Republican political guru Karl Rove, often derisively called ‘Bush’s Brain’, managed George W. Bush’s two successful presidential campaigns in the 2000s. Rove focused on defending the red, Republican leaning states and maximizing conservative turnout in battleground purple states like Florida and Ohio. However, the Bush-Rove brand of free-trade and open-borders conservatism was unpopular with white working-class voters in Rust Belt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states no Republican presidential candidate had won since 1988. As such, Rove’s strategy was inherently defensive. The Rust Belt became the Democrat’s Blue Wall, invincible against Republicans. Republican nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney stood little chance in these states in 2008 and 2012. In 2008 McCain’s campaign publicly gave up on Michigan.
In the 1990’s and 2000’s defensiveness became the GOP’s default rhetorical setting. Under leaders like Rove and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, the GOP allowed the Democrats to set the terms of the debate, and were always fending off accusation of heartlessness and even racism. During the Valerie Plame scandal, where Plame said Bush Administration officials outed her covert CIA status in retaliation for her husband contesting Bush’s Iraqi WMD claims, Republicans simply said they respected the independent counsel’s investigation and wanted the process to play out. Meanwhile Democrats savaged the Bush and the GOP.
In 2016 candidate Donald Trump did not campaign by Rove’s rules. Instead of defending red states, Trump made an aggressive play for the Rust Belt, breached the Blue Wall, and won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. When NBC published a tape in which Trump made lewd remarks about women in 2005, Trump fought back. Instead of genuflecting, Trump pointed out Bill Clinton’s sexual foibles and even brought four of Clinton’s victims to the first debate with Hillary Clinton. A conventional, establishment candidate like Florida Governor Jeb Bush (!), whom Trump ran roughshod over in the Republican primaries, would have played by the Democrat’s rules.
Trump fights back against the Democrats impeachment inquiry. He routinely criticizes the head of the Democrat’s impeachment effort, House Judiciary chair Adam Schiff. He mocks Schiff at rallies calling him ‘pencil neck’ and ‘shifty Schiff’. In the wake of the Mueller independent council investigation, in which no collusion whatsoever was found between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump’s justice department is looking into the origins of the collusion hoax. As of this writing Inspector General John Durham ranges far and wide across the globe gathering evidence. His report is said to be, so far, the size of a phonebook.
Already Trump is out on the campaign trail. In September Trump spoke to a packed stadium in Fayetteville, North Carolina the night before two special House elections. In a long, rambling pep-talk Trump defended his record, savaged he Democrats and declared, ‘With your support, tomorrow we take the first steps to firing Speaker Pelosi and winning back the House.’ The next day both Republican candidates won their races, one in a landslide, the other by a mere two points. Trump almost certainly dragged the latter candidate across the finish line. Last weekend he filled an arena in Lake Charles Louisiana for that state’s ‘jungle primary’ against Democrat incumbent governor John Bel Edwards. The end result was Edwards got only 46.6 percent of the vote, forcing a November runoff against Republican Eddie Rispone. Locally the GOP wiped out the Democrats, and won a super majority in the Louisiana state senate.
North Carolina and Louisiana are states Trump won in 2016. But he is also campaigning in states won by Hillary Clinton. In September Trump held a rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, a state with a large Hispanic population. Trump won 29% in the Hispanic vote in 2016, beating Romney by two points, actually. Increasing Trump’s share of the Hispanic vote is a top priority in 2020. At Rio Rancho he slammed the Democrats and touted the benefits of his economic record to New Mexico and Hispanics. Trump’s biggest target is Minnesota, which he lost by a mere point or 45,000 votes. Minnesota is also home to Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the members of the Squad of leftist House members. Trump hopes to use Omar as a foil to turn Minnesota red and flip several of the state’s congressional districts. The GOP only needs to capture eighteen seats to retake the House of Representatives. The Trump campaign is opening up field offices and hiring campaign workers in both states.
In a contentious meeting at the White House this week, Nancy Pelosi told the president that she wished Trump were a politician. The truly gifted politicians have coattails, their victories win races down ticket. So far this year Trump has shown he can do that. In campaign 2020, Trump will be the Republican Party’s greatest weapon.