Elections experts warn: Trump will not be easy to beat in 2020, and here's why
President Donald Trump at a reelection campaign rally in Grand Rapids, MI (screengrab)

President Donald Trump is not popular. He has been mired in scandal and negative approval ratings since the beginning of his presidency, and the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report only took his numbers lower.

But in a Washington Post editorial, political experts Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics warn that it would not actually be that far-fetched if Trump won re-election. In fact, they say, there are fundamentals that work in his favor.

"Trump may try to capitalize on some of the same factors that helped three modern Republican presidents, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, win reelection," they write.

All three of these men trailed their opponents in polls for at least some of the cycle, they note: "Fast-forward to 2019, and Trump often trails some Democrats in presidential trial heats, but with his large, solid base and a continuing good economy, it isn't hard to see how Trump could win again."

Unlike in 2016, Trump will be starting off with some early advantages, Sabato and Kondik point out.

"With approval ratings among Republicans usually exceeding 80 percent, and with his allies firmly in control of the party apparatus almost everywhere, Trump has thus far boxed out major intraparty opposition. The last three reelected GOP presidents all waltzed to renomination," they write. "Trump is also going to be in a much better financial position than he was in 2016, when Hillary Clinton vastly outspent him. Trump already has $40 million in the bank for his reelection bid, and he should be able to raise hundreds of millions more now that his party is more completely behind him than in 2016. Money is not everything, as Trump himself showed in 2016, but any campaign would prefer having more, not less."

But another thing that Trump has going for him, they say, is simply that he hasn't torched the economy: "In 2016, academic predictive models based on fundamentals such as the state of the economy suggested that Trump, or any other Republican candidate, was in position to win the election or come very close. This time, such models (once they become operative next year) could make Trump the early favorite despite his poor approval ratings.

"Credit the powers of incumbency and a strong economy, the state of which may matter more to Trump's odds than nearly anything else," conclude Sabato and Kondik. "Incumbency and the economy, among other matters, ended up being more than enough for Nixon, Reagan and Bush. Despite Trump's unprecedented outlandishness, that same combination might work for him, too."