Looking Forward to the 2020 Election

Political analysts discuss President Trump’s chances of re-election and Democrats’ appeal to a polarized electorate.

SMPA 2020 election preview
CNN's Dana Bash and SMPA Professor Steven Roberts discussed the impeachment inquiry. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
November 11, 2019

The 2020 presidential election is a year away. On Tuesday, the 2019 election night in several states, the School of Media and Public Affairs convened political analysts for a panel titled “Re-electing Donald Trump? How a Divided America will Vote in 2020.”

“What better time to look forward?” said SMPA Director Frank Sesno, even as he reminded a packed Jack Morton Auditorium that the House of Representatives was moving forward to impeach President Donald Trump. GW’s College Republicans and College Democrats cosponsored the event. (See livestream.)

First up was a reunion between Steven Roberts, J. B. and MC. Shapiro professor of media and public affairs, and his star pupil, now CNN’s chief political correspondent Dana Bash, B.A. ’93.

Mr. Roberts wanted to know what had changed since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would not go down the road to impeachment unless there was “a compelling, overwhelming and bipartisan” reason. Ms. Bash said she saw no evidence of growing bipartisanship support for impeachment.

The real answer, she said, was pressure from the Democratic base who were saying, “‘What did we elect you for, why did we put you in the majority if you’re just going to sit there and take it frankly from this guy who is defying you at every turn for subpoenas, request for witnesses.’”

She said the whistleblower and the White House transcript provided cover for the Ms. Pelosi and Democratic representatives in swing districts who did not originally support impeachment.

Mr. Roberts noted that the president already has made impeachment an issue of political grievance. Ms. Bash said Rep. Jim Clyburn (D- S.C.) said in a rare moment of candor said it could be a “political negative” that is used to rile up the Republican base.

As Ms. Bash left to go on air at CNN, impeachment as a political issue was taken up by panelists Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press and a former GW student; Terker Distinguished Fellows Karen Finney, campaign adviser to Stacy Abrams and Hillary Clinton; Steve Scully, a senior executive producer and political director at C-Span; Kevin Madden, political commentator and former spokesman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign; and Kim Gross, SMPA associate professor of media and public affairs and vice dean for programs and operations at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Chuck Todd

Former GW student Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," talked about current preferences of independent voters. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)

Mr. Todd said that in the off-year election in Kentucky where Democrats had found “a very electable guy,” Attorney General Andy Beshear, to unseat the unpopular Republican Gov. Matt Bevins, the race narrowed significantly after impeachment became a national issue.

Ms. Finney, an adviser to Democratic candidates, said she found voters simply exhausted with politics. “Even for people who don’t follow politics on a regular basis, there is an anxiety in our culture that [Mr. Trump] transmits,” she said. “There is some holding the president accountable for not paying attention, not doing his job.”

Her Republican counterpart, Mr. Madden, agreed to some extent, but said if the economy is going in the right direction, independent voters will “hold their nose” and vote for Mr. Trump. “Those folks are saying I don’t like what he is doing, I don’t like him, I like his policies,” he said.

The national picture is less important, Mr. Madden said, than what happens within key suburban areas in battleground states that Mr. Trump won by a slim margin in 2016 and lost in 2018—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Dr. Gross said polls show a polarized electorate whose perceptions of the economy reflect their political leanings. “In terms of consumer confidence, Republicans are more confident than Democrats,” she said, adding that the economy may not have the same influence it used to have because of polarized politics.

Among independents, Mr. Todd said, “[Joe] Biden and Trump were basically even in this group of voters, 42 to 41. Trump was ahead by a point. Trump led [Elizabeth] Warren by 23 points among that same group of voters.”

“They’ll go to Trump in a hurry, but you can win them,” he said. “But they are afraid of progressive politics.”

Republican analyst Mr. Madden thinks Mr. Biden would have a tough time against Mr. Trump. “The process gets harder and harder and faster and faster,” he said, “and Trump gets more and more focused, drawing more contrasts on having an election that he believes is going to be a culture clash between left and right.”


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