Trump’s 2020 Message Is Clear, And It’s Not A Healthy One

The tone and content of President Trump's 2020 campaign is already quite apparent.

We’re still far away from the start of the 2020 campaign, but the shape of President Trump’s 2020 campaign is already becoming apparent:

President Trump and his advisers are launching a behemoth 2020 campaign operation combining his raw populist message from 2016 with a massive data-gathering and get-out-the-vote push aimed at dwarfing any previous presidential reelection effort, according to campaign advisers, White House aides, Republican officials and others briefed on the emerging strategy.

Trump’s advisers also believe the Democratic Party’s recent shift to the left on a host of issues, from the push for Medicare-for-all to a proposed Green New Deal, will help the president and other Republicans focus on a Trumpian message of strong economic growth, nationalist border restrictions and “America First” trade policies. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan will become, in signs and rally chants, “Keep America Great!”

The president’s strategy, however, relies on a risky and relatively narrow path for victory, hinged on demonizing Trump’s eventual opponent and juicing turnout among his most avid supporters in Florida, Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest — the same areas that won him the White House but where his popularity has waned since he was elected. Some advisers are particularly concerned about the president’s persistent unpopularity among female and suburban voters, and fear it will be difficult to replicate the outcome of 2016 without former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a foil.

Campaign officials have also begun preparing for attacks on any politically damaging findings by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But even as the Mueller probe, congressional investigations and threats of impeachment swirl around him, Trump is starting his reelection bid with the full support of the Republican National Committee, a far more sophisticated data machine than his first election had and a party that has molded itself in his image while looking past his combative and incendiary style.

The reelection effort has already raised more than $100 million, with millions of small-dollar donors and wealthy supporters poised to add to that record haul. Officials said the operation is targeting 23 million key voters in swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The campaign also plans to enlist more than 1 million volunteers using a vast database of supporters who have attended Trump’s raucous political rallies over the past two years, officials said.

The president will kick off a heavy rotation of such rallies in battleground states in coming weeks, officials said. The campaign, with headquarters in Arlington, Va., has already announced a national press team and, one official said, plans to create a unit for the sole purpose of waging war against the news media.

“We are creating the largest campaign operation in American history, an unstoppable apparatus that will follow and implement President Trump’s strategy to great effect,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said. “On every metric, we are on track to outpace our 2016 numbers by many multiples.”


Trump has sought to build a 2020 messaging campaign around the idea of “promises kept” — replacing his 2016 “Make America Great Again” slogan with “Keep America Great!” and telling his supporters to chant “Finish the wall” instead of “Build the wall,” even though no section of his promised border wall has actually been built.

The campaign and Republican allies have pointed to recent Democratic proposals for expanding Medicare and investing in green energy projects as a chance to frame the 2020 race as a referendum on what they view as socialist policies. Many Republicans believe painting Trump’s opponents as extremists provides the clearest path to his reelection.

“If there’s a head wind pushing, it’s probably pushing the Democrat Party further to the radical left, rather than pushing the president into a one-term [presidency],” said Bryan Lanza, an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign and transition. “Nothing’s really changed for us. It’s still going to be the same binary choice between a Republican set of principles as opposed to a socialist Democratic set of principles. And we’ll gladly take that choice.”

A 10-person war room at the RNC has been working to document Democrats’ positions on the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, abortion and U.S.-Israel relations, according to two Republican Party officials. Trackers from the conservative super PAC America Rising are camped out in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, helping to create opposition research material on each of the Democratic contenders, said Sarah Dolan, America Rising’s executive director.

“We’re going to be hitting these candidates from the left and the right,” she said. “We want to create as much chaos as possible.”

Dan Eberhart, a prominent GOP donor, said that “the more divided and extreme the Democratic field is, the better for Trump. Right now they are trying to outdo each other with populist ideas from the far left. But Trump needs to resist the urge to stick his fingers in the Democratic primary waters by commenting daily.”

