Letters From an American

Trump’s Scattershot Campaign Strategy

Throw everything at the wall...

Trump's Scattershot Campaign Strategy

A man wearing an American flag mask is seen near Chelsea Piers as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 01, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Today’s most important story comes from Dr. Deborah Birx, the doctor advising the White House on the coronavirus. She warns that we are entering a “new phase” of the pandemic, when the virus is everywhere and is spreading at such a pace that we could see more than 300,000 deaths by the end of the year. On Saturday, the national daily death toll from Covid-19 reached 1,198, exceeding 1000 for the sixth day in a row.

Birx implores people to wear masks and stay apart… but it is an argument falling on deaf ears among those who continue to believe that Covid-19 is a hoax. Texas is apparently not reporting a number of its cases; Mississippi is so overwhelmed officials don’t actually know what the numbers are, but they are storing bodies in refrigerated storage units. Ignoring the virus, more than 250,000 people are expected to show up next week to the Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally, which business leaders pressured the City Council to hold despite the objections of more than 60% of Sturgis residents, who fear their town will become a hot spot.

As the death toll rises, Trump today tweeted that other countries were also facing new infections but that the “Fake News” was not reporting it. He added, “USA will be stronger than ever before, and soon!” Then he went golfing.

Already, experts are worried that the Trump administration will rush to market an unproven vaccine in October, boosting Trump’s hopes for reelection. “We expect to have a vaccine available very, very early before the end of the year, far ahead of schedule,” Trump said today. “We’re very close to having that finalized.” But rushing a vaccine will not necessarily help the pandemic response and could hurt it by reducing people’s faith in a vaccine. Experts say that a vaccine will be the beginning of dealing with the coronavirus, not the end, as we spend years perfecting the vaccines and drugs that will handle it most effectively.

Yet, as the coronavirus rages across America, there are signs that the Trump campaign is worried about the upcoming election.

It seems that Trump’s heavy hand in Portland, Oregon, backfired. He was trying to deflect attention from the disastrous response to the coronavirus by convincing voters that there were dangerous riots in our streets, backed by Democrats. But the heavy hand of the federal troops he sent has led to lawsuits, and on Wednesday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and federal officials agreed for federal troops to get out of the streets of Portland. After the deal, Trump tweeted “If the Federal Government and its brilliant Law Enforcement (Homeland) didn’t go into Portland one week ago, there would be no Portland—it would be burned and beaten to the ground. If they Mayor and Governor… do not stop the Crime and Violence from the Anarchists and Agitators immediately, the Federal Government will go in and do the job that local law enforcement was supposed to do!”

But with the removal of federal troops from active policing of the city, the protests have become quiet and largely peaceful. The sudden calm illustrates that Trump was ginning up trouble to get footage for campaign ads. And voters get it. They trust Biden over Trump to “maintain law and order” by a margin of 50% to 41%.

The campaign appears to be concerned. Most interesting today was the news from a convention spokesperson and a Republican official that the organizers of the Republican National Convention, due to start on August 24, would not allow reporters at the event.

The convention has become a bit of a disaster, with Trump abruptly moving it from Charlotte, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida in mid-June, only to cancel the Jacksonville event on July 23. Now things are back on in Charlotte, but exactly what is going to happen there is unclear. The Jacksonville move meant that the delegates were not going to write a new platform for 2020, leaving Trump standing on the 2016 platform, which contained embarrassing attacks on “the president,” who in 2016 was Barack Obama. The Jacksonville event was essentially just going to be a celebration of Trump’s renomination.

But now back in Charlotte, the convention organizers are apparently talking about excluding reporters, although the Republican National Committee communications director Michael Ahrens told CNN that the decision was not yet final. He blamed the restriction on the coronavirus distancing necessary, but this explanation is not convincing from a party and a president that is so routinely flouting coronavirus restrictions.

More likely, they expect drama at the convention, drama they do not want others to see. It’s possible Trump fears an objection to his renomination, or another such public relations nightmare. The whole point of conventions these days is that they make such good television they launch candidacies with a giant push. And now it appears Trump, a publicity hound if ever there was one, is apparently considering foregoing that hoopla. It’s interesting.

There are two other signs that the administration is working to get as much of its agenda in place before November as possible. Despite the pandemic that has thrown everything out of whack, the Census Bureau is cutting short its efforts to knock on doors to count everyone for the 2020 census. It will stop them on September 30, rather than October 30, as originally planned. About 4 out of 10 households have not yet been counted, and they are overwhelmingly those of people of color, immigrants, and traditionally undercounted groups.

“It’s going to be impossible to complete the count in time,” said one of the census managers. “I’m very fearful we’re going to have a massive undercount.” At the same time, in an unprecedented move that is already facing lawsuits, the administration is trying to avoid counting undocumented immigrants, which will badly undercount cities. “The end result would be [overrepresentation] for the White non-Hispanic population and greater undercounts for all other populations including the traditionally hard-to-count,” Former Census Bureau Director John Thompson told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday.

The Census Bureau explained the reason for the shortened census count: “We are currently evaluating our operations to enable the Census Bureau to provide this data in the most expeditious manner and when those plans have been finalized we will make an announcement.”

Yes, that is word salad. What it amounts to is that the census will determine congressional representation and federal funding for the next decade, and the administration appears to be trying to rush the census to lock in the best results for the Republicans it can in case Democrats take the helm of the country in November.

And then there is Trump’s announcement that he is removing 12,000 troops from Germany, where they have been stationed since WWII. Trump claims he is upset that Germany doesn’t pay more toward sustaining NATO, but the head of the U.S. military’s Europe command will move to Brussels, which pays in even less. The removal has sparked bipartisan opposition in Congress, with almost two dozen Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee warning that it would weaken the U.S. and strengthen Russia. It is a profound disruption of the order that has stabilized Europe since 1945, and which has enabled it to hold Russian ambitions at bay.

On Twitter, the head of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee, Norbert Roettgen, echoed American criticism of the move. He said, “Instead of strengthening [NATO] it is going to weaken the alliance. The US’s military clout will not increase, but decrease in relation to Russia and the Near & Middle East.” In contrast, the Kremlin’s spokesperson seemed almost gleeful as he told CNN that the move was in Russia’s interest.

CNN’s international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson analyzed the situation. His conclusion was titled, “Trump’s Germany troops pullout may be his last gift to Putin before the election.”


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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.