"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose voters" – Donald Trump, at a 2016 campaign rally in Iowa.
He was probably right.
Trump is one of a kind. He’s a politician who exists outside the box of political convention, a leader who frustrates the best efforts of pundits to predict what he may do or what havoc he may wreak in the year ahead.
Who would have predicted at New Year’s in 2016 that this brash, vulgar real estate developer and TV game-show host would blow a weak field away to capture the Republican nomination, then knock off an establishment Democrat with a campaign based on smear, innuendo and fabrication?
Who would have predicted at New Year’s in 2017 that Trump would be as ghastly a president as he has turned out to be? Well, some hard-core Trump haters might have predicted it. But how many would have anticipated his ability to survive seemingly intact from allegations that range from financial self-dealing and sexual misbehaviour to dog-whistle support for white supremacists and electoral conspiracy with the Russians?
That said, what may 2018 bring for Trump?
You won’t catch me making a prediction, but I will offer a suspicion or two. I suspect Trump will weather 2018 much as he has weathered 2017, unapologetic, unrepentant and attacking his detractors.
However, there is a school of thought that unhappy congressional Republicans will support a Democratic effort to use the impeachment process to force his resignation. According to another school, the 2018 midterm elections in November will be so devastating to the GOP that the party will rise up against Trump. A third school says the report of the special prosecutor Robert Mueller will be so damaging that Trump will be unable to continue.
Each school is flawed. Do Democrats really want to be rid of Trump before the 2020 presidential election? Do Republicans really have the guts to rise against their president? Will the Mueller investigation be completed before 2018 ends?
I suspect Trump will hang in as long as he retains the support of the core that supported him in 2016. His popularity may be at a historic low for a U.S. president, but his base is remarkably firm with just a bit of fraying at the edges.
Different polling companies, asking somewhat different questions, are trying to determine whether voters who were with him in 2016 will support him next time. In recent polls, the percentage of Trump supporters who said they would vote for him again ranged from 82 to 96 per cent (with 62 per cent of the latter saying he is an even better president than they had expected).
With loyalty like that, it will be hard, perhaps impossible, to dislodge Trump any time soon.
In Canada, with no federal election this year, political attention will be on the provinces, with elections in Ontario in June, New Brunswick in September and Quebec in October. In all three, Liberal governments will be seeking re-election, and the one in Ontario will be watched especially closely for clues to the next federal election in October 2019.
My suspicion, not a prediction, is that Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals will be re-elected, perhaps with an increased majority. The suspicion is based on the Wynne government’s improved performance in the last six months of 2017, the trend in the polls, and the lack of traction exhibited by the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats – plus Wynne’s strength as a campaigner.
In Ottawa, the lead that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals enjoy over Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives continued to widen as 2017 ended – up to 14 points: Liberals 43 per cent, Conservatives 29 in last week’s Nanos Research poll.
Trudeau may be looking at a second majority in 2019, but for 2018 here is one firm prediction. Whatever else he may do this year, the prime minister will not vacation on any billionaire’s private island.