Trump takes Plan B re-election sales pitch for a test drive in Scranton

Analysis: After morose months of coronavirus chaos and racial unrest that drove down his poll numbers, the president is slowly getting his campaign groove back

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Thursday 20 August 2020 23:05 BST
Trump repeats claim that election is rigged if he loses

Donald Trump, standing under a blistering Pennsylvania sun, officially shifted his re-election bid to Plan B on Thursday.

Unable to implement Plan A, making the pre-coronavirus US economy the basis of his sales pitch for a second term, the president used a campaign rally near Scranton, Pennsylvania – designated Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's hometown – to unveil some new attack lines.

And the claims and innuendo in those lines reflect a re-election strategy designed more to sow fears and doubts about Mr Biden and his fellow Democrats than convince voters four more years of a Trump administration would be a solid investment for their wallets and portfolios.

Mr Trump still boasted about what he called his tough trade stances against China and other countries. He suggested, as he has for months, that some of America's oldest friends have treated Washington worse than its longtime enemies.

He delivered the typical-GOP-nominee's assertions that, given the levers of power, Democrats would implement hefty tax cuts. Mr Trump repeated his claim that if Mr Biden wins the White House, "the market's gonna crash". As he did for months and months during campaign rallies before the Covid-19 pandemic shut them down, he accused Mr Biden and Democrats of having "gone totally stone-cold crazy", and being pulled away from the beliefs of most Americans by a "radical left" wing of their party.

He criticised progressive freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her "Green New Deal", saying she lacks the expertise about the environment to propose such a sweeping climate plan that experts say would require a complete overhaul of the structure of the American economy.

But his Scranton sales pitch felt like a test drive. He was behind the wheel of Plan B, and he didn't hesitate to put the hammer down a few times as he tries to make up ground on Mr Biden in polls there and across the country.

He told supporters that Democrats, via alleged progressive school curricula, are aiming to "indoctrinate your children with twisted, twisted world views that no one ever thought possible".

Mr Trump has become prone to douse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his 2016 general election opponent, with what can sound, for him, like flattery. "There was a certain sense of sanity four years ago," he said on Thursday of the Democratic Party she led. But today, it has been taken over by the "radical left", he contended. A few days ago, he referred to Ms Clinton as both smart and tough, saying Mr Biden is old, senile and weak.

He trotted out a new claim about the Democratic National Convention that seemed a throwback to a controversy from the party's 2012 convention: "That's another word they don't want you to say: God. They decided to take the word God out."

Then, in his showman-like and fear-sowing manner, came this warning: "They're coming to get you."

The president delivered that line in a menacing voice. Much of his other new attack lines were dropped with a gusto and energy that he has lacked in recent months as the coronavirus has spread anew like wildfire across the Sun Belt and in other states, and as he has responded with force to protests across the country.

As his reactions to those events sent his approval ratings plummeting and gave Mr Biden a clear edge in the 2020 race, Mr Trump's energy level also dropped. He appeared morose at more than one evening coronavirus briefings at the White House, and once complained that no one liked him – because of his unique personality.

'Field of battle!'

Former President Barack Obama used his dramatic and unprecedented convention address to harshly criticise his successor, saying Mr Trump has not grown into the job "because he can't". He also described another Trump term as a threat to the country and its democratic system. Mr Obama also said the current chief executive treats his office like a "reality show" to garner "the attention he craves".

On the attention cravings, Mr Trump's demeanour since shutting down his campaign rallies shows the 44th president had a point.

Mr Trump neared the end of his prepared remarks on Thursday, reading the usual flowery language about the greatness of America and how four more years under his watch would only make it greater, when he repeatedly went off script. As the sun-soaked crowed applauded and cheered, the president clearly was enjoying the event.

A senior administration official recently told reporters on Air Force One that one reason Mr Trump enjoys the raucous rallies so much is because he is an "engaging" fellow. He certainly has sounded like his old self this week, as he revises his campaign message and zeroes in on old and new Democratic foes.

"Welcome, Barack and Crooked Hillary. See you on the field of battle!" he tweeted on Wednesday evening, before firing off all-capital letters.

A day later, he unveiled what promises to be the crux of his re-election pitch.

"If you want mobs and criminals, you've got to vote Democrat," he said outside Scranton. "They don't talk about law and order. I haven't seen anyone get up [and do so at the Democratic convention]." And he touted his administration's push to get police departments "ex-Army equipment," saying Obama and Biden "didn't want the police to strong strong".

Then, the showman was back, emphasising the last word of this line for effect: "I want the police to look strong."

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