The Political Insiders’ Guide to 2019

As we head into the second half of Donald Trump’s presidency and the beginnings of another presidential election season, Politico Magazine asked political analysts, strategists, writers and thinkers on both sides of the aisle to tell us, briefly, what’s the one political development they’re watching for in 2019—whether that be the most interesting, most off-the-rails or most consequential. For some, it could be a specific event. For others it could be something long in the works that they foresee coming to a head in the upcoming year.

Here’s what these 18 insiders will be watching as this crazy year in politics comes to an end and another one begins.

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The economy—and what it means for Trump.

Robert M. Shrum is a former Democratic strategist and speechwriter and is the director of the Center for the Political Future and the Unruh Institute of Politics.

The most important political development of 2019 won’t be political at all, but it will have profound political consequences. Will the growth that characterized the later Obama years—and for which Trump glibly claimed credit as it continued—slow or even reverse? If so, Trump will get the blame no matter how much he tries to target Democrats, especially House Democrats. Presidents are always held accountable for the condition of the economy. And by taking credit he didn’t deserve, this president has fixed the bull’s-eye squarely to his own back to a degree unmatched by most of his predecessors.

Democrats trounced Republicans by a near record margin in 2018 despite low unemployment and robust growth. Add a slowdown or recession to the tide of alienating issues that hurt Trump—the shadow of criminal investigations; a temperament stunningly incongruent with the office he holds; the well-earned enmity of minority, millennial, female and suburban voters; his and his party’s embrace of health care positions that proved poisonous in the midterms—and by year’s end, his reelection would be the longest of long shots. It wasn’t “the economy stupid” in 2018; it didn’t save Trump’s GOP. And if the economy heads south next year, it would be stupid to think that a president already at odds with all but a hard base of 35 percent or so stands any realistic chance of finding himself anywhere in January 2021 but at the next inauguration watching his Democratic successor be sworn in and then fleeing back to Trump Tower to tweet his anger. Economics has crashed his enterprises before—from Trump casinos to Trump Airlines and on and on. So watch the national economy: In so many ways, Trump is in trouble anyway, but if the economy falters in 2019, he’s gone for sure in 2020.

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Whether the new kids can run a government.

John Feehery is a Republican strategist and former press secretary to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

Nobody will be paying much attention to the House of Representatives, given that Donald Trump occupies the White House and just about any Democrat anybody has ever heard of is running to replace him. But with scores of new members on both sides of the aisle who want to show their independence from both incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi and from the president, I am going to watch closely to see what policies the new kids on the block are most interested in pursuing.

Do they want to focus on finding bipartisan solutions to fix our broken Obamacare system, or do they want to tilt at ideological windmills that will go nowhere in the upper chamber? Does the deficit creep up as a concern, or will the right pursue unpaid-for tax cuts while the left pines for a budget-destroying “Medicare for all”? Do the new folks find common ground on gun violence, or do they shoot for the moon and hit nothing? And on immigration, do they continue to pound away from their political trenches with the Dreamers stuck in no man’s land, or is there a deal out there somewhere to be had?

What happens in the House will instruct us about the mood of the country. Do the voters want results, or do they want their own opinions to be validated by their representatives?

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Women on the rise.

Donna Brazile is the former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.

It’s time for the Equal Rights Amendment. As the United States prepares for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, there’s a worldwide women‘s revolution underway that isn‘t on the media‘s radar. In Iran, of all places, women are defying religious authorities by standing in a public place without their hijab. In Saudi Arabia, they began driving—illegally—until the kingdom gave its approval. It‘s like gently falling snowflakes that end up two feet deep before you notice the accumulation. With only one state left for ratification, the Women’s Equality Amendment would have a far reaching, powerful, transforming effect on our current warped politics—for everyone’s ultimate benefit.

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A presidential resignation.

Sophia A. Nelson is an American author, political strategist, opinion writer and attorney.

The most important event I am looking for in 2019—bar none—is the sudden resignation of President Donald J. Trump. I believe he will put up a fight just like Nixon did when the walls began to close in on him in 1973. But, at some point, he will see the possible ramifications—not just for the country but also his family and his business empire—and, like Nixon, he will resign abruptly, hoping for a full and unconditional pardon from Vice President Pence. I not only think this is possible, I think it is probable if Michael Cohen reveals more damaging information about the president prior to starting his jail sentence in March.

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Strange-bedfellow, cross-party coalitions.

Heather Hurlburt directs the New Models of Policy Change initiative at New America. Her government experience includes stints on the Hill, at the State Department and in the White House.

