Trump in 2020 is Obama in 2012

But one sometimes wonders what exactly Trump’s supporters expected from him. It is hard to imagine that anyone really thought he would single-handedly reverse the decline in manufacturing or save Middle America from the opioid crisis. This is to say nothing of China, a problem so large that even beginning to solve it would require something like the unanimous bipartisan consensus that existed around the Cold War.

I think that in the case of a large number — certainly not all, but a great many — of the president’s fans, my utilitarian framing of the question gets things backwards. Voting for Trump in 2016 was not a kind of earnest money payment for services that supporters expected to see rendered at some point during the next four years. It was an existential decision, a carnivalesque middle-finger gesture. Trump was not being elected in order to do anything: The fact of his being in office at all and what it represented to these voters’ enemies, real or perceived, was somehow an affirmation of their lives.

Which is why I think that if we are looking for a framework in which to discuss the president’s chances of re-election, a much better point of reference than 2016 is 2012, when Barack Obama surprised many observers, including some in his own party, by holding on to his presidency.