The Midterm Cycle Is Over. The Presidential Cycle Now Begins.

(My sincerest thanks to all veterans for bravely protecting our country so cowards like me can write about it.)

And that’s it. Though I missed a couple Senate races, I was generally right across the board, mostly thanks to few surprises. Of all my predictions, however, perhaps what what most rings true is the reaction to the results and posturing from each party. On Tuesday morning, I predicted:

Republicans narrowly win the Senate, Democrats narrowly win the House. Not only is Congress divided, but each chamber is almost torn nearly in half as well. Nothing could better encapsulate today’s America.

CNN ran with that concept on Wednesday.

Both sides spin the night’s results like they’re working in an industrial textile mill. The President and his party point to the Senate holding firm. Democrats point to winning millions of more Senate and House votes across the country. Neither side offers sufficient context. The American people have difficulty deciphering the noise and . . . they trust their biased media outlet to do it for them.

As expected, both sides claimed victory, which is weird because both sides were disappointed before their preferred media kissed their boo-boos. Democratic cheerleaders have encouraged their premature spiking of the football, but, despite competitive or favorable polling, Democrats were clearly deflated by Senate losses in Indiana, Missouri, and, most of all, the likely double-loss in Florida with its governor’s race. After losing ground in the Senate, which consequently makes their 2020 Senate chances almost as slim as 2018’s, their claim that this was some great unified anti-Trump message is rather absurd. If Florida, probably the most relevant bellwether state for electoral politics, tips red in both its statewide races, that makes it unlikely broader America is experiencing any kind of Democratic revolution. Midterms are supposed to be tough for the president’s party, and Democrats should have better capitalized.

Still, even more absurd than that is the President’s laughable claims of a “big victory.” Yes, the Republican Party gained a couple seats in the Senate, which is more than can be said for Presidents Obama and Clinton in their first midterm, but that was much in thanks to their favorable mathematics and geography. After all, Democrats, pending narrow results in Florida and Arizona, won 24ish of the night’s 35 Senate races; it’s just that they started the night with 26 of those 35. Meanwhile, Democrats picked up 32 House seats nationwide (and counting), largely thanks to winning 5 million more votes — about 5 percentage points.[1] In state elections, Democrats will move into seven governor’s mansions; two more and they’ll pull even nationwide, which feels incredibly close considering the gubernatorial balance coming into the election was a lopsided 34 to 16. Finally, turning back years of Republican momentum in local races, Democrats flipped about 300 state legislature seats across the country.

Thus, while not a towering blue wave by any realistic measurement, it also wasn’t a “very close to a complete victory” for the President, or anywhere near it.


But enough about the past. Let’s look forward.

After 12 straight weeks of weekly posts (sometimes twice a week!), it’s now time for PPFA to cool its jets for a while. I expect I’ll downshift into biweekly posts, which will allow me to focus on the nearly-complete Top 30 ranking. But before I do, I’d like to take a snapshot of the 2020 presidential race, including potential candidates’ odds, two years before America decides who wins it. It’ll be a great reference point for future posts were I to cover my fourth straight presidential election. (The oddsmakers have that at about even, as I’ve never had to write about a presidential while also being a father to two at the same time. Oh, and I have a real job, too. So, yeah… even odds at best.)

Let’s start with…

The Republican Primary

Though dwindling in numbers, Republican Never-Trumpers hold out hope that a prominent conservative will challenge the President for the Republican nomination. Here are some questions to consider when pondering such a scenario’s likelihood:

Is there precedent? Not only is there precedent, the most notable precedent was none other than the Messiah-of-the-GOP-before-Trump-became-the-new-Messiah: Ronald Reagan! In 1976, Governor Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford in the Republican Primary, and he came darn close to winning; the final delegate count was Ford 1,187, Reagan 1,070.

The current circumstances, however, are considerably different than they were in 1976. Whereas Trump has had two years of a totally Republican Congress helping him push forward the conservative agenda, Ford was hamstrung by a Democratic legislative branch, much to the frustration of an increasingly loud conservative base of his party. Accordingly, President Trump, at his 500-day mark in office, was the most popular president among Republicans in modern history (with the only exception being an aberrant stretch of popularity for George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks), while Ford, according to Gallup, was the least:

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Since Ford began his presidency upon President Nixon resignation 19 months into the latter’s second term, Ford’s 500-day mark occurred in late December, 1975 — less than a month before the 1976 Iowa Caucus. If Trump falls to Fordian levels by December 2019, we can talk about a potential displacement on the Republican ticket, but his voters’ devotion shows no signs of wavering. It’s starting to feel like he could indeed shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters will admit, “Yeah, he probably shouldn’t have done that, but tax cuts, deregulation, illegal immigration, and the bench!”

