From an outsider’s vantage point, it seems as if the president’s sprawling re-election apparatus is more concerned with making him feel good than winning.
Let’s examine a few of the campaign’s questionable decisions. From late May through June, the Trump campaign spent a whopping $400,000 on television advertisements in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Washington and its three electoral votes have never voted for a Republican, and Donald Trump mustered just 4% of the D.C. vote in the 2016 election.
Given that math, the campaign just lit close to a half million dollars on fire. It could be argued that dumping that money into literally any other media market would have been the wiser move. It is the ultimate high risk, low reward calculation.
So why did the Trump campaign so foolishly do this? According to Tim Murtaugh, communication director for the Trump campaign, the ads were intended for Trump allies and not the general public.
But isn’t the whole point of ads to reach the general public?
The Daily Beast, which broke the story, spoke to two campaign officials who claimed that the ads were meant to “put the president at ease.” The ad buy strategically purchased time slots on days where Trump would be in the White House, and the ads covered the three channels Trump watches the most — Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.
Trump also appears to be blocking his campaign from running attack ads against Biden, at least for now. According to The New York Times,
“The president has resisted appeals from some advisers to start an onslaught of television advertising against Mr. Biden. Several people in touch with Mr. Trump and his campaign said the president strongly preferred seeing positive ads about his own accomplishments to negative ones about Mr. Biden. And he has told people he believes the race won’t be decided until October, as it was last time.”
But attack ads against Biden are in Trump’s political self-interest. He needs to muddy the waters. Trump is historically disliked, and his only desperation play would be to bring his opponent down with him.
Dubbed the “neithers,” 18% of voters in 2016 expressed a favorable view of neither Clinton nor Trump. Within this group — almost one in five voters — Trump won by 17 points. Based on one analysis, had Clinton pushed even with this one group, she would have won the election. But Trump’s dominance with this cohort was primarily driven by Clinton’s high unfavorability rating — 52%. Biden, by contrast, has an unfavorability rating in the upper 30s or lower 40s, depending on the poll. To win this crucial demographic — and indeed, the election — Trump would need to raise Biden’s unfavorability rating, which attack ads would do.
But it seems that Trump’s narcissism dictates a different strategy. He would rather see himself on the big screen, even if it is less politically advantageous.
While the campaign has made some strategic mistakes in an effort to please the boss, some are just silly.
At a White House event earlier this year, President Trump appeared with an electoral map of the 2016 election. The meeting was about promoting public school prayer.
But something was off. Vox’s Aaron Rupar explains, “Trump, however, did nothing with the map. It just sat there in front of him, unmentioned, for the entire half-hour event. And while the map appeared to be very red — an emotionally reassuring symbol of his popularity — Twitter sleuths quickly determined it wasn’t entirely accurate. Some counties that went for Hillary Clinton were colored red.”
It was neither relevant nor accurate, but maybe appearing with a doctored map made the president feel better.
Then there are the rallies. The re-election reboot was supposed to be the rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma a few weeks back. Most of the media conversation revolved around the president holding an indoor rally amid a pandemic in a state with rising cases. Those concerns are valid, but my first thought was why Oklahoma?
Trump carried Oklahoma by over 36 points. The sparsely populated state musters a measly seven electoral votes. Nothing about Oklahoma screams “important!” Trump allegedly picked Oklahoma because it was “friendly territory.” The redder the state, the louder the screams.
Feel-good ad buys, feel-good maps, and feel-good rallies. In November, we’ll see if losing feels good too.