Trump’s challenge: keeping his act fresh in reelection year
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Donald Trump show has a consistent script. Same villains. Same nicknames. Same grievances. Same hero: himself.
At raucous rallies held mostly in states that are friendly to him, the president tells audiences that he could be presidential, even Lincolnesque, if he wanted to. But that, he says, would be boring.
“It’s easy to be presidential but only have about three people in front of me,” Trump said at a recent rally, before breaking into a monotone imitation of a droning politician. “Doing this takes far more talent than doing that. Doing that is very easy. This is not easy.”
As he seeks reelection with little variance from the themes that brought him to power four years ago, a central challenge will be to keep those audiences satisfied and to make sure, like a great entertainer, that the act isn’t getting stale.
The president retains robust approval ratings among Republicans but even that fealty will be tested as he asks voters for another four years essentially offering them not new promises but more of the same.
Trump’s campaign remains highly confident it will not only retain those who backed the president in 2016, but will also expand the electorate by turning out people who did not vote four years ago, in addition to peeling off some African American and Latino males.
At a rally last week in South Carolina, nearly 29% of those who registered for tickets didn’t vote in the 2016 election, according to Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
But there are other metrics that don’t look quite as hopeful.
Trump’s Twitter following has grown to more than 73 million, up from 25 million at the start of his presidency. But the public’s engagement with the president on his favorite social media platform has diminished since his inauguration more than three years ago.
Trump’s tweets drew an average of 5.37 likes per 1,000 followers at the start of his presidency and were down to 1.29 in February, according to an analysis by Factba.se, a data analytics company that analyzes spoken and written remarks by elected officials. By comparison, top Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — both of whom have a fraction of Trump’s Twitter following — tallied 2.13 and 2.73 likes per 1,000 followers respectively last month.
The falling engagement numbers come as Trump, who likes to use social media as a tool to reach Americans without the contextualizing of the mainstream media, is relying on Twitter more than ever.
Trump broke his personal record for most tweets or retweets in a day in January as the Senate began hearing opening arguments in his impeachment trial, sending out more than 140 posts before most Americans had left work for the day. Trump, who was in Switzerland for an economic forum at the time, mostly posted tweets and retweets attacking Democratic House impeachment managers while amplifying messaging from allies who came to his defense.
Brian Ott, a Texas Tech University professor of communications and co-author of “The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage,” says that Trump’s Twitter following has naturally expanded beyond his fervent supporters and political watchers because of his standing as the world’s most powerful leader.
But his hardcore fans don’t get the same thrill from retweeting and commenting on Trump’s every post, and Russian trolls who were active on social media ahead of the 2016 election have less incentive, at the moment, to interfere and have melted away, Ott said.
Trump’s campaign speeches have also become longer, according to Factba.se.
In 2017, his campaign speeches averaged 59 minutes. Thus far in 2020, he’s clocking in at an average of 80.7 minutes.
“An overwhelming percentage of his discourse is about attacking others, and he simply has more enemies now,” said Ott, explaining why Trump’s speeches may be getting longer. “He uses the campaign rallies to air grievances and he’s just got more grievances at this point and never lets go of anything.”
For even his staunchest supporters — many wait hours in line to attend a rally — the president’s lengthy remarks can be tough to stick with until the end.
At Trump’s rally in the swing state of North Carolina earlier this week, his speech checked in at 67 minutes, relatively tight for Trump.
But with about 20 minutes to go, dozens of rallygoers who had showed up hours early to get prime spots to stand on the floor of Charlotte’s Bojangles Coliseum headed for the exits.
Several pockets in the seated area that had been filled with men and women chanting “Four More Years!” and waving campaign signs as Trump took the stage began thinning out a full 15 minutes before the president concluded his speech. Most of those who remained until the end seemed to hang on Trump’s every word but were far less animated as they sat with their “Promises Kept” and “Women for Trump” signs laying neatly in their laps.
Similar scenes played out at recent rallies in Colorado Springs and Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas, retirees Jim Haney and wife Theda Haney ran out of steam about nine hours after arriving at the arena and left before Trump finished his speech. They decided to leave early despite snagging a prime spot near the podium.
“I have no voice left,” Theda Haney said.
“I’m ready for a cup of coffee and a nap,” her husband added.
Trump frequently boasts that his rallies draw more supporters that he can fit in the arena. At his rally in Colorado Springs last month, Trump crowed there were “a lot of people, thousands of people that couldn’t get in.”
Indeed, several dozen people camped overnight in sub-freezing temperatures to attend Trump’s recent rally in the military town. Some 2,000 people were turned back after the arena filled to capacity, but most stuck around for a while to watch Trump on a large screen in the parking lot. There were only a couple dozen left by the time he finished, with many shuffling their feet and huddling to ward off the cold.
For some devoted Trump fans, just getting a small taste of seeing Trump campaign in the flesh is enough. Rodney Siscoe, of Fountain, Colorado, left the Colorado Springs rally after about 10 minutes, walking out with a broad smile and satisfied that he got at least a glimpse of the president in action.
“It’s been a long grueling day, five hours in line, and then I just barely got in,” Siscoe said. “I’m going to head home before it gets dark and watch him in the comfort of my home.”
Associated Press writers Noreen Gillespie in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Jim Anderson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, contributed to this report.