It’s not easy to think about your own re-election when you are presiding over an unprecedented national crisis which requires your constant attention every waking hour. That’s why God made campaign consultants.
Indeed, as the nation pauses, the political strategists do not. With a presidential election now less than eight months away, there may be no public appearances or fundraising events for Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and especially President Trump. Rest assured, though, that campaign operations – especially the internal polling which drives campaign decisions – continues uninterrupted – as does the daily positioning of their respective candidates.
For Joe Biden, this respite from the campaign is easy. He can simply go on the internet, attack the president at will, as he did this past week, and claim he would handle the Coronavirus much more effectively than Trump. Whether capitalizing on a public health crisis, for transparently political purposes, is attractive to voters is a question which will be decided later. Bernie Sanders, to his credit, has largely eschewed politics and focused principally on encouraging and comforting those most affected in the crisis. But Trump has not a moment to spare for campaign politics.
So what are Campaign Manager Brad Parscale and the top brass in the Trump 2020 team focusing on as the president is engulfed by crisis? Well, they are not resting on their laurels. They certainly understand that the issue Trump planned to present as the centerpiece of his re-election effort – the revival of the American economy – has now been cast into an entirely different context. Yes, he put us on an undeniably stronger economic footing, and maybe we will be better off because of it when this crisis is over, but we will never really know now, will we? The question now is not whether we will experience a recession, but only how deep it will be. Will the voters blame Trump? Will they decide that Joe Biden could have done better?
Trump won upset victories in the three states behind the vaunted blue wall – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – securing his election in 2016. His re-election campaign is hardly taking those states for granted, though – especially in the midst of a national emergency that has cast traditional political strategy to the wind. Even discounting the entirely uncertain effect of this crisis, the fact remains that Trump won that trio of states by a combined total of just over 70,000 votes. His campaign is well aware of the need to shore up support among those pesky suburban women in order to feel confident of repeating his heartland victories of four years ago.
But no re-election campaign can rest on the glory and laurels of previous triumphs. Once you have been elected, by definition, you become a target in every state you won by a narrow margin. So you must also look to counter-punch by devoting significant resources to the states you narrowly lost. For Trump, one of those states is New Hampshire. The Granite State, for all its first-in-the-nation-primary glory, offers just three electoral votes for the president to add to his safety net. Virginia and Colorado, both won by Hillary Clinton, are also on the radar. But the real prize in the eyes of the Trump campaign is a state just west of those heartland upsets in 2016, where ten potentially precious electoral votes may well be up for grabs.
Yes, every indication is that the president’s campaign has ironically placed a bullseye on a state once known primarily as the birthplace of the progressive movement, and where he lost by just over 42,000 votes four years ago: Minnesota.
The land of a thousand lakes is so progressive that in 1984, it was the one state out of 50 that voted for Walter Mondale in his landslide defeat by Ronald Reagan. It was home to two legendary liberal senators, the sainted Hubert Humphrey and the martyred Paul Wellstone. But it was hollowed out by the industrial downturn during the Obama years, and has increasingly turned on its Democratic Party roots.
A recent article by Politico entitled “Minnesota on the edge: ‘I’ve voted Democrat my whole life. It’s getting tougher’” points out that the general sense of disgust with both party establishments – which led so many in the nation’s heartland to roll the dice on Donald Trump four years ago – is a theme the president’s campaign plans to capitalize on again in 2020. The question is whether that theme can carry in Minnesota, and perhaps beyond to states which appear entirely out of play for Trump.
The nation may be in crisis, but with an election of critical importance to both sides closer than it may appear, political campaigns have not shut down. They have just pivoted to the new reality forced upon the nation. The Trump campaign continues to press on, setting its sights on maintaining the territory it has already conquered, but looking beyond it to new frontiers.
Read more from Tim Donner.
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