The 2020 Forecast – Episode 2: Trump vs. The Un-Fantastic Four

Like you, I’ve been watching and smirking at perhaps the most disappointing, charisma-lacking, out of touch primary field ever produced by a major party. It’s now been three months since the first episode of this series, and in that time, there’s one thing I’m certain about. My impressions of the Democratic field weren’t rosy in June but…

I overestimated just about everybody.

This article contains…

  1. A look at the Democratic final four.
  2. Trump’s strategic position against his four prospective challengers.

We’re Down to the Final Four, and the Democrats Have no Star

I said some good things about Pete Buttigieg and his supposed charisma and frame control in the first episode. I was wrong. I said positive things about Kamala Harris in the first episode, but after a strong first debate, she’s sputtered. It looks like she has a glass jaw. Her performance at the recent “Climate Town Hall” was equally embarrassing.

To put a long story short, none of the Democratic field have made a real impression in the months since June – none but one. I again recommend taking a look at this article for some of the pro-wrestling terminology. I said it before and will say it again – politics and pro-wrestling is basically the same art form.

We’re into the middle stages of the Democratic Royal Rumble match. We’ve seen some formal exits, but truth be told, most of the candidates have already been eliminated. Barring some black swan event, we’re down to our final four…

  1. Joe Biden
  2. Bernie Sanders
  3. Kamala Harris
  4. Elizabeth Warren

One of these four is going to challenge Donald Trump for his title at the WrestleMania equivalent of American politics. Everybody else is just a zombie candidate trying to increase their personal brand or become the VP pick.

When you look at those final four, you can immediately see the pickle the Democratic Party is in. As I mentioned in the first episode of this series, these candidates need to get over as babyfaces – good guys – to the Democratic Party’s electorate and get fans invested in their challenge to Trump and his title. If the good guy isn’t actually perceived as someone the crowd wants to be excited about, the heel will retain the championship. Nobody was excited about Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 34, so Brock Lesnar retained his title. Everybody was excited about Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14, so he won the title and changed the face of wrestling.

Now look at those final four and ask yourself – does the Democratic Party have a hot babyface for fans to get behind or are these tepid babyfaces and people are really just buying tickets to boo Donald Trump? Are any of these final four cut in the cloth of Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1998 and Batista in 2005, or are they more like Roman Reigns in 2015 and Lex Luger in 1994?

Let’s look at each of the four and see if we can find some answers.

Trump vs. Biden Cartoon
By Gary Varvel. Hint – this isn’t going to be the marquee. Democrats should be thankful for it.

Joe Biden

Shame on the people that pushed Joe Biden to do this. I can’t watch him and not feel sorry for him. Gaffes are a given whenever Joe Biden is in the conversation, that’s not the notable thing. The real poison pill is that he looks totally exhausted and makes you feel totally exhausted with him. He looks like he should be in a hospital and treated for dementia, not running for President of the United States.

On top of these charisma vacuum qualities, Joe Biden has no offer to the electorate. He’s running on a brand name and Obama nostalgia, but that’s not nearly enough for him to get over. All that does is force our brains to make comparisons between him and Obama, and immediately realize how less cool and interesting he is. Read Scott Adams’ Win Bigly for more about how our brains operate by making comparisons.

I’ve said it before and it’s even more obvious after the summer. Joe Biden will not be the nominee. Democrats should be thankful for it. He’s the worst possible choice of the four. Forget the polls. Those polls are meaningless at this point because, as Scott Adams would again say, they present an imagined, idealized candidate against Donald Trump. The real Joe Biden would get slaughtered. It would be like Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 34.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is holding steady and took no abuse throughout the summer months. That’s good news for him. In terms of positioning, he’s in the second best of the final four. The problem is that unlike in 2016, when he was novel and interesting, the 2019 version of Bernie Sanders is basically just a greatest hits tribute. He has an offer to the electorate, but it’s lost its uniqueness.

His gimmick as anti-Wall Street, give you free stuff man is consistent, and it’s palatable to the Democratic audience, but there’s someone else in the race who’s doing the same thing, and doing it better.

