Many persons have started thinking about President Trump’s re-election campaign. One, of course, is Trump himself. Another is lefty pundit Paul Waldman, who in a September 27 column for The Week argued that while recent approval ratings for Trump don’t augur well for his winning a second term, he might pull it off if he cribs from Karl Rove’s 2004 playbook.
Waldman observes that George W. Bush’s approval back then “wasn't as low as Trump's is now, but it wasn't great, hovering in the 40s for much of that year. The economy was improving, but the political landscape was dominated by the Iraq War. Most Americans thought the war was going badly, and a growing number believed the U.S. should never have gone there in the first place. Bush had tanked America's image in the world and was the subject of endless mockery from comedians. He was ripe for defeat.”
The Bush’s campaign’s approach, in Waldman’s telling, was to “shamelessly and relentlessly” exploit the 9/11 attacks; “unleash…a wave of personal attacks” on Democratic nominee John Kerry “that was positively awe-inspiring in its scurrilousness and cynicism”; and “exacerbate social divisions and drive [GOP] base voters to the polls” via eleven state initiatives on same-sex marriage.
Waldman suggests that Trump’s at least as good as Rove was at playing to the base, and he’s already doing so with an eye toward 2020: “His latest squabble with pro athletes is a perfect example: He elevates an issue meant to get…resentful whites riled up, and even if broad public opinion isn't on his side, he has seized control of the agenda and seems to have accomplished what he set out to do, if what he wanted was to reinforce his supporters' attachment to him as the avatar of white identity politics. That's an investment he'll be calling on later.”
Meanwhile, notes Waldman, Trump’s party has an important arrow in its quiver (bolding added):
Republicans are working hard to put in place as many vote suppression measures as they can. Laws that require voter ID and that make registration difficult have already borne fruit; a recent study found that just in two heavily Democratic counties in Wisconsin (Dane and Milwaukee), the state's voter ID law kept an estimated 16,800 people from the polls, and that "the burdens of voter ID fell disproportionately on low-income and minority populations." Trump won Wisconsin by only 22,700 votes.
Multiply the effects of that vote suppression in those two counties by the rest of the state, and then the rest of the country, and you get an idea of the thumb that will be on the scale for Trump in his re-election effort. And who knows what else will happen — Jeff Sessions could help out with a timely investigation of Trump's opponent, or perhaps the Russians will devise new ways of injecting themselves into the campaign on his behalf.
Presidential re-election campaigns are referenda on the incumbent — most of the time, anyway. In 2004, George W. Bush succeeded in making the election mostly about his opponent, whom he and his party gutted with a hundred stilettos. Character assassination is the GOP specialty, particularly Trump's; you can bet that whoever the Democratic nominee is, they'll be the target of some of the most vicious personal attacks we've ever seen.