Of all the questions that will be answered by the 2020 election, one matters above the others: Is Trumpism a temporary aberration or a long-term phenomenon? Put another way: Will the changes brought about by Donald Trump and today’s Republican Party fade away, or will they become entrenched?
Trump’s reelection seems implausible to many people, as implausible as his election did before November 2016. But despite the scandals and chaos of his presidency, and despite his party’s midterm losses, he approaches 2020 with two factors in his favor. One is incumbency: Since 1980, voters have only once denied an incumbent a second term. The other is a relatively strong economy (at least as of now). Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University who weights both of those factors heavily in his election forecasting model, gives Trump close to an even chance of reelection, based on a projected 2 percent GDP growth rate for the first half of 2020.
So far, much of the concern about the long-term effects of Trump’s presidency has centered on his anti-democratic tendencies. But even if we take those off the table—even if we assume that Trump continues to be hemmed in by other parts of the government and by outside institutions and that he governs no more effectively than he has until now—the impact of a second term would be more lasting than that of the first.
In normal politics, the policies adopted by a president and Congr