Trump’s Minnesota Rally Looks Ahead to 2020 Election
Trump accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of misleading people about the Ukraine call by giving an impressionistic summary during a meeting. Seconds later, Trump followed suit. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw the rough transcript of the conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, Trump told the crowd, she responded: What the hell? Nobody ever told me this was the call. This morning, I asked a Pelosi spokesman if she had actually said that. “No, not true,” he said definitively.
If any sort of uplifting message was coming from the president, it was cast toward Fox News. Trump rattled off the names of various network hosts as if the audience were intimately familiar with each one, and revealed that in the personal rating scale he uses to judge Fox’s talent, Brian Kilmeade had climbed from a seven to “10 territory.” (Something must have happened to rehabilitate Fox in Trump’s mind; just 12 hours earlier, he had tweeted that Fox “doesn’t deliver for US anymore.”)
Trump’s campaign relies on these rallies to both fortify and expand his base of support. Whoever wrote Trump’s speech last night included the obligatory notes that might appeal to the sliver of swing voters whose opinion of Trump may not yet have hardened. In the prepared remarks, Trump vowed to protect people with preexisting health conditions and to safeguard Medicare. He read those parts without any particular vocal affect, perhaps because he doesn’t truly believe they’re the way to win. One Republican operative close to the White House, speaking anonymously to discuss campaign strategy, told me that Trump is convinced of the old political adage “The race will hinge on turnout.” If he can mobilize and excite his base voters, they’ll show up in force, much as they did in 2016, impeachment be damned.
“I think we’re going to have a turnout the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of our country,” Trump said last night. For that to happen, he needs to paint the political system as a Manichaean struggle between his coalition of “real Americans” and elite forces determined to bring him down. Nuanced plans for revamping health care won’t cut it; he needs to maintain his supersize persona. Rallies figure into this calculus. Trump makes sure they’re a spectacle—a piece of theater for everyone to talk about the next morning.
“His message is so edgy, and his core support is so intense and enthusiastic, and the rallies are so unlike anything we’ve seen in the modern era,” the strategist told me. “Arithmetically speaking, this election is about jacking up turnout of your own supporters on the theory that no one on their side of the ball excites them the way Trump excites us,” he said, referring to the Democrats.
The 20,000-seat arena was largely filled last night. Hours before Trump appeared, the crowd spotted a celebrity walking across the floor and exploded in cheers. “Mike! Mike! Mike!” they chanted deliriously. Was it Vice President Mike Pence?, I wondered, moving toward the entourage. No, bigger even than Pence. It was Mike Lindell, the chief executive officer of My Pillow and a Minnesota favorite son. Knowing nothing about the man behind the pillow, I tapped out a quick Google search and took my place in line to speak with him.