiery passion, yet somehow always stays on point.  I like how she is wholly unafraid to have her entire personal history gutted in the interest of full disclosure.  I like how she defends the honor of her extended family and its complicated racial history, instead of throwing them under the bus for the sake of political expediency.

As with President Obama, I like how Warren is smart enough to be a law professor at an elite university, yet sensible enough to understand and communicate the needs of those who didn’t even graduate high school.  I like her unabashed liberalism and her implicit belief in a more perfect society than the one we are currently bungling through.

I like how she is fearlessly and head-longingly running for president even as some of her would-be allies are advising her not to.

I like how she willingly makes herself a big, fat target of Wall Street, the GOP and even certain pockets of her own party, earning their hysterical, bottomless contempt, and yet, nonetheless (God help me) she persists.

Oh, and the words “Madam President”?  I find those rather likable, too.

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2020 is Not 20/20

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.

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Cult 45

Way back in 2015, when the candidacy of Donald Trump struck most of America as a joke, many of us floated the theory—with tongue only half in cheek—that Trump was actually a Democratic Party plant, installed in the GOP primaries to discredit the entire Republican Party and ensure Hillary Clinton would be elected president in November 2016.

While history has rendered this hypothesis obsolete, there remains the underlying assumption upon which the theory was based, which is that Trump serves as a moral Rorschach test for every would-be conservative in America.

Posed as a question, the test is simply this:  How many of your so-called principles are you prepared to sacrifice on the altar of the most unprincipled man in America?  How many bridges are you willing to jump off before realizing that each one leads to nowhere?

If Donald Trump shot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, would you still vote for him in 2020?

Of course, it was Trump himself who asserted early on that the answer to that last question is “yes” among his core supporters, and if the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that he couldn’t have been more right.

At this point in his presidency, Trump is not a public servant so much as a personality cult, and as the corruption piles up and more and more of his deputies get hauled off to prison, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a certain fraction of the American public—roughly 30 percent, although estimates vary—who are so emotionally invested in Trump—the man, the brand, the whatever—that no amount of criminality is strong enough to penetrate the bubble of loyalty that exists between the commander-in-chief and his fellow travelers, the latter of whom appear utterly incapable of seeing what is directly in front of their noses—namely, that the man they worship is a crook.

They’re not drinking the Kool-Aid.  They’re injecting it intravenously.

As with all personality cults, the fundamental problem isn’t the leader himself; it’s his followers.  Any schmuck can stand on a platform and declare himself king.  The question is whether there is a critical mass of people desperate and gullible enough to hand him the crown and obey his every command.  There is no con without a mark, and it remains truly frightening how many of them the 45th president has acquired and maintained from the moment he entered the political fray.

While Trump undoubtedly constitutes the most insidious personality cult in American life today, his is hardly the only one from which to choose.  Unseemly as it might sound, Republicans hardly have a monopoly on prostrating themselves to a populist politician who promises them the moon.

How else to describe the famous “Bernie Bros”?  You know them:  The far-left supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders who quote his über-progressive platform word-for-word and will expound for hours about how the 2016 primaries were rigged—rigged, I tell you!—against their beloved Bernie by the evil Democratic Party establishment.  Never mind that Hillary Clinton received 3.7 million more votes than Sanders, winning 34 contests to Sanders’s 23:  The point, sayeth the Bros, is that Sanders was the only Democratic contender who could’ve defeated Trump in 2016, and in 2020 it is he—and he alone!—who could pry Trump from power and usher his socialist utopia into existence.

Sure sounds cultish to me.

This is not to imply a moral equivalence between Sanders and Trump, only one of whom is a repugnant, shameless charlatan with no sense of basic human decency.  Say what you will about the junior senator from Vermont and his pie-in-the-sky ideas, but Sanders has shown not a whiff of the racism or xenophobia that—odious as they are in one person—can quickly grow dangerous and deadly when harnessed by millions of mindless lemmings who believe they are acting on the Dear Leader’s orders.

