Will Trump Run in 2020?
It might feel as if he hasn’t been president of the U.S.A. for very long – although to many it will already feel like an eternity – but we are now only one year away from when the 2020 presidential race will really get going as the parties’ primaries get underway. Sitting presidents such as President Trump almost always run for re-election and are usually effectively unopposed within their party’s primaries. Looking at recent history, it has been a very long time since any sitting President chose not to run for another term which they were eligible for (presidents may only serve a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms). This last occurred in 1968, when President Johnson withdrew from the race at the start of the primary season, on the public grounds that he had become too divisive a figure to continue to serve as President.
The private truth was more complex. Johnson had heart trouble and had good medical grounds to believe that he would probably not survive another full term in office. He had also faced a surprisingly strong primary challenge and his private polling showed he was vulnerable to a shock defeat as more candidates threw their hats into the ring for the Democratic primary. Johnson continued to exert considerable political control over his party’s nominee, Hubert Humphrey, who wanted to moderate Johnson’s Vietnam policy, but was effectively forced to publicly toe Johnson’s line right up to election day.
It is difficult to imagine President Trump walking away from a fight, but if polls continue to show him very unlikely to win, and a more popular Republican candidate emerges who would be prepared to continue the President’s signature policies, I think the President could be persuaded by his advisors to withdraw. Although he has a big ego, I think his presidency is more issue-driven than ego-driven. He will be 76 years old in 2020, which would make him the oldest President in history to run for a second term in office. Of course, the polls also showed him as extremely unlikely to win in 2016, yet there are indications that it would be even harder for him to win next time, even though sitting President who run usually win re-election.
Right now, it is hard to see who the “Trump candidate” might be whom the President would be willing to anoint as his successor.