2020: The One Certainty
It was 4 years ago, tomorrow. Be honest. How many of you thought Donald Trump had any chance of being president when he descended the escalator at Trump Tower?
I admit it. By announcing that day, he proved me wrong. I never figured he'd throw his hat in the ring. And when he did, I remained convinced he'd milk it for publicity, and get out down the road.
I had plenty of company. I wasn't alone in my skepticism. Sixteen months prior, Mckay Coppins, writing for Buzzfeed, had chronicled what he called “36 hours on the fake campaign trail with Donald Trump.” Coppins had recently accompanied Trump for a speech at a politics-and-eggs event in new Hampshire, and then observed that, “Trump can no longer escape the fact that his political 'career' - a long con that the blustery billionaire has perpetrated on the country for 25 years by repeatedly pretending to consider various runs for office, only to bail out after generating hundreds of headlines - finally appears to be on the brink of collapse. The reason: nobody seems to believe him anymore.”
Trump came off as a bit of a tragic figure in the Buzzfeed piece. And true to form, Trump then hammered Coppins via twitter for the coverage, and banned him from covering his campaign.
Coppins then appeared on my radio show and we howled over the idea that this time would be any different. After all, he had been threatening to run since the late 1980's. But in 2016, it was different. That day in June, he said he was running.
He ran against a stage-full of seemingly more qualified primary opponents, and eventually a candidate deemed the most qualified ever to seek the office. He beat her, too.
And there is a lesson in that for us now, as we approach 2020. Namely, that despite all the pundits, polls and prognostications, we have no idea what is about to unfold.
The only thing for sure is uncertainty.
Jeff greenfield has a great essay in politico: “Why you're wrong about the democratic primary" he writes, 'What the history of modern presidential nominating contests suggests about this moment is that the seemingly daily polling, and the "She's-surging-he's failing" stories, have all the staying power of sandcastles at high tide."
Yes, Joe Biden has a commanding lead against 22 democratic opponents, and in hypothetical match-ups against President Trump, he wins big. But Greenfield reminds that Edmund Muskie looked invincible in 1971. Gary hart won New Hampshire in 1984 and seemed poised to deny V-P Walter Mondale a smooth shot at the nomination. At the end of 2003, Howard Dean seemed destined to win the following year's democratic contests while John Kerry sputtered. In 2007, Rudy Giuliani seemed a lock for the GOP nomination. That was the same cycle where Hillary Clinton seemed destined for the Democratic Nomination despite facing a challenge from a junior senator from Illinois with a hard-to-pronounce name.
But nothing in the modern era compares to 2016. Reminding us that the only thing we know for sure is that we really don’t know what's to come.