And yet, in the end, a cult is still a cult, and the unifying characteristic of all cults is mindlessness—i.e., the willful suspension of one’s intellectual faculties in service of a singular Great Man to whom all loyalty is owed and from whom all of life’s problems will be solved.  If the unquestioned adherence to Trump by the MAGA crowd takes this tendency to new heights—or should we say depths?—by and large, much the same was true for the most hardcore supporters of Barack Obama, whose very existence was seen as a panacea for all the partisan discord ravaging Washington, D.C., circa 2008.

In time, of course, a majority of Obama’s admirers came to realize that, for all his personal qualities, the 44th president could not walk on water after all, and was as capable of betraying his campaign promises as any commander-in-chief who came before him.

Will the aura of infallibility eventually break among those who worship Donald Trump—a man who, unlike Obama, seems to truly believe he can do no wrong?

Meet me on Fifth Avenue for the answer.

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Senator Elizabeth Warren is one of the most indispensable voices in American politics today.  She should not run for president in 2020.

Why not?  Reasons enough, my friends.

Reason No. 1:  While she is a highly effective member of the U.S. Senate (if such a thing can be measured), Warren’s experience as an executive lies somewhere between negligible and non-existent.

Reason No. 2:  As a genuine populist hero of the left, Senator Warren is structurally incapable of appealing to a broad cross-section of the American public, as presidents are generally expected to do.

Reason No. 3:  Outside the liberal enclaves that comprise her natural constituency, Warren tends to come across as a wild-eyed wackadoodle whose entire public persona consists of two or three basic—and borderline radical—talking points from which she rarely, if ever, deviates.

And most importantly, reason No. 4:  The “Pocahontas” thing.

In isolation, none of these would-be drawbacks would be enough to disqualify Warren from seeking and/or attaining high office.  Certainly, they didn’t stop the 44 individuals who have thus far succeeded in doing both.

However, the same cannot be said when all of the above occur simultaneously in a single person, and in the senior senator from Massachusetts, that’s exactly what they do.

Put simply, Elizabeth Warren will never be elected president, and the American left might as well accept this fact now.  Trust me:  It will be a lot more painful on the night of November 3, 2020.

Admittedly, if you take Senator Warren at her word, she will not be a candidate in the first place.  In one interview after another, Warren has asserted, in no uncertain terms, that she is interested only in getting re-elected to the Senate this fall, and has given no serious thought to what she might do with herself thereafter.

Of course, no one believes a word of this—nor, to be fair, should Warren be expected to say anything different until her current race is behind her.  As ever, actions speak louder than denials, and the clearest indication to date that Warren is, indeed, gunning for the White House occurred on Valentine’s Day, when she addressed the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., where she passionately reasserted her conviction that she herself descends from Native American stock.

Why would a mere senator—one who will barely face an opponent this November—feel the need to defend her identity in this manner?  No doubt there were several motivations—pride and family honor chief among them—but the most self-evident to any politically-minded observer must be the fact that President Trump has for months attempted to smear and discredit Warren by repeatedly referring to her as “Pocahontas.”

The basis of this nickname—as a majority of the public probably still doesn’t understand—is the curious gulf between Warren’s certainty about her Native American heritage and the lack of concrete genealogical evidence to support it—a discrepancy that was exasperated last weekend when Warren declined to submit to a DNA test that would presumably resolve the issue once and for all.  Asked by Chuck Todd for an explanation, Warren responded, “Look, I know who I am.”

What she means—as Massachusetts learned in 2012, when she was first elected senator—is that she spent the entirety of her Oklahoma childhood hearing stories from her parents about their family’s Cherokee roots—stories that turned out to be mostly (if not entirely) false, but which Warren took at face value, because why on Earth shouldn’t she?

Years later, still believing this, Warren listed herself as a “minority” in the Association of American Law Schools directory, while Harvard Law School singled her out as an example of ethnic diversity among its faculty.  (At most, Warren is 1/32 Cherokee.)  On the other hand, Warren did not mention her supposed Native blood on her college applications, nor is there any evidence that her would-be minority status resulted in preferential treatment at any point in her academic or professional career.

Taking all of these little contradictions together, does “Look, I know who I am” strike you as an answer that will withstand an 18-month presidential campaign against Donald Trump?  I’d certainly appreciate a clarification or two, and I’ve been in her fan club since Day 1.

