Commentary: US President in 2020 - why Donald Trump could win again
Mr Trump has refashioned the world, American politics and the Republican party in his image - and he's only halfway done.
SINGAPORE: Where were you on Nov 9, 2016?
I remember watching votes stream in for the US presidential election, surprised at then property billionaire Donald Trump's burgeoning numbers.
Those numbers kept on coming and were eventually good enough to put Mr Trump in the White House - confounding pollsters, political commentators and scores of people around the world who were convinced that Hillary Clinton was a sure-fire bet.
A CONTROVERSIAL LEADER
Fast-forward to last week, and the start of a process which looks set to repeat many of the dynamics of 2016. On Tuesday (Jun 17), Mr Trump launched his 2020 re-election campaign to thunderous applause at a packed Florida rally.
Here is a controversial leader who made grandiose promises to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants and tear up trade deals, all to Make America Great Again.
As he boasted of having stared down a broken political establishment, dismissed the Robert Mueller report as an illegal witchhunt, and lambasted Democrats who wanted to “destroy America”, in those three or so hours, the crowds went wild.
Yet his overall message, missed by many news outlets, that his version of the American dream is back on track and the future is brighter than ever, resonated deeply not just with the audience at the event but millions of Americans watching at home.
Segments of the American intelligentsia have been waiting for years to see the back of him. Many political commentators have demonised Mr Trump’s style of politics and painted it as dark, divisive fear-mongering.
More have called his policies ineffective, out of touch with reality and even un-American, with some claiming he’s unpopular, authoritarian and unfit for the top job.
To be fair, if one looks at Mr Trump’s Tweets – as many of his detractors do, in an almost obsessive way – one might conclude that Mr Trump has some shortcomings, highlighting a lack of command of detail, spelling deficiencies and a general “un-Presidential” tone.
HE CANNOT LOSE
Such criticisms provide plenty of fuel to those who suggest that another term for President Trump would be a disaster for the US and the rest of the world.
However, a dispassionate assessment of his time in office highlights how, for all his naysayers, he has a track record which many voters will likely give the thumbs up to.
For instance, right now looks like a good time to be American, which works to Mr Trump’s advantage.
The US economy is experiencing its longest rally ever, with unemployment at historic lows, the stock market brimming with optimism, and businesses benefitting from tax cuts and cheap interest rates. Mr Trump will reap the fruits of this buzz, never mind that the seeds of this rally might have been sown way before he took office.
History shows many US president have won on the back of the strength of the economy alone. Predictions based on economic indicators suggest a resounding Trump win for 2020 if the economy continues to chug along.
There's also no denying the power of incumbency, as studies show the majority of presidents are re-elected for a second term while their rivals have to battle a brutal primary race.
An oft-cited poll may have suggested Mr Trump would lose to leading Democrat contenders but the alternatives offered in the form of former Vice-President Joe Biden and 2016 firebrand Bernie Sanders who lost to Clinton feel like more of the same that has gone before.
While his approval ratings remain low among die-hard Democrats, Mr Trump’s lightning-rod approach to taking strong stances on issues close to the heart of his base seems to have energised them, which explains in part why he pulls in 80 to 90 per cent approval ratings with this group.
Even US House Speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi has climbed down from rhetoric on impeachment to avoid alienating his supporters.
With a finger on the pulse of American politics, Mr Trump continues to tap into commonly felt pain points and has kept up the pressure when it comes to immigration, jobs and trade.
He’s the beating heart of his own perpetual electioneering and his Tweets have gotten him not just media visibility but undeniable mindshare with Americans.
The truth is in a busy 24/7 media landscape where voters are often bogged down with bread-and-butter issues or distracted by social media, Mr Trump never really stopped campaigning. A full-time team to helm his re-election campaign was appointed shortly after he assumed the Oval Office, an endeavour that has grown greater financial muscle since.
BOOSTING CONFIDENCE IN AMERICA'S PLACE IN THE WORLD
Surprisingly, the centre piece of Mr Trump's re-election campaign could be his foreign policy, buttressed by tough, concrete action that seems to have America winning and winning again.
He has rewritten the playbook on diplomacy. Through a game of bluff, bluster and brash moves, he has deftly renegotiated trade deals with America’s top partners, moved allies to commit to spend more on defence, and earlier this month, pushed Mexico to tighten border security.
And just last week, Mr Trump's dangerous game of brinksmanship has led to Iran backing off attacks on US drones and ships off the Strait of Hormuz.
Among his other foreign policy accolades, his fans count meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first for an American president.
His show of strength in the lead-up to a long-anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20, starting with the entity ban on Huawei and culminating with five more Chinese tech groups on the trade blacklist last week, demonstrates that he’s willing to take on China, a stance that enjoys strong backing in Washington and most parts of the country.
He’s pulling his party with him. Although Republicans have been traditionally pro-trade, Tariff Man has managed to get them to see a different way of making trade work for Americans.
The hope is that the culmination of his foreign policy actions will restore faith in globalisation and engagement in the hearts of the American people.
The key to that lies in Trump getting re-elected, as his base places their trust in him to set things right. Regardless of what action he seems to take, to them, the man can do no wrong.
In short, Mr Trump has refashioned the world, American politics and the Republican party in his image - and he's only halfway done.
Back to 2016. Seth Meyers, a late night talkshow host, captures this best when he said after the election results were out:
I've been wrong about Donald Trump at every turn.
When he first came down that escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy, I said he would never win the Republican ticket, and then when he did, that he would never become President, Meyers highlights.
“But the good news is, based on this pattern of me being wrong on every one of my Donald Trump predictions, he’s probably going to be a great f****** President.”