Where Election 2020 is headed
The Incumbent's approval ratings have remained remarkably steady since 2016. Around 40% of Americans strongly identify with him and more than 60 million will vote for him in November 2020.
The root of his appeal is deep dissatisfaction with steady economic decline in regions of the USA, intertwined with deep-seated racial animosity embedded in US history.
Part of his identity-appeal lies in demonstrating implacable opposition to the Democratic party, portrayed as corrupt and - important for keeping Evangelicals on-side - anti-Christian.
This has created dualistic dynamic - direct engagement with him feeds his base's sense of victimization. This dynamic was aptly demonstrated in the 2018 Texas Senate election, and is a characteristic of the 2-party system in an era where identity is everything.
Republicans will accept whatever reality their leader tells them. The supporters of whichever Democrat is nominated will rapidly do the same.
The Democrats however face a problem their opponents do not face. The Democrats are a big-tent party with mutually irreconcilable wings and can never count on maximum turnout.
The most likely outcome will be a repeat of the very close 2004 election, with the Republicans holding two crucial advantages: Incumbency, and several years of deliberate manipulation of the electoral process in crucial swing states.
Pennsylvania and Michigan will likely return to the Democratic column. Wisconsin has seen extreme levels of voter-roll purging, which strongly aided the 2016 result in that state, and is likely to stay red.
Florida and North Carolina, the two states aside from Wisconsin expected to be potential Democrat pickups, are (what a shock) seeing the same effort, and typically defy the Democrats' hopes.
Democratic voters are concentrated in urban areas, disproportionately non-white, and so relatively easy to passively suppress using technically legal means.
Arizona may represent the Democrat's last stand on election night, as trends in the west are moving in a different direction than in the rest of the country.
Of course, if this happens, the result will immediately be claimed to be a result of illegal voting.
What it means
What all this represents is a kind of perfect storm, the ultimate test of American Democracy.
The incumbent has repeatedly questioned the usual rules of succession, term limits - essentially all norms of American politics. He is also rhetorically consistent in promising upheaval and conflict if his position is threatened.
It must be assumed that 2020 will be a vicious election, and there is a growing possibility of violence carried out by rogue right-wing groups animated by the rhetoric.
Bitter, divisive elections tend to drive town turnout among non-partisan voters, particularly when they perceive the process as corrupt.
The stage is being set for an election featuring high turnout among partisans - mostly living in electorally-secure states for one side or the other - but low among exhausted independents.
If this is the case, the Republicans will likely win the electoral college, unless a truly uniting, Obama-esque voice is found among the Democrats - and soon.
None of the current crop are particularly inspiring, and as the top-polling candidates are all in their 70s there remains a severe generation gap that risks demolishing the Democrats' turnout hopes, much as happened in 2004 with John Kerry.
Further, with a 5-4 Conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the incumbent will likely see a path to contesting vote counts on a state-by-state basis, threatening an even worse version of the 2000 election.
Under these circumstances, the legitimate winner of the election might not be immediately known - and neither side may accept a loss lightly.
Additionally, the Incumbent is now in a position where may fear being removed from office prior to the election. This could instigate adventurous military behavior to galvanize support and impact the Democratic primary process.
And there is the age and health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg looming - were she to pass in a hotly-contested election year amid an Impeachment trial, this would have unpredictable consequences on the process.
At present, it appears more than likely that the Incumbent will be re-elected, unless the impending recession strikes *and* he is assigned blame for it by his supporters.
However, rhetorical groundwork is already being laid to blame the Democrats for any economic downturn.
In the ideal case, a Democrat would be able to unite the party's fragmented wings and appeal beyond their usual supporters.
But given this is unlikely thanks to institutional inertia, now is perhaps the moment a genuine third party might emerge.
Third Party Time?
Many portions of the American electorate remain under-served and disaffected from the process. Most lean left or right, but in general it is safe to say, based on recent turnout, that 35-40% of American voters aren't being served.
A third party with funding and the prestige-backing of notable figures could potentially consolidate much of this bloc, especially in an otherwise vicious electoral cycle, provided a common rallying cry could be found.
The party (call it the New Hope party) would have to run a woman of color, ideally a military veteran, for President - offering a stark contrast to the likely nominees offered by the other major parties.
It would also have to come up with a comprehensive vision for rebuilding America, that avoids partisan traps and reconnects the average voter to the political process.
This party would also have to publicly make the case - something most Americans agree with - that D.C. is out of control and no longer represents the citizens' best interests.
The minimum goal of this party would have to be preventing Donald Trump's re-election. This could be achieved by targeting red states where the Democrats lack any cultural appeal, and where the loss of even a few electoral college votes would block Trump from winning.
But another path to the Presidency is possible. In the event of no candidate reaching 270 Electoral Votes, Congress decides which of the top three vote-getters becomes President. Each state gets one vote - and if it meant keeping Trump from another term, the Democrats would certainly agree to a compromise choice, knowing the Republicans would never put a Democrat in the Oval Office.