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Landslide Trump? Why 2020 Looks Like 1984

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:15 PM
W. E. Messamore
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:15 PM
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading President Donald Trump in a hypothetical 2020 general election by comfortably wide margins in the polls.
  • In 1983, former Vice President Walter Mondale was also besting sitting President Ronald Reagan by wide margins in the polls. He went on, however, to the worst electoral defeat for any Democratic presidential candidate in history.
  • Mondale’s campaign alienated middle class, blue collar workers in the North and Midwest. Joe Biden seems determined to follow the same path to election defeat. Just yesterday Nancy Pelosi warned the 2020 field has run too far to the left.

It’s one year before the presidential election. The current Republican president, an ex-Democrat television celebrity from a blue state, suffers from low job approval numbers.

He’s also behind in the general election polls. The president is trailing the Democratic primary front-runner, who was Vice President of the United States less than four years ago.

It’s 2019. And it’s also 1983.

A Donald Trump Landslide 2020

1984 electoral college map
1984 Electoral College Map.

Despite trailing in the polls, Donald Trump is still set up for a potential landslide in 2020, provided nothing major changes in the next 12 months. Yes, Joe Biden is leading Trump by an average of 6.7 percentage points in recent polls . But in 1983 it appeared that former Vice President Walter Mondale would beat Ronald Reagan by 12%  in the 1984 election.

That didn’t stop Reagan from going on to defeat Mondale in one of history’s most lopsided U.S. presidential election contests. Neither did Reagan’s low job approval numbers.

A year before the election, Donald Trump’s job approval rating hovers in the low 40% . This summer, Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet The Press,” called Trump’s poll numbers  and job approval rating a reminder of “how perilous his political standing is.”

But don’t forget that Ronald Reagan’s job approval ratings also hovered in the low 40s  in the year before his 1984 landslide. The breathless coverage of the president’s approval ratings  is, historically speaking, not a good general election bellwether .

Donald Trump, The Reagan Remix

ronald reagan 1980 campaign slogan lets make america great again
Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan was “Let’s Make America Great Again”. | Image: Old Politicals Auctions, American Political and Historical Memorabilia

The comparison of Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan is not a trivial one. Neither are the similarities between Joe Biden and Walter Mondale. Trump was obviously watching the 2012 Republican Primary closely. He dipped his toe into the political waters during that campaign, and stumped in early primary states like New Hampshire .

The relentless stream of Reagan invocations by the Republican contenders could not have escaped Trump’s notice. It was widely lampooned by commentators like The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur . Trump deftly chose Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan for this 2016 campaign, and angled for the broad Reagan Majority coalition that dominated in 1984.

Joe Biden Channels Walter Mondale

The outlook today is much like it was after Reagan’s first term in office. Using three different economic models to project the 2020 election result based on the state of the economy, Moody’s Analytics expects Trump to widen his electoral college margin next year . With low unemployment, strong wages, low interest rates and low gas prices, Trump heads into his reelection campaign with the same advantages Reagan touted in 1984.

Meanwhile Joe Biden is running his campaign the same way as Walter Mondale ran his in the 1980s. Mondale ran against the Reagan deficits , and disastrously promised to raise taxes to fix them . This year Joe Biden has criticized the rest of the field for ignoring  the Trump deficits, and pledges to raise taxes if elected as well . In June, Biden said that eliminating the Trump tax cuts  is “the first thing I’d do as president.”

A McClatchyDC analysis of the 2020 Democratic field’s platforms found that Joe Biden’s policy platform is more liberal than Hillary Clinton’s.

No wonder that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Friday that her party’s candidates are too liberal. Pelosi thinks Democrats are imperiling their chances  of beating Republicans in 2020. At the economic and historical levels of analysis, as well as the electioneering, she’s right to worry.

But if 2020 goes the way 1984 did, at least Democrats will hold the House.