President Trump looked every bit the beaten fighter as he returned to the White House after Saturday’s rally in Tulsa. His team had boasted that mo
President Trump looked every bit the beaten fighter as he returned to the White House after Saturday’s rally in Tulsa. His team had boasted that more than 1 million people wanted tickets, but the arena was half-empty.
Coming amid a slide in the polls, the turnout marks a new low for Trump, whose jammed, raucous rallies have defined his populist presidency. While campaign insiders scramble to figure out what went wrong, they can count themselves lucky.
The Tulsa turnout is the canary in the coal mine. It’s a warning that danger lies ahead.
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The danger is that if the election were held today, Democrat Joe Biden probably would win. So Trump is down, but with about 130 days to go, not out.
To get four more years, his campaign needs good luck, a more disciplined candidate and a better message.
Actually, it’s not correct to say Team Trump needs a better message, since it doesn’t seem to have any clear message at all.
Luck could come in two ways. First, Biden is capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. His infirmities could derail him on any given day and, added to his soft support even among Dems, he’s the most fragile front-runner in memory.
A poll showed just one-third of Biden’s supporters are enthusiastic about him, while two-thirds of Trump supporters are enthusiastic about their candidate.
Second, the economy must come back for Trump to prevail. Because of the pandemic shutdowns, the nation is officially in a recession, though as the May jobs report showed, the comeback started with a bang.
While the stock market anticipates a big rebound, the expansion must continue at a fast clip for Trump to benefit. The report on September jobs, unemployment and wage gains will come in early October and will be the last report voters see before Election Day on Nov. 3.
Yet, for political purposes, there really are two economies — one red and one blue. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page noted, the blue states whose governors ordered sweeping shutdowns are suffering the highest unemployment.
“The national jobless rate was 13.3% in May, but 10 states still have unemployment rates above 15%,” the Journal wrote. They include Nevada (25.3 percent), Michigan (21.2), California and Massachusetts (16.3), Illinois and New Jersey (15.2). New York’s unemployment was not much better, at 14.5 percent.
Trump won Michigan in 2016 and it’s a toss-up this year, but all other states on the list will go for Biden. Still, House and Senate seats are in play in them, and how well the blue states fare economically will have a big impact on the national picture.
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The need for Trump to become more disciplined is self-explanatory, with Tuesday yielding a juicy example.
In Tulsa, he noted that more testing for the coronavirus is naturally producing more positives, which makes the country look bad. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please,’” he told the crowd.
After condemnation from Biden and the usual media pile-on, aides spent two days insisting the president was being sarcastic and joking.
Then Trump crossed them up, telling reporters Tuesday he wasn’t joking, insisting, “I don’t kid.”
Incidents like that one prompted a Trump supporter to wonder on Twitter what the president would be doing differently if he were trying to lose the election. It’s a good question.
To get back on track, honing and delivering an appealing message is essential. It must center around giving disaffected supporters and other fence-sitters an affirmative reason to give the president a second look.
That means laying out a coherent vision for a second term, one larger and more specific than simply saying we’re going to do more of the same, only better.
The president took a step in that direction with his promise to release a list of names he would consider for court nominations, including the Supreme Court. He did that in 2016 and kept the promise to pick from the list.
Still, a framework that is strong and smart is required for the president to re-energize his campaign, and a friend recently sent along just such a Big Idea. It is the right response to the destruction of statues and the anarchic chaos erupting around the country.
The author is Thomas Klingenstein, chairman of the Claremont Institute, who wrote a long treatise on what Trump and the GOP must do to combat the crisis of confidence leaving many Americans pessimistic about the future — and Trump.
His proposal is that the platform and rhetoric should revolve around the promise to “Preserve the American way of life.”
Writing in Claremont’s “The American Mind,” Klingenstein summarizes the dominant postwar culture as one where most people “believed we were the shining city on the hill, marked out to show the rest of the world that people can govern themselves. We saw ourselves as one people with a single culture, which was directed by a creed (expressed most notably in the Declaration), supported by the Judeo-Christian ethos, all flavored by our particular history.”
He says that creed is now under assault by “multiculturalism,” which sees society “not as a community of rights-bearing individuals with a shared understanding of a national good, but as a collection of cultural identity groups, ranked in order of victimhood.”
Having described the opposing forces, he suggests compromise is not possible: “Multiculturalism involves a way of life that cannot exist peacefully with the American way of life any more than could Communism or the antebellum South.”
Klingenstein says the extreme disturbances in the nation now are evidence of a “regime-level contest,” which includes an attack on our history. He cites the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which aims to brand America as irredeemably racist from its founding, and calls the dueling views “1619 vs. 1776.”
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The article deserves wide readership, especially in the White House. Although Trump talks about law and order and a silent majority, there is now an urgent need for him to rise above the daily noise and make a sustained, compelling argument for why his vision offers a better path forward.
If he does it right, he will make it clear that “preserving the American way of life” is not just about the next four years. Rather, it’s an idea that also keeps faith with the core principles that made America great in the first place.
This column first appeared in the New York Post.
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