Ed Rollins: Trump or a Democrat in 2020? Politics is like poker and THIS is the wild card

The 2020 race for the Democratic nomination for president is beginning to heat up. Every day I get asked who is going to be the Democratic nominee against President Trump next year. Who can beat him? My honest answer is: I don't know! I don't have the slightest idea. I also don't think anyone in the Republican Party or Democratic Party has any idea either.

I've always said that politics is like a game of two-handed poker. Your pair of twos may not look like much, but it beats one of a kind. Of course, this election cycle may have more than two final players – a third independent candidate may liven it up even more.

But winning electoral votes as an independent candidate is nearly impossible. Just ask Ross Perot.


Of course, poker is not the real game being played in 2020. But in any game, President Trump is a wild card. And a wild card can change any game.

The Democrats will have a diverse field of candidates. One of the biggest problems they face is that they may have too many choices. Breaking out of the pack will not be easy. It's what happened to the Republicans in 2016 and to the so-called early favorites.

Fast forward to today. With Democrats gaining 40 seats and winning a majority in the House in last November’s midterm elections – and with President Trump's present low poll numbers – many Democrats think 2020 is their year and that Trump can be beaten.

The big names – former Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the 2004 presidential nominee and former Secretary of State John Kerry – are all chomping at the bit and would like to be president. But not one of them is viewed as inevitable.

Hillary Clinton was the inevitable nominee in both 2008 – when she barely lost the nomination to then-Sen. Barack Obama – and certainly in 2016. Most political observers expected she was going to be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

Up until about 9:30 p.m. EST on Election Day, most of the "smart people" in and around politics thought a second President Clinton was a sure thing. But that didn't happen, of course.

Hillary Clinton would like to be president, but her people know she can't win. I doubt she'll try for a third time.

Speaking of a third try, I am sure that every morning when Joe Biden looks in the mirror, he thinks of President Trump says to himself: I know I could have beaten this guy. Why didn't I run?

There always seems to be some caution in Biden's decision. He walks to the end of the high dive but just doesn't want to jump in. He has to remember we don't draft soldiers and we certainly don't draft candidates.

If you want it, get in. If the former vice president does decide to run, he probably will start as the supposed front runner and will lead the early polls mainly because of name ID and having been around forever.

I have my doubts that Biden can put it all together. He has never won a state or a delegate outside his home state of Delaware in his two runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. He also will be just days shy of his 77th birthday on Election Day in 2020 in a party trying to appeal to young voters. And he is gaffe-prone.

Biden dropped out as a presidential candidate after less than four months in 1988 after plagiarism controversies and chaos in his campaign. Twenty years later he came in fifth in the Iowa caucuses.

Biden did get the all-important vote of Barack Obama, however, when he was tapped to be Obama’s vice presidential running mate in 2008 and the rest was history.

Everyone talks about getting into the race for the White House and winning a certain "lane." The women's lane. The Hispanic lane. The Obama lane. The liberal-socialist lane. The blue collar-union lane. The billionaire lane.

I've been around a lot of presidential campaigns and have never found a lane yet. Maybe in track or swimming there are lanes, but presidential races are marathons. Get in and survive the battle of your life. If you are the last man or woman standing you win. The nomination at least.

Here we are now in 2019 and with this election cycle it seems like almost every day someone new jumps in. This month we've seen Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California make strong starts in announcing that they want to be president.

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz declared that he is considering running for president as an independent.

Even Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is thinking about jumping into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. And former Massachusetts Republican Gov. William Weld is reported to be considering challenging President Trump for the GOP nomination.

Before it's over, Democratic candidates will include some sitting senators, a few governors and male and female members of Congress and mayors from big and small cities.

Recently the most serious newcomer, Sen. Harris of California, immediately became a credible candidate once she announced her presidential hopes.

California – the most populous state with 55 electoral votes – has moved up its primary to March 3 and it will be a must-win race for anyone to be viable. It's also very expensive to compete in –the ultimate media market.

The Golden State's newly inaugurated governor, Gavin Newsom, is also stirring up 2020 chatter. And briefly some thought that Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti would throw his hat in the ring.

He decided he would rather be mayor. Probably a smart choice.

California and New York will have big-time challengers. Always remember these two blue states give the nominee a big jump towards winning the popular vote. Republicans are almost nonexistent in both after the 2018 blowout.

Even though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he's not interested in running, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was one of the first to jump into the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, another potential candidate, threw down the gauntlet to all progressive liberals. In his State of the City speech several weeks ago, de Blasio stated a rallying cry for other Dems.

“There's plenty of money in the world," DeBlasio said, "There's plenty of money in the city – it's just in the wrong hands."

That may be de Blasio’s battle cry, but I just can't see him as a viable candidate for president. A mayor who can't provide heat and hot water in much of the city's public housing in winter and who has one of nation's worst public transit systems isn't going to be serious or taken seriously.

Many Democrats feel the same way about Washington. If they could just reverse the Trump tax cuts and refocus federal spending away from the enormous defense budget, there would be a lot more money for things they want to do.

The "Robin Hood" policy of taking from the rich and redistributing wealth means many working people are going to see their taxes raised if Democrats capture the White House in 2020.

Sen. Warren is proposing a wealth tax as is Bernie Sanders, the man who has been a real "socialist" and never run away from the tag or the policies his entire political career. Both are fighting for many of the same voters.

The basic rules for Democrats in this cycle is move to left. And then left again. Young voters and suburban women voters are the targets.

The candidates will also promise a bunch of free stuff including health care for all, educational opportunity for all – and if that doesn't work, they'll guarantee jobs for all.

There is so much more to play out, including whether President Trump decides to run for re-election or what the battles between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will bring in the future.


Obviously, Democrats would love to impeach Trump, but that is very unlikely and a fool’s strategy. I am assuming that the president will run for re-election in 2020. I also think he will be tough to beat. The battlefield will be the same as 2016: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are must-wins to get to 270 electoral votes.

The best Trump strategy right now to hold and expand his base. "Fight for the wall" and remember the old rule of politics: "If you don't like me, look at them." Just remember to keep your eye on the wild card.