Trump’s most loyal supporters may yet save him from a dysfunctional campaign

Chris Stevenson
·3-min read
President Donald Trump at a rally in Michigan (AP)
President Donald Trump at a rally in Michigan (AP)

Another weekend rally by Donald Trump, more chants of "lock her up". This time, the disproportionate (to say the least) cries were not aimed at Hillary Clinton, but the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

Trump, ever the lover of political theatre, will have lapped it up. After all, a re-run of his 2016 presidential campaign is all he is after - with the replication of every trope and message he can. However, Whitmer did not just sit back, with her office issuing a strongly-worded statement that will not have sat well with the president. “Every single time the president does this at a rally, the violent rhetoric towards her immediately escalates on social media. It has to stop. It just has to.”

Whitmer went further in criticising the president on NBC's Meet the Press, referencing the fact that 13 men have been charged in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap her which was uncovered by the FBI: “It's incredibly disturbing that the president of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial and execute me ... [is] inciting this kind of domestic terrorism. ... It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere.”

The source of Trump's ire over the governor? Her policies to help curb Covid-19. Criticism of the White House's attitude towards the pandemic will be one of the major obstacles to Trump's re-election, and the president's campaign has had a greater air of difficulty around it than his outsider bide four years ago.

Trump's team have long Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Pennsylvania, as key to his chances, but they also have to defend traditional Republican states like Arizona, where he is due to campaign this week.

The relatively strong polling performance of his Democratic Party rival, Joe Biden - who concedes such a large polling advantage will slip in many states before election day - has left Trump with a shrinking number of paths to victory in the electoral college.

Rather than paid advertising, the bulk of the legwork on Trump's campaign is being done by the regular rallies that now pepper the president's schedule. That and a ground game aimed at maximising the number of voters that come out on polling day. Biden is outspending the president, but it has never been about winning the popular vote for Trump's team – however much the president complains about it. It is about targeting states, and ensuring ardent supporters vote.

The issue is that while Trump outperformed many polls in 2016, those in a number of states have him much much further behind than he would like. There have been reports of a less than stellar mood in the Trump camp - and the Washington Post reported on concerns from Trump advisers that the coordination between the Republican Party, which controls a lot of the ground game, and the campaign was not good enough. Trump officials have denied any suggestion of a rift, with the recent meeting said to have crystalised strategy.

Trump is not looking to build a coalition of voters, he has one. Those that have stayed loyal to him through what has been an eventful first term. The push to confirm to Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is also aimed at shoring up those would-be Republican voters who may turn their nose up at Trump the man, but are aware of his work in getting conservatives judges onto the bench.

In Trump's mind, who needs adverts when you have his social media presence? Again, the same voters the president is looking to drive to the polls next month will be the ones soaking up and amplifying baseless claims about mail-in ballots and other missives. The president knows he has a captive audience - and so it is now all about message reinforcement.

The margin for error may be shrinking, but Trump has always known what he has to do. And that may yet means he gets to keep his place in the White House for another four years.

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Gretchen Whitmer accuses Trump of ‘inciting domestic terrorism’