It’s obviously way too soon to blame this on the shutdown and the news might get lost in the current food fight, but Axios came out with a set of numbers last night that will likely grab the attention of the White House. We’ve still got most of a year before the midterms wrap up, but Republican voters looking ahead to 2020 are far from set on the incumbent president as their candidate. This is a SurveyMonkey poll, but it seems to be fitting in with an early trend at this point. The overall number of Republicans and GOP leaners who would be willing to look at dumping Donald Trump in favor of some fresh blood isn’t a majority, but it’s getting dangerously close to one. Perhaps even worse, when broken down by age groups, there actually is a solid majority of young and middle age voters who are ready to change horses in midstream. (Click on image for full size)
Do you want another Republican to challenge President Trump for the party’s nomination in 2020? Among respondents who said they are or lean Republican, by age group:
How bad is that? Well, it’s not good, that’s for sure. If the GOP sharks circling the White House smell enough blood in the water they may well consider launching a serious and potentially well funded primary bid, which is generally unheard of. That doesn’t mean it would succeed, but it would bloody up Trump and drain a lot of campaign cash in advance of what is already set to be a challenging reelection bid.
The stark breakdown in the age gap isn’t all that shocking since younger voters still tend to lean more moderate and they may be more easily put off by Trump’s tweeting and distinctly “atypical” personality in terms of previous presidents. You might also take some comfort in the fact that the turnout for primary voters tends to skew older than in the general election.
But let’s not forget that it’s still a long road to the 2020 primary and a lot can change between now and then. In fact, there may already be a shift underway. It’s true that the general media blitz against Trump isn’t slowing up at all and likely won’t until the day he leaves. But there may be signs that the public is beginning to grow weary of the endless negativity and doomsaying with no actual fire turning up under all the smoke they’re generating. Just yesterday AP was discussing the fact that the Democrats’ edge in the generic ballot for the midterms has already begun to erode alarmingly. Does that help or hurt Trump? For the Democrats, it’s at best a wash, and if the President’s party manages to beat the normal, historical odds and prevail in November, that probably puts some of the winds of credibility back in his sails.
But with numbers like this lurking out there, Trump has maybe fifteen months at the outside to get his approval numbers back up above the 45% range at a minimum. By the spring of next year, there will be people officially getting into the primary business and attacking him from his own right flank. Of course, there’s still a more than even chance that it will happen anyway, even with higher approval, but the field would be limited to a few folks like Jeff Flake who might be written off as sour grapes if things are going well enough otherwise.
That’s still going to be the deciding factor if history gives us any clues. Right now the country’s general optimism about the economy is at levels not seen since the tech boom of the 90s. Wages are already beginning to creep up and the effects of the tax cut will be kicking in this month when people open their paychecks. If those trends continue and we don’t suddenly wind up in another avoidable war or suffer some other huge setback, it’s going to be hard to make the case that Trump has been “bad for the country.”
But this is American politics and all of that could turn on a dime with one seriously bad series of news cycles. If President Trump has any good people left advising him they should be working on some sort of subtle strategy to promote his accomplishments and tamp down the naysayers without looking deranged in the process. Enough positive developments could still conceivably get Trump’s approval back up in the high forties and that should be enough to squelch the talk of a primary challenge and leave the Democrats a little less positive about an easy win in 2020.