ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday formally launches what may be an uphill battle to persuade voters to give him four more years in office, as he bets a strong U.S. economy will outweigh voter concerns about his unorthodox style and polarizing policies.
At an evening rally in Orlando, Florida, Trump, who has long made it known he is running for re-election, will begin making his case with gusto for a second term. He and his wife, Melania, and a large contingent of senior White House staff arrived in Orlando aboard Air Force One for the occasion.
The Trump of 2020 most certainly will bear a strong resemblance to the Trump of 2016 – brash and eager to bash opponents and promote tough policies on trade and immigration.
Two-and-a-half years into his tenure, Trump sees plenty of positive factors, led by a growing economy with low unemployment.
“If the economy stays strong, he is very likely to get re-elected,” said Trump confidant Newt Gingrich, a former Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
But an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, coupled with a presidential style marked by name-calling and eye-popping tweets, has undermined some Americans’ confidence in Trump before the November 2020 election.
He also has stirred division with his hard-line policies on immigration and unsettled business and farm groups with his use of tariffs in trade disputes with China and some allies.
Democrats cite a string of broken promises in Trump’s first term, from lowering drug prices to closing corporate tax loopholes and stopping plant closures. In a media call on Tuesday, Democratic Party officials focused on his moves to weaken the signature healthcare law of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, without providing an alternative.
“Donald Trump is launching his campaign for re-election tonight and the American people face a choice – we can make Trump an aberration or let him fundamentally and forever alter the character of this nation,” said Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Democratic front-runner Joe Biden.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on June 11 gave Trump a 40% job approval rating, compared with 57% who disapproved. Other opinion polls have shown him running consistently behind his main Democratic challengers, such as Biden, in key battleground states.
Republican strategists say the fundamentals favor Trump as he heads into his election but that he faces challenges given his bare-knuckled approach, which he refuses to temper.
“His support with his base is as strong as it’s ever been for any Republican incumbent president. The challenge is adding to that and building the coalition he needs for re-election,” said Republican strategist Ryan Williams, a former adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
In a Twitter post before his trip, Trump said: “Republican enthusiasm is at an all time high. Look what is going on in Orlando, Florida, right now!”
The Orlando Sentinel, however, welcomed the president’s visit with an editorial titled: “Our endorsement for president in 2020: Not Donald Trump.”
Trump supporters with tents and sleeping bags started camping out at the rally venue on Monday and thousands had gathered by Tuesday afternoon in a torrential downpour. “It was like a big Trump party,” said Maureen Bailey, who slept in a tent with her twin sister, Laureen Vartanian.
Local Democratic Party officials planned a “Win With Love” rally a few blocks from the Trump rally.
Starting his 2020 push in Florida, which the former New York businessman considers his second home, shows how important the state is to Trump’s re-election hopes. He would like to recreate the state-by-state electoral victory map he assembled to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
That election included Trump victories in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and he thus far faces challenges in all those states, along with North Carolina.
FLORIDA IS A KEY
Democrats vow to win back industrial states like Pennsylvania and Michigan that flipped to Trump in 2016 after decades of voting Democratic in presidential elections, and they believe his behavior and policies will generate strong turnout among Americans eager to turn him out of office.
Trump campaign advisers wave off the polls at this stage, saying Trump had trailed in most polls in 2016 and still won.
The advisers believe Trump’s chances will improve once Democrats go through their hard-fought nominating process and produce a nominee for him to face off against.
Nobody is expecting Trump to change his behavior. Aides who had urged him early in his White House tenure to tone down his style are long gone.
Some Trump advisers had urged the president to begin his campaign launch in New York with a nostalgic recreation of the scene from June 2015 when Trump and his wife rode down an escalator at Trump Tower for his announcement speech.
On his flight to Tokyo on May 24, Trump turned down the idea, based on input from the first lady, who thought he should do something new and was adamantly against the escalator ride, said a person with direct knowledge of the conversation.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Carlo Allegri in Orlando; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney