From plugging plastic straws, to slamming wind turbines, to branding Baltimore “a rat infested mess”, Donald Trump has been hitting some major pressure points in America.
But is this all carefully crafted strategy or just spontaneous sparring?
There’s a big difference between dipping your toes in the culture wars and telling four congresswoman to go back home (two of them have just been banned from entering Israel).
So what’s the rationale? In Manchester, New Hampshire, Kayleigh McEnany, the Oxford- educated face of the 2020 Trump campaign baulks at the idea the president is deliberately stoking racial tension.
“What the president is targeting is a very dangerous ideology, that all four of this so-called squad profess – anti-Americanism, attacking ICE, anti-semitic comments.
“There’s no place for that kind of language in congress. The president will target anti-semitism every day and the American people will stand by him.”
Manchester neatly demonstrates a country-wide truth – the base on both sides look pretty locked in. Just as people are lining up for the Trump rally, across the road, a group of Joe Biden’s followers have turned up to stage a protest.
It’s worth noting the numbers inside dwarfed their group – nearly 12,000 fervent followers hanging on the president’s every word.
The numbers for this state, which narrowly voted for Clinton, look a little all over the place. One Civiqs poll put Trump trailing by 26 points – others put him in a far better position. Erin Perrine, Deputy Communications Director of the Trump Campaign tells me the rallies enable them to do their own data gathering. Everyone who attends has passed the campaign their name and an email address.
“We have an exceptional data programme,” she says. “We used it in 2016 and now we have three more years of fresh data – when they voted, if they voted, what we think their propensity is to show up for Trump.
“The data score on everyone around engagement makes sure we give them the right touch point – a Facebook ad, a newspaper, TV, a conversation with a neighbour. We know how to engage them.”
Neil Levesque, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, says it’s all about the undecideds here. He reckons Trump has a 40% loyal base in The Granite State and so do the Democrats.
By taking on the so-called squad, he thinks Mr. Trump is trying to actually widen his appeal by casting the party as extremists that any moderate voter simply couldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate.
“He’s trying to put those folks in a box,” he says “and I think that he’s probably going to successfully do that. He’s trying to expand that 40% by bringing down his opponents. Is it a calculated risk, do I believe in it? No. But is he trying to do it? Yes.”
Whatever the controversies surrounding the president though, he’s still filling massive arenas. His friend Corey Lewandowski who’s teased running for Senate here, says he’s the only candidate that could.
Across the road from the venue, Team Trump has found a way to monetise the president’s politically incorrect messaging. Everyone in the line, some of whom have been here since 7am the day before, is wearing a piece of merchandise they just bought.
Tim Murtaugh, Director of Communications for Trump 2020, said the plastic straws they’ve been selling have not only raised a lot of money, but given them critical information about how people will vote.
“We know if someone buys them that are first time donors to the campaign, they will 100% vote for Trump.” Paper straws he says, are “an absolute menace and everyone agrees they don’t work”.
So far, their alternative has raised more than $500k- with customers playing $15 each for 10 straws.
Trump has pitted his mostly white base against a much more diverse and modern democratic party. They may have taken control of the house, but he’s cast them as a bunch of radicals and he’s criticising everything they’re fixated on like medicare-for-all and decriminalising unauthorised border crossings.
Back in the line, I meet Barbara who insists that elusive, enigmatic old friend, the silent voter will have a big part to play in 2020.
She says she knows plenty of Trump voters in her community- they just don’t talk openly about it, for fear of upsetting friends.
At a fairground a short drive away, where the air is punctuated with screams of joy not political frustrations, I try to see if the political pendulums are swinging any differently.
One woman says: “The president is racist.” I ask if it will hurt him here? “No,” she says frankly. “Those who like him have made up their minds.”
Democrats are banking on a very different hypothesis – that this is a country desperate for change and a president who pushes progressive ideas. Congress certainly looks a lot more diverse.
But the Trump campaign insists to me they’re winning over Latino and African American voters, who actually like Trump’s tough stance on immigration and are heartened by record employment levels.
Goodness knows where this New Hampshire race will go. But after two days here, you get very little sense that outrage will drive the outcome either way.
Source: SKY NEWS