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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Why Trump Holds Huge Wins Despite Bouncing Around

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Even as he shuffles from rally to rally, President Trump continues to be the most energized member of the presidential political lineup.

And that may end up working against him in the long term — both because of what it suggests about how his overall numbers are faring and because of the distraction it poses for potential Democratic contenders.

Mr. Trump drew a crowd of about 18,000 people to a rally at an outdoor soccer field Thursday in the suburbs outside Washington, bringing his 2016 slogan of “Make America Great Again” into the national conversation after a brutal start to the fall-campaign season. The reaction at a get-out-the-vote rally in November in Texas this week was the same. And Mr. Trump is just beginning a sprint to the Florida primary with another rally in Tampa on Friday.

His relative domination isn’t a coincidence, the people who attend his rallies say, or entirely unexpected. Polls consistently indicate that Mr. Trump would win the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. More than a dozen of his most prominent supporters have signed onto Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign. And a recent internal Trump poll found him beating Ms. Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Vice President Joe Biden by double digits, rounding out a list of potential Democratic rivals.

“No doubt he’s having a strong hold,” said Robert Zimmerman, a conservative veteran and the owner of a hotel in Washington where Mr. Trump has been regularly scheduling events. “Our schedule was originally scheduled to run through the first debate. Well, it’s four debates and we’re still doing the same dates and venues.”

Mr. Trump sees no contradiction in putting on the stump events with such intense public interest in his prospective candidacy.

“If you don’t like it, just go to another town. I mean, there’s a bunch of them that will be cutting everybody down,” he said during an interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” program Wednesday. “They have a pretty pathetic show. I don’t see anybody like me who’s actually doing really good.”

After just six months in office, it’s not the first time that Mr. Trump’s political brand has relied on tapping into the public’s overwhelming interest in the news of the day.

But with early polls showing that — at least for now — his political fortunes are growing stronger amid the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump seems anxious to use the prospect of a Republican resurgence to quell the momentum he’s seen in the polls. If he’s for instance, trying to make a few shifts of allegiance on the daily cycle.

“Things are starting to come together, and now it’s very important for people to vote,” he said.

But before he can deliver the sales pitch for a Republican Party in recovery, Mr. Trump might have to tell voters that the prevailing climate in his party is at least partially the result of a president he once derided.

“It’s largely a function of the president himself,” said Andrea Saul, a former Clinton adviser who has stayed in touch with some of the president’s supporters and who is now working as a Clinton strategist. “Donald Trump did a number of things at the outset of his campaign to create a really culture of resentment.”

There are other implications of Mr. Trump’s success in fueling rallies.

For one, it could stoke discontent among Republicans as a string of undecided voters prepare to cast ballots in November. And, for another, it could galvanize Democratic primary voters to come together behind a single champion, a prospect that has become all the more significant with those early party polls showing Mr. Trump far out front.

John Rood, who was a counselor to former President George W. Bush and later directed the Republican National Committee during the 2012 election, noted that Mr. Trump’s growing political strength has forced the Republican National Committee to do more traditional campaign management for campaigns, even while federal elections law still prohibits the party from coordinating with presidential candidates.

“We’re starting to get involved in most states as a normal party,” he said. “We’re not a campaign, and that means we’re not typically involved in the candidate primaries, but we’re getting involved in them now.”

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