Shut up and play the hits: Trump stuck to 2016 standards in re-election kick-off. Will Pa. listen in 2020?

June 20, 2019 3:05 pm

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.

The pre-show soundtrack will be played at ear-splitting volume, working the crowd up into a WWE-scale frenzy. And then, when Trump hits the stage to thunderous applause, there’s a steady, hour-long stream of attacks on foes old and new; some xenophobic and nativist rhetoric about illegal immigration; attacks on the media; and vows that he, and he alone, is responsible for the “greatest” economy in American history. Plus whatever else happens to be rampaging across his Fox News-programmed brain.

Such was the case in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday night, 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 notes, 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, a data analytics company. This is an order of magnitude more than Trump’s peers mentioned prior opponents and predecessors,” Milbank wrote.

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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.

And while he may continue to fill stadiums, Trump isn’t winning a new audience. Since taking office, Trump’s approval ratings have not broken 50 percent in the Gallup poll — a rare failure for a sitting president.

It was no coincidence that Trump kicked off his campaign in Florida, a state he referred to on Tuesday as his “second home,” thanks to the presence of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, which has become part-Winter White House, part-cash machine for our eternally mercenary chief executive.

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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.

A June 18 poll by Quinnipiac University in Florida showed Trump lagging former Vice President Joe Biden 50-41 percent. Trump also trailed Democratic contenders Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts; Kamala Harris, of California; Beto O’Rourke, of Texas; and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Electoral results over the last two years suggest that Trump may be in similar trouble in Pennsylvania, where he narrowly defeated Clinton by 44,000 votes in 2016. Starting with the 2018 special election win of U.S. 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, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, of Bucks County, has voted with Democrats on a number of key pieces of legislation.

“No one is under any illusion that it’s going to be easy,” veteran Republican lobbyist and onetime Trump consultant David Urban told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week. “I have personally spoken to the president and he is prepared to put in the time and effort that is required to campaign, work hard, contest, ask for every vote in Pennsylvania just like he did last time.”

But, as evidenced by 2018 and further shifts favoring Democrats, the Pennsylvania that Trump will try to woo in 2020 isn’t the same one that went for him in 2020.

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.

That’s backed up by May 15 Quinnipiac poll that showed Trump trailing Biden 51-37 percent among independent voters. Fifty-six percent of independents in that same poll said they disapproved of Trump’s job performance.

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.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.