by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Trump is gambling his reelection on “normal,” holding indoor campaign rallies and airing television ads that cast the coronavirus as fading — a message some Republicans worry could backfire amid a pandemic that continues to cost lives.
Trump rallied with thousands of supporters Sunday inside a Las Vegas-area manufacturing plant. Even outdoors, the Trump campaign has begun pre-pandemic political revivals, with tightly packed crowds that often eschew protective face masks, coinciding with the launch of a glossy new television advertisement that treats the coronavirus as a vanishing phenomenon. “In the race for a vaccine, the finish line is approaching,” the spot proclaims. “President Trump’s great American comeback is now underway.”
But the coronavirus remains a deadly threat, and there is no guarantee of a viable vaccine or that there will not be another surge in COVID-19 infections. Nor is recovery from a deep, pandemic-induced recession assured to proceed smoothly. And that is what concerns many Republican strategists less than 50 days until Election Day.
“He’s doubling down on base messaging when he really needs to focus on soft partisans and independents so that he can break past 45%,” said John Couvillon, a Republican pollster in Louisiana. Jim Dornan, a veteran Republican strategist in Washington, added that “continuing to downplay the virus when it could very well come back is a huge risk.”
The Trump campaign is dismissive.
“People want to hear from their president, and as the economic recovery increases, people are eager to get engaged in the president’s re-election,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh in a statement.
The rallies energize Trump, who feeds off the crowd. The raucous, concert-style gatherings also function as a key component of the president’s strategy to defeat Democratic nominee Joe Biden.