The part of our infinite election season where an election actually happens is nearly upon us. Two candidates remain from the primary season, moving the race into its final and most painful phase. There can only be one winner: here is your guide to the 2020 Candidates and their chances
THE INCUMBENT: PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
A longtime celebrity and businessman, Donald Trump shocked the world by winning both the Republican nomination and the Presidency in 2016. But questions linger as to if he can pull a repeat in 2020. On one hand, American Presidential politics tends to favor the incumbent president. In the modern era, there has been only one case of a party winning a single presidential election in a row (Jimmy Carter in 1976) and just one other case of a President losing a bid for a second term (George H.W. Bush in 1992). This is largely because presidents have prestige and achievements to stand on; and since Trump claimed 306 electoral votes in 2016, he has the mathematical advantage of being able to perform worse yet still obtain the necessary 270 to be reelected. Trump’s likely opponent does not have the same margin for error.
However, some parallels exist between Trump’s current standing and the last two failed bids for second terms, being Carter and Bush. All three presided over an economic crisis in the buildup to reelection, in Trump’s case, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps more importantly, Trump never had a strong popular base to begin with, winning the 2016 election with a mere 46% of the vote, meaning a majority of the electorate voted for someone else. In addition, Trump’s approval rating has meandered around the high-thirties/low-forties. Trump’s fate at the ballot box will likely hinge on his administration’s response to the crisis before the nation, and how he presents himself in this time of uncertainty.
THE CHALLENGER: FMR. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
Only a month or so ago, the situation appeared grim for the Biden campaign. He had failed to capture victories in all of the first three primaries, and was fading in the polls as fellow moderates Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Mike Bloomberg rose. But a stirring win in the South Carolina primary led to the field folding at just the right time for Biden to swing a decisive victory over Progressive rival Bernie Sanders in the remaining primaries.
Several factors appear to be working in Biden’s favor. First, Biden is polling over Trump throughout most of the swing states, particularly in the Sun Belt, but as well in the Rust Belt and the South. Most recently, the campaign welcomed the endorsement of former President Barack Obama, whom Biden had worked to attach his own image to over the course of the Primary.
However, some aspects of the situation may undermine the odds of a Biden victory come November. The campaign faces the challenge of winning over many disgruntled Sanders’ supporters, many of whom feel that their candidate’s route to the nomination was unfairly dashed, and that Biden represents an establishment position that they may not support. In addition, in his previous campaigns for the presidency in 1988 and 2008, Biden has shown to be prone to gaffes – mistakes and slips that may embarrass a candidate on the national stage. Biden’s chance at winning the presidency will likely rely upon his degree of success in winning over members of the Party’s progressive wing, as well as maintaining a popular image among the general electorate.
Every cycle there is speculation of a last-minute replacement of a nominee, or of a third party rising from obscurity.
First, the perceived weaknesses of Joe Biden have led to rampant rumor that the DNC may attempt to replace him with another candidate. Several names have been floated, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has received wide praise for his leadership as his state enters the worst stages of the pandemic. And however unlikely, rumors also claim that the RNC is making a similar plan to ditch Vice President Mike Pence from their 2020 ticket, and replacing him with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. This would largely be a political move, as the campaign shifts its attention away from Evangelicals and toward suburban women.
2016 was a boom year for third parties, as they took up a relatively large share of the vote. However, smooth primary seasons on both sides may lead to a fall in support. In addition, perennial also-ran Gary Johnson, the former Governor of New Mexico who led the Libertarian Party toward a record 3%, has since retired from politics, leaving the Libertarians, typically the strongest third party, without its familiar face. The last substantial Third Party run was in 1992, when businessman Ross Perot led both Bush and Bill Clinton in polls before dropping out of the race (Perot later reentered the race, gathering 18% of the popular vote and winning no states).
History has shown that shifts in the party system only occur under immense political pressure, such as during the prelude to the Civil War in the 1850’s. Time will tell if the Pandemic, or potentially another factor, will create these circumstances.