On New Year’s Day, a former adviser to President George W. Bush boldly predicted that Donald Trump would leave office by the end of the year, resigning from the presidency to avoid prosecution.
Six months into 2019, however, and the world looks different than it did when Alan J. Steinberg imagined the end of Trump’s presidency in his January op-ed for NJ.com.
As Steinberg wrote then: “The self-professed supreme dealmaker will use his presidency as a bargaining chip with federal and state authorities in 2019, agreeing to leave office in exchange for the relevant authorities not pursuing criminal charge against him, his children or the Trump Organization.”
Instead, with Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation officially concluded and impeachment proceedings an open question, President Trump is preparing for a tough re-election fight with nearly two dozen Democrats seeking to challenge him.
Among them is former Vice President Joe Biden, whom Trump’s team reportedly views as major threat to a second term. (Biden has easily bested Trump in early polling.)
RELATED: President Trump Will Resign in 2019, Former Bush Adviser Predicts: Here’s Why
Against this backdrop, another former presidential official this week made another prediction about Trump’s chances in office. As with Steinberg’s column in January, the new piece has drawn wide notice on social media.
In a Monday op-ed for the New York Times, Steven Rattner argued that Trump’s incumbency and the continued strength of the economy should, under a more typical president, point to his easy victory in 2020.
“The economy invariably ranks among the top issues on the minds of voters in presidential elections. At the moment, it appears to offer President Trump a meaningful tailwind,” writes Rattner, who served as counselor to the secretary in President Barack Obama‘s Treasury Department.
But there’s a catch.
RELATED VIDEO: Donald Trump Blames FBI’s Attention on Russia Collusion for Missed Florida School Shooting Tip
“In its present state, the economy will also be helpful to the president. … But that’s before factoring in [Trump’s] personality,” Rattner writes.
He explains: “The question for 2020 may well be whether Mr. Trump can overcome the majority of voters’ poor perception of him and use a good economy and incumbency to win re-election.”
Despite a robust national economy — which Trump routinely trumpets as perhaps the key evidence of his success in office — he has struggled with weak approval ratings in his first two years in office.
A signature campaign promise, to dismantle Obamacare, has proven to be politically toxic, helping return the Democrats to power in the House last fall. And his divisive demeanor has often made more headlines than his daily work of governing.
From the start, Trump’s administration has also operated under the shadow of the Russia investigation, which concluded without Mueller accusing Trump of a crime.
Conspicuously, however, Mueller declined to state whether Trump was exonerated of wrongdoing, instead implying the matter be left to Congress.
RELATED: Only the Presidency Protected Trump from Being Charged in Mueller Investigation, Former Prosecutors Say
Mueller said he did not find a conspiracy between Trump and the Russian government, which interfered in the 2016 election to aid him against Hillary Clinton.
Mueller also documented multiple examples of the president trying to control the investigation. The attorney general, Bill Barr, has said the behavior did not amount to illegal obstruction.
Amid the Mueller probe, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after lying to Congress regarding his prior business history with Russia as well as making “hush money” payments to women who claimed to have had sex with the president.
Neither the president nor his children, who serve as some of his closest advisers, were accused of wrongdoing in connection with Mueller. But the investigation did result in charges against Cohen, Trump’s former campaign chair and national security adviser, among others.