What we have here—albeit in embryonic form—is Hillary’s Emails 2.0.  That is, an ostensibly meaningless issue that is blown utterly and inexplicably out of proportion—by Republicans and the media alike—and which slowly but surely immolates the candidacy of the person in question, resulting in four years of President Donald Trump.

Like Hillary Clinton’s email problem, Elizabeth Warren’s “Pocahontas” problem will persist and metastasize as Election Day grows ever-closer, overshadowing every other consideration and rendering her ultimately unelectable.  If Clinton proved an easy target for Russia-based fake news, just imagine what those hackers will do with Warren.

And as with Clinton, the criticisms will not be entirely wrong.  Remember:  When Hillary was ground down by accusations that she had used a private e-mail server for official government business, the point wasn’t that she’d violated some obscure federal rule.  The point was that Hillary couldn’t bring herself to admit she’d done something wrong until it was too late, thereby reinforcing her public perception as a duplicitous, untrustworthy crook.

Elizabeth Warren—someone who, by and large, has cultivated a reputation for frankness and candor on most subjects—can scarcely afford to be seen as evasive and deceitful about her own past.  By dilly-dallying around the truth of her genealogy—by not clearly saying, “I honestly believed something about myself that might not actually be true”—she risks falling into precisely that trap.  If she can’t sell herself to the American public, how on Earth can she sell them higher taxes or single-payer healthcare?

Liberals can argue all they want that “Pocahontas”-gate is a BS issue that is too silly and insignificant to become a determining factor in the primaries and/or general election in 2020.  That, as a candidate, Warren will rise or fall on the strength of her ideas in contrast to President Trump’s.  That, no matter what her contested family history says her about character, she couldn’t possibly be seen as a greater evil than Trump in the morals department.

That’s what we believed about Hillary in 2016, and look how well that went.

The New Abnormal

Donald Trump has been president for exactly six months.  By my calculations, that means he has 90 months to go before he’s done.

That’s right:  90 months.  Seven-and-a-half years.  Two presidential terms.

You heard it here first:  Trump is going to be re-elected in 2020, and he’s going to serve until January 20, 2025.  He will not be impeached.  He will not be removed.  He will not die.  And he will not resign.

That’s not a prediction.  That’s a goddamned guarantee.

I haven’t the slightest idea how he’s going to pull this off—Lord knows I didn’t foresee last year’s shenanigans three-and-a-half years in advance—but nor have I any doubt that he could, and almost surely will.  If recent U.S. history teaches us anything, it’s that if you can win a presidential election once, you can win a presidential election twice.  Four of our last five commanders-in-chief have done just that, and there is little reason to expect this trend to abate with the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Trump is going to be an eight-year national problem, and we might as well get used to it now.  Don’t expect him to disappear ahead of schedule, or to go gently into that good night.  He has spent the first 71 years of his life steadfastly refusing to yield his place in the national conversation, never giving anyone a moment’s peace.  Why would years 72 to 78 be any different?

They won’t be.  Trump is not going to change any part of his core identity before he dies, and perhaps the most essential among them is his primal, obsessive need for total victory—as he calls it, “winning.”  Knowing, as he does, that being a one-term president would be an abject humiliation and would brand him an electoral “loser” for all eternity—indeed, doubly so, considering his failure to secure the popular vote the first time around—he is surely prepared to do literally anything to prevent such an eventuality from happening, up to and including breaking every social and political norm that he hasn’t already violated.

Think he’s corrupt and unsavory now?  Just you wait, Henry Higgins.  Just you wait.

Of course, I could be getting carried away, allowing misguided cynicism to obscure certain realities that are staring us squarely in the face.  The obvious rejoinder to my dour political forecast—the one you will hear from every white-knuckled left-wing media source in America—is that the sheer weight of ridiculous scandal already engulfing the Trump administration will ultimately destroy it—if not now, then within a few months, and if not within a few months, then sometime between now and the end of the first term.  Trump forever being his own worst enemy—devoid of scruples, subtlety and any sense of civic responsibility—he will sooner or later cross a red line—legally and/or morally—that the American public will view as the proverbial last straw and will then demand Congress dispose of him once and for all, which its exasperated members will presumably be all-to-happy to do.

