Last February at CPAC, while I chatted about Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection prospects with an influential conservative radio talk show host, he made a statement that resonated with me: “If Trump wasn’t Trump, he’d be Reagan.”
Given the robust economy and lengthy list of accomplishments that my fellow Republicans love to recite (319 to be exact) — along with a “promises kept” timeline from Trump’s reelection campaign — I agreed then, as I do now, that the president’s reelection chances minus all the drama equal President Reagan’s.
Moreover, I can personally attest that among Republicans — when five or more are gathered in his name — this discussion topic often arises: “Trump is the greatest president since Reagan.”
And then there’s this quote from a Florida Republican Party official that recently appeared in the Palm Beach Post: “‘I used to say that President Trump is our best president since Ronald Reagan. I don’t say that anymore. I say President Trump is our best president since Abraham Lincoln,’” he said to cheers.
It’s no joke that many Republicans fantasize about 2020 as the sequel to 1984 — Reagan’s blow-out reelection victory over Walter Mondale — the lackluster former vice president who served under an even more lackluster president, Jimmy Carter.
For the record, Reagan winning 525 Electoral College votes with only 13 for Mondale —10 from his home state of Minnesota and three from the District of Columbia — stands today as the GOP’s highwater mark. (It’s hard to believe now, but second is President Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection trouncing of Sen. George McGovern with an Electoral College victory of 520 to 17.)
Ah, the glory days of my party winning “red states” in every direction across the fruited plain — before they were even called “red.” (That started during the 2000 election.)
Given Trump’s RealClearPolitics job approval rating average of 44.8%, compared to 52% for Reagan at this time in 1984 — it is unlikely that even with a Reagan-like economy, Trump could win in a landslide. But he could still win reelection after a nothing-burger impeachment (likely forgotten by Election Day) is overshadowed by all the “promises kept.”
The truth is millions of Americans who are not hard-core MAGA hat wearers will vote to reelect him by overlooking “Trump being Trump” because “I love how my 401K is doing.” This week, I heard those exact words from a middle-aged white male luxury car salesman in Florida. He gleefully proclaimed that “business is great,” but he is not thrilled with Trump’s persona and behavior that resulted in his impeachment.
Thus, the conundrum upon which Trump’s reelection prospects hinge: Do fat paychecks and plump 401Ks provide an affirmative answer to the question: Trump is Trump, but can he still be Reagan?
My answer is yes, especially among white male voters. However, and unfortunately for Trump, women of all races are looking beyond the well-worn 1992 phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Energized, engaged women are 2020’s demographic to watch since they constituted a larger percentage of the electorate in 2016 —52% to 48%. Same in both 2012 and 2008, when the electorate was 53% female and 47% male.
Recent RealClearPolitics general election match-up polls show how gender might shape the presidential results while impeachment monopolizes all the media bandwidth. (And I know how much Republicans hate this exercise because of the mantra “Don’t believe the polls.”)
That is primarily due to Biden walloping Trump with women by a margin of 61% to 37%. Should Team Trump be worried by that 24-point gap? No, but it is worth noting the increase over 2016 when Hillary Clinton won women by 13 points, 54% to 41% over Trump.
Conversely, the poll continues to show men’s preference for Trump over Biden by a nine-point margin of 53% to 44% — with the president down two percentage points from 2016 when he won men by 11 points over Clinton, 52% to 41%.
When the CNN poll breaks out battleground states (buried in table 100), Trump’s performance with both men and women improves slightly. Although Biden still defeats Trump by two percentage points (49% to 47%), it is well within the margin of error. And with men — consistently Trump’s strongest demographic — he is preferred over Biden by 55% to 40%. (A battleground state increase of 15 points, up from nine points nationally within the same poll.)
With battleground state women, Biden’s advantage is cut to 18 percentage points — 58% to Trump’s 40%. (Still a “yikes.”)
Now let’s turn to a Florida Mason Dixon poll released on Dec. 31, 2019, with data detailing the political state of Trump’s new “home state.”
Ultimately, 2020 could be decided by the party that wins Florida’s 29 Electoral College votes that Trump won in 2016 with a 1.2% margin of victory. (File this away: As a result of the 2020 census, Florida is projected to gain two Electoral College votes — making the state an even greater prize in 2024 when popular Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to make a run for the White House if reelected in 2022.)
Back to Florida 2020, the poll shows how Biden and Trump could potentially engage in a bloody cage fight with Biden now edging Trump by only two percentage points, 47% to 45%, with 8% undecided. (RCP also displays a later Jan. 15 Florida FAU poll with the same Trump-Biden two-point spread, but I used the earlier Mason Dixon poll because of its detailed crosstabs.)
Among Sunshine State women voters, Biden leads Trump by 11 percentage points, 50% to 39%, with 11% undecided. But Trump leads with men by 10 percentage points, 53% to 43%, with 4% undecided. Signaling how racially contentious Florida is going to be this year, Trump leads Biden with white voters 58% to 33%, with 9% undecided.
Biden trumps Trump with African Americans, 92% to 4%, and only 4% undecided. Then, there is the growing Hispanic vote (20% of the state’s eligible voters) becoming more mobilized. This could be a real detriment to Trump, shown losing Hispanics to Biden by 61% to 32%, with 7% undecided.
Finally, the latest poll (Emerson) displayed by RCP has Biden and Trump tied nationally and with a perfectly mirrored men vs. women battle – 57% of men approving of Trump with 38% disapproving, and 38% of women approving of the president with 57% disapproving.
Altogether, these polls and many more point to the fact that when it comes to supporting Trump, even with a strong economy, women are less enthusiastic than men. Are they more concerned that Trump is not a role model for their children or that they find his aggressive behavior not befitting a president?
Is that concept key to the question “If Trump wasn’t Trump, he’d be Reagan”? The answer will determine whether women are powerful enough to give Trump a permanent “time out” in November.
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