The wrangling over bills on Yemen and criminal justice reform that closed out 2018 highlights a trend that will be back with a vengeance in 2019—strange bedfellow, cross-party coalitions attempting to solve specific policy problems, even as straight-line party fights dominate the headlines. This kind of “transpartisan” politics is different from the centrist bipartisanship that the Problem Solvers Caucus and others have on offer, because it starts from the outside in. Progressive and libertarian activist groups had been bringing the heat on Yemen for several years, and Senators Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee are no one’s idea of deal-making legislative powerhouses. Before criminal justice reform got powerful friends like Jared Kushner and Senator Dick Durbin, it was the province of religious activists on both right and left, civil rights organizers and fiscal conservatives in Texas.

Both of those coalitions will be back for more in 2019, because neither of the two parties can accommodate them fully enough; nor are their issues a high enough priority for party leadership. Politics watchers can anticipate a couple more such groupings, with disparate memberships, especially around national security issues such as authorization for use of military force. On the defense budget, will enough of the Republicans who formerly counseled fiscal restraint (minus one of their loudest voices in the past, Mick Mulvaney) join progressive Democrats to make up for moderate and defense-hawk Democrats? And how comfortable will those Democrats be making common cause with Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe and his focus on increased spending and promoting cultural conservatism at the Pentagon?

And then there’s climate change and energy policy. A centrist bill will struggle not to alienate environmental justice votes on the Democrats’ left and may, in any case, not attain veto-proof numbers. At the state level, measures to end grid monopolies and offer clean power alternatives have attracted left and libertarian support. Could we see something parallel at the federal level, as happened (after many years) with criminal justice, a shadow of cross-partisan legislation passed successfully at the state level?

Many advocates of political reform believe that members getting to know each other and building relationships across party lines would make a significant difference in how our politics operate. If 2019 proves to be the year of a major stress test, whether over the use of military force, impeachment of the president or another global economic crisis, the networks formed by these initiatives will be ones to watch.

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Democrats’ self-destructive race to the left.

Jeff Roe is a Republican strategist.

I am looking forward to the Democratic Party‘s presidential debates—where 20 million Americans will watch and another 50 million will get the headlines—as a Democratic Party in disarray wanders into a progressive no man’s land and learns how far left is too far.

These debates will put the race to the left, front and center; and extreme liberal and democratic socialist policies will become the Democratic Party’s new normal. As these candidates slug it out with each other to see who can be the most unhinged, sensible Democrats and moderates will be left in the dust and swing voters in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio will be left shaking their heads in disbelief.

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The U.S.-China relationship.

Ken Blackwell is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He is chairman of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

One of the most consequential issues that the president—and the nation—face in 2019 is the U.S.-China relationship. The range of issues and challenges we face with China are so diverse—trade, IP theft, religious persecution, the battle for global 5G, cyber theft and military might. For decades, U.S. presidents and politicians have complained about China’s trade cheating and theft of intellectual property, but none have taken any action to do something about it. Until now. The Trump administration is finally beginning to take action with tariffs and other tough measures. The president has also sent a message that cyber espionage by China will not be excused. Along with trade and IP, we are locked in a battle with China for global 5G leadership, and it’s critical that we do everything possible to ensure that the U.S. does not allow China to lead the world in 5G.

We need also to send China a message that the U.S. will not sit by and allow them to violate religious freedom and engage in military and cyber aggressiveness in their region and beyond. The U.S.-China battle is a tricky one as our economies are intertwined and we face a dangerous world where our interests sometimes align (but are often at odds). We need China to see the value of cooperation on key global challenges. Trump has so far handled this relationship deftly by showing China that we will be strong and back up our rhetoric with action but also working to build a strong personal rapport with President Xi Jinping to continue negotiating. 2019 will be a critical year in seeing whether those efforts succeed—with a great deal at stake for the American people and the world.

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What House Democrats do now.

Bill Scher is a contributing editor to Politico Magazine.

I‘m watching how the House Democratic Caucus defines itself and manages internal divides as it prepares for the 2020 elections. The party had a great 2018, but the victories were achieved mostly by skirting tricky issues in order to hammer Republican weaknesses on health care and “special interest“ tax breaks. Democrats enter 2019 with a caucus more ideologically diverse than before—spanning from avowed socialists to national security-minded veterans to business-friendly moderates—without a “Contract with America“-style platform binding them together. Plus, the party will begin a presidential primary with a similarly sprawling field. Any intraparty debates in the House will spill over into the presidential race.

We‘re already seeing tensions brewing over how far and fast the party should go on climate and health care. Soon the new North American trade accord will come before Congress: Will Democrats uniformly attack it as insufficiently populist (as Sen. Elizabeth Warren already is), or will some free trade-oriented Democrats (from either upscale or agricultural districts) defend it as the best way to prevent Trump from rashly terminating NAFTA? Two incoming House Democrats support a boycott of Israel: Will that number grow and cause a major rift? And perhaps the biggest question of all: Will Democrats feel compelled to satisfy their base and impeach Donald Trump, or will newly elected Democrats from Trump-won districts and other moderates, sensing futility in the Senate and fearing political backlash, refuse to go along? How, or if, these sorts of debates get resolved in 2019 may determine the course of the party in 2020, and beyond.

