As this is being written, a swarm of Democrats are vying to see who will go up against Trump in 2020. While there have been some calls for a bold Republican to try to primary Trump, this is extremely unlikely. Trump enjoys strong support from Republican voters and Republicans have long ceased to offer even feeble condemnations of his worst deeds. On the one hand, this support might strike some as odd. To use an analogy, imagine if you hired a plumber and they talked about their job like Trump (borderline incoherent) and expressed no interest or skill in doing plumbing? You would not support that plumber or be inclined to hire them again. One might say that this analogy breaks down because Trump is like the owner of a plumbing business—what matters is the people that do the actual work. While this analogy has some merit, it runs into a few problems. First, Trump has put many incompetents and grifters into top positions—so the picked employees of the company are also awful. Second, the majority of the employees have nothing to do with Trump—they are the rank and file federal workers who keep the country going regardless of who is in the Whitehouse. If they are doing a competent job, this has nothing to do with Trump.
On the other hand, Trump’s level of support makes perfect sense. Trump is eminently adapted to the political ecosystem that the Republicans created—he is a magnificent alligator for their lovingly crafted swamp. For example, the Republicans have been pushing the “liberal media” line for decades and Trump is hatred of the free press made manifest. To add additional illustrations, he has taken the reins of the bandwagon of voter fraud and has set aside the Republican dog whistle for bullhorn.
Trump, by chance or instinct, also fits perfectly into the politics as team sport/tribal conflict model. He “sticks it to” the other side, praises his side, and values only winning. As such, he is the perfect political beast for the Republican party. While there are some meaningful political differences between Americans, there is considerable agreement. There is also the obvious fact that Trump has taken positions that directly oppose professed Republican values: he is running a deficit, increasing spending, opposing free trade and so on. This indicates that political identity is often rather like being a sports fan: the teams stand for nothing, one just happens to have a favorite and supports it with unwarranted fervor because it is one’s team.
While Trump will win the Republican vote in 2020, he still needs independents and perhaps some Democrats to win. While some might entertain the wishful thinking that Trump cannot win, he has an excellent chance in 2020. First, the Democrats are…well…the Democrats. Although Obama’s people did an amazing job using technology and motivating voters, the current Democrats do not include such a charismatic figure and they are not as ruthlessly strategic as the Republicans (see, for example, voter suppression efforts). Second, the economy is very strong, and it seems likely that it will stay that way—incumbent presidents tend to get re-elected when the economy is doing well. This is somewhat like the passengers praising the captain of a cruise ship for the nice weather; silly but that is how people think. Or, to use another analogy, it would be like praising the captain of your intramural softball team because the field is so nice. This is because the president really has little impact on the economy; though they do have some.
Third, Trump seems utterly immune to scandals and terrible behavior that would be career-ending for almost any other human. Nancy Pelosi professes that the political calculus precludes impeaching Trump, so he seems safe there. In fact, attempting to impeach Trump would probably increase his chances of being elected. Not trying to do so leaves him able to run and also gives him a point on which to mock the Democrats. Because of these factors, unless the economy tanks, Trump is likely to be re-elected.