Thursday 15 October 2020 6:46 pm

Donald Trump needs to get back to basics on the campaign trail

Tuesday’s Opinium poll showing Donald Trump trailing Joe Biden by a staggering 17 points will likely be the death knell for the President’s campaign.

Even at the nadir of Trump’s 2016 campaign, when a leaked tape showed him bragging about him sexually assaulting women, the President’s poll deficit never dipped below 15 per cent in any one poll.

Even this figure was considered aberrant, with Trump very rarely trailing by double figures to Hilary Clinton during the presidential race.

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Also concerning for Trump is that polling in many crucial swing states – i.e. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina – that catapulted him to victory in 2016 continue to go in the wrong direction.

For months I have maintained that Trump, if he kept the race race close enough during the worst parts of the Covid crisis, would likely storm home as he ramped up his short campaign.

Four years ago, Trump was relentless on the campaign trail as he jumped from sold out rally to sold out rally in America’s deindustrialised cities in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

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While his rallies, much like his subsequent Presidency, were mostly ad-libbed and largely nonsensical, he still maintained a laserlike focus on his core populist message.

He showed immense discipline in being able to hammer home the idea that globalisation, immigration and the American metropolitan elites had marginalised working class Americans and driven them into generational poverty.

Helpfully, he was able to point to Hilary Clinton as the living embodiment of the typical 21st century Washington insider that had put them there.

All this was neatly wrapped up in his four-word slogan – “Make America Great Again”.

The past two decades have shown that one of the keys to electoral success in Western democracies is being able to create a clear, overarching narrative that can be condensed to simple phrases, slogans and symbols.

Along with Trump’s 2016 slogan, Barack Obama had “Yes we Can”, Brexit had “Take back Control” and Boris Johnson had “Get Brexit Done”.

Former Australian Prime Minister, and now British trade adviser, Tony Abbott won a landslide election victory in 2013 with his “Stop the Boats” and “Axe the Tax” rhetoric, which railed against illegal immigrants and a newly implemented carbon tax respectively.

While this year Trump has begun his trademark rallies, despite Covid death rates in America continuing to rise, his messaging has been nebulous.

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He seems to jump from one idea to the next, without ever really landing any blows on Joe Biden or constructing a coherent political narrative.

One minute it’s a spiel on the strength of the US’ pre-Covid economy, hardly relevant now that lockdowns have created carnage, and the next he’s onto conspiracies about Biden’s son.

The former Vice President on the other hand has kept it almost painfully simple by focussing on the President’s erratic behaviour and the need to invest just a little bit more into infrastructure and public services after the pandemic ends.

If Trump is going to have any chance of making a historic comeback he needs to get back to basics and stick to a simple narrative that could hit home with voters in the mid-west.

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Staying relentlessly on his law and order messaging is likely his best bet to scare white working class voters into action in the necessary swing states and rally the Republican base.

However, with the scenes of street violence and rioting that were common earlier this year subsiding, even this message may have lost its bite for many voters.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.