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A new Great Depression.

Jacob Heilbrunn is a political commentator and editor of the National Interest.

Forget the fears of a recession. America is headed for a new Great Depression. On the 90th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash, Americans are about to experience déjà vu all over again. Just as the aftermath of World War I resulted in the roaring twenties, so the end of the Cold War ushered in a brief era of American supremacy that is now about to come to a brutal terminus. Like his Republican predecessor Herbert Hoover, Donald Trump is a businessman who is in hopelessly over his head. Now that Trump has disemboweled his generals—H.R. McMaster, John Kelly and, most recently, James N. Mattis—he will seek to bring the military to heel and launch the war with Iran that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have dreamed about for years. Oil could go to $500 a barrel almost overnight. Vladimir Putin and the Saudis will rejoice. Americans? Not so much. Kevin A. Hassett, the chief of the White Council of Economic Advisers, once co-authored a loopy book called Dow, 36,000. As Trump rampages around the globe, Dow, 14,000 may be more like it.

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A Democratic primary that will help the party.

Jesse Ferguson is a Democratic strategist, former senior communications official with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and former deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The next year in politics will be dominated by never-ending hot takes about how the Democratic primary is hurting Democrats—driving us to the left or alienating our base; eating up resources or cannibalizing donors; allowing Trump to engage or failing to take him on; etc.

Here’s a scorcher for you: The Democratic primary for president will be good for Democrats, good for democracy and increase our chances of defeating Trump in 2020. Undoubtedly there will be ups and downs with bumps in the road, but the primary allows Democrats to find our voice—both the words, the lyrics and the sounds that will be the antidote to Trump. In 2018, we had a record number of candidates face a record-breaking number of primaries. Despite the hand-wringing about it at the time, the primaries led to stronger general election nominees and we won a record-breaking number of House seats—the most since Watergate.

At a diner in Nashua or a union hall in Cedar Rapids, one of our candidates will have a moment where they show people who they are and why they’re doing this. The American people don’t like the regime in power right now, and they want something different—we just need to figure out our best answer in the moment. That’s why we have these primaries. As Trump flirts with anti-democratic and anti-American values, we’ll show the best of America, and Americans will respond to it.

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The unraveling of Trump.

Patti Solis Doyle is a Democratic strategist and a former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton in 2008.

When it comes to Trump, we ain’t seen nothing yet. In the first quarter of 2019, Mueller will produce a negative, likely devastating, report. The Southern District of New York and New York attorney general will continue their own investigations into Trump, his family and his organizations. House Democrats will subpoena and investigate the Trump inauguration, conflicts of interest in the Cabinet and abuse of refugee children. The long-term harm of Trump’s trade war for farmers and autoworkers in “Trump Country” will become harder to ignore. His failures from Syria to Puerto Rico will play out against a declining stock market and falling consumer confidence. We will be buried in evidence. Recorded phone calls, tax returns, emails and photographs will show how corrupt and petty Trump can be. It will get personal, and that will make Trump worse.

Concurrently in the first quarter, several Democrats will be hitting the 2020 campaign trail in Iowa, New Hampshire and the Sunday morning news shows. We cannot underestimate how much the attacks on Trump from potential opponents will get under his skin. I predict Trump will unravel in the first quarter of 2019. Republicans, who have supported the mayhem and chaos up to now, will be looking down the barrel of a 2020 presidential cycle with abysmal numbers with women, suburban voters and independents. They’re going to break. Most of them can’t stand Trump anyway, and life under a President Mike Pence will not only seem a lot easier but also much more politically viable.

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More gridlock at home and more aggression abroad.

Douglas Schoen is a political analyst and former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

There is a very real possibility of more gridlock, indeed, paralysis, in the federal government, now that we have a divided Congress. Don‘t expect much legislation to get passed even though it is in both parties‘ interest to pass a new health care bill to cover pre-existing conditions as well as a public/private infrastructure bill. Expect more instability in foreign policy and anticipate the Russians will engage in one or more provocative acts in Eastern and Central Europe, like they just did in seizing three Ukrainian ships seeking passage through territorial waters. Also, I believe China will be more assertive in Africa and Latin America along with consolidating its influence in the South China Sea. I don‘t think there will be a calamitous, full-on trade war, but no guarantees.

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Congress’ quest for common ground.

Frank Luntz is a Republican pollster.