Basically, what the Post article excerpted above makes clear is that the President and his advisers are planning on making the 2020 campaign a base election, meaning that the main focus of the Trump campaign at least will be to focus on the base of the Republican Party by keeping up with the rhetoric that we’ve seen from the President since the start of his campaign in June 2015. Given the President’s national job approval numbers, it’s obvious that this is essentially the only strategy for victory that the GOP can go with at this point. It was possible, I suppose, that President Trump could have tried to build on his victory in 2016 by reaching across the aisle, tempering his political rhetoric, and seeking to expand his potential voter base.

This would have been the conventional wisdom, but of course, this President has never followed conventional wisdom and most likely has ignored advice from political advisers over the past two years to do exactly these things. Instead of trying to appeal to a broader cross-section of America by tempering his rhetoric, the Trump White House has pursued what can only be described as the most polarizing, hyperpartisan agenda of any President in modern history. Given that, the idea that we’d see them try to run a campaign that reaches out beyond the narrow base that has continued to support the President no matter how outrageous he has been is pretty silly. Trump has shown us what and who is is over the past two years, and it’s not at all likely that we’ll see that change at all over the next two years is fairly unlikely.

Combined with the appeal to the base, of course, will be the Administration and campaign’s effort to demonize the Democrats and their nominee no matter who they end up nominating. We can already see the beginnings of this effort in the rhetoric coming from the President and other Republicans that attempts to paint the Democrats as the party of socialism and in the even more distasteful efforts to support the false claim that the President made last month that the Democratic Party as a whole was anti-semitic, a charge prompted largely by its somewhat bungled effort to respond to comments made by Freshman Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has made comments that utilize many common anti-Semitic tropes. We can expect to see more of this in the future, and Democrats are going to have to be prepared to respond to these charges effectively so that they deny Trump the opportunity to define their nominee for the General Election before that person even gets out of the gate at the convention in Milwaukee. In other words, in addition to being exceedingly hyperpartisan, the GOP campaign is going to be attempting to smear the opposition at every turn. Hillary Clinton failed in 2016 to some degree because she didn’t effectively respond to Trump. The Democrats’ 2020 strategy will have to be prepared to respond to those attacks and to counter them effectively.

Can this strategy on Trump’s part succeed? I don’t know but they’re sure going to give it a try.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    A month or so ago, Trump Tweeted that if it weren’t for the fake news, his approval rating would be 75%. He may actually believe this, given that reality for him is what he wants it to be.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Fear works. It’s funny, if you ask anyone if they’re a fearful person they’ll deny it. Paradoxically they have to deny fear because to admit fear is weakness, and weakness causes what? Fear.

    Fox News and the right-wing religio-fascist media conglomerate has been grooming their people like pedophiles groom children. They’ve trained them to fear, and crucially, to have sufficient fear to overcome all moral resistance. Once upon a time these people would not have cheered on the caging of children. They’ve been debauched, and so weakened, so terrified, that to call them sheep is an insult to the sources of lamb chops.

    So the Murdoch* family banks more billions and their malignant influence leaves a poisoned and smaller United Kingdom and a United States that is approaching banana republic status. That’s one immigrant we should have stopped at the border.

    Between a Left panicked by climate change and a Right panicked by loss of relative prestige, and each panicked by the other, we have ourselves a whole lot of fear. Setting aside the merits, the resulting fear is a bit like nitroglycerin – wise to avoid too much stirring. Or fuck it, and let’s just have it out 1860 style. That was the last time part of the country wanted to move forward while the other part insisted on heading the other direction. Sooner or later, by persuasion, by the passage of time, or by open conflict, this needs to be settled, and there isn’t room for much compromise: they have to surrender. They are doing evil, and they have to stop. Just like in 1860, the moral right is weighted heavily in our favor.

    Twenty years from now Democrats will be proud of themselves in this time. Republicans will be wanting to talk about anything else.

