Unseating a sitting president is never an easy task.
For most of America’s modern history, incumbents, both Republicans, and Democrats, have won re-election, often handily.
Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all served two terms in office.
Their opponents often imagined that they were vulnerable to defeat after their first term – but these hopes proved illusory.
It turns out that there are many natural advantages to incumbency, not the least of which is White House dominance of the daily news cycle.
Even in the face of partisan hostility, a president can establish a persuasive narrative on the issues and draw consistent attention to his own policy agenda.
Moreover, even novice presidents like Obama – and now, Trump – gain invaluable experience as first-term chief executives. They gain exclusive access to diplomatic and intelligence information which they can leverage to their advantage during their re-election bids.
Finally, the American electorate seems to favor re-electing presidents as a sign of political continuity.
The presidents that have failed to win two terms, including Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, did so because they faced exceptional circumstances: Mainly, a rapidly deteriorating economy and a widespread public perception that they were out of touch with the national mood.
With Donald Trump, Democrats face much the same challenge that opponents of Reagan in 1984, Bush in 2004 or Obama in 2012 faced: Convincing voters, especially swing voters, to change horses in mid-stream.
In fact, Trump’s presidency seems to fit the established mold. The economy is continuing to rebound from the Great Recession of 2007-2008 and the public overall, including many Democrats, strongly approves of his economic stewardship.
And on Trump’s signature issue – immigration and defending the nation’s borders – public support has consolidated, even amid concerns over Trump’s insistence on building “The Wall.”
On foreign and defense policy, the public may be less supportive, but these issues rarely determine the outcome of a presidential election. Besides, America is not at war.
Trump is withdrawing Americans forces from sputtering conflicts he inherited in Southwest Asia and he is making serious peace overtures that could denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
If the past is any guide, Trump should be a shoo-in for re-election.
But the past may not be the best guide. Democrats, who have never accepted the legitimacy of Trump’s victory in 2016, are trying their best to discredit Trump’s presidency by extraordinary means.
Even before his victory, Democrats tried to stigmatize Trump personally, suggesting that he was “unfit” for the presidency.
And since his election, there’s been a non-stop propaganda campaign to portray the president as racist, sexist, corrupt, a pawn of foreign powers (most notably Russia) and “lawless.”
Yet, despite support for this campaign from CNN and MSNBC, as well as the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post, it hasn’t worked.
Even in the face of unremitting hostility from much of the establishment, including some sectors of the GOP, Trump’s approval rating hovers near 45%-50%, more than enough to ensure re-election.
The decision this week to begin an impeachment inquiry against Trump is indicative of the Democrats’ growing desperation.
While touting polls that show Democratic challengers with leading Trump in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, most Democrats are growing fearful that no one in their ranks, including Joe Biden, can actually defeat Trump in 2020.
Richard Painter, a former White House attorney in the Bush administration, first sounded the alarm three months ago, stating publicly that impeachment, not the ballot box, would be the only way to drive Trump from office.
He reiterated that fear three days ago.
Democrats don’t seem to appreciate the irony of admitting that Trump may have become too popular with the voters to let electoral democracy decide his fate. They’ve decided to go for broke
In fact, there’s little support for impeachment, except among Democrats. Only 5% of Republicans and 30% of independent voters support an effort to remove Trump from office.
And in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan, support for impeachment is even lower.
Impeachment’s not even a realistic possibility. To remove Trump from office, a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote for impeachment.
Impeachment is a possibility in the Democratically-controlled House, but if so, the Democrats’ victory will be short-lived.
With Trump in full command of the GOP, there’s virtually no chance of impeachment succeeding in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Meanwhile, the president will accuse the Democrats of seeking partisan gain rather than working together constructively to get the nation’s business done.
In the end, most voters – anxious to see action to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, among other concerns — are likely to agree.
With a successful track record, Trump was always likely to win in 2020. But thanks to impeachment, 2020 could well become a Trump landslide.