ANALYSIS | Donald Trump’s rally Monday night in New Mexico was billed as an opportunity for the president to try expanding his base and flip a state he lost in 2016. But his message — again — offered little new to moderate swing voters.
Trump’s Rio Rancho campaign stop was calculated, with his campaign looking to flip a small handful of states won in 2016 by Hillary Clinton; she won New Mexico by 8.3 percentage points. It was the second state she won to which he has traveled to headline a rally this year; he was in New Hampshire last month. Collectively, there are nine Electoral College votes between the two states.
But the “America first” president did not unveil any new policy ideas or soften his rhetoric in an attempt to attract moderate voters who went for Clinton last time. Instead, he spent most of the night expressing his typical message which, polls suggest, turns off those very voters — especially in suburban areas in which Republican congressional candidates took big losses in the 2018 midterms.
“Our scarce resources are in danger of being rapidly depleted to the point that we will be unable to effectively care for our own citizens, you and our existing homeless populations, many of whom are American veterans, right, so Democrats put illegal aliens before American citizens,” Trump declared.
“Every American citizen deserves a government that defends your jobs, your safety, your family and is always loyal to you,” he said. “Your politicians have not been loyal to you. They’ve been loyal to themselves. The Democrats are also trying to turn every city in America into a sanctuary for criminals.”
Here are three takeaways from Trump’s Monday night rally.
Political strategists on both sides of the aisle say Trump has done very little to broaden his political base since taking office. However, he made an effort to woo Latino voters Monday night.
Latino voters nationwide came out in larger numbers in 2018, with 40 percent of the group’s eligible voters heading to the polls, according to the Pew Research Center. That was nearly double the amount in 2014. To win a border state like New Mexico, Trump will need to bring a big number of Latino voters into his camp.
“Republicans believe that we must take care of our own citizens. … That includes millions of hardworking, lawful immigrants who waited in line, followed the rules and came into our country legally,” he told supporters in Rio Rancho, some of whom were positioned behind him displaying “Latinos for Trump” signs.
He lauded “Hispanic-Americans who obey our laws, pay their taxes, contribute to our communities and play by the rules.”
But there was a cringe-worthy moment that might have offended some Latino voters.
Trump questioned how CNN personality Steve Cortes could be Hispanic, and appeared to suggest he looks more Anglo-Saxon.
“He happens to be Hispanic, but I never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do,” Trump said, looking Cortes’ way and addressing him directly: “Who do you love more, the country or Hispanics? I don’t know. I may have to go for the Hispanics, to be honest with you. We got a lot of Hispanics.”
Privately, Trump’s aides acknowledge the 2020 race is shaping up to be a tight one. They concede polling data in Rust Belt and Midwest states Trump won last time — like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — suggest he has lost ground there.
But, like their boss, they often note polls in 2016 were inaccurate. And they suspect the same is the case with 2020 polls showing Trump trailing a handful of potential Democratic nominees.
States such as New Hampshire and New Mexico are part of the campaign’s strategy of piecing as much of the 2016 Electoral map back together while also trying to buy insurance policies in several possibly flippable states.
The president on Monday night read a list of statistics that painted New Mexico’s economy as something of a powerhouse where workers’ wages are rising fast. And his not-so-veiled message was this: Voters there should reward him on Election Day.
“You’re doing better than any state in the United States. How do I lose New Mexico? Explain that one right?” Trump mused. “How do we lose that one? And yet, for whatever reason, it’s been quite a while, since the Republican won this state.”
He’s right. The last GOP incumbent or nominee who carried the “Land of Enchantment” was then-President George W. Bush, who narrowly defeated Democrat John Kerry by the razor-thin margin of 49.8 percent to 49 percent.
“But we’re going to win the state, I think,” the ever-defiant Trump predicted. “We’re going to win the state.”
We are all united by the same love of Country, the same devotion to family, and the same profound faith that America is blessed by the eternal grace of ALMIGHTY GOD!
Bound by these convictions, we will campaign for every vote & we will WIN the Great State of NEW MEXICO in 2020! pic.twitter.com/BV5Wxs5GxE
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2019
Ain’t seen nothing yet
Sure, Trump’s rallies are still raucous. And the president is correct that he draws large crowds, something that clearly matters to him — and that he and his team contend show his base is more energized than the other side, which strategists say could be the difference in a base-turnout election.
Big crowd expected in New Mexico tonight, where we will WIN. Your Border Wall is getting stronger each and every day — see you in a few hours! https://t.co/uuG2gu0tTg
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2019
But the president hasn’t really fired up his reelection machine.
The former reality television star’s tenure has been rocky, but he has proven himself adept at dominating news cycles and generating buzz. He suggested Monday night that he is still a way off from campaigning in earnest. He told his supporters about a conversation he had with his reelection campaign team.
“I don’t want to do this too early,” he said, before turning to his derisive nickname for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has shot up the polls in the race for the Democratic nomination. “You know the Pocahontas thing? I did that it was before it’s time.”
Perhaps that’s why he didn’t mention Warren again, or the other Democratic frontrunners — former Vice President Joe Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. For once, the impulsive Trump is playing the long game.