The stock market is a roller coaster. There’s a partial government shutdown. The president has taken to tweeting in ALL CAPS.
Not even Nostradamus could foresee the wild end to 2018 and the volatile start to the New Year. Yet, even in unpredictable times, human expectations and behavior don’t change overnight. Social and issue landscapes often reveal themselves early on with telltale data points that indicate where things are going –before we actually get there.
Here are five major political trends that businesses, politicians, and nonprofit organizations can use as a guide for the 2019 political landscape.
It’s the Economy, Again!
In 2019, watch the economy move front-and-center in the national conversation. Overall, the fundamentals of the economy remain strong. Unemployment is steady at a 49-year low, and inflation has been held in check at under 2 percent. There’s little question that President Trump’s tax cuts and regulatory relief have spurred an ongoing economic boom, which yielded 3.4 percent growth in the third quarter of 2018.
Yet, that’s not what we’re hearing about on the news. It’s all about the economic risks: the trade war, stock market volatility, and the federal government shutdown. Democrats will continue to drive this narrative in an attempt to capitalize on a slowing economy.
Expect James Carville’s “It’s the economy, stupid” to make a comeback. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley points out that the last two presidents who failed to get re-elected, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, were primarily done in by faltering economies. Democrats are all too happy to stoke economic fears and scare us toward recession if it means defeating Trump.
Trump Declares All-Out War on the Fed
Trump starts 2019 without a defense secretary. But his biggest war in the coming year will be financial.
The robust economy has invited the Federal Reserve to unwind its balance sheet and normalize interest rates, problems inherited by the current administration after the Fed blissfully suppressed interest rates for Barack Obama’s entire eight years in office.
With two pending nominations to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board, Trump could end up nominating six of seven Federal Reserve governors in his first term. He believes that the bank is raising interest rates too quickly, and that it’s the single greatest threat to the economy.
So look for the president to declare verbal war on the Fed in 2019. He’s already broken the unwritten, if recently established, rule that presidents don’t publicly criticize the Fed. (For historical context, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush all publicly commented on Fed policy.)
It’s unclear whether Trump could fire Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. He may be able to fire him as chair but not remove him as a governor. Nevertheless, Trump could cause disruption by pulling his nomination of Nellie Liang to fill a seat on the board. She’s a Democrat who supports higher interest rates and the Dodd-Frank Act. In her place, watch for Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari. He’s been one of the leading opponents of raising interest rates too quickly.
Democrats’ Civil War in Congress
Democrats may have taken control of the House, but it’s a split majority. It’s not just progressive vs. moderates. The liberal wing is also divided between Nancy Pelosi’s old guard and the young socialist activists eager to challenge the establishment.
Progressives, especially among young voters, are pushing the Democratic Party further left. From 2016 to 2018, the Young Democratic Socialists of America saw a 280 percent increase in college clubs. The far-left progressives are impatient and bring a tough, in-your-face style to Washington. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s first-day protest in Pelosi’s office was a sign of things to come.
Meanwhile, Democrats picked up congressional seats by promising to be an independent voice. This ideological split becomes a big challenge for moderate Democrats who are in swing districts. It will be difficult to remain true to voters while pulled to the left by the angry progressives.
Tom Steyer Leads 2020 Democratic Field
Billionaire Tom Steyer has a national network of activists, personal wealth of $1.6 billion, and the most effective political machine in the country. Steyer, who is hiring state directors in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, has already built the “Biggest Political Machine You’ve Never Heard of.” In the last three cycles, Steyer has spent $280 million, including $50 million for his “Need to Impeach” campaign, which has collected more than 6 million signatures.
His NextGen America is a ready-made presidential campaign machine. In the 2018 midterms, NextGen America spent $33 million, hired 750 paid staff, recruited 16,000 volunteers, registered 260,000 voters, and operated on 420 college campuses. Steyer also benefits from an early California primary, where he has established himself as the most powerful player in state Democratic politics.
Trump Faces GOP Challenger
George H.W. Bush faced a challenge from Pat Buchanan. Jimmy Carter faced Ted Kennedy and Jerry Brown in 1980. Reagan nearly upset Gerald Ford in 1976. In 1968, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy pressured LBJ out of the race.
But, wait there’s more!
In 1972, Congressman Pete McCloskey challenged Richard Nixon. In 1952, Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver mounted a primary campaign against incumbent President Harry Truman. Even FDR faced a primary challenger from none other than sitting Vice President John Nance Garner, who famously declared that “the vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit.”
Over the last 100 years, nine incumbent presidents have faced primary challenges. Only five have not: Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower.
“Never Trump” operative Bill Kristol is openly building the infrastructure to promote a GOP candidate to run against the president. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, “the best-known and likeliest challenger to Trump,” has visited New Hampshire several times. Retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake continued to tease his interest in his latest appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”