If you cover enough of President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies — and I’ve covered a bunch — you know you can count on a few things.
Such was the case in Orlando, Fla. last month as Trump kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign in a state that he badly needs to win to capture a second term in the White House.
Right on schedule, Trump laced into former 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton (cue obligatory “lock her up!” chants from the crowd). He attacked the “phony witch hunt” and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, claiming, incorrectly, that there was no evidence that he had committed obstruction in Mueller’s 448-page report. There were, in fact, “multiple acts” of obstruction, according to Mueller.
As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank noted, Trump remains hung up on Clinton, perhaps in the absence of an actual Democratic opponent in 2020. Or maybe he’s just that way.
“Since his inauguration 879 days ago, Trump has mentioned or referred to his 2016 opponent or his presidential predecessor an average of 2.56 times per day, or once every nine hours and 20 minutes, according to computations by Factba.se, a data analytics company. This is an order of magnitude more than Trump’s peers mentioned prior opponents and predecessors,” Milbank wrote.
In a lot of ways that matter, going to a Trump rally is a lot like going to a concert by a classic rock band. The crowd wants to hear the hits. They’re not interested in new music.
And Trump, whose record is conspicuously devoid of actual achievement (no wall, no beautiful healthcare reform and tax reform that’s largely left most Americans behind), has no new music to deliver either. So he’s just repackaging old hits for the same crowd.
Thanks to internal poll numbers that Trump first denied existed and then later acknowledged, we know that Trump is lagging his Democratic opponents in a number of key 2020 states. They included Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the New York Times reported. Florida is also a key battleground state and integral to Trump’s re-election chances, and things are going no better there for him either.
Electoral results over the last two years also suggest Trump might be trouble in Pennsylvania, where he narrowly defeated Clinton by 44,000 votes in 2016. Starting with the 2018 special election win of Rep. Conor Lamb, who’s a Blue Dog in all but name, the Keystone State’s purple tendencies have begun to reassert themselves.
That swing was further confirmed last November when, thanks to a court-imposed map, Democrats picked off three congressional seats in the Philadelphia suburbs, and a fourth in the traditional bellwether Lehigh Valley. The last Republican standing in the Philly ‘burbs, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, has voted with Democrats on a number of key pieces of legislation.
The Pennsylvania that Trump will try to woo in 2020 isn’t the same one that went for him in 2016. So-called “Trump Triers,” Democrats who crossed over three years ago, have had time to decide whether they’re going to stick with the president in 2020. Further, independent voters who were key to Trump’s coalition in 2016 aren’t onside now.
Now, granted, the first Democratic nominating contests are months away, and it’ll be even longer than that before we know who Trump will face in the 2020 general election campaign. And you can be sure we’re in store for one of the nastiest campaigns in decades.
Democrats are also experts at blowing their own momentum. But at least, at this relatively early stage, the numbers and trendlines are pointing their way.
It’s also pretty clear that Pennsylvania will once again be a presidential keystone.
John L. Micek: can be reached at email@example.com.