Less than five months before voters will decide his fate, President Donald Trump and his campaign are rebranding and restructuring in response to the global Wuhan virus pandemic and the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.
Trump was facing tougher political prospects even before the death of Floyd, the black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee for almost nine minutes into Floyd’s neck last month.
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COVID-19’s mounting human and economic tolls -cost him support among constituencies his campaign believes are key to victory in November. His signature rallies had been frozen for months, and his cash advantage over Biden, while vast, wasn’t growing as quickly as hoped because the pandemic put a halt to high-dollar fundraisers.
Internal campaign surveys and public polling showed a steady erosion in support for Trump among older people and in battleground states once believed to be leaning decisively in the president’s direction, according to insiders.
Trump himself responded to the poll numbers —
If I wasn’t constantly harassed for three years by fake and illegal investigations, Russia, Russia, Russia, and the Impeachment Hoax, I’d be up by 25 points on Sleepy Joe and the Do Nothing Democrats. Very unfair, but it is what it is!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2020
The campaign recently launched a television ad blitz in Ohio, a state the president carried by 8 percentage points four years ago.
“I have polls,” Trump told Fox News Radio on Thursday, dismissing a spate of public surveys showing him trailing Biden. “Just like last time, I was losing to Hillary in every state, and I won every state.”
Nonetheless, Trump has reportedly pressed his aides for strategies to improve his standing. Late last month, the Trump campaign moved two veteran political aides into senior leadership roles, reflective of an effort to bring more experience to the campaign team. And on Friday, the campaign brought on board former communications chief Jason Miller as a senior adviser as well.
The White House seized on better-than-expected economic news Friday — the nation added 2.5 million jobs in May and the unemployment rate fell — with a victory lap, selling it as a sign of a post-pandemic economic comeback that the president’s advisers believe will be the single most important factor in victory in November.
The campaign’s plan had been to spend the spring of 2020 trying to negatively define Biden, a strategy that went out the window when COVID-19 reached American shores. Trump’s aides have been frustrated that the pandemic has allowed Biden to largely stay out of public sight; they believe the gaffe-prone Democrat often damages himself when speaking in public settings.
Now discussions are underway for a renewed effort to attack Biden on several fronts, according to the officials. Among the lines of attack: his ties to China, which the White House blames for the spread of the pandemic; Hunter Biden, the vice president’s son, whom aides believe can be painted as a symbol of corruption; and Biden’s support for a 1994 crime bill, which Trump says helped create conditions that have led to the unrest in American cities.
“A lot of Americans know of Joe Biden, but not too many know Joe Biden. And our job is to educate voters about the real Joe Biden,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtagh. “He’s sided with the rioters. He’s barely made a passing reference to all the violence that happened. Black Americans care about safe communities, too.”
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Biden’s campaign responded with confidence.
“The Trump campaign keeps calling the same play, talking a big game and then getting smoked on the field,” said Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo. “The Trump Campaign and their Super PAC have spent nearly $20 million attacking Biden since April 1, and they have watched Trump steadily decline in the polls.”
Trump has tried to adjust to the new campaigning reality in which signature packed rallies are prohibited by social distancing requirements. He’s been scheduling official trips to battleground states to highlight his leadership during the pandemic. Friday’s trip to Maine was the latest White House visit doubling as a campaign stop, following others to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona.
But Trump has been hankering for a return to his old mainstay, so much so that he yanked the public-facing parts of the Republican National Convention from North Carolina. Now the boring business of the convention will remain in Charlotte, but the celebratory aspects will shift to a to-be-determined city that will allow Trump to put on the show he desires.
The Associated Press contributed to this article