Kamala Harris

I actually thought that Harris would be the strongest Democrat against Donald Trump, but the subsequent months have forced me to reconsider this assumption. She started strong in June, but took a hit from Tulsi Gabbard that sent her to the mat. It wasn’t a knockout, but she still hasn’t recovered from it.

This exchange and the fallout from it revealed Harris’ weaknesses. She doesn’t look like she has the constitution to take the hits Donald Trump would undoubtedly give her in a general election. I vastly overestimated her persuasion technique. Her utter lack of likability has rendered any technique she might try to use as a hollow one.

That makes Kamala Harris’ situation the most unique of the four. The self-selected “elite” clique will continue to protect her, but fans probably won’t like her very much. It’s akin to Vince McMahon having his favorites regardless of what fans actually want. That’s a lot like the situation that prevailed in 2016, to disastrous results for the Democrats.

Kamala Harris will need to get out of this trap. There’s still time for her to do so, but she’s going to have to up her game a lot. Now’s the time to see if she has the right stuff. Her immediate priority needs to be to consolidate the black voters that will abandon Joe Biden as he fades with each passing week, but Tulsi Gabbard may have rendered that impossible.

Harris better pray that the recency effect comes into play here, and Gabbard didn’t cast her into a permanent role.

Elizabeth Warren

Finally, we have the only candidate that’s actually gotten over in the summer months. Elizabeth Warren has emerged as the fan favorite among the Democratic faithful. It’s an astonishing feat, considering that she looked done with her 1/1024 self-immolation and her horrendous “I’m going to have a beer” video.

Yet, despite sinning against the identity politics religion, and despite being an awkward goof with no visible charismatic qualities – the total opposite of cool – she’s getting over. Perhaps this kind of goofiness makes her relatable to everyday people. It makes her strangely memorable, which itself is important (see Impossible to Ignore). Whatever it is, it’s working, at least for now. She’s not the kind of self-hating dork like Beto O’Rourke or Kirsten Gillibrand are. Her dorkiness is distinctly more self-confident.

Contrast Kirsten Gillibrand’s kind of self-hating “white feminism” to Elizabeth Warren’s. Like the former, Warren is playing the role of “white ally to POC,” but unlike her, doesn’t openly hate herself. That matters. Nobody wants to vote for a self-hating loser. That’s the second Stumped persuasion factor.

Elizabeth Warren is also playing Bernie Sanders’ anti-Wall Street, give you free stuff gimmick, but with more energy, and with a vagina. The latter matters in the age of identity politics hysteria.

Two obstacles now face Elizabeth Warren.

  1. She needs to survive the trope of being the summer insurgent candidate that flames out in the fall. Warren’s brand has been known among the Democratic base since 2012, so that should help her, but it’s nowhere near as strong as Trump’s was in 2015. It is still possible her advertising effectiveness collapses due to brand weakness. Time will tell.
  2. If she can survive the trope, she’ll need to do more to get her act over with black voters. Right now, she’s the candidate that makes “woke” white leftists feel good but doesn’t connect as well with black voters. She’ll need some of them. Expect her and Harris to savage each other for them as Biden fades. That will be her biggest test. Up until now, the two haven’t squared off. That’s going to change, starting with this week’s debate.

Despite these weaknesses, the nomination is hers to lose at this point. As of now, she’s the one likeliest to be in the Stone Cold/Rock/John Cena position of actually being a beloved babyface against the hated heel champion, but she isn’t there yet, and her act definitely isn’t going to be as over to a general electorate, who might not perceive her as a babyface at all.

That Elizabeth Warren has emerged as the strongest contender should leave Democrats worried, but we are where we are. So far, she’s the only one that isn’t totally pathetic.

Trump’s Position

The president still remains in a strong position heading into re-election, though there is some concern with white suburban voters, especially women. Again, though, the polls are imaginary at this point. It’s time to look at the Stumped persuasion factors, which actually predicted 2016’s results, and see how Trump’s position compares with the Democratic final four.

1. Pendulum: The candidate benefiting from the pendulum effect, the reaction against the previous regime, will usually win.

