CIRULI: Could Donald Trump be heading for re-election?

Author: Floyd Ciruli - December 20, 2017 - Updated: December 19, 2017

Floyd Ciruli

Rather than speculate about Donald Trump’s re-election chances, audiences at recent speech engagements all seem to want an answer to the same question: Will Donald Trump make it a full four years? The discussion produces considerable anxiety for both his supporters and his many and very vocal detractors.

The following is a running commentary from a slide I use in the presentations on the various scenarios that could sideline Trump before the 2020 election. It also includes possible options in the election itself.

Impeachment. Could he be impeached is asked most often, followed by the likelihood of Trump’s death. Neither is likely. Assuming partisanship dominates the process, the Democrats would need to win the House in the 2018 midterm elections. It will be their best chance since losing it in 2010. If they were to win 24 House seats, they could bring an indictment, but with 67 votes required for conviction in the Senate, it appears a futile effort. Democrats would have to decide if it would be a distraction to their effort to defeat Trump in 2020. Everyone recalls that the major loser in the Bill Clinton impeachment was Newt Gingrich, who lost his speakership in the poor Republican showing in the 1998 midterms.

(Source: Bloomberg / Floyd Ciruli)

Amendment 25. Section 4 of Amendment 25 of the United States Constitution governs impairment in office. Many people believe Trump is already impaired, but the decision would be made by a majority of the Cabinet (or a group designated by the Senate), and it seems unlikely. Yet, Trump has definitely shifted a few of the Cabinet acolytes into doubtful supporters since the flattery infused cabinet meeting of June 13, 2017.

Resignation. Trump could just tire of the job or believe some looming problem makes resignation a solution. If he’s tired of the Mueller investigation, wait until he sees what a Judiciary Committee investigation looks like if the Democrats control the House. However, few Democrats are excited about Vice President Pence replacing Trump, seeing him as having the same policies without the eccentric behavior – hence, making him harder to defeat in 2020 and possibly even more effective if he were to step into the president’s role now.

Resignation is also unlikely given Trump’s ego and his need to see his name on cable crawls and in the headlines, and to win some exchange every day (see New York Times: Inside Trump’s Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation). As an ex-president, even the master showman Trump would have trouble keeping his audience.

Death. Given his diet, many people speculate he’ll be lucky to live another three years. But, the actuarial table favors him hanging in there. Although Trump no doubt generates a surfeit of threats, the Secret Service appear to have it well handled.

Primary. Finally, the election maneuvering begins in 2019 and some Republicans will likely challenge him. The polls make clear that, although he may only command about one-third of the public’s support, he regularly maintains 80-plus percent approval among Republicans. As of today, a successful Republican primary appears very unlikely— however, a bad midterm performance may shift the calculation.

Lose re-election. The 2020 re-election of Donald Trump would likely be as unique and as bizarre as his win in 2016. The Democrats will, no doubt, have an historic primary battle given the anti-Trump passion, the stakes of four more years of Trump and the sense that Trump is vulnerable. It is also possible that strong third-party and independent candidates will mount races. We are in a disruptive age and the two major parties are embattled. Expect the unexpected.

Presidents tend to be re-elected. In recent times, President Lyndon Johnson chose not to seek a second full term, and Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were defeated. But, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama were all re-elected, often with substantial majorities. Hence, Trump begins with an historic presumption, even though his narrow election and weak approval ratings paint him as the most vulnerable incumbent in modern history.

Floyd Ciruli

Floyd Ciruli

Floyd Ciruli is a veteran pollster and noted political analyst based in Denver. He is the director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies and is an adjunct professor teaching public opinion and foreign policy. Read Ciruli's blog at www.fciruli.blogspot.com