As we look at the campaign today, Trump starts his campaign with a strong economy, the massive advantage of incumbency, and a network wealthy GOP donors -- all important assets that historically predict victory and a second term.
However, we are talking about Trump, the most unconventional candidate we have seen in the modern era hitting the campaign trail at a time where personality trumps policy.
Trump is never far from controversies and the hard-right agenda of his first term have kept his approval rating hovering around 40%. Plus he will be facing engaged and committed voters on the left which should translate into unusually strong voter turnout in 2020.
Watching his reelection campaign Tuesday night, the rally was trapped in time, full of grievances, bumper-sticker friendly slogans and solutions, plus a stable of villains used as a foil, all tools that propelled him to victory the first time around.
How Trump Wins:
Winning the popular vote doesn’t matter = Securing the most electoral college votes in 2020 is all that matters. Campaign resources and energy will turn to the swing states rich in those electoral college votes. Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania stand out because Trump managed to flip them from the Democrats in 2016. A total of 270 electoral votes are needed to win the election; Trump took 306 electoral votes in his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Ignore the polls = Trump's campaign manager says polling is no longer reliable, days after a big leak of unflattering internal polling data. "I just think the country is too complex now to call a couple hundred people and ask them what they think," Brad Parscale told CBS News hours ahead of Trump's event Tuesday evening in Orlando, FL., to officially kick off his 2020 campaign. Plus the numbers will never be good for Trump. For the next two years, it is not hard to see Trump being behind in every poll, be it national or battleground. Plus, we will be reminded constantly the polls were wrong in 2016 and they will be wrong in 2020.
They + them vs us = Trump will embrace raw, partisan populism throughout the campaign. Not so much good vs. evil, but “us” (Team Trump) versus an ominous mob of left-wing wackos and intellectual elites. Trump has made clear that he seeks to turn out his base with appeals to their fear of immigrants and their hostility toward Washington and the Democratic Party.
“Imagine having a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress in 2020"
“This election is a verdict on whether we want to live in a country where the people who lose an election refuse to concede and spend the next two years trying to shred our constitution and rip your country apart.”
Team Trump's election machine = The last time Trump ran a by-the-seat-of-the-pants campaign befitting someone who'd never once held elected office or frankly knew what he was doing. Not this time. Team Trump brims with campaign professionals, complete support and use of the Republican National Committee, at present a $40 million COH, and a world-class omnipresent online and offline campaign strategy. Plus, Trump just raised a record $24.8 million in less than 24 hours Tuesday as he officially kicked off his reelection campaign - this one-day total is more than any Democratic presidential candidate raised in the entire first quarter.
Twitter Trump = Trump’s Twitter account reaches more than 61 million followers and it’s now joined by a sophisticated digital media operation that is outpacing Democrats. Unlike last time, his campaign now has a professional, even corporate communications structure matched with paid staff across the country coupled with targeted paid advertising already underway.
Keep economy hot = Trump needs to land a trade deal, remind voters of tax breaks, suggest the need to pass infrastructure spending, and use the NYSE as his barometer. When you run the economic numbers used to shape the news, plus favored by economists and political scientists to predict incumbent performance, these data points consistently suggest Trump will win reelection.
Demonize + define the Democrat = Trump will move fast define his DEM opponent as washed-up, years of failure, and DC insider (Biden) or he’ll define his Dem opponent as a scary, Venezuela is around the corner, hard-left socialist (Warren).
The DEM’s big bet is more campaign and less cause = Democrats running for president are banking on the idea that most Americans are ready to return to a more predictable and “normal” presidency. DEMs have criticized Trump for departing from norms, undermining US allies, engaging in sporadic foreign policy, and leaving the public in a constant state of anxiety about what he might do next. But Trump speaks of us, you, and a movement, plus it will be impossible for his voters to forget they were called deplorable by their last candidate.
“You sent me to the White House”
Captain chaos = Create as much chaos in DEM primary as possible. That starts next week when he live-tweets the first DEM debates and Chuck Todd is forced to decide to ignore said tweets or rip up the script and inject Trump’s latest rant into the debate.
Immigration is Trump's most polarizing issue = When polled, consistently swing voters identify the issue as either the top reason for supporting him or the number one reason for opposing him. Trump made immigration central to the 2018 midterm election and there is no sense he will drop the issue for the 2020 election. In Tuesday’s rally, he blamed Democrats for immigration laws that he called “a disgrace” and cited with particular disgust California’s attempts to give health benefits to some of those in the country illegally.
Remain the change candidate = 8 of the last 10 elections the change candidate has won. Even though he lives in the White House and works in the Oval Office Trump remainers an outsider and is frankly despised around DC. The trick for him is to remind his voters that work to change America has just become and he needs four more years to finish the job.
Judges = At present, Trump has 145 judge appointments available to him and 107 have already been appointed. This is huge. Even if he loses re-election, Trump has changed the nation for a generation and has already won. His voters over-index on judges, and where the DEMs put forward flower-child policies, Team Trump is codifying a right-wing, conservative judicial branch.
Marc A. Ross specializes in thought leaders communications for global business working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics. He is the founder of Brigadoon and Caracal Global.