President Donald Trump is itching to get back out on the campaign trail.
“BIG DEMAND! Starting up again soon, maybe next week!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning in response to a tweet from conservative columnist Byron York suggesting that it “seems reasonable time for President Trump to resume holding rallies.”
That tweet comes just hours after Trump’s campaign confirmed to CNN that within the next two weeks the President will return to holding in-person rallies.
“Americans are ready to get back to action and so is President Trump,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. “The Great American Comeback is real and the rallies will be tremendous. You’ll again see the kind of crowds and enthusiasm that Sleepy Joe Biden can only dream of.”
Trump suspended large-scale campaign rallies in March — as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States. As of Tuesday morning, there were more than 1.9 million cases in the United States and more than 111,000 people had died from the virus. And 26 states have either reported an increase or a steady rate of cases of late.
What Trump clearly believes is that these rallies are just what he — and his base — need to rebound from a marked slip in both national and swing state polling over the past few weeks as the country has been consumed by protests following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police department.
While Trump insists publicly all is well, it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that he is very worried about his current political standing. Trump huddled with his senior campaign team at the White House last week amid these faltering numbers. He’s taken to Twitter in an attempt to dispute polls from CNN and NBC while also touting unnamed surveys that show him running stronger against former Vice President Joe Biden.
But a look at those same credible media polls make clear that Trump’s growing political problems are not the sort of thing that simply re-starting campaign rallies will fix.
Take the CNN survey released on Monday. It showed Trump trailing Biden 55% to 41% in the horse race and the incumbent President’s approval rating at 38%. Dig into both of those findings and you see that the root of Trump’s poor numbers have very little to do with his base, who are the people most likely to come out to a campaign rally — with the coronavirus still infecting lots and lots of people! — to see him.
On the horse race question, 91% of self-identified Republicans supported Trump. That’s better than the 88% of Republicans who voted for him in 2016, according to exit polling. The problems for Trump come when you look at women (Biden leads by 27 points), independents (Biden +11) and Democrats (Biden +97). In all three cases, that represents a considerable come-down in support from Trump’s 2016 performance when he lost women to Hillary Clinton by 13 points, won independents by 4 and lost Democrats by 81.
The same erosion holds true among those key groups when you look at the job approval question. Just 3 in 10 women (31%) approve of the job Trump is doing in office while 37% of independents feel the same. Just 2% of Democrats approve of how Trump is handling the job.
Trump’s base then is with him — as much as they have ever been. The problem isn’t them. It’s groups that were mildly opposed to Trump turning far more negative on him — likely the result of some combination of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his reaction to the protests against racism and police brutality. (Trump has insisted we need a return to “law and order,” said the police need to “dominate” the protesters and, on Tuesday morning, suggested an elderly man injured in a confrontation with police in Buffalo might have been an Antifa plant.)
Campaign rallies won’t reconcile those folks to Trump. And given his rhetoric of late, the rallies — and the media coverage of them — could drive women, independents and Democrats even further from him.
So why does Trump really want to start holding rallies again? Because, at heart, he is a performer. And performers need to feel loved and appreciated. They need the roar of the crowd. They need the derisive laughter when they mock an opponent. They need the energy the crowd gives them. They get their definition from the response they get. (Axios reported in 2018 that Trump watches replays of his own rallies, often offering commentary to anyone within earshot that tends toward the praiseworthy. Of himself.)
“The crowds at my Rallies are far bigger than they have ever been before, including the 2016 election,” Trump tweeted in October 2018. “Never an empty seat in these large venues, many thousands of people watching screens outside. Enthusiasm & Spirit is through the roof. SOMETHING BIG IS HAPPENING – WATCH!”
“I don’t think we’ve ever had an empty seat from the time I came down the escalator,” Trump said at rally last December. “That’s a long time ago. I don’t think we’ve ever had an empty seat.”
“Hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll have some massive rallies and people will be sitting next to each other,” Trump said in April. “I can’t imagine a rally where you have every fourth seat full, every six seats are empty for every one that you have full, that wouldn’t look too good. No, I hope that we’re going to be able to do some good old fashioned 25,000-person rallies where everyone’s going wild because they love our country.”
And Eric Trump, one of the President’s sons, told Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro this last month about states with Democratic governors who weren’t opening their states as fast as Trump would like:
“They’re trying to deprive him of his greatest asset, which is the fact that the American people love him — the fact that he is relatable, the fact that he can go out there and can draw massive crowds. Joe Biden can’t get 10 people in a room. My father is getting 50,000 in a room. And they want to do everything they can to stop it.”
When the rallies start again later this month, Trump will get what he wants: Loud, boisterous crowds chanting his name. But that’s not the same thing as giving Trump what he needs to arrest his current polling slide. Don’t confuse the two.