President Trump delivered a full-throated campaign kickoff rally in Orlando Tuesday night. Pitch perfect and resonant — at least to his base. His soaring aria went after his favorites: President Obama, illegal immigrants, fake news and the Democrats. And he excoriated Hillary Clinton so long and so loud that one might think she was the 2020 Democratic candidate.
But Trump worked the crowd like the huckster he is. He pushed the right buttons, controlled the crowd, getting them to roar their approval or boo their disdain.
The president will need far more than the support of his base next year. And it’s worth pondering if the Americans who took a halting chance, maybe even former Obama supporters, and voted for Trump in 2016 were as impressed by the bluster this time around.
For this was a scarier, but sharper, Trump than what was presented in the 2016 campaign. And he has a record now. Despite all the pluses he touted — a healthy economy, support for Israel, appointing two Supreme Court justices — he omitted the horrors of his administration: snatching children from their migrant parents, to say nothing of losing track of them and the dire conditions under which they are being held. His wink and tacit support of white nationalists sowing violence in this country. Hiding behind executive privilege to keep subordinates from revealing his shady dealings to Congress. His cozying up to dictators.
His base doesn’t care about any of it. The ultimate Democratic candidate will have to make the case to the voters who are more skeptical — or horrified — this time around, that he or she can truly get this country back on the path of living up to its constitutional ideals. Solely picking on Trump will be the equivalent of picking the low-hanging fruit, shallow and stating the obvious.
But before any of that happens, Democratic candidates are going to have to define themselves and their party, because Trump has, in harsh, stark terms, has definitely defined them for his base: “radical, unhinged and depraved,” he said. They are socialists who want to destroy America, who want to strip Americans of their constitutional rights. He called them un-American. What’s their comeback, a whiny “Am not?”
Trump smartly gave a shout-out to all Florida Republican politicians in the audience, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Gov, Ron DeSantis. He is going to need them on his side. Polls showed that Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders could beat him in Florida.
Then again, the polls were wrong in 2016.