I previewed President Trump’s campaign kickoff here, and then watched the whole event live. I thought it was highly impressive. Here are my observations:
At 73, Trump remains a force of nature. He spoke for an hour and a quarter or an hour and a half, vigorously to say the least. Actually, I would like to see a less Castroite Trump; I thought his speech flagged during the last 15 minutes or so. But as a performer, he is unmatched among politicians, and he has improved vastly since he began running for president.
Trump has one move that I love: he will finish a point to raucous applause from the crowd. Then he will turn 90 degrees away from the podium and walk 15 or 20 feet down the stage, with a fixed, determined expression. He then turns around and walks back to the podium. I can’t recall seeing any other speaker do this, and there is no one else in politics who could even attempt it. But for Trump, I think it works beautifully.
The Democratic candidates’ rallies are pitiful compared with Trump’s. Reportedly, some people stayed in line for 40 hours to get into the arena in Orlando. Twenty thousand people packed the arena, with thousands more outside, just enjoying the occasion. His reception was rapturous. Last night’s campaign kickoff was a preview of many more such rallies in the coming months. I don’t see any of the Democratic contenders coming close to matching Trump’s campaign events.
Trump laid into the Democrats over Russiagate early in his speech, and strongly. This, too, is a harbinger of things to come. When it comes to scandals, Trump is on offense. At some point, William Barr will give us the closest thing we will see to a definitive account of Russiagate, which will only give the president more material to work with.
News coverage of last night’s rally was predictable: it was mostly about how Trump was dark, angry, vengeful. Such stories are aimed at those who didn’t see Trump’s speech. The mood at a Trump rally is festive. The people lucky enough to be inside the arena are having fun. Optimism and positivity are in the air. Sure, Trump goes after the Democrats. But what about the Democrats’ speeches? Don’t they consist largely of vicious attacks on President Trump? But does the press ever describe the Democrats’ events as dark, angry and vengeful? Not that I have seen.
Here I part company somewhat with Paul, who thinks Trump’s savaging of the Democrats will energize his base but won’t win over swing voters. That is probably true, but when a politician kicks off his or her campaign, the message is directed to core supporters. This is true on the Democratic side, too. How Trump will craft his appeal to middle of the roaders–I guess there are some left–remains to be seen.
All in all, I thought it was an excellent start to the 2020 campaign, not least because it took the spotlight away from the Democrats, at least briefly.