By most measures, Donald Trump had a hugely successful campaign kickoff in Orlando on Tuesday.
The Amway Center was packed — many ardent supporters in red MAGA hats arrived a day early to claim seats — and the ever-glamorous first lady, Melania Trump, lit up the stage. As she and the president presented before an exhilarated audience, she in canary yellow and he in a customarily baggy blue suit and long red tie, campaign money poured in online. Almost $25 million in a single day.
A perfect Tuesday for the Trump campaign, with one notable exception.
On the morning of the rally, Orlando’s newspaper of record, the Orlando Sentinel, made an early and telling non-endorsement in the 2020 race. It was undoubtedly dismissed by Trump acolytes as “fake news,” but they should take note of the Sentinel’s rather sentient sentiments. The editorial should be viewed as a gift from a traditionally Republican-leaning board — a red flag that Trump is running out of time to make new friends.
“Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election, and before knowing the identity of his opponent,” the editors wrote. “Because there’s no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump.”
Tough stuff from a paper that endorsed Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama in 2012, and all but one Republican for president from 1952-2004.
A paper like the Sentinel should never be out of reach for an incumbent Republican leading a historically strong economy. Yet it is. As are the votes of tens of millions of Americans who already indicate, in surveys anyway, that no matter what Trump does, they won’t support him next year. The percentage of American voters saying definitively no to Trump is greater than 50 percent, according to polls. Major problem for him.
It’s early to make predictions, and Trump has a rock-solid base going for him. It was on full display in Orlando, as it is at all of his rallies. But is it big enough to carry him to re-election against, say, Joe Biden?
That’s the question his pollsters have been asking, and if leaked internal Trump polling memos hold water, the answer is no. Right now, Trump has a lock on about 40 to 42 percent of the national electorate. He needs more voters to win, but he hasn’t been adding them. All he’s done in the past 2 1⁄2 years is reinforce the base he already has.
Biden isn’t the only Democrat Trump trails, according to polls. He also trails Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), Corey Booker (New Jersey) and Kamala Harris (California), as well as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Ideologically, these Democrats differ sharply, which suggests that the essential problem begins and ends with Trump. Most Americans, as of now, don’t want him re-elected, and are willing to try almost anyone else as president.
That doesn’t mean Trump is a goner. Americans quadrennially forget that presidential elections aren’t national campaigns, but the sum of 50 state campaigns. Only around a dozen states will be in play — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and, possibly New Mexico and Arizona. But Trump is losing head-to-head, according to polling, in most of these states as well, though, again, it’s early and polls are fallible.
Trump has a short time to make inroads with voters in those states with whom he is not connecting, and that means, demographically, courting Latino and black voters who could provide the margin he needs in state contests. A good economy helps, but it doubtfully will be enough. He needs a new shtick.
Trump was on to something in 2016 when he began talking about inner-city problems. In typical fashion, he addressed the endemic problems of generational poverty and crime hamhandedly. He asked African American voters, in particular, what they have to lose in breaking from the Democrats. But breaking eggs almost always has played to Trump’s advantage, and he may want to start doing it again.
What does he have to lose?
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.