If you’re wondering why Donald Trump chose Florida as the setting last night for his formal re-election launch, the reason is quite simple: If he loses Florida in 2020, he’ll lose the election. The last Republican to win without Florida was Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and Trump without Florida has virtually no margin for error.
So, politically at least, his decision to serenade the besotted in Orlando made perfect sense. Thanks to the preposterous Electoral College, only a quartet of states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida — are likely to swing the race. Trump surprisingly won all four last time, but he’s currently under water in the traditionally blue Rust Belt, and the new Quinnipiac survey of Florida sentiment, released yesterday, shows him trailing Joe Biden by 9 points, trailing Bernie Sanders by 6, and Elizabeth Warren by 4.
Early polls are often meaningless, but it’s clear that the Trump team is taking the Florida stats very seriously. Indeed, Trump’s own pollsters discovered that he’s imperiled in Florida, and last week, when that news was leaked to the press, Trump fired some of his pollsters. With its 29 electoral votes, Florida is the most populous state that swings between the parties. Barack Obama won it twice, Bill Clinton won it once, and the results are often cliffhangers. Trump topped Hillary Clinton by only 1.2 percent, and we all remember the 2000 election, when the five Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court dragged George W. Bush across the photo-finish line.
We can therefore assess Trump’s re-election strategy through the prism of Florida. It’s somewhat friendly territory anyway – the Democratic blue wave of 2018 didn’t touch Florida — but, in essence, it’s his national campaign in microcosm.
Florida Man’s foremost task, to win the state and gain Electoral College traction, is to keep his fan base maximally energized. Because he failed to broaden the support that inexplicably got him elected, acolyte turnout is his top priority. All he needs to do, as evidenced last night at his re-election rally, is to keep feeding them his greatest hits. As he candidly told ABC News the other day, “I’m going to do it the same way I did it the last time.”
Cue the usual fear-mongering: “Our radical Democratic opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage.” (When someone ascribes one’s own abhorrent traits to others, it’s called psychological projection.) Cue the usual paranoia: “(Democrats) want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” Cue the reliable lies that his fans accept as true: “The only (Russia) collusion was committed by the Democrats” – despite the Mueller report’s conclusion that the Trump campaign welcomed, and expected to benefit, from Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” soft invasion, conducted for the purpose of electing Trump. Cue the fake declaration that he signed “the biggest tax cut in history” – when, in reality, at least three tax cuts since 1968 have been bigger.
And so on. There’s no need to extensively parse last night’s air pollution. The point is that the same Florida fan base that bought his dangerous 2016 hooey, and duly swung the state, is primed to do it again. Trump is feeding these voters fresh rhetoric about the scourge of illegal immigrants, vowing now to begin the deportation of “millions” starting next week (we’ll see if that actually happens), and they eat it up. These voters are heavily concentrated in the swing rural and suburban counties that ring Orlando and Tampa, and, as The Wall Street Journal dryly reports, on average “they’re less educated compared to the rest of the state.” (Trump in 2016: “I love the poorly educated.”)
Another key facet of his re-election strategy — again, well illustrated by what’s happening in Florida — is to complete the Trumpization of the GOP, to convince all Republicans that he’s all that stands between them and the “socialists.” Prior to the ’16 election, many Florida Republican leaders were wary of Trump, or downright hostile, but they’ve since caved. Exhibit A is U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio who joined last night’s rally and was caught by the cameras beaming worshipfully at the leader— a far cry from the Rubio of 2016 who called Trump “nonsensical” and “an embarrassment.” Trump needs a united party to drive his message and stoke loyalist turnout. He has it.
And the most daring facet of his re-election strategy, already being tested in Florida, is a major outreach to Hispanic voters. The goal, in Florida and perhaps replicated elsewhere, is not to win the majority of Hispanics (most of whom traditionally vote blue), but to shave the Democratic margin and thus boost the odds of a statewide win. Granted, the largest share of Florida Hispanic voters are Puerto Rican, and Trump disgraced himself by balking at providing sufficient relief aid to hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico, but guess what happened in the ’18 midterms: Democratic candidates failed to galvanize the Hispanic voters. Quite the contrary, in fact. Hispanic voters helped to elect a Republican senator and a new Republican governor, in a pair of squeakers.
But who knows, perhaps Trump’s bad poll numbers are portents of trouble in 2020. And perhaps the stunning editorial posted yesterday by the Orlando Sentinel truly mirrors the sentiment of many Floridians. The newspaper, which has endorsed most Republican candidates dating back to Dwight Eisenhower – including Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012 – has already made up its mind:
“After 2 1/2 years we’ve seen enough. Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies. So many lies – from white lies to whoppers – told out of ignorance, laziness, recklessness, expediency or opportunity…Trump has diminished our standing in the world. He reneges on deals, attacks allies and embraces enemies. This nation must never forget that humiliating public moment in Helsinki in 2018 when the president of the United States chose to accept Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election over the unanimous assessment of the American intelligence community. Such a betrayal by a U.S. president…The nation must endure another 1 1/2 years of Trump. But it needn’t suffer another four beyond that.”
Anyone care to bet?