With the new year right around the corner, it’s worth considering what the world will look like a year from now. Our pace of change is, after all, light speed: 2020 could bring all sorts of crazy. This is true even if Donald Trump survives impeachment (which is likely) and even if he survives re-election (which is less likely, but still well within the realm of possibility).
We see through a glass darkly. Who would have predicted the Ukraine call that dominated the last half of 2019? Every day, it seems, brings us a new development, insane tweets, and new colorful characters being introduced to this drama. Why should next year be different?
A healthy, if chilling, reminder: Despite our gloominess about the future, this president has not yet been fully tested. Many of the events that could define 2020—the things that would likely determine electoral outcomes—are beyond our control. Right now, Trump is running on a very good economy. Indeed, that alone would probably be enough to guarantee the re-election of a normal incumbent president. But what happens if this economy begins to show signs of slowing? We should not root for this, but the trajectory of an economy matters, and a potential downturn could remove the best card that Trump is holding.
It’s also impossible to predict what might happen in terms of foreign policy, and how those things might play out. Some sort of crisis—even one provoked by Trump’s erratic policies—could have the short-term result of bolstering his re-election chances.
Can America skate through another calendar year that enjoys relative peace and prosperity?
The one area where the players at least have a modicum of control is in deciding whom to nominate to take on Trump in 2020. To be sure, numerous variables are involved (does it snow on Iowa caucus day?), but Democrats, at least, have an opportunity to decide what kind of choice they are going to offer the American voters come November.
What is more, that nominee will then have to decide (a) whom to select as his or her running mate, and (b) what kind of campaign to run (for example, do they focus on turning out progressive millennials and appeasing “woke” Twitter, or focus on working-class voters in the Rust Belt and suburban moms?).
I must confess to taking special interest in this question.
As a bloc, we may not pack much of an electoral wallop, but people like me—conservative “Never Trumpers”—have a special stake in what sort of candidate the Democrats nominate. In 2016, I decided I couldn’t, in good conscience, pull the lever for either Hillary Clinton or Trump. Since then, however, Trump has done nothing to assuage my concerns about his character, and a lot to un-assuage them. Still, I’m a conservative, which makes a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren candidacy too large a pill to swallow.
But what do I do if Joe Biden wins the nomination, picks Amy Klobuchar to be his running mate or some other person from the non-leftist wing of the party, and runs on a “return to normalcy” platform that essentially declares a truce on social issues, focusing instead on unity? Do I, for the first time in my life, pull the lever for a Democrat? This sort of a conundrum would be, for me, something of a happy dilemma.
Of course, this is much bigger than me. People always say that the next election is the most important one ever. But this time, they may be right.
Imagine what happens if Trump, having survived impeachment, also wins re-election. At that point, Trump would presumably be freed from what few encumbrances have reined him in. He will view his behavior as having been sanctioned by the Senate and ratified by the broader electorate. Unless Trump’s re-election comes with a massive Democratic takeover of the Senate, Trump will have been emboldened. God only knows where that could lead.
Meanwhile, any hopes of restoring the Republican Party to its pre-Trumpian status—however quixotic that might have been—would have vanished. That’s not to say that Trump will have a permanent lock on the GOP indefinitely. But after eight years as the party standard bearer, there is no waking up from this nightmare.
The Democrats might also have problems on their hands. Imagine what happens if they follow my advice, only to watch a Biden-Klobuchar “return to normalcy” ticket end up losing a general election. Fair or not, progressives will then argue that centrism is an electoral loser. This would pave the way for an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez run in 2024 (she would just barely make the cut, turning 35 on Oct. 13 of that year). Already, there’s buzz for this.
The result would be two political parties that are even more polarized, and even more committed to the Europeanization of American politics. Rather than having two centrist parties (both committed to the mainstream values of liberal democracy) that are playing on the 40-yard line, you’d have a right-wing nationalist party and a left-wing democratic socialist one.
An AOC presidency would be an ironic result of Republicans having nominated and elected Donald Trump to the presidency, but it would do nothing to stop the bitterness that has infected America. If you think Barack Obama’s candidacy stoked a culture war backlash that gave us Donald Trump, just imagine what happens when a young Latina—who really is a socialist—gets the nod.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. 2020 is going to keep us busy enough. The big question is whether the only remaining sane political party can stay that way long enough to get us back on track. And for that to happen, this new year will have to smile on the right leaders. America turns its lonely eyes to you, Joe Biden.