The Trump show, season 2, begins

The throng that came out to celebrate Trump’s announcement was big and boisterous. The president may be broadly unpopular, but to much of the Republican base, he is a cult idol — Justin Bieber with a faux tan and an unearthly comb-over.

The Trump show, season 2, begins

(Editorial Observer): President Donald Trump officially started his 2020 re-election campaign Tuesday night in Orlando, Florida. If the kickoff rally was any indication, Season 2 of this political reality show promises to be largely a rehash of Season 1 — except darker, whinier and even more divisive.

The throng that came out to celebrate Trump’s announcement was big and boisterous. The president may be broadly unpopular, but to much of the Republican base, he is a cult idol — Justin Bieber with a faux tan and an unearthly comb-over.

Trump said his campaign received more than 120,000 requests for tickets to the event. Supporters began lining up 30-plus hours before showtime, hauling in sleeping bags, coolers and stadium chairs. Rainstorms on Tuesday drove the crowd to seek shelter, but could not dampen its ardor. Inside and outside the arena, people danced, whooped and reveled in MAGA-mania.

There was little new in Trump’s performance. He did not offer a governing vision for a second term. His 76-minute speech was the usual brew of aggrandizement, aggrievement and demonization of political foes. He vilified Democrats as “ruthless,” “unhinged” monsters dedicated to “the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream.” He whined about his persecution by the “fake news” and the deep-state rogues who perpetrated the Russia “witch hunt.” He devoted so much time to attacking “Crooked Hillary” that it seemed as if a confused aide might have accidentally loaded one of his 2016 speeches into the teleprompters.

While delivering a jolt of adrenaline to his fans, the act has lost its freshness — perhaps inevitable considering that Trump has conducted some five dozen of these rallies since taking office. Every so often, he would pause in his remarks to wander about the stage, basking in the adulation. Whenever the crowd erupted in one of the chants that have become a staple of his rallies — “Build the Wall!” “CNN sucks!” “Lock her up!” — the president glowed. If nothing else, Trump made clear that he has no interest in expanding his appeal this cycle. He is digging in with his base, for whom he can do no wrong.

But 2020 is not 2016, and running as an establishment-bashing outsider is harder from inside the Oval Office. In the kickoff of his insurgency four years ago, Trump drifted down the escalator of Trump Tower and sold himself as the antidote to politics as usual. Dismissing America’s political leaders as “losers,” he declared the American dream dead and pitched himself as the only candidate who could bring it back “bigger and better and stronger than ever before.”

In Orlando, Trump reprised that theme. “The fact is the American dream is back,” he crowed. “It is bigger and better and stronger than ever before.” Two and a half years into his presidency, however, many of the miracles he vowed to perform have not come to pass. He has not repealed and replaced Obamacare with something better, nor stopped manufacturing jobs from flowing overseas. He has not rebuilt America’s infrastructure, brought Iran to heel or tamed the national debt.

This is not to say he hasn’t achieved anything — tax cuts, deregulation, judicial appointments and criminal justice reform to name a few. He has a record now for people to judge, and he owns the good and the bad alike.

It is a tricky line that Trump will attempt to toe over the next 18 months. As the sitting president, he needs voters to feel good about the job he has done — good enough to turn out and give him another four years. The animating force of his political success, however, has always been cultural grievance. He is the master of stoking voters’ most primal anxieties and resentments. Tuesday’s speech suggests that going forward, the president’s struggle to reconcile these conflicting imperatives will not be pretty — or good for the country.

If his message in 2016 was that the political establishment and cultural elitists were ignoring or sneering at regular Americans, his message this time is that the opposition despises and is aggressively plotting to destroy MAGA country. “Our patriotic movement has been under assault from the very first day,” he declared.

As Trump tells it, this disdain for “hardworking patriots” is at the root of the attacks on his leadership. It’s not that Democrats are out to get him; they are out to get his people. “They went after my family, my business, my finances, my employees, almost everyone I have ever known or worked with, but they are really going after you,” he told the Orlando crowd.

Despite this unprecedented assault, Trump said, he — and by extension, his people — have prevailed. “We took on a political machine that tried to take away your voice and your vote,” he said. “But we will never let them do that.”

So, even as Trump brags of having made America great again, he does it in a way that fuels voters’ anger and fear.

Trump stressed to the crowd the importance of next year’s vote: “This election is not merely a verdict on the amazing progress we’ve made. It’s a verdict on the un-American conduct of those who tried to undermine our great democracy and undermine you.”

In that, at last, he spoke the raw truth.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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