Election 2020

Donald Trump: Relaunch of a relaunch

In what amounts to a relaunch of a relaunch, Trump now travels to Arizona

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US PRESS GROUP

Donald Trump flies to Arizona on Tuesday under pressure to change course in his re-election bid after a dismal week culminated in the debacle of thousands of empty seats at a campaign rally.

The US president was reportedly angry on Saturday when his first rally in three months, a defiant gamble amid the coronavirus pandemic intended as a daunting show of force, backfired with poor attendance in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Republican heartland.

In what amounts to a relaunch of a relaunch, Trump now travels to Arizona, a battleground state, to embrace his most comfortable signature issue with an event marking the 200th mile of his wall on the US-Mexico border (most of the construction has in fact replaced existing barriers).

The president will then speak at a “Students for Trump” event in Phoenix. Despite soaring cases of coronavirus in Arizona, his campaign team will be hoping for an enthusiastic turnout to get back on track. It is not known when Trump will hold his next full rally.

Trump trails his Democratic opponent Joe Biden in numerous polls, both nationally and in competitive states such as Arizona, in some cases by double digits. Observers argue that Tulsa was a warning that he needs to reset, not least because of the health risks of big indoor rallies - but there appears to be little chance of him heeding advice.

“From what I’ve been told, Trump just insists on these rallies and he wants more and not fewer compared to 2016 because he’s got all of the trappings of office and he can fly Air Force One low so people can be awed and all the rest of it,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“Obviously, he didn’t calculate properly for the pandemic and other factors. He thinks they can correct it and go on. He wants one every couple of weeks or more frequently. He didn’t learn a thing. His campaign staff would gladly give them up, along with the tweets, if they could. But they can’t.”

Trump aides claimed that more than a million people had requested tickets for the Tulsa rally. The city fire marshal’s office reported a crowd of just less than 6,200 in the 19,000-seat venue, with few wearing face masks; eight members of the campaign’s advance team have tested positive for Covid-19.

The president’s meandering one-hour-41-minute speech may come to be seen as exhibit A of a campaign struggling for direction and at risk of defeat in November. He was criticised for taking a scattergun approach to Biden, a reflection of how his team’s various and shifting lines of attack on the former vice-president have failed to gain traction.

The remarks also defended Confederate statues and indulged racist terms such as “Kung flu” while failing to mention Black Lives Matter or George Floyd, the African American man killed last month by police in Minneapolis whose death sparked nationwide protests. Polls suggest Trump’s unwillingness to strike a chord of national unity alienates voters of colour, suburban women and independents.

Frank Luntz, a pollster and Republican consultant, said: “He uses words that make his re-election less likely. Calling his supporters ‘warriors’ appeals to his supporters, but nobody else. Americans are not looking for a warrior. They are looking for empathy and understanding and compassion. If you’re looking for a warrior, you’ve already decided you want Donald Trump. If you’re looking for social justice, you’ve already decided you’re voting for Joe Biden.

“There’s only 6% of the American people that are truly undecided; 94% have made up their minds. That means your words and your phrases have to be precise. He keeps talking about law and order. The public wants public safety. He talks about draining the swamp. The public wants a more efficient, more effective and more accountable government. The words that he’s using are actually making his case more difficult because they don’t resonate with that 6%.”

The White House and the Trump campaign, however, denied media reports that Trump had rebuked his staff or that campaign manager Brad Parscale was skating on thin ice after overpromising and underdelivering so spectacularly.

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, insisted on Monday: “The President was very pleased with the rally. I was with him. And I just have to say these media reports that he was somehow furious on the plane – there is no grounding in fact to that.”

She added: “A political pundit wrote to him that it was one of the all-time great speeches they’d ever heard … The speech made his message so clear and compelling that no one could possibly have missed it. And it was so great to be out of the swamp and in the country. And those comments are how the president feels, too.”

Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s director of communications, said: “President Trump is eager to keep hitting the campaign trail and holding more rallies to speak directly to the American people ... There was a massive media push to crush the Trump rally, and still 12,000 people bravely showed up.

“This is approximately 11,990 more people than attended the last Biden event. The enthusiasm is with President Trump. As of Monday morning, more than 11.3 million people had watched the President’s speech on our digital platforms. There is an enthusiasm gap – it is real and it is wide.”

But with Trump under fire for boasting at the rally that he told staff to slow virus testing, Tuesday’s stop in Arizona will not be straightforward. The state’s positive test rate is at a seven-day average of more than 20%, the highest in the country.

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