Such has become the reigning fantasy of the Trump era:  The assumption that after two-plus years of getting away with slaughtering one sacred cow after another, Trump will eventually say or do something so profoundly beyond the pale that the entire country will drop everything and say, “That does it.  This man can no longer be the president.”  Evidently, nothing he has done so far has risen to that level—including that time he bragged about having committed sexual assault.

In any case, the crux of this hopeful narrative is the basic fact of Trump’s terminally low approval ratings since entering the White House—numbers that seem to remain in the toilet irrespective of how he behaves on any given day.  While much was made of a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey that pegged the president’s support at a historically awful 36 percent, the truth is that his numbers have barely moved since the moment he took the oath of office.  (According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating has ranged between 36 and 42 percent every day since April 29, and has never once risen above 46.)

How, you ask, could someone who has yet to garner the support of 50 percent of the public—and likely never will—possibly win the next presidential election under any circumstances?  It’s a sensible enough question—or it would be, except for the 16 U.S. presidents who have done exactly that.

That’s right:  More than one in three of America’s commanders-in-chief achieved ultimate power without winning a majority of the popular vote.  Of those 16 men, five (including Trump) lost the national popular vote outright, while the remaining 11 won a plurality of the popular vote but were denied an absolute majority thanks to multiple opponents who split the vote amongst themselves.  Three chief executives—Clinton, Wilson and Cleveland—managed to pull this off twice, so who is to say it will not happen again in 2020?

Having won by losing once already, Trump plainly understands that he doesn’t need broad support on anything to eke out a victory 42 months hence.  Gifted a lousy Democratic opponent and a halfway-viable third party nominee—both of which are entirely within the realm of plausibility—Trump could squeak back into the White House with little more than 40 or 41 percent.  As ever, the only number that truly matters is 270—a majority in the Electoral College—which Trump could hit merely by holding 26 of the 30 states he won last November.

And how will he accomplish that?  By doing what he does best:  Bluffing.

Regardless of his actual domestic record after four years, he will proclaim himself the most successful chief executive in history.  Regardless of the findings of Robert Mueller’s investigation, he will declare himself not guilty on all charges.  Regardless of whatever happens in North Korea, the Middle East and God knows where else, he will boast of having defeated ISIS, staunched illegal immigration and Made America Great Again.

All such behavior will be perfectly predictable, stemming, as it does, from Trump’s nature as a delusional narcissist who is somehow also a world-class con artist.  As Sarah Ellison writes in this month’s Vanity Fair, “[Trump] is a pathogen, doing what pathogens do, and as surprised as anyone to have found himself replicating in the nation’s bloodstream.”

The question, then, is how many marks Trump’s act will attract this time around, and whether enough of them will turn out to the polls on November 3, 2020.

It is my view that enough of them will, and that this miserable circus will go on for precisely 2,922 days longer than most people expected on November 7, 2016.  Despite the incompetence and despite the fraud, Trump will remain leader of the free world for eight full years.

Why?  Because, fundamentally, Americans are leery of abandoning a known quantity who wields supreme power.  We like stability and familiarity in our leaders, and while Trump does not exactly embody the former, he has long mastered the art of distracting America from one controversy by bungling into a new one, thereby resetting the 24-hour media game clock and nudging the goalposts of moral outrage ever-farther down the field.

For all the warnings on the left to never accept Trump and his methods as “the new normal,” it is human nature to adapt to a changing environment over time.  Like the famous frog who adjusts to a gradually-warming pot of water, the American public has learned to assimilate the president’s singularly bizarre and dangerous behavior as an organic feature of the current political landscape.  His unpredictability has itself become predictable, and millions of our fellow citizens take real, if perverse, comfort from not knowing what the hell he’s going to do next.

George Carlin once said, “When you’re born in this world, you are given a ticket to the freak show.  When you’re born in America, you are given a front row seat.”  It was in that same spirit that, in June 2015—as the campaign was just beginning—The Onion ran a story, faux-written by Trump himself, titled, “Admit It:  You People Want To See How Far This Goes, Don’t You?”

Well:  don’t we?