    *Disclosure: I’ve had a bunch of books published by HarperCollins, owned by the Murdochs, though of no interest to them therefore left alone.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    So the Murdoch* family banks more billions and their malignant influence leaves a poisoned and smaller United Kingdom and a United States that is approaching banana republic status.

    Murdoch’s machinations have damaged democracy elsewhere as well…this tumor is hurting countries on three continents…William Randolph Hearst could have only dreamed of having this much influence and causing this much damage around the world…

    That’s one immigrant we should have stopped at the border.

    Indeed, it would have been much better for our country if he had been caged and not allowed to own anything here…

  4. SenyorDave says:

    It will be interesting to see how the general election plays out. The Democrats can’t have Sanders or Biden as the candidate. Sanders will be a disaster in the general election, he’s a one trick pony, and he sounds like a tired, old angry man, plus those clips of him praising Fidel will go over really well with independents. Biden would probably beat Trump but he’s a tired, old man who sounds like he’s talking himself into doing something that he knows is a mistake. My personal favorite would be Warren. She is the only one out there with legitimate financial chops, and as retire financial analyst that’s important to me (I work under the assumption that any Democrat will be good on the social stuff). I have this crazy idea that a Democrat like Warren could run as the fiscally responsible person and point out what Trump and the Republicans have done by creating a trillion dollar structural deficit. We have a good economy right now, but I can imagine things getting real bad real. The problem is everyone says run on policy, but Clinton tried that. A lot of people want to hear lies, I just hope that enough people remember Trump’s get health care system that would cover more for a lot less cost. And how he would reduce the deficit and the debt fast.
    It is very disheartening to realize that we have an entire political party that will knowingly sell the country down the river, and there is no shortage of people willing to sign up and leave their personal integrity at the door. If there was any doubt about Barr being in the tank for Trump, I think his spying remark should put that to rest.

  5. Andrew says:

    Trump knows his base. People who want to be sold that they are smarter, and more patriotic, and/or superior. This reminds me of the Flat-Earthers in a sense.
    We are dealing with people, including Trump, who are willing to ignore anything and all evidence to the fact that Trump is not flat. They will only accept any and all evidence/opinions supporting themselves. And proclaim “Deep State” or “Fake News” on anything else.
    These are the people willing to go vote Trump into a second term.
    What I am trying to get at is every motherf**ker of voting age who does not fall in the above category….VOTE. It doesn’t matter what BS Trump is contradicting himself on ten times a day on the campaign trail. His base is his base regardless!


  6. Scott F. says:

    In a world based on facts, “promises kept” would be a mine field for Trump. He made a lot of promises to his base, but only delivered a massive tax cut to the donor class.

    Sadly, we do not live in a fact based world.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    My personal favorite would be Warren. She is the only one out there with legitimate financial chops…

    I agree about her skills/knowledge, but I worry about how she will handle the GOP Attack Machine…how she dealt with the Native American issue doesn’t inspire confidence…a key skill for whoever the Democratic nominee is will be the ability to brush off attacks and turn the focus back on the numerous and varied flaws of Trump…

  8. Kit says:

    Both bases will be fired up. Both parties will be pushing for maximum turnout. I see the difference hinging on three aspects:
    1) to what extent the Right can restrict the vote;
    2) to what extent blue-collar voters will vote Democrat;
    3) if any bombshell revelations can explode close enough to election day.

    Happy to see you back, Doug.

  9. R. Dave says:

    @Michael Reynolds: We have nothing to fear but spiders, snakes, werewolves, sharks, dying alone, zombies, clowns, heights, big dogs, robots with human brains, Johnson’s wife…and fear itself.

    h/t Robot Chicken

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andrew: You may want to rethink that universal command to “Vote.” Consider the following–I have often acknowledged that I have not voted for a Democrat or Republican for President since the Gerald Ford era. I have no intentions of changing that now. I live in Washington, a safely blue state (although not so much if Electoral votes get distributed instead of being winner take all), so my vote literally doesn’t count. At all.

    If I move to a swing state, do you really want me to vote?

  11. Andrew says: