President Trump’s campaign has boasted about efforts to expand the 2020 electoral map and compete in far-flung Democratic territory from Oregon to New Mexico while along the way winning over some of the voters who have been turned off by aspects of his presidency.
But the president has held all of his campaign rallies this year in states he won in 2016 — including Florida and Pennsylvania, with another set for North Carolina on Wednesday night. And he has shown no interest in toning down the incendiary rhetoric that has made him unpopular among black, Hispanic and female voters. Just this week he plunged the nation into another divisive battle over race after saying four minority congresswomen “hate our country” and urging them to leave.
Facing stubbornly low poll numbers, an energized Democratic opposition and the prospect of record-high voter turnout, the campaign is mounting an all-out defensive effort to protect the states Trump won in 2016, while also trying to expand the map, according to campaign officials, Republican advisers and strategists.
The plan includes solidifying and maximizing the support of Trump’s base in a handful of key states while making marginal inroads with some of the constituencies wary of the president, officials said.
As public and private polls show a narrowing path to reelection, campaign officials acknowledge that their immediate goal is to shore up support for the president in places such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida — states where Democrats have made gains since Trump’s victory almost three years ago.
“Certainly, first we want to win where we won in 2016,” said campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh, adding that a record fundraising pace allows the campaign to consider investing in additional states, including New Hampshire, Nevada and Minnesota.
The campaign plans to roll out a new mobile application in the coming weeks aimed at engaging its most loyal supporters. Known internally as the “Trump app” and set to be released as early as within the next month, the app is part of an effort by campaign manager Brad Parscale to juice enthusiasm among Trump supporters and capitalize on the energy at Trump’s rallies.
Trump loyalists who download the app will be able to use it to get registered to vote, recruit additional supporters and stay up to date on what Trump is doing, said one campaign official familiar with the development who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. It will include incentives for supporters who actively volunteer to help the campaign, and facilitate neighborhood watch parties and other volunteer work, the official said. For instance, supporters waiting in line to attend a rally who get a dozen friends to download the app might earn VIP seats once inside.
The campaign is also seeking to improve Trump’s losing margins among suburban women, Hispanics and black voters, officials said.
But that challenge was laid bare in recent days after Trump posted a racist tweet aimed at four minority congresswomen who he said should go back to their home countries and “fix” them instead of “telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” The four lawmakers in question are all American citizens, and three of them were born in the United States.
Rather than seek to quell the controversy, Trump has only escalated his attacks on Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) since he tweeted Sunday.
“If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” he tweeted Tuesday morning.
Trump allies are seeking to harness the power of the president’s base ahead of what campaign officials and outside observers predict will be a high turnout election.
“The president can turn out his base like no other president ever seen before in my lifetime,” said Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman at America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC. “He has a way of exciting people to get them to the polls.”
The group has initial plans to invest in only six states during this election: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, officials said.
“The pool of states that will decide the 2020 election is narrower than ever, and Trump is delusional if he thinks he has a chance at winning Oregon or New Mexico,” said David Wasserman, a political analyst with the Cook Political Report. “But he does have a narrow path to reelection — through the same states that he won in 2016.”
But with polls showing Trump currently behind Democrats in key states — and underwater among several critical voting groups — Wasserman said the president’s play-to-the-base strategy appears increasingly questionable, even in those states.
While Trump continues to focus on undocumented immigration and fire off incendiary tweets, campaign officials are working to improve his standing with the kind of voters who have been repelled by aspects of the presidency that most please the base.
Campaign aides contend they aren’t worried the controversy over the president’s attacks on the four minority congresswomen will complicate that plan.
“The President’s record of accomplishments strongly appeals to all voters, including women, blacks, Latinos, and everyone else,” Murtaugh said in a statement. “He is focused on keeping America great, which is why it frustrates him when elected officials consistently say disparaging things about this country.”
On Tuesday, the Trump campaign hosted a “Women for Trump” kickoff event in King of Prussia, Pa. — targeting a group that has trended away from Republicans during Trump’s presidency. It comes three weeks after Vice President Pence traveled to Florida to launch “Latinos for Trump,” an effort to improve the president’s margins with key voters in the nation’s largest swing state.
Over the next two weeks, Trump will hold a pair of rallies in cities with sizable black populations, traveling to Greenville, N.C., on Wednesday and Cincinnati on Aug. 1, to tout his record on the economy and criminal justice. The campaign also plans to soon launch a coalition group of African American supporters.
Taken together, the moves amount to a tacit admission that appealing only to Trump’s political base probably won’t be enough to propel the president to reelection.
Trump won the electoral college in 2016 by eking out narrow victories over Hillary Clinton in traditionally Democratic states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Democrats made gains in all three of those states and several others during the 2018 midterms, and the party’s voters remain energized by the prospect of ending Trump’s presidency.
One campaign adviser said those three states are the ones Trump allies are most worried about. Like others, the adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Trump can lose two of those states and still narrowly win reelection, if he holds all of the other states he won in 2016.
