Titanic Rallies

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

President Trump will restart his signature rally events next week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with more to follow in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Arizona. They are an attempt by Trump to follow the same playbook which led to his 2016 victory. They will not.

The political value of Trump’s rallies stemmed largely from two factors which are very unlikely to be duplicated: size and distribution. At every one of Trump’s rallies, the large attendance numbers were stressed (and typically exaggerated.) They were also simulcast on multiple cable networks as reporters either spoke gleefully about his promises and some incomprehensible magnetism or eagerly contradicted his lies and misstatements. In either case, his goal was served: to generate the perception of popularity.

Trump cannot win the day on arguments, and in his more lucid moments he recognizes this. He’s never been a particularly convincing orator; he can be glib, but lacks the ability to build a case using supporting facts. He instead relies upon simply declaring things to be true, and that leaves him vulnerable to both debate and fact-checkers. He has overcome this handicap with popularity.

Viewers watch his rallies and think, consciously or not, that if there are so many people paying attention to Trump, then he must be correct. It is a purely emotional response, and one that has long been leveraged by con men and media figures to produce an illusory rapport with their targets. Trump’s apparent certainty of his statements further establishes him, in the eyes of his supporters, as authoritative… and, by extension, somewhat honest.

This is in part why his first rally will be in Tulsa. While it undeniably feeds his ego to be in a large, full venue, such a visual is also critical to achieving the political goal of the rally.

The states where Trump has announced rallies are, except for Oklahoma, all showing to be swing states according to current polling. These are the states where Trump needs to shore up his base. The fact that Texas is among them is an indication of just how poorly his campaign is faring.

Trump is likely soothed by the fact that he has been here before. June of 2016 showed his lowest polling during the 2016 race, with his support bottoming out at 38.3% in the Real Clear Politics polling averages. At 41.7% in the same averages against Biden right now, Trump undoubtedly thinks he is in a position to win.

His reliance on these events, and his expectations from them, will prove his undoing. He has attempted to maintain popularity in many states by continuing to hold rallies. The reason is familiarity. Musicians have seen the value of returning to previous venues, as successful shows invariably bring larger crowds for successive visits. A local band which plays regularly at a location develops a following. After a year of being away, a return trip by a touring band becomes a larger draw, as prior attendees convince their friends and associates to go to a show.

The novel coronavirus upends that mechanic… as many professional musicians have learned. No matter how talented they may be, it is impossible to schedule a tour when venues are closed. Even in places where venues are open, the people willing to attend shows has diminished greatly. Some who don’t view covid-19 as a serious threat will go, but those who are concerned about it will perform an internal cost-benefit analysis: is it worth the risk to my health to attend this event?

On the political waters, covid-19 is an iceberg for Trump and he is sailing directly into it.

In this situation his prior area visits, rather than being a boon, hurt Trump. The notion of going to see the President – or even a Presidential candidate – speak live may be enough of a draw to convince people to take a chance on remaining healthy; if they have already seen him in the past casual attendees will be less likely, not more, to go to the rallies. He will draw crowds, but they will not be of sufficient magnitude to achieve his goals and will be populated almost exclusively with people who are already strong supporters.

Worse, most of the networks have recognized that Trump’s constant rallies were effectively free campaign ads, and that their coverage of them was directly benefiting him. Given alternative news to cover – like the covid-19 pandemic and international attention to marches against law enforcement abuses – they will do so.

Rallies will not help to get his message out in a way that lends him credibility, which means that his lies will likely fail to gain traction during the 2020 election cycle.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are rising in all of the states in which Trump has rallies planned except Oklahoma, according to the New York Times interactive maps. The President’s planned rallies, unless they coincide with a subsequent drop in new cases, are likely to be seized upon as reckless by his political opponents who will cast him, possibly successfully, about not caring about American lives – even the lives of his supporters.

The President is expecting his rallies to carry him to victory again. Instead, they are likely to help ensure his status as a one-term officeholder.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.