Fred Barnes: Three ‘Easy’ Steps to a Trump Re-election

Fred Barnes has written a smart, welcome piece in the Weekly Standard that gives President Trump an “easy” path to win re-election in 2020, if only he can do three things.

President Trump is in deeper political trouble than he thinks. And I’m not talking about whatever special counsel Robert Mueller has up his sleeve. Trump has real-life re-election trouble.

The midterm results were clear about this. Millions of voters whom Trump needs to win a second term in 2020 expressed their disdain for him in the only way they could—by voting against Republicans. Those GOP candidates were his surrogates, like it or not.

Voters were willing to brush aside Trump’s successes on taxes, judges, and deregulation. This was unprecedented. And it shows how strongly they felt about his personal behavior.

Trump doesn’t appear to understand this. Telling losing Republican House members they’d have won had they accepted his “embrace” shows how off-kilter his sense of political reality is. And relying on Democrats to nominate an unelectable opponent in 2020 is risky in the extreme.

As luck would have it, a political recovery by Trump is not only possible, it would be easy. It takes three things. And these include neither a personality transplant nor a month at a monastery where no one speaks.

1. Trump Needs to Recognize He’s Headed for Defeat

He didn’t get to this point in 2016 until the Access Hollywood tape leaked a month before the election and his campaign almost collapsed. He saw doom ahead, had to clean things up quickly—with teleprompters and nicer talk—and did.

2. Learn to Apologize and Make Up with Mexico

Second, he’s got to jettison the most unhelpful of his rules of political combat—that is, never apologize. Trump’s fear is that apologizing shows weakness. For most politicians, including a few presidents, it might. But not this one. Trump has persuaded the entire world he’s not a wimp.

What would apologizing entail? It wouldn’t require him to abase himself by saying, “Please forgive me, I’m so sorry,” though uttering those words a time or two wouldn’t be a bad idea.

I’d start with Mexico. It’s unwise for an American president to be on bad terms with a populous neighbor with whom we do business. And Trump has gone beyond that by insulting the Mexican people. But Trump’s luck has struck again. A new Mexican president will soon be inaugurated, providing Trump with an opportunity to make amends and move ahead.

A deal has already been worked out, tentatively, for Mexico to keep all those illegal immigrants in caravans from Central America from crossing the border. Their asylum hearings will be held while they’re in Mexico and few are expected to qualify to enter the United States.

That’s not all Trump can do. I suspect the Mexican president isn’t expecting to be love-bombed with attention from Trump. Why not surprise him by announcing you no longer expect Mexico to pay for the wall? His explanation: Mexico is helping more than ever at the border and paying for it.

3. Tweet More Positively

Third, Trump doesn’t have to stop tweeting. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says tweets aren’t the problem. It’s what some of them say that is. A suggestion: seize opportunities to act in positive ways and tweet about them. How painful could that be for the tweeter in chief?

For instance, the president could have responded to a report last week that life expectancy in this country declined again in 2017. The president isn’t being blamed for this. But what if he declares (or tweets) his distress and says: “We cannot let this continue in America. We haven’t done enough to stop it. I haven’t done enough.”

The point here is Trump and his aides should be on the lookout for legitimate opportunities for the president to involve himself in a positive way.

The notion that Trump can’t change is ridiculous

The notion that Trump can’t change is ridiculous. People change in many ways, especially politicians who are always looking for better ways to present themselves. One of Reagan’s great lines was that having been an actor really comes in handy in politics. He wasn’t kidding.

People who meet privately with the president invariably say how congenial he is. I doubt he’s faking on these occasions or has a double personality like some Jekyll and Hyde character. I’m no psychologist, but I think he simply acts differently in different situations, a quite normal trait of most people.

The hardest thing will be convincing him he’s in a political ditch and won’t be able to climb out unless he alters his act.


Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.