There’s a fascinating pattern to American presidential elections that should help us forecast the likely candidate who will run on the Democratic ticket in 2020, particularly if it is against Donald Trump. Now that is an issue, though, because an awful large number of pundits are predicting that Trump will not serve his full term, let alone run for a second term.
Let’s assume for the purpose of argument that he somehow survives and runs again. He already has filed for re-election, by the way. How does the secret pattern in American presidential elections help us understand the likely winner in 2020?
Let’s go all the way back to H.W. Bush and look at the emerging pattern. Papa Bush was an elitist or, as Ann Richards delighted to say, he was born with a silver shoe in his mouth. Papa had a pedigree all right, as well as all the experience you could ask (representative, senator, CIA director, VP). Running against him was Bill Clinton, a man who was born dirt poor and had little experience besides being the governor of a very small state. Papa was more of an introvert while Bill Clinton never saw anyone he didn’t want to shake hands with and talk his ear off. Papa had been an air force pilot while Bill ran as fast as he could to avoid the draft. Clinton, the anti-Papa Bush, won.
The next big election was Al Gore Jr. against George W. Bush. Gore was part of the elite crowd while W was one of the people. Gore talked in long, complex sentences while W even had trouble with short sentences. Still, W was a much better communicator and someone regular folks could identify with so he won. He barely won, but he won. Gore did not even carry his own state.
What about Barack Obama as the man who followed W? They could not have been more different. W was an extrovert, a man who talked like the common folks. He preached a moral crusade against the “evil doers” and pursued an aggressive military posture. Obama was much more an introvert, a loner not happy mixing with the Washington crowd. He was an intellectual who wrote books. Remember that Bush wanted everything he read presented on one page with bullet points. Obama’s rhetoric was soaring and he read lots of books and was often photographed leaving bookstores. He preached caution and he wanted to extract us from Iraq. He had trouble pulling the trigger on military actions because he thought deeply about the “what happens after?” question. In other words, he was far from impulsive. Obama also rarely bragged about himself. He tended to use the pronouns “we” and “us” quite a bit. Bush wore his religion on his sleeve and even said God talked to him. Obama’s religious faith was a private matter for him except when he had to defend himself against charges he went to the church of a radical preacher.
Trump obviously was the anti-Obama. He was expansive, particularly when it came to talking about himself. He spoke at about a fourth grade level and never was seen reading a book. He once said he only read books about himself. He bragged that he operated by his “gut” rather than by studying briefing books. He didn’t want to take intelligence briefings because he already knew the stuff because he was “smart.” I think you see the pattern. He was the anti-Obama.
What about Hillary? Wasn’t she the anti-Trump? The answer is that she had so much baggage that it made it relatively easy for Trump to paint the two of them in the same picture. She constantly attached Trump and came across as “strong” like Trump, but that hardness or strength probably was viewed negatively by evangelical women. Did Trump’s foundation have issues? Well, just look at the issues with Hillary he would say. Does Trump have issues with his Trump University? Well, he would answer, look at Hillary and her email server. She’s going to be indicted and probably go to jail–do you want a president who is indicted? When Hillary rightfully accused Trump of being a bigot, he just answered the way a first grader would and said “you are also.” The press never made him explain himself because they were getting incredible ratings.
What about Trump’s affairs? Well, he would say, look at Bill Clinton. Do you want him in the White House? I could go on, but I think you see that Trump had probably the one candidate he could label as no better than he was.
So, now we have a president who loves the limelight, loves to brag, loves to threaten his opponents as well as other countries, and does not get along with his own Republicans. He’s not a deep thinker, and he relies on his gut. He’s loud and crude. Who’s the anti-Trump?
At this point I would say Karen Gillebrand is the anti-Trump. In media terms, she comes across as soft but thoughtful and competent. She has worked on bi-partisan legislation. She has worked on women’s issues but also veterans’ issues. She has moved from being a blue-dog Democrat to being more of a progressive. Still, Trump can’t paint her as someone as liberal as Elizabeth Warren. She has represented a relatively conservative and rural set of voters in upper state New York and been re-elected. She knows how to use guns, so ads can show her as “tough”. She is articulate and good looking. She is much younger than Trump. Because of Trump’s emphasis on being on the wrong side on every major women’s issue, she can be his polar opposite. She can be compassionate for those people in danger of losing their healthcare (or those who already have). Trump lacks the compassion gene and the empathy gene.
The pattern is that the public usually grows tired of a president and wants a polar opposite change. Every Trump year feels like a dog year. After a few of those the public will be eager to hear a softer, more thoughtful and compassionate voice. I think she can be less threatening to conservative women than Hillary was and that could be worth some votes.