This list isn’t organized in any particular way, but rather it’s just a selection of possible places we might find ourselves in 4 years. It’s worth remembering that five of the twelve scenarios end with Trump continuing in his office or becoming a more powerful executive. This is important because progressives risk getting complacent under the assumption that America will simply realize the mistake it’s made and then four years from now there’ll be a revolution ushering into an era of good feelings. If our goal is to return America to normalcy, then we’ve got to stay motivated. Because Trump could win again, lose spectacularly, or become the greatest American President. All these outcomes, and everything in between, are represented.
Section I: President Michael Richard Pence
- President Trump Resigns: Donald Trump does not like being President, and coincidentally a majority of Americans feel the same way. The President might like to tweet about his disdain for the “Fake News” and “Lyin Press” but he’s watching, and he’s probably feeling discouraged. Trump supporters might not care about the polls, but Donald Trump absolutely cares about the polls. To quote the President in 2015 when he was still running for the nomination “I’m not a masochist, and if I was dropping in the polls where I saw that I wasn’t gonna win, why would I continue?…I believe in polls…if I were doing poorly, if I saw myself going down, if you would stop calling me because you no longer have any interest in Trump because he has no chance, I’d go back to my business.” So it’s not exactly a stretch of the imagination to picture a scenario where Trump’s approval reaches the low to mid 20s for whatever reason, perhaps some revelations about Russia, disastrous returns from enacting his agenda, or some new scandal, then he’s either pressured by GOP leadership to step down or he does so on his own to avoid dealing with his failures.
- President Trump is Incapacitated for Health Reasons: If you take away the misogyny, the racism, the corruption, and all the personal things about the President….he’s just a 71 year old obese man with the most stressful job on Earth. We actually don’t know Trump’s actual health status because his “doctor’s note” was somewhat less than thorough. But according to actuarial firms, Trump stands about a 1 in 25 chance of dying before 2020, and that’s before adjusting for his diet of fast-food, double scoop ice cream, and well done steaks. But beyond Trump’s physical health, there’s the obvious matter of his mental health which is questionable at best. There are rumors about Trump’s mental state which of course aren’t backed up by anything other than hearsay, but it is notable that Trump’s father developed Alzheimer’s in his later years, and now doctors believe that people whose parents had the disease are more likely themselves to develop it. Some people live with symptoms of Alzheimer’s for years before actually being diagnosed. So, it’s not entirely impossible that Trump’s wandering away from world leaders, irritability, paranoia, interrupted by brief periods of lucidity during interviews could be explained by emerging dementia. But in this purely hypothetical scenario, either physical or mental health troubles could be enough to prematurely end Trump’s presidency.
- President Trump is Impeached: I’m sorry to tell you this my fellow progressives, but this is more of a pipe dream than anything else. A number of things would need to happen in order for this to even fall within the realm of possibility, this is not impossible but just very unlikely as things currently stand. First, Democrats need to win at least 24 house seats in 2018 to recapture the majority which at this point seems entirely possible if not more than likely. Second, Democrats need to defend 23 senate seats, 9 of which are in states that the President carried in 2016. Third, Democrats need to take 3 senate seats from the GOP, the likeliest path being through Jeff Flake in Arizona and Dean Heller in Nevada, but then that’s when Democrats run into trouble. Their only options are Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming, all of which are non-starters. Leaving only one glimmering hope for a senate majority, defeating Ted Cruz in Texas, which although not impossible (Beto O’Rourke is formidable) it’s important to note that by 2018 Texas will not have elected a Democrat to any statewide office in 20 years. But assuming, Democrats make it past those obstacles, they’d still have to convince 17 Republican senators to vote for impeachment, reaching for conservatives like Roy Blunt or John Thune. However, we know that elected Republicans support Mike Pence more than they support Donald Trump, and if it became clear that there were no electoral risks to impeaching the President, then the impossible suddenly becomes more likely than not.
Section II: President Trump Wins Re-Election
- Democrats Nominate a “Bad” Candidate: Everyone by now acknowledges the role that Russian interference played in 2016’s presidential election, and had it not been for James Comey’s last minute letter to Congress, Hillary Clinton would almost certainly be President. Now that that’s out of the way…. there’s no excuse for there having been so many undecided voters and Hillary Clinton failing to reach 50% in polling averages at any point after winning the nomination. Maybe it was sexism which ultimately kept Clinton from breaking that highest glass ceiling, but maybe it was something else. I supported Hillary Clinton, but even she would acknowledge that even if she was right on the issues, perhaps she wasn’t the strongest candidate because of perception problems alone. The Democrats have a bad tendency to either over-correct or change nothing when faced with defeats. If the party over-corrects, and takes hard left positions and nominates a candidate who sounds like Eugene Debs, then they’ll end up losing mainstream Democrats. If the party changes nothing, and recreates an Obama era platform and nominates a corporate backed third-way Democrat (I’m looking at you Cuomo), then so-called “Berniecrats” will once again either vote third party or not at all. If he can rely on a continued split in the Democratic Party and lack of loyalty among liberal leaning voters, then re-election is more likely than we’re willing to admit.
