Wednesday, November 25, 2020

With everything to lose, Trump barrels into final stretch

The pedal-to-the metal approach in the final stretch will prove to be his key to another shocking win, or the last lap of his presidency.

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In a single day, he covered more than 3,000km aboard Air Force One, hitting three different campaign rallies from the country’s south to the midwest.

And Donald Trump has shown his willingness to keep up the frenetic pace he set on Saturday all the way until the Nov 3 election.

Trailing in the polls – if they are to be believed this time – the pedal-to-the metal approach in the final stretch will prove to be his key to another shocking win, or the last lap of his presidency.

Either way, the 74-year-old who recently recovered from Covid-19, is forging ahead with an undeniable energy, relentlessly evoking the memory of his victorious finish in 2016.

In Lumberton, North Carolina, at a stage built in the middle of a field, a huge American flag hung between two hydraulic cranes, he appears in the early afternoon under a blazing sun.

“I am going to be a lobster!” Trump declares to laughter. “Does anybody have some sun protection for your president please?”

As for the polls, he employs the kind of sly talk that he often uses with the crowds that adore his approach.

“When they come in my favour, I repeat them all the time,” he says. “When they’re not in my favour, I don’t discuss that.”

‘I’m out here’

Only four hours later, he is in Circleville, Ohio, further north, under a cold, grey sky.

He has put on a coat, and the audience is more subdued, as is he.

In the evening, he is in Waukesha, Wisconsin, not far from Lake Michigan.

The compact crowd has shown up despite a biting autumn cold, with temperatures close to freezing.

“We win Wisconsin, it’s over!” says Trump, rediscovering his energy from earlier in the day.

Once again, the former reality TV show star puts on the performance the crowds have come to see.

“By the way, you’ve got to get out and vote,” he says.

“I mean, I’m out here. What the hell time is it? And it’s freezing. If I don’t win this state, I’m going to come back and I’m going to be very angry with you.”

Whether it’s Lumberton, Circleville or Waukesha, beyond the ups and downs of the Trump show, the crowd always comes to life at the rally’s end, when the first notes of the Village People’s “YMCA” blares from the speakers.

Trump himself engages in a few dance moves, which have inevitably become the subject of TikTok videos.

It’s all done to show the contrast between Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden, and the contrast is indeed striking.

Biden, 77, has run a more restrained campaign, preaching the necessity of maintaining Covid-19 precautions as the virus spreads relentlessly and criticising his opponent’s often erratic approach.

When Saturday’s marathon schedule was announced, White House spokesman Ben Williamson said Trump “will visit more states in one day – a Saturday – than Joe Biden has visited this entire week.”

Speaking to journalists aboard Air Force One, the president himself pointed to the differences.

With a relaxed look, he seemed to enjoy the idea of ramping it up to five rallies per day.

“Do you think Joe Biden can do five a day? I don’t think so,” he says.

‘I had it’

But a message that has been central at Trump’s rallies is one that conflicts with the facts: that Covid-19 is already nearly a thing of the past.

Trump, who likes to conjure apocalyptic images when he talks about his opponents or immigration, for example, becomes the most optimistic of leaders when it involves the pandemic.

He mocks Biden’s warnings on the difficult months ahead.

“Did you hear the other night? ‘It’s going to be a cold dark winter,'” he says, imitating Biden. “Very inspiring guy.”

He promises a coming return to normal, with or without a vaccine, though never explaining how.

And he denounces the news media’s coverage of it.

“Turn on television – Covid! Covid! Covid! … A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it,” he says at one rally.

“Hey, by the way, I had it. Here I am,” he adds, without a word on the nearly 225,000 Americans who have died from the virus or the recent surge of infections.

He arrives at the White House shortly after 1am Sunday and is set to fly again before noon, this time to New Hampshire.

Like four years ago, Trump has made his omnipresence on the campaign trail his strategy.

But if the polls are to be trusted – and they have been consistent for months – the strategy would seem to be less effective this time.

“I think at a certain level there is just fatigue,” Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University political science professor, told AFP.

“I also think it was novel in 2016. Now he is an incumbent with power in the middle of a crisis, so it sounds different.”

But is it an exercise in futility? Not so fast, says Zelizer, an expert in American political history.

“It would be a mistake to discount the impact, even though he is clearly behind.”

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