Some media outlets are asking whether Donald Trump ever really stopped campaigning for the presidency even after winning in 2016. He continued holding rallies around the country, continued his aggressive style of attacking his opponents, and continued working through issues making promises premised on future elections. Nonetheless, here we are almost four years to the day when Donald J. Trump rode the golden escalator down to the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City to announce his first fun for the presidency. That, as they say, is history. Today marks the date upon which the President officially pivots toward re-election and signals the full weight of his political efforts to retain the White House in 2020.
Date: Tuesday, June 18 at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT)
Location: Amway Center in Orlando, Florida
Live Stream: Trump Re-Election Kickoff (YouTube)
The location chosen to launch his re-election bid is no accident. The state of Florida will once again be crucial for both sides and no Republican can win the White House without winning the Sunshine State. As a result, the Amway Center in Orlando serves as the site of the evening rally for the President’s 2020 launch:
President Donald Trump will kick off his 2020 re-election campaign Tuesday in downtown Orlando, Fla., an acknowledgement of the Sunshine State’s importance to his bid to return to the White House.
While Orlando and the Orange County area around it are Democratic strongholds, other nearby counties have been reliably red in recent elections. Orlando also is ground zero for Hispanic voters from Puerto Rico, many of whom arrived after Hurricane Maria, and they tend to vote Democratic.
Overall, the Orlando area is the lynchpin of the Interstate 4 corridor that stretches from Tampa to Daytona Beach, which is the most politically diverse area of the state. Factoring in heavily Democratic leanings in much of South Florida and strong Republican sentiment in the Panhandle and many rural areas, Florida is seen as a true battleground state.
The re-election rally is planned for 8 p.m. at the 20,000-seat Amway Center. First lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, are expected to attend.
You can be assured that whatever the President says this evening will be set against the backdrop of the Democratic primary and the upcoming Democratic debates next week. He’ll be sure to spend time knocking each one of the major Democratic candidates while also focusing on his accomplishments over the past several years.
The speech will be quintessential Trump and if you’ve spent any amount of time in 2016 watching him speak at a large rally, it’ll be an “eardrum-pounding” event, as the New York Times puts it.
Have political winds shifted since 2016?
Some analysts believe 2016 was an aberration, an outlier in Presidential history. An outsider came in, walked all over established norms, and somehow won the White House. This was due in part to a weak Democratic candidate who was almost more unpopular with voters than Donald Trump, yet Trump somehow prevailed.
The question that the President needs to answer in 2020 is whether the lightning captured in a bottle can be duplicated and expanded into another four-year term in the White House:
“You go from what was probably a pretty low-stakes election to a high-stakes one,” said Brendan Buck, a former counselor to Paul D. Ryan, the last Republican speaker of the House. “When there were so many people who didn’t think he was going to win, who didn’t think it was even possible, your vote didn’t seem as important. That today has totally shifted.”
For Mr. Trump himself, the next year and a half will be a chance to prove that he was not just an aberration who managed to slide into office with an Electoral College victory even though nearly three million more voters cast ballots for the other candidate. Ever since taking the oath, Mr. Trump has been sensitive to perceived attacks on his legitimacy, especially the investigations into Russia’s role in helping to elect him. Nothing would do more to validate that legitimacy than winning a second term.
Perhaps for Trump, that is the question. His first term has been mired in allegations of Russian collusion and incessant questions by his opponents of whether he legitimately won the White House. The Mueller report was fairly clear in that regard that no Russian tampering took place at the direction of the Trump campaign, though that doesn’t pave over all the questions which the entire episode created.
For Trump, winning in 2020 would be a victory over the blowback from 2016 where the establishment of both parties was left dumbfounded and in disbelief that this political novice could upend the Overton Window and move the electorate in a new direction by saying all the things politicians are not supposed to say and doing things politicians are not supposed to do.
Running from behind
As Donald Trump embarks on this re-election, the polls aren’t being kind to him. This situation is not much different from 2016 when the polls were equally brutal around the country, yet in the end, he prevailed despite predictions of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
As CBS News reports, leaked internal polling, which mirrored public polling, shows the President running behind:
The Trump campaign fired several pollsters after internal polling numbers from his own campaign that show he’s trailing potential Democratic challenger Joe Biden were leaked, CBS News has learned. President Trump called those polls “fake.”
But 2020 comes with new challenges. The Trump campaign’s internal polling shows the president trailing the former vice president in critical battleground states – 39% to 55% in Pennsylvania, 41% to 51% in Wisconsin, and by 7 points in Florida.
The Trump team says the poll is from March, though Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied it existed at all. Still, he’s zooming in on Biden.
The new CBS News battleground tracker shows 55% of likely Democratic voters are considering supporting Biden with Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders on his heels. This weekend, the candidates looked past each other and went after President Trump.
Polls aren’t going to mean much at this stage of the game, and they’re usually off by an average of 11 points compared to actual Election Day results. Regardless of that, these polls and internal strife within the Trump campaign offers a glimpse into how they still shape the President’s actions and drive a daily narrative. The President is often guarded with polling data, amplifying positive polls while downplaying or entirely dismissing negative polls as “fake news.” This metric will continue through the campaign.
June is the traditional re-election launch month
Despite Trump’s ongoing and seemingly endless rallies, if this rally is the perceived start of his 2020 efforts, it will be on par with the timing of past presidents, according to NPR:
If tonight’s rally is seen as Trump’s true “official” launch, it’s about on par timing-wise with when President Bill Clinton started angling for a second term. It was in late June 1995 that Clinton held a fundraiser for his reelection coffers alongside first lady Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper.
And Clinton, like Trump, also filed his FEC statement of shortly after his inauguration; for Clinton it was less than a month later, not the very same day as Trump did.
While President Obama officially announced for reelection in April 2011 with a video and a fundraising swing, he wouldn’t hold official campaign rallies until May 2012, well after it was clear that Mitt Romney would be the GOP nominee. But Obama had long been holding official events in swing states that would serve as the foundation for his ultimately successful reelection bid, along with a massive digital infrastructure.
President George W. Bush filed for reelection shortly after his first midterm elections. He wouldn’t hold a rally to officially kick-off his bid for a second term until March 2004, when it also was assumed that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry would be the Democratic nominee. Bush also chose Florida for the site of that rally — the state that gave him enough electoral votes to win in 2000 after a protracted and controversial recount that ended with a decision from the Supreme Court.
Buckle up, folks, the 2020 campaign is starting to grind up into a full-time event creating twists and turns every day. With the first Democratic debate set for next week, and President Trump now getting more involved in the day-to-day campaigning, we’re getting back to the crazy season of 2015-2016 when each new day brought with it the possibility of endless campaign narratives and headlines you may have never expected to read in your lifetime.
This headline from Politico in July of 2015 remains a particular favorite of mine:
“Donald Trump gives out Lindsey Graham’s cellphone number”
As with 2015, we don’t yet know what is in store for 2019, but it’s safe to say that Donald Trump reading off Joe Biden’s private cellphone number on stage at a rally surely isn’t out of the question, is it?