Donald Trump Is The President Of Trumpland, Not The United States

Donald Trump speaks largely just to his base, ignoring the nation as a whole. Whether this will be enough to win re-election in 2020 is an open question.

New York Times reporter Peter Baker has been following the President around the country as he continues his seemingly never-ending campaign, which earlier this week reported that it had raised $30,000,000 in the first quarter of 2019. From those travels and the content of the President’s speeches, tweets, and public remarks, Baker notes that Trump is really only speaking to one part of America:

WASHINGTON — In the last couple of weeks, President Trump repeatedly called his enemies “treasonous.” He threatened to punish Democrats by dumping migrants in their districts. He promoted a video tying a Muslim congresswoman to images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

The message seems clear and so does the audience: more red meat for red-state Americans who have been the foundation of his political enterprise since his against-the-odds campaign for the White House. And it is a reminder that this president governs as none of his modern predecessors did.

The old-fashioned idea that a president, once reaching office, should at least pretend to be the leader of all the people these days seems so, well, old-fashioned. Mr. Trump does not bother with the pretense. He is speaking to his people, not the people. He has become, or so it often seems, the president of the United Base of America.

Mr. Trump travels nearly five times as often to states that were in his column in 2016 as to those that supported Hillary Clinton. He has given nearly four times as many interviews to Fox News as to all the other major networks combined. His social media advertising is aimed disproportionately at older Americans who were the superstructure of his victory in the Electoral College in 2016. His messaging is permeated with divisive language that galvanizes core supporters more than it persuades anyone on the fence, much less on the other side.

“Just from a pure governance standpoint, the ability to be president of a majority of the country, they don’t even seem to consider that’s part of being president,” said Matthew Dowd, who was President George W. Bush’s re-election strategist and has been a vocal critic of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump is the only president in the history of Gallup polling never to earn the support of a majority of Americans even for a single day of his term. His approval rating in Gallup has stayed within a 10-point band of 35 percent to 45 percent throughout his presidency.

To some extent, that may reflect a time of polarization. Mr. Bush spent his entire second term under 50 percent approval, and President Barack Obama spent nearly three years of his second term with less than a majority.

But Mr. Trump seems to relish divide-and-conquer politics much more than either of them did and has made little effort to expand his coalition beyond the voters who propelled him to the White House in the first place. While other presidents sought to broaden their public support, Mr. Trump appears to be heading into his re-election campaign sticking with his own tribe.

“Donald Trump has never adopted that presidential rhetoric,” said Nicole Hemmer, a University of Virginia professor who studies the conservative movement. “He’s always continued with the campaign rhetoric.”

(…)

Indeed, Mr. Trump has spent much of his presidency focused on the parts of the country that already support him. Not counting four states where he regularly stays at his own properties or Maryland, where he travels to Joint Base Andrews or Camp David, he has spent nearly five times as many days in states that voted for him as those that did not, 115 versus 25, according to Bill Frischling of Factba.se, a service that compiles and analyzes data on Mr. Trump’s presidency.

At the same time, since becoming president, Mr. Trump has given 49 interviews to Fox News, reaching his most fervent supporters, compared with just 13 for the other major networks combined, according to numbers kept by Mark Knoller, the longtime CBS News correspondent.

And Mr. Trump’s campaign is spending 44 percent of its Facebook advertising budget targeting users 65 and older, far more proportionately than the Democrats, Axios reported.

Other Democrats said it was not clear whether Mr. Trump’s recent spate of divisive language reflected calculation. Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, said Mr. Trump might be lashing out more simply because he had fewer advisers around him to restrain him. At the same time, she said Mr. Trump is building a campaign that is far more extensive than the ad hoc organization he had last time.

“I don’t know if it’s any strategy so much as him being liberated,” she said. “He doesn’t seem to me, even though he’s wily and clever, like someone who’s thinking deeply about strategy for 2020. But it may not matter. My view is they’re building a whole apparatus outside the White House that’s gearing up for 2020.”