There are only two potential avenues of significant cooperation and compromise: immigration and infrastructure. The public is clear on both issues: Fix it—now. The question for the Democrats: Are you willing to allow the soft light of voter satisfaction shine on the president as you prove to voters that you can govern, not just oppose. The challenge for the Republicans: You couldn’t agree among yourselves; are you willing to give even more now that you lost control of one branch of Congress? We’ll know by Memorial Day if this will be two years of division and distrust, or reason and results.

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A new generation of Democrats, and how the Republicans deal with that.

Howard Dean is a former politician who served as the chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009.

The development I‘m following mostly closely is the intergenerational change among Democratic voters and what it means for our party. The November 2018 elections confirmed a trend we saw in Virginia in 2017. There, 69 percent of under-30 voters voted for a centrist Democrat for governor along with his young African-American lieutenant governor, who got on the ticket in a hard-fought primary. The establishment candidates often lost primary races, and the insurgents who won went on to victory in the fall. Of the 15 seats Democrats picked up, 11 of the winners were women, and for the first time in my memory, the winners looked like the base of the Democratic Party.

Our base is now young people, people of color and women. If this base comes out, we win, as we did so convincingly in 2018. This is not a left versus right battle, as some in the press and elsewhere would have it. This is a young versus old battle, which, because of biology, the young always win. These three core groups will never vote for the party of Trump: He stands for every belief our base abhors. I am watching 2019 to see how this generational takeover continues to play out in the invisible presidential primary, how it influences our party institutions in and out of Congress, and finally, how the Republican Party copes with being on the wrong end of our children‘s takeover of America.

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What happens when the economy stops working for Trump.

Anita Dunn is a Democratic political strategist and a former White House communications director for President Barack Obama.

The political development I am watching for in 2019 begins with the economy—and the signs of slowing growth or potentially a slowdown slipping into recession. Do Trump’s most ardent supporters continue to give him a pass on the Russia investigation and his overall behavior and style if the economy stops working for them?

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Anything substantive out of Washington.

Ron Bonjean is a Republican strategist and partner of ROKK Solutions.

One major question leading up to the 2020 election cycle is: Will there be any major legislative deals achieved between Trump and a new House Democratic majority? Incoming Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership will likely use their newfound powers to create a messaging platform to be used by the next Democratic presidential nominee. So while they are looking for payback against the Trump White House, they will also pass politically popular legislative initiatives out of the House. This does not necessarily mean these legislative items have to reach the president’s desk.

House committees led by Democrats will be rotating the responsibility of investigating the Trump administration in order to keep the heat turned up on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. This will not sit very well with Trump, who has already stated that these types of sustained attacks will sour his willingness to sit down and hammer out compromises with the other side. So will Washington ever have a window to achieve anything on health care, infrastructure, immigration or anything else of significance?

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Momentum for ‘Medicare for all.’

Nina Turner is a former Ohio state senator and president of the advocacy group Our Revolution.

Our Revolution along with our members and local groups will be watching for the House of Representatives to take a vote on “Medicare for all.” While there are many issues that are pressing, making sure that every person has a right to health care is the top of the list for us. The great news is that right now almost 70 percent of the American people support “Medicare for all,” and it’s not surprising why. Prescription drug prices are rising, hospitals are telling patients to start fundraisers to pay for medical treatments, and insurance companies are denying care all in the name of making a buck. For far too many people in this country, not having health care is an urgent matter of life and death.

Now that Democrats have control of the House, we are looking forward to them putting the promises from the campaign trail into action and stating on the record that they are in support of making sure every American has the right to health care, especially since they have the best health care that the taxpayers‘ money can buy.

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More bipartisanship.

Mary Kate Cary is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, the host of the political podcast “Bipodisan” and a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush.

During the funeral coverage of President George H.W. Bush, many thought his passing was the end of an era—one of civility, service and reaching across the aisle. Yet one of Speaker Paul Ryan’s most overlooked accomplishments is the record number of bipartisan bills passed in the House during this session. In just the past month, the landmark criminal justice reform bill passed both houses by wide bipartisan margins—in the House 358-36 and Senate 87-12, and the 2018 farm bill passed by even wider margins, with the House voting in favor 386-47 and the Senate 87-13 before it was signed into law. In October, Congress passed the sweeping opioids bill—the Senate, by 98 to 1 and the House by a whopping 393-8—to expand prevention, treatment and recovery efforts across the nation. If bipartisanship is defined as passing bills having both Democratic and Republican cosponsors, according to Quorum, 2018 had the most congressional bipartisanship we’ve seen since 2008.

Here’s hoping the trend continues under the new Democratic Congress. The conventional wisdom is that Congressional Democrats will investigate every aspect of Trump’s life, to the exclusion of all else. Democrats would be smart to keep the focus on issues important to voters, like infrastructure, veterans care—and maybe even immigration—while reaching across the aisle to Republicans.

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