Friday, June 19, 2020


I'd be a better person if I avoided horserace journalism altogether during election years, but I admit I was curious when I read this CNN headline:
How Trump plans to turn around his losing campaign
For three paragraphs, the story seemed unobjectionable.
Earlier this month, several top Trump campaign advisers gathered for a virtual strategy session to address a political reality they could no longer ignore: The President was in serious trouble.

For weeks, the collective trauma of the coronavirus, the resulting recession and the simmering unrest over racism and police brutality had eroded Trump's approval rating and given his presumptive Democratic opponent Joe Biden a sizeable early lead.

It was clear that a reset was in order.
Then I read the next sentence:
But as dire as things seemed, there was also a sense of cool confidence that pervaded the meeting, according to two people who were aware of the discussion.
This is the tone of every damn story about the Trump campaign -- You might think the president is struggling in the polls, but his campaign aides have assembled an unstoppable machine that will pulverize Joe Biden in the fall. Resistance is futile.

The CNN story continues:
The message that emerged from the meeting was simple -- Trump needed to get back on the road and show voters the country is ready to reopen. The campaign settled on pushing a clear message of America's comeback and distilled the idea into three words: "Renewing. Restoring. Rebuilding." That means leaning hard into Trump's economic track record, which polling shows remains his biggest strength among voters.
Yes, polls do show that Trump is seen as a good steward of the economy. These are the same polls, in many cases, that show Trump losing to Biden by margins that would add up to a landslide. Many voters think Trump did a good job with the economy in the run-up to 2020, but 2020 demanded much more from him and he's utterly failed.
The campaign will also take every opportunity to define Biden as weak, ineffectual and hiding in his basement.
Hey, why run an ad when CNN will broadcast your talking points for free?

And also your unverifiable boasting:
On Saturday that new messaging will get a full roll out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the President will hold his first rally in more than three months. The campaign has billed the event as a major extravaganza. Local officials and campaign aides claim more than 1 million people requested tickets and that 100,000 people are expected to show up to Tulsa's BOK Arena, which has a capacity for just 20,000.
Daily Kos's Bethesda 1971 has asked a very good question about this claim: If there are a million ticket requests, why didn't the campaign seek to hold the event in an outdoor arena such as Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, which seats 80,000? An outdoor rally would be much safer. The obvious answer: The Trumpers aren't telling the truth about ticket requests. They don't want Trump appearing in a half-empty stadium.

More from the CNN story:
For the true believers among Trump's team of advisers, Tulsa is seen as a cure-all for the campaign's current woes, a chance for the President to model a return to normalcy and reposition himself as the once and future savior of the US economy.

"The rally is a great signal to the rest of the country that it's time to get things moving again," said Tim Murtaugh, Trump's campaign communications director.
Wait -- we're getting back to normal because Trump is out and about? Trump, who never encounters anyone these days who hasn't been tested for the coronavirus? That's supposed to make us feel that everything's fine and happy days are here again?

To give the CNN team its due, the story takes a skeptical turn here. Four writers share the byline, and this must be the part written by whoever was least susceptible to the campaign's hype:
But to many Republicans, the rally is a sign of desperation and merely provides a temporary distraction from a litany of bad news. The intense focus the campaign has put on holding a rally in a deep red state illustrates what some Republicans outside the campaign worry is a failure to acknowledge the real trouble the President is in.

The event undoubtedly marks a pivotal moment for Trump's reelection effort. In a matter of months, what looked to be a strong case for a second term has evaporated. The coronavirus has turned his biggest strength -- a roaring economy -- into the worst recession in more than a generation.

Though the political landscape has changed dramatically, many Republicans worry the campaign has not changed along with it. Some strategists associated with the campaign tell CNN they are frustrated that the new focus on "renewal" and "rebuilding" is not more clear, given the fact that the Trump team has had months to get used to the new political environment....
But then we're assured that voters will come away from the rally thinking Trump is back, baby! because ... um, because he'll feel better.
But aides say Tulsa is about something far more important: giving Trump the adulation he craves and reenergizing him after weeks spent wallowing in sagging poll numbers and critical media coverage.

"I guarantee you after Saturday, if everything goes well, he's going to be in a much better mood," a Trump political adviser said. "He believes that he needs to be out there fighting and he feeds off the energy of the crowds."
What's important in 2020? A raging pandemic? The worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression? Murders by racist cops? Nahhh. What really matters at this pivotal moment in American history is how Trump is feeling.

And now we get the Brad Parscale hype.
Advisers tell CNN that the Tulsa rally is the first chance to put its vaunted campaign operation to the test. With an impressive war chest, and years' of data collected from the President's most loyal supporters attending his rallies, Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale and his team are preparing to deploy those tools to get every last Trump voter to the polls.

According to one Trump aide, Parscale has told people around him that the campaign has already identified two-thirds of the voters they need to win.
Omigod! We might as well not even hold the election again -- we can't possibly compete with Parscale and his Database of Death.

A bit more skepticism slips into the CNN story and then there's this deathless sentence:
Still, while the Trump campaign may be floundering, it's far from flailing.
Sir, you can describe us "floundering" if you choose, but if you say we're "flailing," I'll have to ask you to step outside!

This leads to:
An incumbent president carries myriad advantages, and Trump has proven particularly resilient amidst an endless stream of controversy and crisis.

"Traditional rules of politics have never applied to Donald Trump. We'll see if they do this time," said a senior Iowa Republican official who speaks frequently to the President's team. "Counting him out would be malpractice for Democrats."
Well, of course we shouldn't count him out. But he's floundering and flailing. And yet we'll be told that if Trump pleases a crowd of his biggest fans in Tulsa, that means he's back and Democrats should be running scared. We'll be told, as we are here, that no rules apply to Trump. We'll be told that good polls mean Trump will win and bad polls mean Trump will win. (After all, his polls were bad in 2016.)

And we'll be told that the campaign's latest attempt to change the narrative is the issue every American is talking about:
Part of [the] effort to shift the focus includes a new push by the Trump campaign for more presidential debates. Former New York City mayor and Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani has been empowered by the campaign to make a pitch to the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.
Really? It's mid-June and Trump thinks we care about debates now?

But the media will probably parrot the Trump narrative: Biden's hiding in his basement! He's afraid to be seen in public because he's senile! Already, in certain corners of the media, it's hard to tell the reporters' message from the Trump campaign's.

I'm hoping the public won't fall for this. At this moment, no one apart from the Trump superfans seems to be buying the notion that Trump is leading the Great American Comeback. But it would be nice if the press wouldn't convert Trump hype into news stories.

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