President Trump. (Martin H. Simon/Pool via Bloomberg)
Opinion writer

It may be only January 2019, but every important political event that happens from this point forward has the potential to affect the 2020 presidential campaign — which is perfectly appropriate. After all, when voters decide whether to let President Trump run the government for another four years, isn’t the current government shutdown the kind of thing they should consider? With the shutdown already the longest in history and no end in sight, it’s becoming almost certain that the Democratic candidates will make it an important part of their argument for change.

That prospect apparently has some of Trump's allies nervous, as Politico reports:

Some Trump campaign aides worry that his showdown with congressional Democrats is framing his 2020 bid in a dangerously divisive way. But they say they are trying to make the best of it by using the shutdown fight to fire up his core supporters, raise money and collect voter data that will aid his reelection fight.

“We’re making lemonade out of lemons,” said a person familiar with the campaign.

As polling turns increasingly against the president, and White House officials try to find a solution to what some consider a pointless standoff, Trump aides and advisers are worried that the president is doing his 2020 Democratic challengers an early favor.

One can’t help but wonder whether Trump’s allies are able to impress upon him that the longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely it is that Democrats will make it an issue next year. But the trouble with that is that Trump may not think that’s a bad thing. When he watches Fox News, as he does for hours every day, he is told by trusted advisers such as Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and the band of halfwits on “Fox & Friends” that everything is going according to plan and that the public is firmly behind him. It’s hard to know whether he buys it, but he certainly thinks that his base is behind him — and when it comes to politics, there is nothing Trump believes more firmly than that keeping his base happy is his one and only route to success.

But it isn’t hard to predict what Democratic candidates will say about this on the campaign trail. “You may not agree with every single decision I make,” they’ll say. “But I promise you that I won’t shut down the government because of a temper tantrum. I’m an adult, and I’ll act like one.”

In one way or another, nearly every president is a reaction to the president who came immediately before. So Democrats will be arguing that we need someone who is not like Trump: not ignorant, not petty and not impulsive. Someone who realizes that with the great power of the presidency comes great responsibility, including the responsibility not to turn it all into chaos and turmoil.

Furthermore, the shutdown will give them an opportunity to highlight the important role government plays in our lives. They can say, 'Look what happened when President Trump shut down the government. Hundreds of thousands of workers couldn’t get paid, food inspections were curtailed, small-business loans couldn’t be processed, national parks got trashed and the economy was seriously damaged. And for what? A wall the public doesn’t want.

Presidential candidates offer many views of themselves: I’m relatable, I’m admirable, I’m principled, I’m smart, I’m experienced, I’m competent, I believe what you believe and will pursue an agenda you’ll like. “I’m responsible” isn’t usually the most exciting argument a candidate can make, but after this shutdown, it will be much more important than it otherwise would have been. Now any Democrat will be able to argue that they’ll bring professionalism to the Oval Office, at least by comparison, and it won’t be hard to explain why that’s something the country needs.

In 2016, Trump benefited from a certain “Why the hell not?” vote. People dissatisfied with the way government functions figured that even if he wasn’t qualified or prepared, why not? Let’s try something different and see how it goes. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well now we’re seeing part of the answer to that question. And it’s providing voters just one more reason to decide that four years will have been plenty.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: The Democrats' 2020 parade is underway

Michael Steel: It’s Democrats’ turn to fear the shutdown trap

Paul Waldman: Will the 2020 Democrat be progressive, or electable against Trump? Probably both!

Brian Klaas: Trump’s efforts to stave off impeachment may also doom his reelection

Stephen F. Hayes: The country needs a Republican to challenge Trump in 2020