The 2020 Primary Elections: One Year Out -- Sunday Political Brunch March 3, 2019


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – I know the buzz of the week is about Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress. It was dramatic stuff – and I’ll talk a little bit about it this week – but I don’t want to miss the “big picture.” It’s March 2019, and the 2020 campaign begins in earnest, in just ten short months. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Cohen Comments” -- “He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat,” Michael Cohen said of President Trump. Cohen, who admitted he lied under oath to Congress to protect Trump, added, “I am not protecting Trump anymore.” Cohen laid out his case over hours of testimony, which was at sometimes combative. Cohen said that Trump lied to reporters about stolen Democratic emails, and instructed Cohen to lie about financial payments aimed at making sexual misconduct claims vanish. It was fascinating television, but will it lead anywhere? Stay tuned.

“I’m Prison Bound” – As powerful and dramatic and intriguing as Cohen’s testimony was before Congress, many view it through a skeptical lens. Cohen is a convicted felon, heading to federal prison for, among other things, lying to Congress. It’s the old, “If we couldn’t believe you then, why should we believe you now?” conundrum. Of course, in a former life the House was controlled by Republicans, and now Democrats are in charge. "Do you plan to pursue another book deal about your experiences?" asked Rep. Carol Miller (R) West Virginia. Cohen said, "Yes." Each party will try to leverage its perceived advantage.

“Watch the Economy” – Former Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville said it best when evaluating the most important issue in presidential politics. “It’s the economy, stupid!” Carville said as Clinton beat the recession that plagued President George H.W. Bush. This week the U.S. Commerce Department noted that economic growth had slowed to 2.6 percent in the final quarter of 2018. That compares to a second quarter report with growth above 4 percent. Folks, an economic slowdown one year before the primary season could be bad for President Trump, just as one doomed President Bush in 1992. Keep your eyes on this, more so than the investigations.

“Border Breakout” – Work continues on a border wall, or fence, or steel slats, or whatever it’s being called this week, but the important takeaway is that work continues. The House of Representatives has passed a resolution, attempting to rescind President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border. Surprisingly, the Republican controlled Senate may have enough bipartisan votes to pass the resolution, too. President Trump promises a veto, which the House, but not the Senate, has the votes to override. The votes are largely symbolic, as Trump is certain to forge ahead.

“Kasich Competence” – No matter what happens to Trump, et. al., legally (which could take some time), the short-term focus is what happens to him politically. Former Gov. John Kasich (R) Ohio remains out there as Trump’s most serious potential primary challenger. Kasich is staid, and boring. His most criminal offense for all his years in public office, is eating a pizza in New York City with a knife and fork, instead of folding it. Social faux pas yes, political suicide, no. Kasich has one strong asset – political competence. In 20 years in Congress, he balanced the budget with Democratic President Bill Clinton. He steered Ohio through rough waters. Flashy, no; competent, yes. He may give Trump a primary run for his money.

“DEM Clown Car vs. GOP Circus” – On the other hand, one of Trump’s best strategic assets is the sheer number of Democrats already in the field, or thinking of announcing. There are already ten Democrats who have formally declared, with at least 17 other current or past elected Democrats expressing interest. On the GOP side, Trump’s only declared challenger is former Gov. Bill Weld (R) Massachusetts, but at least four others, including Kasich, have expressed an interest. Trump is not invincible, and he could very well have several serious challengers from within his own fractured party. Like Democrats, Republicans may be fighting for the soul of their party.

“The Road Ahead” – The calendar is in flux. Right now, we are looking at a February 3, 2020 Iowa Caucus, with a potential New York primary the very next day. The New Hampshire Primary would be Tuesday, February 11. Nevada Caucuses would be February 22. The traditional first Southern swing is in South Carolina on February 29. These initial primaries and caucuses generally weed a lot of candidates out of the field.

Who is your favorite Democrat or Republican for the presidential nomination in 2020? Just click the comment button on this article, or on the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five surrounding states, including much of the Washington, D.C. media market.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options