The first thing we need to do is determine whether there’s a pendulum against Donald Trump. For this, we’ll again turn to Allan Lichtman’s Keys to the White House system, which has predicted the results of presidential elections with almost unbroken success for decades, including in 2016. The only exception was in 2000.

There are 13 keys. If five or fewer are false, the incumbent party will remain in power. If six or more or false, the challenging party wins.

1. Party Mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than after the previous midterm elections.

False. This key will remain in Democratic hands throughout the cycle.

2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.

True. Though more candidates have recently emerged to challenge for the Republican nomination, like Joe Walsh and just today, Mark Sanford, Donald Trump has 85-90% Republican support. For them to actually turn this key against the president, they’d need to secure a third of the party’s delegates at next year’s convention. There is no chance this will ever happen.

3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.

True. This key will remain out of Democratic hands no matter how much they cry.

4. Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign.

True. As of now.

5. Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.

6. Long term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.

True. Given the pathetic state of the Democratic Party’s candidates, it shouldn’t surprise you that we’ve seen recession talk ramp up in the past month. Expect to see more of it soon. The weaker the Democratic candidates look, the more you’ll see the fake news media try to talk the country into a recession: “BuT mUh YiElD cUrVe InVeRtEd FoR a FeW hOuRs!”

They need a recession because it would be the only sure shot to turning both of these keys negative and defeating Trump. Alas, there’s not one in sight.. Though the economy might not be quite as strong this year as it was last year, these keys are unlikely to turn red on the president in time for Democrats to make use of them.

7. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

True. According to Lichtman himself, this one is in Trump’s favor.

8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.

True. There’s been some Antifa attacks, but otherwise, not much going on.

9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

True. We saw the final, agonizing, embarrassing death of “BuT mUh RuSsIa” in July, with Robert Mueller’s hapless, senile testimony. It was a total box office flop. It nuked any possibility of impeachment. It’s over. Barring a black swan, Democrats will not have access to the scandal key, despite two and a half years of fake news hysteria over it.

10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

True. The president has thankfully avoided attacking Iran and things are cooler now than in June. His calling off of a retaliatory strike over a downed drone was truly one of his greatest moments as president. If he can keep that up, he should avoid turning this key red.

11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.

False. All the same things from June are still holding – talks, but no real breakthroughs.

There’s been some progress on a potential peace deal in Afghanistan, which would be huge. I know talks broke down today, but the dance is closer to completion than it was before. Expect more meetings. There’s also been some chatter on a possible Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The Chinese are starting to get worried about decoupling. There was also that meeting with Kim Jong-un in June to restart nuclear talks.

None of these things have gone through yet. Truth be told, none probably will in time for 2020. So this key will likely stay red, but you never know. There’s a lot on the radar.

12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.

False. According to Licthman himself, Trump doesn’t have this key.

13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.

True with three of the final Democratic four. TBD with Warren, but probably true there as well.

Result – no significant pendulum. Favorable for Trump.

The other persuasion triggers

2. Recognition of the irrational: Humans are usually not acting as rational, self-interested agents, but can be influenced by many, often completely irrational factors. Visceral cues are far more potent than rational ones.

Vs. Biden – Trump wins easily. Biden has no idea about this.

Vs. Sanders – Trump again wins easily. Back in 2016, Bernie Sanders had master magicians around him who might have made this a fair fight, but those magicians don’t look like they’re by his side this time.

Vs. Harris – Harris looks like she understands this. That’s one in her favor. Unfortunately for her, she hasn’t been able to actually translate it into effective technique. If she can figure it out, it might be a fair fight.

Vs. Warren – Warren looks like she’s more concerned with facts and policy right now. She’s stumbled into some kind of effectiveness with her base and is getting over with them, but it doesn’t look like a threat to Trump in the general election yet. We’ll see if she improves.

3. Tribal leadership: Humans are tribal animals that organize themselves in teams and in/out-groups. In such a structure, the strongest tribal leader, the one who inspires feelings in supporters that they’d want to follow him into battle, will usually have the most alluring leadership appeal. This is a factor closely related to masculinity. Thus, the candidate that can telegraph this strong, often masculine leadership ability will usually win.

