The Strategies to Win the White House in 2020 – The Sunday Political Brunch March 24, 2019


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – With lots of candidates now in the race, it’s time for me to play political strategist for both parties again. The presidency is up for grabs in 2020, and the path to the White House is never easy for either party. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“What Democrats Need to Do” – Here’s the simplest route. Democrats need to win every state they won in 2016. Then they need to win back Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, states that surprisingly went for Trump. Every state Hillary Clinton carried was by a comfortable margin, so winning all of them again is very plausible. Conceivably Democrats should be able to retake Michigan, but true swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will be a tougher fight.

“Retail Politics Still Matters” – Bombarding the airwaves and social media has become the norm in many states, especially the most populous. Look, it’s hard to shake hands with 35 million Californians. But in states such as Wisconsin, you still need to shake hands at 6 a.m. at factory gates in the dead of winter. Third shift workers are leaving, and first shift is coming on. In big labor states, that personal touch still matters. Hillary Clinton never stepped foot in Wisconsin after winning the April 2016 primary. It’s my home state. You can’t win there by phoning it in. You must show up!

“Milwaukee Factor” – I was thrilled to see my hometown of Milwaukee selected as the site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. It will be great to go home, see my family, then work my butt off. But this goes to what I was saying earlier. Democrats needs to show major industrial, labor-centered states that they still care. Having a convention in Miami or New York City would have sent the wrong message to Midwestern Democrats. In politics – like real estate – it’s all about location, location, location. Republicans will hold their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, a key swing state Trump won in 2016, that they need to stay “red” in 2020.

“What Republicans Need to Do” – Let Trump be Trump! I can’t believe I just said that. After his bombastic, “bull in a China shop” primary campaign in 2016, I suggested he needed to tone it down and stop all the tweeting, so he could appear more “presidential.” He didn’t, and his base loves him for it. My advice was wrong! He has a solid, core constituency that’s going to hang with him no matter what. If the economy stays solid, and there is no threat looming against us at home or overseas, he has a strong chance of being reelected. The wild card for him is the number of investigations looking at him. If there are credible legal problems he’s in trouble. If it looks like a political witch hunt, he’s safe.

“GOP Uncontested” – I have said it before, and I will say it again. Incumbent presidents need the unquestioned loyalty and backing of their own party. A divisive intra-party fight takes money, energy, and political capitol away from the president, wounding and weakening him for November. In my lifetime, Presidents Johnson, Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush all lost re-election after a serious challenge from within their own parties. If former Gov. John Kasich (R) Ohio gets in, Trump may be doomed. My prediction is that Kasich and former Senator Jeff Flake, (R) Arizona are likely to run.

“Let McCain Rest” – The Republicans will win the hard right and Democrats will win the progressive left. That’s just a given. But presidential races are often won in the middle, by appealing to the most independent votes who now make up the largest voter block in the nation. While they fell short of putting him in the White House, the clear majority of independents revered the late maverick Senator John McCain, (R) Arizona. President Trump did himself no favors this week by restating his criticism of McCain. Trump should let McCain rest in peace or the “ghost of politics past” may come back to haunt him.

“Reagan Democrats” – Here’s a real serious issue for Democrats. Remember back in 1980 and 1984, there was a large group of moderate-to-conservative Democrats – many of them from labor unions – who bolted their party to back President Reagan. They felt President Carter was weak on national security, and weak on economic policy. Remember, Reagan didn’t just win, he trounced Democrats in back-to-back landslides. A lot of that was due to the “Reagan Democrats.” Well guess what, they’re back. Many Reagan Democrats, or their successors, backed Trump in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which put him in the White House.

“The Bombshell Issue: Student Loan Debt” -- The top two issues – as always – are the economy and national security. Health care may be a big deal, but for most people who have it, the issue is off the table. The “Green New Deal” is getting lot of buzz, but environmental problems are often unseen (and I’m not minimizing them), but it’s hard to get most people fired up on this. If I were a candidate, I would make the nation’s staggering student loan debt my bumper sticker issue. Student loan debt now exceeds our nation’s credit card debt. Graduates are taking meager jobs with over $100,000 in student loan debt. This issue touches millions of families and resonates with parents and children alike. I’d set this issue on fire in 2020.

Who would you like to see win the White House in 2020? Leave your comment here or click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, and the five neighboring states, as well as a large portion of the Washington, D.C. media market.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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