WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is sharpening his focus on his most ardent base of supporters as concern grows inside his campaign that his standing in the battleground states that will decide the 2020 election is slipping.
Trump turned his attention this week to “left wing mobs” toppling Confederate monuments and visited the nation's southern border to spotlight progress on his 2016 campaign promise to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
He ignored public health experts warning Americans to avoid large gatherings by holding two large campaign events in Oklahoma and Arizona, parts of the country where coronavirus infections are surging.
With his rhetorical turn, Trump is feeding red meat issues to a base that helped spur his upset victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. But he risks appearing to ignore larger issues that are jolting the country, like the pandemic and racial injustice, while underplaying economic issues, even though polling shows that to be an area where Trump performs relatively well.
“This might be the only path for him at this point,” said Dan Schnur, who served as a campaign adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain and California Gov. Pete Wilson. “Most of the center is no longer available to him. Motivating his base is not just his best available strategy. It might be the only one.”
The Republican president’s advisers believe there are few undecideds when it comes to Trump, with only a sliver of voters who may change their mind and warm to him. The more effective use of resources is to make sure those who like him turn out to vote, according to campaign and White House officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal strategy.
Trump takes a measure of comfort in the fact he found himself in a similar position in 2016. Polls throughout his race against Clinton showed him with a deficit, often just as wide as some polls now suggest, before he closed that gap in the final days of the campaign as the base coalesced around him.
As he did with Clinton, Trump has tried to drive up Democratic rival Joe Biden’s negatives, pushing unsubstantiated claims about his mental acuity and his son Hunter’s business dealings. But Trump has had little success in driving Biden into the deeply negative territory where Clinton found herself.