To a large degree, of course, this is hardly a surprise. Trump is campaigning for 2020 in much the same way that he ran his campaign for the GOP nomination and the Presidency in 2016 and in the manner in which he has conducted himself since taking office, and in the way that he campaigned for Republican candidates during the Special Elections in 2017 and the 2018 midterm elections. Rather than adopting the practice that most Presidents have followed after winning a first term in which they at least make an effort to reach out beyond the base that got them elected, Trump has consistently and loudly used the Presidency to appeal largely and almost exclusively to the minority of voters who elected him President in 2016. This is one of the many reasons why his job approval numbers remain near historic lows for a first-term President even while his support among Republicans is at levels that even Presidents such as Reagan and George W, Bush did not reach except during relatively brief moments in their Presidencies. Given the fact that we are now more than two years into Trump’s Presidency, any expectation that he is going to change this strategy or that we should expect a “pivot” from this President now or at any point in the future. Donald Trump hasn’t changed fundamentally from who and what he was in the 1980s. Expecting him to change now is expecting the improbable.

The question, of course, is whether this is a viable strategy for winning re-election in 2020, because the evidence suggests that it isn’t. Trump managed to win in 2016 notwithstanding the fact that he lost the popular vote, something that has only happened four other times in American history and only twice since the beginning of the 20th Century, because he won narrow election victories in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The main reason that happened is because his opponent’s campaign ignored warnings that these states were slipping away from Democrats as early as the first week of October 2016 and because he happened to be running against a Democrat who had personal favorable numbers that were as bad as his were. That’s unlikely to be the case in 2020. Whoever the Democrats nominate, they are unlikely to take the Upper Midwest for granted like they did in 2016 and their nominee is unlikely to come with the two decades worth of political baggage that Hillary Clinton did. Winning those states a second time is going to be difficult to say the least. Additionally, Trump is going to need to hold on to all of the other states he won in 2016, including Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona, all of which are expected to be competitive in 2020.

While it’s possible that Trump can do this while still largely appealing only to his own base, it’s certainly not the traditional way that incumbent Presidents approach re-election. This is especially true given the fact that Democratic voters will be highly energized in 2020 to vote against Trump regardless of where they live. A campaign that generally only appeals to Trump’s base hardly seems like the best way to approach this race.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Winning those states a second time is going to be difficult to say the least. Additionally, Trump is going to need to hold on to all of the other states he won in 2016, including Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona, all of which are expected to be competitive in 2020.

    Can you say, “voter fraud”? Because I guarantee he and his acolytes will, loudly and often.

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  2. CSK says:

    I don’t know whether Trump actually believes this, or it’s just the usual bull he spouts, but he has said on occasion that if it weren’t for the Fake Media, his approval rating would be 75%. His tendency to exaggerate grossly is well-established and well-known. But I don’t know if he believes what he says, or if he’s just trying to shore up his massive but extremely shaky ego.

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  3. Kathy says:

    I felt a little bit of non-despair the day after the 2016 election, when I heard Dennison saying he’d govern for all Americans in his victory speech.

    It was just another lie.

    But, you know, with the economy in good shape, unemployment low, and no new wars or mass US casualties anywhere, if he’d just lay off Tweeter, endured a few days a week without making headlines, stopped trying to take down all his many enemies, in short, if he behaved like a civilized person, he’d be scoring in the mid-60s in the approval rating easy.

    As I’ve said before, we’re lucky he’s so effing stupid.

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  4. CSK says:

    @Kathy: Kathy, if Trump behaved like a civilized human being, he’d lose his base. That’s his great appeal to them–that he’s a churl. He’s “owning the libs” (ha). Thast’s all that counts.

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  5. SenyorDave says:

    @Kathy: Fortunately, I don’t think he can put the genie back in the bottle. At this point, I don’t think he would ever get above 50% unless there was some amazing coincidence where there were multiple national emergencies and he acted presidential during all of them. I think there is too much water under the bridge for too many people.
    But I agree with you point of him being too effin stupid. Example: The synagogue shooting occurred nine days before the 2018 midterms. Events like that are simple for a sitting president, Just say a few word about coming together as a nation, and people will be falling all over themselves to point out how presidential you are. Instead, Trump’s first remarks could have come from the NRA. Part of his comments included “If there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them,” the President suggested. “Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly.”
    IMHO, that was political malpractice, and I truly believe it hurt the party in the elections.