Trump’s narrow victories in the Midwest in 2016 came in part because of lackluster turnout among voters in traditionally Democratic bastions such as Detroit and Milwaukee. Both parties predict that kind of voter apathy will not be the case next year, with the president’s allies and opponents expecting record turnout in 2020.
“Wisconsin is balanced on a knife’s edge,” said Ben Wikler, the Democratic Party chairman in the state, which has 10 electoral college votes. “Trump is a profoundly polarizing figure, and he has his die-hard supporters. But he also has die-hard opponents.”
Internal polling that leaked to the media last month showed Trump far behind some of his Democratic rivals in several swing states, and a potentially competitive race in Texas. Campaign officials said the numbers were outdated and an inaccurate reflection of where things stand.
Still, the leaked data mirrored public polling that highlights how precarious the president’s position is 16 months before he faces voters again, despite a strong economy.
The president’s campaign has expressed confidence that he will be able to run and win on his record and the strong economy once his Democratic opponent is fully defined.
Some of the campaign’s confidence comes from its assessment of the Democratic field vying to replace Trump. Campaign officials have said Trump is benefiting from the contentious Democratic primary, as Democrats fight one another and shift leftward on issues such as immigration and health care. “Each debate is going to be a treasure trove of content we’re going to be able to bank,” one campaign adviser said.
The campaign is also flush with cash and expects to be fully funded to take on whichever Democrat emerges from the crowded field, Murtaugh said.
On Monday, Trump and the affiliated committees raising money for his reelection said that they raised a record-breaking $108 million in the second quarter of 2019. The campaign’s previous record for a three-month period was $39 million.
Campaign officials said that funding gives the campaign the flexibility to invest in states like Minnesota, where Trump lost by 1.5 percentage points in 2016.
“There is an honest view inside Trumpworld that had he done one or two more rallies in Minnesota, he could have won,” one campaign adviser said.
Oregon, which hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, is seen as more of a stretch, and some Trump allies described it as a misdirection play rather than a serious effort.
“Throw some stuff and money and give the Democrats some heartburn,” one adviser said, calling states like Oregon a “head fake.”
Murtaugh, who said the campaign hasn’t hired any staff in Oregon yet, said any efforts there would be aimed at winning.
America First, the pro-Trump super PAC, is squarely focused on defending states Trump won in 2016, Sadler said. It plans to raise $300 million for the 2020 effort and will focus on six states: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.
It plans to begin polling next month in these six target states, Sadler said, and the results could give the group a better sense of how to tailor its messaging going into next year.
Black voters, for example, could play a determinative role in 2020, after turnout in some key Midwestern cities fell in 2016 from Obama-era levels, hurting Clinton.
Trump and his campaign allies have been trying to improve the president’s standing with black voters, pointing to the criminal justice bill he signed last year and the growing economy. Boosting Trump’s numbers with black voters by just a few points could have a major impact on Trump’s prospects, said one campaign adviser. The president and his allies have also been intensifying their attacks on potential rivals over criminal justice, hoping to turn black voters against some Democrats.
“Are we going to win African Americans? Probably not; they’re a historical Democratic vote bloc,” Sadler said in an interview last week. “It’s all about margins; it’s all about closing the margins.”
But the effort to win over some black voters will now compete with the backlash to the president’s comments about the four congresswoman, which have put him on the defensive and led him to tweet Tuesday morning: “Those tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”
The campaign is also attempting to improve its margins among Hispanic voters, and officials privately say this effort is more realistic than the attempt to sway black voters.
Murtaugh said Trump’s stance on China and his support for border security are boosting the president’s numbers among Hispanic voters. He said Trump’s harsh rhetoric about undocumented immigration is not offensive to legal immigrants.
Campaign officials say Trump is seeking to capitalize on growing Hispanic support to make a play for electoral votes in Nevada and New Mexico. The campaign is looking at venues in New Mexico to host an event with Trump surrogates in September as part of its Hispanic outreach, one official said.
Democrats have highlighted the Trump administration’s harsh treatment of migrants at the Southern border as the party has sought to make Hispanic voters a growing part of its diverse coalition. Several Democrats have slammed Trump for his plans to begin immigration raids targeting undocumented immigrants in several cities this month.
The president’s low poll numbers with suburban women stands as a major impediment to his reelection, Wasserman said.
With that in mind, Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, hosted an event in Pennsylvania to launch the “Women for Trump” coalition on Tuesday.
Trump’s role as president will prevent him from doing as many rallies in 2020 as he did in 2016, so these kinds of surrogate events will play a key role in the campaign’s strategy, one campaign official said. High-profile family members, such as Donald Trump Jr., and high-ranking officials, such as Pence, are likely to host smaller events in lieu of presidential rallies, the official said.
Tuesday’s event was held in a location that will be pivotal to the 2020 race, said Wasserman, adding that the suburban area sits “in the heart of the territory Republicans lost in 2018” in a key swing state.
“King of Prussia is exactly the type of place that has moved away from the Republican Party,” he said. “By showing the flag there, the Trump campaign hopes that it can stop that slide.”