- - Wednesday, June 5, 2019

According to a RealClearPolitics archive of presidential election polls, each of the three leading Democratic candidates for president — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — would defeat President Donald Trump in the popular vote if the election were held tomorrow.

On the other hand, former Obama Auto-Czar/ “Morning Joe” Man About Town Steve Rattner penned a recent New York Times op-ed warning his fellow liberals that based on a reading of several standard election models, President Trump “has a formidable 2020 tailwind from economy and incumbency” and is well-positioned for re-election victory in 2020. Who’s right?

Believe the models, not the polls.

We need look no further than the last century to see the built-in advantages afforded incumbents running for re-election. Since 1916, only one Democratic president running for re-election has been defeated — Jimmy Carter, in 1980. During the same time span, only two Republican presidents running for re-election have been defeated — Herbert Hoover in 1932 and George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992. (Donald John Trump, it should be noted, had the good fortune, as far as presidential re-election prospects are concerned, of not having been named “Herbert,” so at least that potential bug is absent.)

Why such difficulty in defeating incumbent presidents running for re-election?

Begin by recognizing that a presidential election is, fundamentally, a referendum on the performance of the party in power in the White House — and when an incumbent president is running for re-election, the election is a referendum on his or her performance in office. Voters ask themselves a simple question — does the incumbent deserve another term in office, or not?

Note, please, that voters are a lot smarter than many pundits believe. American voters have demonstrated over the years that they’re looking at and grading an incumbent’s performance in office, not just his or her personal qualities.

This is an important point, especially as we enter the next phase of the 2020 contest. Most voters aren’t concerned with the details of what goes on in Washington, and most voters aren’t concerned with the personalities in Washington, either. What concerns them is what we used to call “kitchen table” issues — the cost of college or healthcare, the micro-performance of the economy (that is, how are they doing?), feelings of personal security. Not surprisingly, most voters make their voting decisions not based on some grand consideration of what’s best for the country, but on a smaller, more closely-centered calculus of which candidate is more likely to do right by my family?

Ronald Reagan famously captured this in his 1980 debate against Jimmy Carter, when he asked his fellow countrymen, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

By any reasonable standard, the significant majority of the country would answer that question in the affirmative if President Trump were to ask it in a debate next year.

Consider: Growth in the gross domestic product has been roaring, clocking in at better than 3 percent. We’ve got so many job openings, we don’t have enough workers to fill them. And they’re not just any jobs, they’re the kind of well-paying manufacturing jobs candidate Trump promised over the past two years, manufacturers have created 467,000 new jobs (“more than six times the 73,000 manufacturing jobs added in Obama’s last two years,” according to Forbes.

Hispanic unemployment? Historic low. African-American unemployment? Historic low. Asian-American unemployment? Historic low.

Real wage growth? It’s been at or over 3 percent every month except one since President Trump was inaugurated. Compared to real wage growth under President Obama, that’s stunning.

Not surprisingly, consumer confidence has reached highs under Mr. Trump that haven’t been seen since Bill Clinton was president.

On all these indices and others, Americans are reaping the rewards of the policies and programs devised and implemented by the Trump administration. It stands to reason that they will reward him with their votes when next given the opportunity.

The models are better predictors than the current polls. Bet on Trump to win in 2020.

Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.

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