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    Karl Rove said years ago that modern Prez elections are turnout elections. Last time through D turnout was depressed by Comey, Hillary’s “baggage”*, and the 538 effect*, that everyone thought she was a shoe in. Trump’s done nothing to increase his base and they were pretty enthused last time. In the meantime he’s done a lot to drive D turnout and nobody’s going to believe the polls this time.

    Pearce, in an earlier thread, linked an article citing the fundamentals models and his fundraising as favoring a Trump win.

    The models do favor an incumbent, but IIRC, not as strongly as they favored Trump, and the dreaded Hillary beat the models by 2 or 3 points. Nonetheless, the models do favor Trump. If, if, the economy remains good.

    Trump has raised a lot of money. Chuck Todd** pointed out that eight and sixteen years ago Obama and W had raised more. Obama way more. And they both, as incumbents, did win.

    Vote Blue.
    _____
    * Hillary’s decades of baggage made her very popular until the GOP character assassination machine got going. And Nate Silver ended up saying 2:1 Hillary, so it’s not fair to blame him for everyone thinking she had it in the bag.
    **And yes, Chuck Todd said something reasonable and data based.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    While it’s possible that Trump can do this while still largely appealing only to his own base, it’s certainly not the traditional way that incumbent Presidents approach re-election. … A campaign that generally only appeals to Trump’s base hardly seems like the best way to approach this race.

    It’s also not the best way to run the country.

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  8. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    As I’ve said before, we’re lucky he’s so effing stupid.

    And old.

    I don’t quite buy the Hitler analogies (he’s more a mediocre Mussolini), but if Hitler were in his seventies when he was appointed chancellor in 1933, things would have turned out differently.

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  9. EddieInCA says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Can you say, “voter fraud”? Because I guarantee he and his acolytes will, loudly and often.

    I expect it to be more voter suppression. Looking at the numbers out of Georgia in 2018, if GA doesn’t suppress the votes they did, Stacy Abrams is the Governor. As the GOP base gers smaller and smaller (which is happening), they have to suppress more votes to stay competitive.

    I expect alot of BS “Voter ID” laws to be pushed in red states. But all the energy for 2020 is on the blue side.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    I’m not so sure about that. Even the thickest dolt knows what “campaign promises” means. If Cheetoman talked border security rationally, say on an economic basis and immigrants taking jobs (which is not true, but sounds plausible), and securing the border, and following the law, he’d face far less opposition and perhaps even gain some support from across the aisle. So he’d be able to deliver far more concrete results.

    Instead he’s capable of saying only “build the wall,” or lying about it, and demonizing anyone who disagrees. Not to mention steamrolling long-held norms and proposing breaking the law outright. This gets him no wide support in the population, and much less in Congress.

    To paraphrase Tom Clancy, he can’t lead a 3-year old to the crapper, and it shows.

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  11. An Interested Party says:

    The fact that Trump caters his messages to such a small, select group presents hope that he won’t be able to be reelected…of course, some think that he’s the favorite despite his lack of appeal to most voters…

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  12. steve says:

    I think the important line is this…”his support among Republicans is at levels that even Presidents such as Reagan and George W, Bush did not reach except during relatively brief moments in their Presidencies”

    Republicans love this guy. In a turnout election it is a given that his base gets out and votes. Not so sure the Dems do that as it will depend heavily on the nominee. I think that just like the last election, if Sanders does not win the nomination a lot of his supporters won’t vote.

    Steve

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  13. Guarneri says:

    I’m genuinely happy to see you back, Doug. I wish you well.

    It’s unfortunate to see continuing Trump delusion. It’s not going to be a good two months for the left.

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  14. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @CSK:

    That’s his great appeal to them–that he’s a churl.

