Trump's presidential ambitions were generally not taken seriously at the time. Trump's moves were interpreted by some media as possible promotional tools for his reality show The Apprentice. Before the 2016 election, The New York Times speculated that Trump "accelerated his ferocious efforts to gain stature within the political world" after Obama lampooned him at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in April 2011.
One problem for Democrats going into 2020 is that Trump makes it almost impossible not to respond to his daily outrages. “He’s sucked all the oxygen out of the room,” Bannon says. “They’re in a Kafka-esque nightmare right now. There’s no exit. I just love it.” Democrats have yet to develop a cohesive message and a consensus about whether the best way to defeat Trump is from the left or the middle. Doug Jones and Conor Lamb ran as moderates in deep red Alabama and Pennsylvania. But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset win in New York over Speaker-in-waiting Joe Crowley gives progressives an argument that the Bernie Sanders wing of the party is ascendant. Dan Pfeiffer told me the problem for Democrats is how to balance the need to drive the base while trying to win back working-class voters Trump peeled off in places like Michigan and Wisconsin. “We’re going to have to figure out how to get the Obama coalition that did not turn out, plus win back midwestern states while improving performance in rural states,” he said.
Bannon compared this point in the midterm re-election to August 2016, when Trump trailed Hillary Clinton by double digits and everyone expected him to be trounced. Except this time he’s effectively running against Nancy Pelosi, the former (and perhaps future) House Speaker, who would lead a hypothetical impeachment crusade. “She’s the Hillary,” Bannon said. “She’s got some of the same tendencies!” That’s where the specter of impeachment comes into place. “You want her program? Impeach Trump and you got her,” Bannon explained. “When you focus on impeachment, it’s a game changer. It’s an emotional issue that raises the stakes.” To hold on to the House and Senate in November, Bannon said, Trump needs to follow the same strategy he employed in the home stretch of 2016: drive hard toward his base. “This is a ‘deplorable-plus electorate.’ What I mean is, it’s deplorables plus Reagan Democrats and guys who voted for Trump who vote never. You bring them out in an off year.” I asked Bannon about the risk of losing suburban women. He shrugged off the voting bloc as immaterial, a thing of the past. “The Republican college-educated woman is done,” he said. “They’re gone. They were going anyway at some point in time. Trump triggers them. This is now the Trump movement.” Bannon said that Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will help win back some suburban Republicans. “Republicans will come home. Dude, you got Gorsuch and Kavanaugh back to back,” he told me. At a minimum, Kavanaugh’s nomination will “ensure they don’t vote for Democrats.”
Presidential approval ratings have shown Trump to be the least popular president in the history of modern opinion polling as of the start of his second year in office. Early polls have shown Trump trailing by a margin of 10–18 percent against several hypothetical Democratic candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand. In 2018, the presidential reelection effort and the Congressional midterms both drew presidential campaign attention.