Did anyone think a 73-year-old was going to change his orange spots?
Who truly believed Donald Trump, aware his approval rating was at an all time low and facing an impressive pool of Democratic challengers, might decide he needed to moderate his tone and extend his appeal?
If anyone carried such notions, they were rapidly dismissed on Tuesday night when Trump revealed his campaign for reelection will be as ugly, hard-fought and divisive as was the strategy that placed him in the White House. Indeed, it rapidly became clear that Donald Trump 2020 will be very similar indeed to the version on display in 2016.
Over the course of one hour and seventeen minutes at the Amway Centre in Orlando, Florida, the president delivered a speech that has become so familiar, its themes so unshifting, that he could have delivered it at any point over the last two-and-a-half years. He attacked the media, told lies about the achievements of his government, claimed his administration was under “siege” from Robert Mueller, and denounced the Democrats as dangerous extremists, socialists and baby killers who wanted to destroy the country.
“It’s not acceptable,” he declared to huge cheers. “It’s not going to happen.”
In his second term, he said he would be even tougher on illegal immigration, do more to help veterans and the military, and continue to appoint more conservative judges. The only difference the second time around, might be switching the campaign slogan to “Keep America Great”, rather than “Make America Great Again”, a decision on which he appeared uncertain.
“Make America Great Again. The greatest of all time,” he mused. “If I give it up and lose, people are going to say ‘what a mistake that was’. But I’m not gong lose.”
Tuesday’s event in Florida, a state whose victory by Trump on election day in November 2016 was an an early indicator of the stunning night ahead for him, marked the official start of the president’s reelection bid.
“Tonight, I stand before you to officially launch my campaign for a second term as president of the United States,” he said, as the hall’s roar drowned out his words. “Together we stared down a broken political establishment and we restored government by and for the people. As long as you keep this team in place, we have a tremendous way to go. Our future has never looked brighter.”
Yet in a very real sense, Trump has been campaigning for reelection since the very first day his entered the Oval Office and filed his reelection papers. This has allowed his campaign to quietly amass huge sums of money that his team has already been spending, particularly on social media.
Moreover, the president never stopped holding rallies such as the one in Orlando, specifically designed to rally his most loyal supporters and boost his ego. Reuters pointed out Tuesday’s event was Trump’s 60th political rally since taking office.
Trump may not be the greatest orator, but he is a better speaker than many believe. In Orlando, he also displayed a sense of theatre, walking away from the microphone and allowing the crowd to hiss to itself as he said $40m had been spend on Mueller’s investigation. “We went through the greatest witch hunt in political history. No president should have to go through that.”
He is particularly powerful at identifying a sense of grievance and hammering on about it, always pushing an “us against them” narrative.
What Trump rarely displays is the ability to speak to all Americans, to seek to unify.
What the president underscored on Tuesday, as he and vice president Mike Pence asked for “another four years”, is that that he does not believe he needs to do that to win.
So expect more noise, more boasts, more name-calling of his opponents, and more stoking of people’s most base instincts. That was enough for Trump to win the first time. He believes it can deliver for him again.