Get Ready For A Contested Convention

January 02, 2020

It’s time for the annual predictions column. I’m chastened by my 2019 Oscar picks—0 for 4—which leave me with 15½ correct forecasts, 9½ wrong and one yet to be settled.

As predicted: The House impeached President Trump. Barring a zombie apocalypse, the Senate won’t convict, but that’s still playing out. Congressional Democrats’ unity splintered on health care (including Medicare for All and prescription drug pricing) and the Green New Deal.

Vladimir Putin kept pressing in Ukraine and expanded Russia’s military presence in Syria. Iranian-backed militias stepped up attacks on northern Israel. China pledged more purchases from the U.S. and cut tariffs, but the goal of ending intellectual-property theft eluded American negotiators. U.S. economic growth will likely be less than 2.5%.

Special counsel Robert Mueller cleared the Trump campaign of conspiring with Russia, though Mr. Mueller also delivered something big: He said he could not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice.

Mr. Trump’s legal troubles over Michael Cohen’s use of corporate funds for hush-money payments continued, as the Manhattan district attorney and the House Financial Services and Oversight Committees subpoenaed Trump company accounting records.

While the number of Democrats running reached my prediction of 20, I said Joe Biden wouldn’t. What the heck was I thinking? I was half-right that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders would be atop the field. Robert Francis O’Rourke was the shiny new toy, but as on Christmas, such toys often have a short half-life.

Mr. Trump’s approval ratings held steady, with the Real Clear Politics average for most of 2019 hovering within a point or two of this week’s 44.5% mark. While his “strongly disapprove” numbers are in the high 40s (44% in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll), his “strongly approve” numbers are in the low 30s, not the mid-20s. Credit that missed call to a tribal rally ’round the president amid impeachment.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s favorability is not 20 points below Mr. Trump’s, as I predicted, but less than 5 in the RCP average, another example of the impeachment tribal effect. Contrary to what I thought, Congress ended 2019 slightly more popular than it began.

Let’s pass over (please!) best picture, best actress, Oscars for Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, and Alabama as national champs. I got it right that Patrick Mahomes would be the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player.

So what about 2020?

U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe into the origins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2016 investigation of the Trump campaign will find Obama administration officials acted inappropriately, including hyping the Steele dossier, abusing the wiretap process, and unmasking U.S. persons named in intelligence reports.

Pete Buttigieg wins Iowa, but no Democrat arrives at the convention with a majority. The nomination requires delegates switching sides after the initial first vote or a second ballot where superdelegates are permitted to participate. I pick Mr. Biden to win, but I’d take the field if I could.

Because Democrats are concentrated in California and New York, Mr. Trump trails in the popular vote. Mr. Trump wins Florida. Ohio, now redder, isn’t in play. Iowa swings Democratic. Mr. Trump does better than in 2016 among African-American and Latino voters.

The election again comes down to Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Mr. Trump must win at least two. They’re settled by a wider margin than the 77,744 votes of the 13,940,912 these Blue Wall states cast in 2016. Victory depends on Mr. Trump’s discipline and whom the Democrats nominate. If it’s Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump has an uphill fight; if not, the president wins.

Republicans keep the Senate and Democrats the House, both with smaller majorities.

No recession in 2020, but gross domestic product rises less than 2.3%, with job growth and wages up more for workers than supervisors. U.S. carbon emissions drop. Most Paris climate accord signatories fail to meet their targets, and Chinese and Indian carbon emissions keep growing.


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