Trump launches campaign machine with massive war chest, despite polling lag
Trump downplays latest political battleground surveys; Kevin Corke reports.
When President Trump speaks in front of some 20,000 people Tuesday night at a jam-packed arena in Orlando, he’ll formally kick off his 2020 re-election campaign.
In reality, the president’s bid for a second term in the Oval Office has been underway for as long as Trump’s been in the White House. And compared with his 2016 campaign, the 2020 edition -- thanks to the power of the incumbency and a massive war chest -- is in a whole different (big) league.
Highlighting the enthusiasm on the ground, Trump and his campaign have been tweeting in the run-up about the early-gathering crowds, with some supporters arriving more than 40 hours in advance to secure a spot in the arena.
"Going to be wild - See you later!" Trump tweeted Tuesday morning from Washington.
“Thousands of people are already lined up in Orlando, some two days before tomorrow nights big Rally,” Trump wrote on Twitter late Monday night. “Large Screens and food trucks will be there for those that can’t get into the 25,000 capacity arena. It will be a very exciting evening! Make America Great Again!”
Trump may need all the advantages he enjoys because – at least right now – national and crucial battleground state polls are offering warning signs as he ceremoniously launches his re-election campaign, with several Democratic candidates outpacing him in hypothetical matchups.
But while Tuesday's crowd size will be touted by the president's campaign -- and surely beats the crowds gathering to see his would-be Democratic rivals right now -- there are other numbers that tell the full story of that incumbent's advantage.
One of them is $40.8 million. That’s the unprecedented amount of cash-on-hand the Trump campaign had in its coffers as of the start of the second quarter of fundraising on April 1. While that’s a massive war chest on its own, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, and their joint fundraising committees had a combined $82 million cash-on-hand going into second quarter.
The RNC spotlights that they’re using the money to beef up get-out-the-vote and grassroots efforts across the country.
“The RNC is already investing these donations into our expansive, permanent, data-driven field program to put President Trump and Republicans in prime-position for another historic election night in 2020,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in April.
Another number is 80 – the number of staffers right now on the campaign’s payroll. The campaign tells Fox News those people are spread out between the campaign’s offices in Rosslyn, Virginia – right across the Potomac River from the capital – as well as in the official headquarters in New York City, and some in the field.
But that staff is supplemented and assisted by the RNC’s massive manpower in the nation’s capital and a presence in all 50 states -- to give the Trump campaign resources they could have only dreamed of at this point in the 2016 cycle.
“The 2016 Trump campaign was spur of the moment, seat of the pants, guerilla tactics, and woefully underfunded, and it worked,” noted Steve Duprey, an influential, veteran RNC member from New Hampshire. “The 2020 campaign is extraordinarily well organized, disciplined and well-funded, and is utilizing all of the advantages of the incumbency.”
Trump also has time on his side.
Four years ago at this time in the election cycle, Trump was still considered a longshot for the presidency. The real estate mogul and reality TV star had just declared his candidacy and joined a field of contenders for the GOP nomination that eventually reached 18. What came next was a nasty fist fight between the leading contenders – with Trump emerging in the spring of 2016 as the party’s nominee.
This time around, it’s the Democrats who face a potentially divisive primary – with an historic 23 candidates vying for the nomination. The Trump campaign and the RNC hope to capitalize on the bruising battle as they portray the Democrats as a party moving too far to the left.
Meanwhile Trump – to date – has avoided any serious intra-part threat to his re-nomination – with only former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld launching an extreme longshot GOP primary challenge.
“We’ve got this huge advantage of time and their whole messy primary process is going to -- at the end -- produce a socialist candidate for president,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Fox News last month.
Trump’s 73rd birthday last Friday kicked off a national week of training by the RNC across the country for volunteers and neighborhood organizers. The RNC touted that some 4,400 people are taking part at over 250 training events.
And they highlighted that they planned over 700 watch parties with nearly 12,000 attendees – to watch Trump’s rally in Orlando.
Even with his financial and organizational advantages, however, Trump right now faces a challenging 2020 political climate.
Democrats are energized coming out of the 2018 midterms – when the party recaptured control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years.
The Democratic majority in the House is now aggressively probing the president, his administration and his past business dealings and financial records. Federal court rulings have limited his ability to follow through on many of his campaign promises from 2016, and Trump faces the possibility of impeachment proceedings by the House.
Trump ran in 2016 as an outsider who vowed to “drain the swamp” in the nation’s capital. Making that outsider case again as the incumbent is more difficult.
“It’s real hard as the incumbent to run a campaign as an outsider -- the way he did in 2016,” noted a person close the Trump campaign who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely.
To make matters worse, while the economy seems to be chugging along, Trump doesn’t appear to be getting much of the credit, with his approval rating hovering just below 44 percent.
Not helping – the media spotlight the past couple of days on the Trump campaign’s reported firing of several pollsters after leaked internal polling indicated former Vice President Joe Biden, the clear front-runner right now for the Democratic nomination, with clear leads over Trump in some crucial battleground states.
The Trump campaign put out a full court press to push back against the reporting, explaining that the polls in question were from March.
“The Trump internal campaign data being reported is incomplete and misleading. The old numbers from March being reported represent a worst-case scenario in the most unfavorable turnout model possible,” noted Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio.
And Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, sounding very much like his boss, highlighted that “all news about the President’s polling is completely false. The President’s new polling is extraordinary and his numbers have never been better.”
But that’s not the picture being painted by non-partisan polls – many of which put Biden and some of the other leading Democratic White House hopefuls atop of Trump in hypothetical 2020 general election matchups both nationally and in key battleground states.
Some of the latest evidence – a new national poll from Fox News that showed Biden topping Trump by 10 points and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ahead of the president by 9 points.
As the poll was flashed across the cable news networks on Monday, Trump blasted the numbers.
“Our polls show us leading in all 17 Swing States,” he claimed on Twitter.
Fox News' Alex Pappas contributed to this report.