- Trump Continues to Divide the Country, and it Works: Thanks to an archaic system from the 18th century, Donald Trump doesn’t need to win a majority of votes to be re-elected. Trump’s base has shrunk somewhat from election day until now. The number of Americans who “strongly support” the President has seen a not so insignificant decline. But Trump, for all of his shocking inadequacies not just as a President but like as a human being, has captured the American id. When given an effective foil he’s able to motivate his supporters, whether it was “Low Energy Jeb”, “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted”, “Crooked Hillary”, and ultimately “Fake News”. Donald Trump doesn’t have to accomplish his legislative agenda (it’s so unpopular that perhaps he’s better off if he doesn’t), he can blame all of his failures on the media or Democrats. Let’s also assume that Trump’s support for voter suppression is at least moderately successful, and the restrictions from 2016 are either kept or expanded, that only helps him. It won’t matter if Democrats win in Congress or if the destructive GOP health care becomes law, because Trump is independent of the GOP. Trump doesn’t claim failures, he puts them off on Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, and his voters are okay with that. If Trump can manage to continue on his current paths, with no serious deterioration from the present, then he’ll survive another 4 years.
- Trump Moderates Because Congressional Republicans Make Him Look Bad: Donald Trump hates Paul Ryan, and he probably doesn’t care for Mitch McConnell either (although McConnell has been successful at not publicly drawing the President’s ire). Donald Trump’s campaign promises have been undercut by the conservative agenda in Congress, which is horribly unpopular. The Republican healthcare bill does not in any way resemble the healthcare Trump campaigned on when he said “You can’t let the people in this country that are the poor people, the people without the money and resources go without healthcare, I just can’t even imagine. You’re sick and you can’t even go to a doctor. I say one thing, can you not let 25 percent of the people of the country because they have no money go without something?” There was even a time when Trump believed in single payer. Trump ran on rebuilding infrastructure, which hasn’t been put forward by the GOP. Trump said Planned Parenthood does good things for women, while the GOP wants to defund the organization entirely. Trump’s agenda has been moved considerably to the right by the GOP leadership, and it’s conceivable that Trump may grow tired of having his agenda usurped by Paul Ryan’s agenda. Perhaps moderate isn’t the right word, but Trump may simply choose to pursue some kind of hybrid ethno-nationalist and populist agenda opposed to his current course. That might be more popular with the electorate, it’s still awful though arguably it’s what his voters asked for, and perhaps he could end up with a majority in 2020.
Section III: President Trump Loses Re-Election
- Republicans Enact Their Agenda, It Goes As Expected: You don’t have to be Larry Sabato to predict what would happen if 22 million people suddenly lost their healthcare. Whether you believe that voters are more receptive to a progressive message or a conservative message is largely irrelevant, because in regards to policy, too much movement in either direction will result in pretty spectacular backlash. Voters don’t want a border wall, they don’t want Medicaid cuts, they don’t want Social Security cuts, they don’t want tax cuts for the rich, they don’t want to cut the EPA, and they don’t want to roll back women’s reproductive freedoms. If Trump goes along signing and supporting every part of the GOP agenda, he’s going to end up motivating democratic voters and demoralizing his would-be voters (literally killing them in the case of the ‘health care’ bill). This assumes Ryan and McConnell are able to whip votes effectively in their respective chambers, which so far they’ve been able to do. The AHCA didn’t actually fail, it was pulled from the floor, and then passed. If the same happens with the Senate version, then we have no reason to believe that this won’t be the expected route of all bills for the next four years.
- President Trump & Republicans Fail to Enact Their Agenda: In contrast to the previously listed scenario, if Trump accomplishes nothing other than Neil Gorsuch, he’s in trouble. If by 2020, Obamacare is intact, there’s no border wall, coal jobs are still in freefall, taxes haven’t been cut, ISIS is still active, and we haven’t re-negotiated NAFTA…Trump voters might finally abandon their candidate. Successful Presidents are able to deliver on a few of their big policy promises during the first term, Obama did it with Healthcare, Bush did it with tax cuts, and Clinton did it with deficit reduction. However, lack of success is remembered for reneging on campaign promises, as George H.W Bush did when he raised taxes after telling voters to “Read my lips. No new taxes”. If Trump survives 4 years with no major achievements, that could depress Republican turnout or worse for Trump, send would-be Republican voters into the Democratic column. Of course he’d still hold on to some of his base, the diehard racists who were just titillated to see a candidate who is as disgusted by brown people as they are by his rise to prominence. However, I suspect that isn’t a majority of GOP voters, and even if it were, one can’t win an election with just Republicans.
- President Trump isn’t Renominated by The Republican Party: A sitting President hasn’t been refused the nomination of their party since President Arthur in 1884, and no incumbent from either party has faced a serious challenge since the Carter-Kennedy battle in 1980 (for Republicans it was 1976 between Ford & Reagan). However, before 2016 the United States had never elected someone with no political or military experience to its highest office. Point being, precedents are made to be broken and Trump has taught us that whatever rules we thought existed within political parties are more like century old suggestions that just conveniently fit our flawed understanding of political science. Donald Trump, much like in his general election campaign, failed to capture a majority of votes during the primaries. He got 44.9% of the vote, and he was only able to maintain a delegate lead because the race was saturated with candidates who had similar ideologies. If Trump’s approval among Republicans slips below a certain point, Republicans like Ben Sasse (who recently was in Iowa) or John Kasich (who recently was in New Hampshire) might consider a challenge to the President. Trump was able to succeed when faced with 16 other candidates, but it’s possible that after 4 years of Trump fatigue that the novelty may have worn off and one or two serious challengers could steal the nomination away from Trump. This would leave him as a Third-Party candidate (certain defeat) or a lame duck President starting the day the convention wraps up.
Section IV: Wild Card
- Trump Makes America Great Again: As it would turn out, Hillary is crooked and the news is fake. As for the Russia story, Robert Mueller’s investigation cleared the Trump campaign of wrongdoing and Comey is just a showboat. We’ve all been wrong about Trump, and the system was actually so broken that literally only Trump could fix it. After the border wall is built (Mexico pays for it) and sanctuary cities are outlawed, drug trafficking ceases as does all crime committed by illegal immigrants. Trump’s plan for ISIS, destroys the organization and Assad leaves power because Trump worked out a deal with Putin. Trump’s posturing with China actually works, and for the first time since 1975 the United States has a trade surplus. The Muslim ban works, and there are no terrorist incidents throughout Trump’s first term. The tax cuts spur tremendous economic growth, unemployment is lower than economists thought possible without state intervention. Trumpcare gives more people access to more affordable healthcare. We put a man on Mars. There are rumblings that the RNC is willing to nominate Ivanka as his VP for 2020. He also won the popular vote, turns out that voter fraud was pretty extensive in 2016. America is winning so much, that we’re tired of winning.
- North Korea Masters Nuclear Technology, It Doesn’t End Well: All joking aside, North Korea is rapidly advancing towards its goal of possessing a long range ICBM tipped with a nuclear warhead. It’s not a question of if they will get a become a nuclear threat, it’s a question of when. This month with the test launch of an ICBM which we suspect would be able to reach the Alaskan coast, it’s likely that North Korea would be able to launch a hypothetical attack on the mainland United States in the near future. There are no good options, but knowing Trump he’ll pick what’s probably the worst option. He knows that wartime Presidents get re-elected, so he may decide to preemptively strike North Korean military facilities followed by a ground invasion. Hundreds of thousands of people will die. There’s also a more drastic option, Trump may decide that he can eliminate the threat of a nuclear Korea by using nuclear weapons himself. In which case, the deterrence of mutually assured destruction is abandoned, North Korea launches warheads into Seoul, Tokyo, and towards the United States. Millions of people die. There’s also the matter of North Korea’s arsenal of chemical weapons, which is even larger than Assad’s in Syria. Some estimates show that North Korea could have as much as 5,000 tons of sarin gas and other chemical agents, which could devastate any target at any moment. This is pretty apocalyptic, but elections have consequences, and this is now on the table.
- President Trump Plunges America into Authoritarianism After a Terrorist Attack: On September 10th, 2001 President George W. Bush’s approval rating sat at 51%. Just a week later his approval rating soared above 80%. In between those two polling periods 9/11 happened and nearly 3,000 Americans died at the hands of radical jihadists. Bush’s approval didn’t dip below 50% for nearly 900 days after the attacks, and during that period Congress passed the USA PATRIOT ACT as well as a number of laws aimed at curbing civil liberties, the Department of Homeland Security was created, and the President was given the authority to go to war in Iraq. America has never been the same, and strangely enough the only thing that might have prevented the country from spiraling into outright authoritarianism was that the people in government, as corrupt and power hungry as they might have been, still had respect for our institutions as well as some principled view of what America should be. That does not exist within the Trump administration. If an attack on the United States occurred on the scale of 9/11, and Trump was able to harness the energy from the rally around the flag effect that would surely follow, dark times would follow. The free press could cease to exist, people could be rounded up and put into camps, Congress might give Trump sweeping authority, and who knows what else. This is a constant threat and we can’t gauge the odds of it happening because terrorism is itself fairly unpredictable. But if it did happen, God help us.