At his recent Tulsa rally, an event his reelection team had envisaged as a way to revive the reelection campaign, Trump spent a lot of time convincing the audience that he was not weak and that his careful ramp walk and a double-handed lifting of a glass of water had little to do with his stamina or constitution. Trump was saying that he was the strong one, the weak one was the other guy. But the harder he tried, the less convincing he looked. And to his credit, Trump tried really hard, spending no less than fourteen minutes and fifty seconds on assuring his sparse audience of his physical fitness.
When the protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality against African-Americans turned violent, President Donald Trump took refuge in a bunker. Against the advice of his aides to keep away from Twitter, the POTUS kept sending out unhelpful tweets: “Get tough Democrat Mayors and Governors. These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW. The World is watching and laughing at you and Sleepy Joe. Is this what America wants? NO!!!” What has “Sleepy Joe” got to do with the protests?
Well, it isn’t surprising that Trump dragged his low-profile opponent into the fiasco, whatever the context. When his bunker-refuge came to light, the White House attempted to give it a different spin, saying that Trump was just “inspecting” the bunker. Such a convenient time to “inspect” a bunker, like there was nothing more worthwhile his time happening anywhere — no pandemic to be dealt with, no racism to be tackled — like it was just a relatively banal, less busy day to squeeze in a bunker inspection. No biggie. That kind of lame spin-doctoring probably wouldn’t convince even a dedicated Trump supporter.
It isn’t surprising that Trump dragged his low-profile opponent into the fiasco, whatever the context
Later, in an interview with Sean Spicer on Newsmax TV, Trump called the reports by several media outlets, including The New York Times, of his being in the bunker with his family due to security concerns “a false report”. “I wasn’t down — I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny little short period of time, and it was much more for an inspection,” Trump insisted. On the issues of police reform and systemic racism, the President threw his own question at the interviewer asking what Joe Biden had done about it. “Why didn’t he do something about it?” Trump asked. “I’ve only been here for three and a half years.”
Watch: Sean Spicer interviews Donald Trump
Ploy no. 1 — Attack the Opponent
Trump’s campaign has regularly portrayed Biden as weak, geriatric and lacking in mental acuity. “Here’s a guy that doesn’t talk. Nobody hears him and whenever he does talk he can’t put two sentences together,” Trump said at a FOX News Town Hall. Quite the opposite, it is the president who is at pains to not look weak. Add to it the tendency to deflect many of the recurring problems of his term onto Biden, and not a shred of doubt remains that Trump’s reelection strategy, as it stands, is to drive up Biden’s negatives rather than emphasize his own record. Trump plans to win his way back into the White House by showing that he is the better of the bad choices. That’s how he did it the first time. Trump secured his first term by way of elimination, because even the voters that hated Trump hated Clinton more, and were disillusioned with the system they felt she represented.
Trump plans to win his way back into the White House by showing that he is the better of the bad choices.
Against a different candidate in a different election year, Trump could not have gotten away with the revolting way in which he went about offending and alienating African-Americans, Mexicans, women, people with disabilities and even those who placed their faith in constitutional democracy. Yet, people sided with Trump for one reason or the other, which had more to do with their dislike for certain kinds of people rather than their liking for Trump.
Some voted for Trump because they hated blacks, others because they disliked Mexicans and yet others because they perceived all immigrants as threats to their livelihood. Then there were some who could not stand the idea of having a female president. So Trump was sent to the White House not because he stood “for” something but because he was perceptually “against” things as an insurgent candidate. In short, Trump came riding the wave of hatred and fear. The question is, can he do it again? Trump certainly thinks he can because so far he has done nothing except play the same old game of polarizing people and attacking his opponent.
Watch: Breaking down how Trump won the 2016 Election
Ploy no. 2 — Polarize whenever possible
On June 28, 2020, the President tweeted a video featuring a man chanting “white power” driving a golf cart with Trump campaign posters on it. Trump tweeted: “Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!” The video was taken down after three hours, and the White House, once again, was sent into damage control mode. “President Trump is a big fan of the Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters,” the White House said in a statement. The video is loud and clear to anybody who sees it with the sound unmuted. The President knowingly tweeted the video, or did it carelessly; either way, it’s dangerous to have a person as careless or as racist in the White House. But there he is; in the White House, looking to return for a second term.
If John Bolton is to be believed, there was never a time during the Trump presidency when Trump was not just fixated on reelection but was also pulling all kinds of strings — even with the heads of foreign states — to improve his chances; his “America-first” relegated to a distant second to his personal political gains on the list of priorities.
What emerges from Bolton’s portrayal, as well as from observing the current campaign, is that Trump’s reelection strategy hinges heavily on the manipulation of public perception by projecting himself as a “strong” leader and America’s best bet to “keep America great” while almost everything that really makes America great, or made it look great, is being chipped away under Trump’s presidency. He seems to be banking on the same base politics to carry him through, a risky strategy, given that, unlike Clinton, Joe Biden is hardly despised, and then there is Trump’s first term for the voters to look at. The voters may have already realized that the corrosive substance served up by Trump in the old “MAGA” bottle from the Reagan era was no fine wine.