(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump credits his signature rallies for his improbable White House victory and the roaring economy he once presided over was his best argument for re-election. But with the coronavirus pandemic destroying both, he’s trying to compensate by turning official events into the next best thing.
The visits, often to see manufacturers of medical equipment, feature the same themes and some of the same moves. The campaign play list goes with him. He ticks off similar talking points about pre-Covid economic achievements.
One difference with campaign rallies: Taxpayers foot the bill for these official visits.
There is no substitute for screaming fans waving signs and sporting MAGA hats, but Trump has been using some of his most popular campaign-style commentaries during those trips.
Trump visited Ford Motor Co.’s ventilator facility Thursday in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and got some of the feel of a rally on the way.
Along his motorcade route, supporters wearing campaign gear waved and held up signs of support. There were also people holding signs criticizing his response to the pandemic.
“We’ve got to get back to the rallies,” Trump told reporters at the plant.
Early this month, at an Arizona Honeywell plant that makes N95 respirator masks, the president toured the factory as the song “Live and Let Die” blared on the sound system -- a rally anthem that struck a somewhat discordant note amid the virus.
He then delivered remarks against a backdrop of Honeywell-labeled cardboard boxes and brought Jorge Rivas and his wife, Betty, onto the stage. The couple, who are restaurant owners, had been criticized for attending a February Trump rally in Phoenix.
After seeing a story about the backlash against them on Fox News, Trump posted a March 1 tweet of support of their business.
“I think you’re doing a great job. I think we represent a lot of the Latino community that is very proud of the job that you’re doing, and I think most of us, all of us, all the Latinos are going to vote for you,” said Jorge Rivas, wearing a Trump-Pence baseball cap. Betty Rivas addressed the crowd in Spanish and ended her remarks with the same slogan on her red cowboy hat: Latinos Love Trump.
At an Owens & Minor Inc. medical distribution center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, last week, Trump stood in front of a large American flag and stacked cardboard boxes as he jabbed Joe Biden, his likely Democratic opponent in November.
“Most of the N95 masks were distributed during the N1H1. Now, you know who says that, right? ‘N1H1.’ Who says that? Sleepy Joe Biden,” Trump said to laughter. “Remember? He said the ‘N1H1.’ I said, ‘Isn’t it the other way around?’ But during the H1N1 -- and that’s the swine flu -- and it was a pandemic in ‘09 that was not well handled at all. It got very poor marks,” Trump said.
He trails Biden in polls in Michigan, as well as Arizona and Pennsylvania, even though the former vice president has been campaigning only through virtual events from his home in Delaware.
Biden’s top advisers insist that his candidacy hasn’t been hindered by self-isolating.
Trump’s team probably couldn’t make the same boast, as the president himself clearly misses the campaign trail. He recalls the rallies, now discouraged by social-distancing.
“For me, it’s a tremendous way of getting the word out,” Trump told reporters at the White House last month. “If you look at our success rate, we’ve had tremendous success. We win where we have rallies, including endorsements of candidates. Our success rate is, I think, unparalleled. There’s nothing like it.”
Polls support Biden’s strategy. He leads Trump by 4.5 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls and his campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon told reporters on a May 15 conference call that the campaign is “bullish” on Arizona, once a solidly Republican state and the home of the GOP presidential standard bearers John McCain and Barry Goldwater.
Trump won Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan in 2016 in his narrow victory over Hillary Clinton, taking Michigan by less than a percentage point. That state brings added drama this year because Trump has clashed with that state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a possible Biden running mate, over her handling of the pandemic.
“He’s been going to Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan because many people think those are the three key states,” in addition to Wisconsin and Florida, said Bill Ballenger, a longtime political analyst from Lansing, Michigan. “They’re smart trips in terms of the states he’s paying attention to.”
Chuck Coughlin, an Arizona-based Republican strategist, said that Trump’s most comfortable outside of Washington and that it’s wise for him to start traveling more to key states.
“The worst thing for him is staying in Washington, where he argues with Nancy and Chuck,” Coughlin said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He added that “getting him out on the road” and “amongst the people” is where the president finds his comfort zone.
Trump said Thursday he might resume rallies in states that are reopening, like Florida or Georgia. “We’ve had rallies like nobody has ever had and we would like to get back to that,” he said. “I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”
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