The president’s campaign plan over the past few weeks is either a tacit confirmation that he is on the verge of destroying casualties on great battlefields and once impenetrable red states, or an over-cautious exercise of due diligence – an attempt to gain support in GOP strongholds strengthen to prevent an election campaign or an attempt to displace more of its base in a competition that can be won on the sidelines.
“I don’t think Georgia is going to Biden, but there is no reason for Trump not to come here. He doesn’t want a Wisconsin moment to look back on November 4th,” quoted Seth Weathers, the former director of Trump’s Georgia campaign, one of the most common criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s strategy for 2016 – which she didn’t want to visit the badger state even after the Democratic president was nominated.
Trump’s defensive stance follows a series of devastating blows to his re-election campaign that further threatened his standing in the industrial Midwest, where the 2020 election is likely to be decided, and cast new doubts about his ability to keep the Sun Belt in his column.
His own fight against Covid-19 and his rough performance in the first presidential debate shook his polls among women and seniors earlier this month, leaving him with little time to reverse the sharp downtrend. The result is a campaign that got thinner and thinner in the final leg of the 2020 race as Trump tried to spend enough time in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to move the needle with voters without neglecting other states that need his attention demand.
Over the weekend, Trump will hold events in Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada, followed by back-to-back rallies in Arizona on Monday. Arizona has become a must-see for the president willing to lose one or more of the Rust Belt states he led four years ago, according to numerous polls. Without the Copper State, Trump’s election officials acknowledge that he would have to pick up Minnesota, which seems increasingly out of his reach, or a combination of states he lost in 2016 – such as New Hampshire and Nevada – to get the 270 required votes to win a second term.
“I’ve never seen a Republican president with numbers like this in Arizona,” said a person close to the Trump campaign, describing the latest statewide polls as a premonition.
Before Trump left for Georgia on Friday, he huddled with aides at his 800-acre golf club in Miami to discuss stalled negotiations over an aid package for Covid-19. The president urged Senate Republicans to lobby for a deal during a town hall on NBC News last night – what critics are calling an eleventh hour attempt to save his re-election campaign.
But outside on the campaign, Trump adopted an optimistic tone. At an outdoor rally in Ocala, Florida, he promised a “big, big win in the next 18 days” and a “thunderous defeat” on election night. During an event with high profile voters in Fort Myers, he claimed to be ahead of Biden in the Sunshine State.
Trump’s cross-border campaign plan came with a small but noticeable shift in messaging at events closely aimed at reaching new voters – a change he made under pressure from aides after his initial debating performance generated generally poor reviews. At the Seniors for Trump event in Fort Myers, he recognized the grief many felt during the coronavirus pandemic.
“You are losing someone and there is nothing to describe what you have to endure,” he said, adding that he “moves heaven and earth to protect our seniors” from the deadly virus.
During riffs on suburban women at rallies in Florida and North Carolina, he extolled his appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a mother of seven who is expected to be upheld by the Supreme Court later this month by the Senate.
Trump is expected to stay on the campaign almost every day until the elections, zigzagging between the Midwest and the southern US plains to cover all of his bases. Next week he will attend his second and final debate against Biden at Belmont University in Nashville.