Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Here’s the only silver lining to Trump’s winIt’s never easy to stay hopeful in the face of political defeat. The Trump win is particularly difficult in this regard: after losing by almost 3 million votes, Republicans are nevertheless poised to ramrod major detrimental changes through their control of Congress, the Presidency and the majority of statehouses. Not only that, but the current incarnation of the GOP is even more extreme than ever–and at the very top sits, well, Donald Trump.

But there are still several reasons for hope and optimism, some of which I want to explore this weekend. First and foremost:

The 2020 election is far more important than 2016, and Democrats were unlikely to win both. It is rare for a party to win the White House three cycles in a row, and four in a row is unheard of absent a national or political crisis. Only once in the last 63 years has a single party won the presidency three cycles in a row, and the following election was a disaster: four after years George Bush Sr. won a third post-Reagan Republican term, he was swept out of office by Bill Clinton in a landslide. Four cycles in a row has only happened twice in American history: once by FDR who essentially became President for life, followed by Harry Truman, and once by a series of Republicans from 1896 to 1912 that included the disruptive figure of Teddy Roosevelt, a man who might as well have been a third party candidate.

The chances, in other words, that Hillary Clinton would have held onto the White House in 2020 are historically very slim.  Liberals had hoped for a long period of Presidential dominance due to favorable demographics, but each Republican win keeps pushing that dream farther into the distance, a shimmering mirage perpetually out of reach for the Democratic Party in an economically anxious country.

If Democrats had to win only one of the two elections, 2020 is by far the more important. That’s because the elections in every zero-year coincide with the Census: those who win the governorships and legislatures in the zero year have control over the district lines redrawn after the Census. The biggest reason Democrats continue to lose the House despite winning more overall votes is that the Republican surge in 2010 allowed them to gerrymander Congressional and legislative district lines all around the country. A Democratic wave in 2020 would allow Democrats to redraw those lines after an even more favorable census, potentially giving them a decade of dominance similar to that held by Republicans today. Losing the chance to replace Justice Scalia hurts, but the Supreme Court hangs in the balance every presidential cycle, and 2020 will be no different. Assuming that the more liberal justices of the Supreme Court can stay healthy over the next four years, it is also possible that the president elected in 2020 may have more control over the future of the Court than the one elected in 2016.

The basic realities that make presidential politics difficult for Republicans still haven’t changed. Trump won due to a fluke of the electoral college combined with lackluster Democratic turnout, populist resentment and a politically hobbled nominee–not because of a surge of racist white voters (Trump only gained on Romney among white voters by 1 point, while his gains over Romney among most minority groups were actually greater than among whites.) Four years sitting in the accountability hotseat of the Oval Office will not be kind to him unless Republicans can magically overperform among minority and college-educated voters after several years of Trumpism. Another several years of demographic change will severely hamper Republican chances in 2020 even if they implement and get away with further voter restrictions in key states–after all, you can only slice away so many voters without driver’s licenses or the ability to show up on election day until you run out of people to disenfranchise even when playing racist, unconstitutional games.

It’s theoretically possible that Trump could be impeached or resign before filling out his entire term. But impeachment would cleft the GOP base irreparably, while resignation in shame would demoralize both the base and the party infrastructure. It seems unlikely that a President Pence would survive a Democratic onslaught in the pivotal 2020 election cycle.

Four years seems like a long time to survive a Trump presidency, but in hindsight it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

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David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.