Who would be crazy enough to end their political career with a run?

Mayyybe John Kasich? But if he runs, I see it as a third party spoiler bid. There might also be a token challenge from a no-name traditional conservative a la Evan McMullin (who was just trying to win his home state of Utah) or David A. French (who considered a third-party run before deciding it’d have been pointless). I don’t see any statewide officials being too interested, with the possible exception of outgoing Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

Oh, and it’s definitely not Mike Pence.

When will we know?

A challenger would probably follow Reagan’s 1976 playboook. Reagan began criticizing President Ford in the summer of 1975, declared his candidacy in the fall, then got his ducks in a row by the winter’s primaries. Translated to our upcoming cycle, we’ll watch for any increasingly vocal Republican critics in the summer of 2019 and any official campaign declaration within a few months of that. If anyone waits much longer than next fall, they risk not getting on all state primary ballots.

What do the oddsmakers have to say?

Most bookies have the President’s odds at the Republican nomination somewhere between 1 to 4 and 1 to 3.[2] I’m more confident and plan to make them more like 1 to 8. I think the oddsmakers’ hesitation stems less from him getting beat for the GOP’s nomination and more from Trump not standing for reelection after Democrats and the media make his life a living hell — or even resigning due to something incriminating coming to light. For example, Bet365 thinks his impeachment is even money and his resignation is just 3/1 odds.[3]

After Trump, Pence has by far the second shortest odds for the nomination, usually between 8/1 and 10/1, depending on the bookie. After that is Nikki Haley at 20ish/1 (after her unexpected decision to leave her Trump-appointed post as Ambassador to the UN), Mitt Romney (who I see as the most likely emergency nominee were Trump and Pence taken down in a scandal) at 30ish/1, and Kasich at 33ish/1.

Did PPFA just waste 500 words talking about this?

Yes. Yes it did. If he runs, Donald Trump is the 2020 Republican nominee for president. On this site’s sidebar (found at the bottom on smartphones), I’ll soon be installing him as a massive favorite.

Onto the drama!


The Democratic Primary

Much like the Democratic Party in general, it’s going to be a mess. Another piece of my predictions column asked Americans to brace themselves:

As the Democratic Party puts forward a united front against him in the House, at a more granular level it will slowly fracture into factions when 20 of its members declare for the presidency. Each is eager to be the nominee against a President who has alienated a majority of the country. You think this election cycle was dramatic? Just wait until the next one.

Indeed, the 2018 election, one framed by many as a referendum on Donald Trump (including by Trump himself), saw Democrats win five million more votes. By comparison, Hillary Clinton earned only three million more votes than him in 2016 and lost the election as a result of losing Wisconsin by 0.77%, Pennsylvania by 0.72%, and Michigan by 0.22%. If Trump is as popular in November 2020 as he was this past week, he’s a one-term president. Democratic presidential hopefuls know that, and they’ll climb over each other to be the person who gets to beat him.[4]

So yes, it’ll be a giant pile-up of a mess. And it needs a post of its own.

See you tomorrow.


FOOTNOTES:

[1]Incidentally, Republicans again outpaced national polling by a couple points. Remember this trend in two years. However, Rasmussen, which prided itself on having the closest 2016 prediction, was well off the mark with its final survey indicating a one-point Republican win.

[2]Written, fractionally, that’s 1/4 or 1/3. In other words, you’d have to bet 4 or 3 dollars to win 1. The American “moneyline” would write that at -400 or -300: you’d have to bet $400 or $300 to win $100. I bet you weren’t expecting a gambling lesson today, but, here at PPFA, surprising you with random information is practically our mission statement.

[3]It finds House impeachment paired with a Senate conviction at appropriately much longer odds: 10/1.

[4]By no means should you infer that I consider the Democratic nominee a shoe-in. Trump’s calculus this time around was to prioritize mobilizing the base to win Senate seats in rural North Dakota, Indiana, and Missouri, even if that cost him independent and suburban swing voters and, consequently, the House. In 2020, if capable, he can try something else.

It’s also worth noting that in 1994 and 2010, presidents Clinton and Obama suffered worse midterm defeats than President Trump did last week, but they went on to have pretty convincing re-election victories two years later. The midterm election was not the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, but Democrats can hope it was at least the end of the beginning.

3 thoughts on “The Midterm Cycle Is Over. The Presidential Cycle Now Begins.

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