    I had a feeling that I knew the definition of churl… but “churlish” is a dead-on description of POTL Trump:

    churl·ish /ˈCHərliSH/ adjective
    rude in a mean-spirited and surly way.

    synonyms:
    rude, ill-mannered, discourteous, impolite, ungracious, unmannerly, uncivil, ungentlemanly, ungallant, unchivalrous; ill-bred, boorish, oafish, loutish; mean-spirited, ill-tempered, unkind, inconsiderate, uncharitable; ill-humored, surly, sullen;
    informal: ignorant

    Wow. Spot on.

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  15. Andrew says:

    Seeing the reaction on foxnews with Bernie and Medicare for all…the Infamous Socialism Cludge of Olde doesn’t seem so big.

    I could see a debate exchange going like this:

    Trump: but socialism!!!

    Democrat X : Medicare is socialism.

    Trump : Medicare is horrible! just like terrible Obamacare! Which I didn’t defend and wanted millions to lose healthcare, but I have a secret plan! Like Nixon! Oh, and SQUIRREL!! Hilary and Obama and the Deep State!! No Collision!! Total exoneration!!!

    Democrat X : Right, so, I would fight for Medicare for all.

    Fin

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  16. Kathy says:

    BTW the proper name of the Cheeto lands is Dumbf***istan.

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  17. Gustopher says:

    @An Interested Party: I don’t know about favorite to win, if you don’t think there is at least a 1:3 chance of Trump winning in 2020 you are fooling yourself.

    I think that it’s probably a happy place where people are sure he won’t get re-elected, so I don’t really blame you, but…

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  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher: 1:3. Which is just about where Nate Silver had him in 2016.

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  19. An Interested Party says:

    I think that it’s probably a happy place where people are sure he won’t get re-elected, so I don’t really blame you, but…

    I never wrote that I was sure he wouldn’t get reelected…thanks so much for your concern, though…

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  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @EddieInCA: That’s what they will do to prevent the inevitable losses after which they will protest as I suggest.

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  21. Blue Galangal says:

    It’s all projection with Trump and with the inhabitants of Dumbf**kistan, including Fox. If you all have missed this montage, it’s well worth your time although it will make you spitting mad. Basically: guess which president Fox is talking about.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C1T6DfLRK4

    But saliently this is exactly what the inhabitants of Dumbf**kistan have been hearing and seeing for the past 13+ years, so it’s no wonder they inhabit a fact-free bubble in 2019, where 45* is the “godliest” president ever.

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  22. Teve says:

    @Blue Galangal: it is a really good montage and it reminds people that fox isn’t just a bunch of propaganda, it’s a bunch of really stupid propaganda.

    They insult the viewers’ intelligence, and the viewers…don’t notice.

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  23. al Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:

    Trump’s done nothing to increase his base and they were pretty enthused last time. In the meantime he’s done a lot to drive D turnout and nobody’s going to believe the polls this time.

    Republicans have already played their hand, and we know what’s coming. Get ready for lats of ‘Democrats want to bring Venezuela to America,’ ‘they’re socialist!’ ‘they support open borders, and ‘they’re the party of anti-semitism and Muslim terrorsts.’ Oh yeah I forgot the timeless, ‘they want to take your guns!’

    Now, I don’t know if any of this is especially new, but, I believe that tactically Democrats better start aggressively messaging stuff like:
    ‘Trump supports anti-semitic homegrown white-identity terrorists.’
    Run ads featuring that audio tape of Trump bragging about harassing women.

    Go on the offensive.

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  24. DrDaveT says:

    @CSK:

    But I don’t know if he believes what he says

    Category error. Associating truth values with propositions is a libtard thing. Trump’s statements are not intended as claims about what is true, much less as statements about any hypothetical beliefs he might hold. Trump is the ultimate behaviorist; he only cares how the sounds he makes cause other people to behave.

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  25. just nutha says:

    @Guarneri: What happens in 2 months?

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  26. SC_Birdflyte says:

    The Democrats need a positive appeal (duh!). One commercial I wish they’d make shows a picture of Lincoln while a voice-over gives the last words of the Gettysburg Address. Segue to footage of Roosevelt giving his “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Segue to JFK saying “Ask not what your country can do . . .” Segue to Reagan saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Conclude with a segue to footage of Trump mocking the disabled reporter, ending with the words “It’s your choice what kind of President you want.”

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