Vs. Biden – Trump wins easily. 2019 Biden is the anti-tribal leader, the kind that gives his followers zero confidence.

Vs. Sanders – Sanders has his devoted core of fans, despite his drop in effectiveness. Still, he’s not a challenge to Trump in this area. Compare the energy between them.

Vs. Harris – Trump wins easily as of now. Harris has the potential for the right stuff, but she’s just so unlikable that she hasn’t been able to translate it.

Vs. Warren – Trump’s toughest challenger at the moment. She telegraphs energy to her followers. It’s not nearly enough to beat the president yet, but we’ll see if it grows at all.

4. Spatial dominance: Problems arise that people seek answers to, and communications are the key to power. The candidate that dominates the most space on the issues people want solved and the communicational space upon which they are intermediated with will usually win.

The president wins easily against all four challengers right now. He’s still the center of attention and diverting energy to where he wants it to go. Elizabeth Warren has emerged as the most formidable challenger in this area, but she still has a long way to go. Much of her campaign is still about how bad he is instead of how good she is. Trump’s issues are still the most talked about.

5. Frame control: The candidate who has the strongest offense and the stronger frame to impose his will and deflect criticism will usually win.

Vs. Biden – Donald Trump wins an a total slaughter.

Vs. Sanders – Bernie would need to focus energy away from personality and toward his issues. I just don’t think he’d be able to do so. In a pure frame battle, he would lose easily.

Vs. Harris – Again, Harris looks like she has the raw ingredients, but hasn’t been able to bake the cake. This is a question mark right now. She has the strongest chance of the four.

Vs. Warren – This is where Warren will be weakest. She’d likely get flustered against him. Time will tell.

6. Charisma: The more charismatic candidate, naturally or otherwise, will usually win.

Vs. Biden – Joe Biden is the anti-charisma candidate. Trump wins easily.

Vs. Sanders – Berniebros aside, this is the one area where Bernie lacks. Trump wins easily.

Vs. Harris – She’s just too unlikable. Trump is too to a lot of people, but he has his humor and positive vibes to make up for it. Harris has neither of those things.

Vs. Warren – The surprising strongest challenger to Trump in this department. If she can become more affable to more people, pick up her energy a few notches, and get better at controlling crowds, she might just be able to pull it off.

7. Social proof: The candidate with the strongest social proof will usually win.

Trump wins easily against all four prospective challengers right now. Warren currently has the best chance to turn this against him, but she’s nowhere near his level yet.

8. Personal brand: The candidate with the strongest, better-known personal brand will usually win.

Again, only Biden is as well-known, but he’s fading fast and has so many problems that, as unlikable as Trump is to a lot of people, the former VP won’t be able to effectively negate Trump’s brand with his own.

We’ll see if the other three, particularly Harris and Warren, can grow enough. It’s doubtful.

9. Best offer: The candidate with the strongest perceived offer to the most concerning issues of the time, the ones that people react to in the most visceral, rather than cerebral way, will usually win.

Elizabeth Warren’s manifesto promising to break up big tech is interesting. If she can catch energy and focus on that, she’ll have a popular issue to contrast Trump with. Unfortunately, she’ll still be for open borders and “social justice” lunacy, too, which will hurt her in swing states, but at least it’s a start for her.

Bernie Sanders is played out and Biden and Harris have nothing. The president is again in a position of strength.

Forecast (Q3 2019)

Despite the polls and the usual hysteria, the president’s position remains strong and is unlikely to weaken significantly. Though the economy probably isn’t quite as strong as last year, Trump’s position has strengthened with the removal of any hope of his opposition getting the scandal key. If he were anyone else, no one would be doubting an easy re-election for a president in the position he’s currently in. If he didn’t feel the need to fight every fight and kept his mouth shut a little more, he’d strengthen his position further, but he won’t do this.

At any rate, all of this is why we can expect recession chatter to ramp up. It won’t work, but the Democrats and their media attack dogs will need to make people feel worse off economically. It’s the only insurance policy they have.

If you want an insider’s track for the coming year, take a look at Stumped, one of the few books released in 2016 predicting Trump’s victory. Read it instead of listening to the media and their polls. You’ll be light years ahead.