The Memo: Trump travel plans reveal weakness in battlegrounds
President Trump is returning full steam to the campaign trail this week — but his schedule reveals the weakness of his position.
Trump will travel to Iowa for a rally Wednesday and to Georgia, as well as Florida, on Friday.
Trump carried Iowa by more than 9 percentage points against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, while no Democrat has won Georgia in a presidential election since former President Clinton in 1992.
The fact that those states are competitive is a warning sign about the president’s chances.
The travel decisions come at the same time as speculation mounts about the financial health of the president’s campaign. According to recent reports, the Trump campaign has pulled $17 million of planned ad spending from Iowa, New Hampshire and Ohio.
Campaign aides pushed back against the suggestion of a cash crunch during a conference call with reporters Monday. The move pertaining to advertising was characterized by them as a straightforward call to not take up the option of airtime that had been reserved months ago.
During that same call, aides including campaign manager Bill Stepien portrayed Trump as the campaign’s biggest asset, especially when it comes to rallies.
The president seems to have had his spirits lifted following his release from hospital, at least to judge from footage of him dancing briefly to The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” at a rally in Sanford, Fla., on Monday.
At the same event, Trump said to cheers that he felt “so powerful” after his struggle with COVID-19 that “I will walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys, and the beautiful women and everybody.”
Those comments again stirred up safety concerns as cases of coronavirus rise in many parts of the country. Democratic nominee Joe Biden has mostly avoided big rallies, a decision that his supporters hail as prudent from a public health perspective. Team Trump alleges the dearth of Biden rallies shows a lack of enthusiasm for the former vice president’s candidacy.
Trump is a big believer in the power of rallies to move the needle. He and his aides hearken back to the 2016 campaign as proof.
“In 2016, rallies were about all we had,” said Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Bennett cited the degree to which the 2016 effort was outspent by Hillary Clinton, and the barebones campaign staff. He noted that this year’s campaign is stronger in both respects.
He also characterized the decision to go to Iowa and Georgia as being as much about shoring up GOP Senate and House candidates as about the president’s own chances.
Still, the problem for Trump is that he is playing defense in so many states that he won in 2016.
While there are a number of permutations for how he could lose some of his 2016 states and still win a second term, he is fighting a war on several fronts.
According to current polling, Trump is badly down in three states that were crucial to his 2016 victory. In the RealClearPolitics polling averages, he lags by 7 points in both Michigan and Pennsylvania, and 6.3 points in Wisconsin, as of Tuesday afternoon.
The president is down in Florida, the largest and most important swing state, by 3.7 points. He also lags in Arizona, Iowa and North Carolina, all of which he won in 2016. The race is competitive in Georgia — presumably part of the reason for Trump’s Friday rally there — and a wave for Biden could even put Texas in danger for the GOP.
“It is pretty clear that Biden is on offense, Trump is on defense. The electoral map is expanding for Biden and shrinking for Trump,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.
“You don’t change that dynamic by going to states you won,” Trippi added. “It’s Biden who is going into states that Trump won and should be off the map.”
Some figures in Trump World argued that the president has little choice, however — and contend that presidential visits at this point could perhaps help secure some states now, allowing Trump to focus even more narrowly in the very final days of the campaign.
“The president needs to visit states that are either leaning in his column or trending away but very closely, so he can go to the true battlegrounds and concentrate on them later in the process,” said Sam Nunberg, an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
For now, though, it seems plain that Trump and his team are worried about the terrain shifting against them.
Whether the president can turn things around at this point is very much in question.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.