Opinion

# LICHTMAN: Unless Democrats Find A 2020 Candidate Like Beto O’Rourke, Trump May Well Be Set To Win

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Allan Lichtman Distinguished Professor of History, American University
Font Size:

President Trump called Tuesday night’s results a “tremendous success.” His Republicans have reason to celebrate the padding of their majority in the Senate and their retaining the governor’s mansions in the key swing states of Florida and Ohio.

However, in losing control of the House of Representatives, Republicans lost one of the “keys” to the White House that will decide the outcome of the presidential election in 2020. With Democrats seizing the power to investigate the president and his administration, Republicans are also at heightened risk of losing yet another key.

Republicans are now in greater jeopardy of losing the presidency than before the midterm elections. However, the verdict of the “Keys to the White House” is that victory in 2020 remains up-for-grabs for either party.

The Keys to the White House is a historically based prediction system that I developed in 1981 in collaboration with Vladimir Keilis-Borok, one of the world’s leading mathematicians. We based our model on the retrospective study of all American presidential elections from 1860 to 1980. The model has since that successfully predicted the results of all nine American presidential elections from 1984 to 2016, often years in advance of the election.

The model is based upon the proposition that presidential elections largely turn on the performance of the party holding the White House. To give specificity to this insight, the model identifies 13 true/false questions — or keys — that gauge primarily the strength and performance of the party holding the White House. When the answers to five or fewer of these questions are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

So far, the incumbent Republicans have lost three of the 13 keys.

• The party’s losses in the House elections have cost it the Mandate Key 1, which is measured solely by the results of House contests. Senate elections do not count because only a third of the Senate is up for election in each midterm year.
• The lack of any well-recognized foreign policy triumph forfeits the foreign/military success related to key 11.
• Although Donald Trump appeals passionately to a minority of the American people he lacks the broad across- the-board appeal, necessary to secure the incumbent charisma/national hero, key 12.

With the loss of only three keys, it appears that circumstances favor the reelection of President Trump. However, several other keys could still fall between now and 2020, making the prediction of a Trump victory highly uncertain.

• If investigations by the now Democratic House and the Special Counsel uncover damaging information on the president, that would cost Republicans scandal (key 8). Potential transgression include conspiracy with the Russians to rig the 2016 election, obstruction of justice, financial crimes, and willingly and knowingly violating the campaign finance laws that guard against political corruption.
• If the economic boom fades and the nation descends into recession that would forfeit short-term economy, which is key 5.
• Foreign affairs are always uncertain and a major setback in crisis areas of the world would topple foreign/military failure, or key 10.
• America’s highly polarized politics could lead to the kind of turmoil that would forfeit Social Unrest Key 7.

Given these circumstances, the outcome of the 2020 election may well turn on the only key under the control of the challenging Democrats: Challenger Charisma Key 13. Democrats falsely believe that they could recapture the presidency by nominating an experienced, “electable,” establishment candidate like former senator and vice president Joe Biden. Democrats followed this strategy when they nominated Walter Mondale in 1984, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, and Hillary Clinton in 2016. What these candidates have in common is that they all lost.

To win the charisma key, Democrats will have to reach beyond the usual suspects and nominate a new and exciting candidate similar to Bill Clinton in 1992 or Barack Obama in 2008. Perhaps someone like Beto O’Rourke. Or even O’Rourke himself, who came tantalizingly close to toppling a Republican Senate incumbent in Texas, where Democrats have won a state-wide race since 1994.

The keys have not yet sufficiently fallen in place to make a reliable prediction for 2020. However, unlike polling or punditry, they provide a guide to the fundamental factors that will determine whether Republicans retain the White House in the next presidential election.

Allan J. Lichtman (@AllanLichtman) is distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Allan Lichtman