How Trump can get his mojo back

How Trump can get his mojo back
© Getty Images

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE’s first run for the office of president was unlike anything anybody had seen before, which is one reason why so many “experts” wrote him off — early and often. His bid for reelection is also unlike anything anybody has seen before — and this time that may be a problem.  

Trump may have the most dedicated base of any president. Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' MORE’s popularity is a mile wide but only an inch deep. Trump’s is the opposite.

The majority of Americans could bring themselves to vote for Biden — recall that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFederal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world Intercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years MORE actually won the majority — but could easily be persuaded not to. The majority of Americans also could bring themselves to vote for Trump, though they will have to be persuaded to.


Here are some suggestions for persuading those voters.

The economy: Presidents running for reelection with good, or even decent, economies win. And Trump had a great economy before it was battered by the coronavirus.

His 2017 tax reform legislation and his efforts to reduce and eliminate pointless and harmful regulations jumpstarted an economy that had barely budged under eight years of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' Texas warehouse where migrants housed in 'cages' closed for humane renovation North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs MORE and Joe Biden. Trump’s reforms led to record-making job growth and low unemployment rates, especially for Blacks and Hispanics.

Democrats are denying that record — except when they’re trying to take credit for it.

When Ronald Reagan challenged President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterCan Biden vanquish Democrats' old, debilitating ghosts? CNN acquires Joe Biden documentary 'President in Waiting' French radio station mistakenly publishes obituaries of celebrities MORE’s reelection bid in 1980, Reagan famously asked voters, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Trump could have asked that question last January, and the vast majority of Americans would have responded with a resounding yes.

COVID-19 and government lockdowns have muddied that perception, which means Trump will need to focus on the future rather than the present. Thus the president needs to ask voters, “Will you be better off in four years under Trump or Biden’s economic policies?”


The answer for most voters will be clear.

The Supreme Court: I know a number of people whose sole reason for voting for Trump was the Supreme Court.

As a candidate, Trump released a list of well-regarded conservatives he would consider nominating to the Court. And he did exactly that. 

There will likely be more openings in the next four years. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87 years old and Stephen Breyer is 81, two of the Court’s most liberal votes. 

Trump has said he will release a new list of potential candidates. He needs to do so immediately to reengage those SCOTUS voters.

A message that resonates: Though his critics ridiculed Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, it was, well, great. 

In four words he captured the anger and despair that had settled in over so much of middle America. In towns across the country, working people had seen their industries and jobs move offshore, wages stagnate and the American Dream seem more like an illusion. Trump gave voice to those frustrations, which helped him win several critical states.

Democrats are now plagiarizing Trump’s message, which is how you know it worked. Though off-shoring jobs grew under Obama-Biden, Biden just announced he will stress bringing jobs back to America — by ending Trump’s tax reform. 

Yet it was tax reform that made the U.S. corporate income tax rate competitive with other developed economies and is likely one of the primary reasons that companies have begun to re-shore jobs. 

Trump’s outreach to blue-collar workers was a huge success, but he needs a new slogan that captures that success — and points to what comes next.

Looking forward, not backward: Presidential elections are won — or lost — on a vision for the future. Trump had that in 2016. He was going to end ObamaCare, lower taxes and regulations, “drain the swamp,” pull back from the “endless wars,” bring jobs home and put “America first.” 

Whether one agreed with that vision or not, it was understandable and it resonated with millions of Americans. But when recently asked about his agenda for the future — something Fox News’s Sean Hannity has done, twice — Trump rambles.

He is going to have to give Americans a reason to vote for him.

Of the two major candidates, Trump is more likely to restore the economic growth we had before the pandemic. He will oppose the far-left’s efforts to socialize the economy and society. And he seems to be the only candidate who is proud of America’s (imperfect) past and believes that embracing its values, rather than condemning them, is the better course for the country and the world. 

That’s a winnable agenda. And nobody can make that case like Trump — but he will have to make it.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.