Donald Trump is not having a good year.
First, it was the threat of World War III with Iran. Then, it was impeachment in the House for soliciting the help of a foreign power in the US election. As if that wasn’t enough, a once-in-a-century pandemic hit and demolished the economic success that Trump held so closely.
To top it all off, the undercurrents of systemic racism have boiled over in a moment of sweeping social change, of which the president has walled himself in on the wrong side.
Donald Trump is not having a bad year, either. He is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.
And as the November elections inch closer, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Trump finds himself in a position rarely seen by the modern president.
From a peak of 45.8 percent on April 8 in FiveThirtyEight’s conglomerate approval rating, Trump’s approval has dipped to its lowest since mid-January of 2019. At the same time, disapproval of Trump has jumped by more than six points, from 49.7 percent in early April to 56 percent today.
In general election polls, Joe Biden maintains a commanding lead over Trump. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll — one of the most reputable polls in the industry — found Biden leading the president by 14 percent, “among the most dismal showings of Mr. Trump’s presidency.”
It is abundantly clear that Trump has hit a low point in his presidency, just as he faces a daunting general election campaign that wasn’t easy for him the first time around.
All of this culminates in the rumors floating in Republican circles that Trump could drop out of the race if his numbers stay where they are.
“Speculation indicates how tense GOP operatives are about Trump losing and the party losing the senate and having their entire agenda abolished,” Charles Gasparino of FOX Business reported earlier this week. “One [person spoken to] described [Trump's] current psyche as ‘fragile.’”
Could Trump really drop out? What would it mean for the GOP?
It seems next to impossible that Trump would drop out. It’s not like he was the favorite to win the 2016 election; in fact, almost everyone suspected that Trump would lose in a landslide to Hillary Clinton. Knowing Trump’s temperament and mindset as much as the public can, Trump won’t drop out.
Even if he is facing pressure from the GOP establishment — which in and of itself seems unlikely, given the fact that he has practically become the establishment — that hasn’t stopped Trump before. After the Access Hollywood tape was released, numerous Republicans disavowed the candidate, only for his success to continue.
But let’s consider a situation in which Trump does drop out. Many have speculated that Trump never really wanted to win the presidency in the first place — it was just a media ploy, they say. Let’s say that Trump is tired of the constant beration of nuanced policy decisions and degradation in the press.
What happens then? To have a presidential candidate drop out within four months of the election would be unprecedented, and the GOP would be left scrambling to find a replacement.
Their strongest heir apparent would be vice president Mike Pence. While Pence has shown to be more ideologically rational and, in some situations, less conservative than the president, he holds the association of Trump without much of the baggage.
But part of the reason why Trump won wasn’t just ideological. There was a significant chunk of the population in 2016 who wanted revolution and dramatic reform from a Washington outsider, and many were torn between voting for Trump or Bernie Sanders. You would be hard pressed to find any two politicians more disparate on policy.
Pence doesn’t carry the same identity as Trump; he is a career establishment politician. If Republicans turned to Pence, they may lose the chunk of the population that got Trump elected in the first place. Even if never-Trump Republicans turned back to the party — which is not a sure bet, given Pence’s association with Trump — it wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference.
In short, it is hard to envision a world where Trump drops out. In the slim chance that the president does voluntarily become a one-term leader, the GOP would face an insurmountable challenge in selling a candidate that would disillusion Trump’s base.
While the numbers may be dismal for Trump now, dropping out of the election would ensure not just a Blue Wave, but a Blue Hurricane.
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