President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign is in full swing, but it’s not exactly the sort of organization that he would have loved to launch.
On Monday, he held a large-scale campaign rally at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., the first of many stops for 2020 during a midterm election year that may still leave him with fewer months to burn at the job than he had hoped.
On Tuesday, though, he’ll be heading to Orlando, Fla., for a rally as a foreign policy adviser, John Bolton, has put forward the president’s position that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. And he’ll be traveling to Montana Wednesday, where his main competitive Republican challenger appears likely to concede the race without a runoff.
On Thursday, in Montana’s other competitive congressional district, Rep. Greg Gianforte will announce his plans to face a recount over last month’s race, after he was charged with assaulting a reporter.
All of this is on top of a September crash of Air Force One that Trump was in at the time of the accident, which would have given him time to write his 2020 campaign announcement address in a few hours.
This is the sort of campaign Trump would have preferred to run in 2016. When he announced his campaign, he spent two weeks in Iowa before flying out of town to New Hampshire, where he held a weekend rally and a rally in two days. The two events came a week before the election, as he was headed to Manchester, New Hampshire, to campaign for Senator Kelly Ayotte.
“This is a big deal,” the then-governor told the crowd in Michigan. “It’s a very important thing.”
It was a significant speech for Trump, who made winning the primary a top goal in 2016 and invested untold sums in ads and staffers in the state. But it proved costly to his prospects for the general election, and he ultimately decided he needed more time in general election battleground states to catch up. He flew back to Iowa before Election Day in 2016, setting off a traditional repeat of his general election strategy.
Trump has attempted to lay the groundwork for 2020 on many levels, from his staff hires — his most recent head of his 2020 campaign and the chief of staff to his 2020 White House political director, Jeff Berkowitz, are both from New Hampshire — to his campaign rallies, his major moves in the Supreme Court confirmation process, and most recently his push to name a candidate to the Democratic vice presidential nominee spot to replace retiring Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. He has pushed Democratic lawmakers to identify a vice presidential candidate and he has reached out to a handful of potential vice presidential candidates from early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
This sort of expansive, all-encompassing roll-out is a familiar option for Trump, who has banked on appearances on cable networks to deliver his message for much of his campaign. His campaign initially intended to hold that strategy over the course of six months in 2016, but in the end, he held 18 rallies by the end of the primaries and only a few of those events were longer than a half-hour.
But this year, his campaign schedule has remained narrow. As a result, he has limited opportunities to rally those who could potentially be crucial to his future. While his supporters flocked to his events in 2016, more of them have gravitated to White House events as a way of supporting his agenda, and he’s largely tapped out his first three appeals to the party’s base: a speech to the Republican National Committee, a visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic, and a morning-drive broadcast with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
That’s an issue in a primary environment where the threat of an incumbent Trump challenge remains high, but one that could actually help him in 2020. The example of another White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, who used the same strategy in 2004, an election year in which an incumbent Hillary Clinton was running for president. Messina marshaled a senior staff into a small group that quickly had a task force that would go around the country and meet with groups of active voters who had not previously shown interest in the campaign.
The goal was to find new volunteers who could help get out the vote, and the result was the group was able to swing the Florida presidential vote by a few hundred votes, which propelled Kerry to victory. Messina later told the Associated Press that he “did all right in the end” because those relationships were developed early on.