If Americans learned anything from the election results in the presidential campaign in 2016, it was this: The polls were wrong. Donald Trump’s stunning victory in November 2016 left many Republicans and Democrats around the country in a state of utter disbelief. His highly-charged rhetoric and America First agenda, coupled with voters’ resentment of do-nothing politicians, resonated with millions of Americans and emboldened them to catapult a political outsider into office.
Now, almost four years later, the polls in the 2020 presidential contest suggest a landslide win for Joe Biden. This headline is simply wrong. And although there are many parallels to the 2016 race that offer evidence to this fact, the best proof is offered by Joe Biden’s own campaign manager, Jennifer Dillon. She recently suggested the races in battleground states are “neck and neck” and Mr. Biden’s lead overall is “inflated.” Surely, the underlying message is a call for Democrats to prevent complacency. And who could blame them? The Democrats learned a valuable but painful lesson in 2016 — don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
The path to victory for President Trump in 2020 over the next 10 days is remarkably similar to 2016. It will require a more focused and intense combination of his signature brashness and authenticity, balanced with solid policy promises that he can use to energize and persuade the specific voting blocs he needs to beat Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump has two important and critical ingredients that Mr. Biden does not: the power of incumbency and a resilient and recovering economy. If Mr. Trump can harness these two advantages and weave them into his campaign strategy for the next 10 days, he will win. So what must Mr. Trump do to surprise the world again this November?
First, the president must focus his attention and energy on promoting his economic vision for America. In 2020, the economy is the most important issue to voters, as in almost all presidential elections. Mr. Trump must present his best case for why Americans should continue to trust him with the economy in a second term. Despite a global pandemic, he has built one of the strongest and most vibrant economies in U.S. history. Stock markets hit all-time highs this year.
The economic data from the third-quarter GDP growth is predicted to be strong at 25%-35%. The positive economic rebound and growth is Mr. Trump’s strongest message and endorsement. During the last two weeks of the campaign, the president should blanket every key battleground state with a message of economic optimism and strength.
Second, the president needs to continue to do as many rallies as possible every day. He is at his best when he is campaigning in states directly among the people. His raucous and rock-concert like rallies galvanize his base against liberal policies. No scripts, no rules, this is where the president draws his energy. The rallies still serve two key purposes. They intensify the support of his base. He is going to need every vote he can secure to off-set the surge in Democrat votes by mail-in ballots and newly registered voters. His rallies will help motivate voters to do that.
Also, the rallies give the president his platform to communicate targeted and unfiltered messages to voters throughout America. Every rally the president schedules is a reminder of his authenticity and why his messages resonate with voters. The rallies are not just for people in attendance – they reach millions of Americans every time he does them through television and social media. It is and remains a powerful weapon in his campaign arsenal.
Third, the president’s campaign team needs to return to two key pillars used in his 2016 election victory: digital advertising and a strong “ground game” that must turn out voters. In 2016, our campaign struggled with the latter because we neither had the physical nor financial resources to compete effectively. Now, after the last three years, the president’s campaign team has a formidable ground game that has continued to increase early voting and new voter registrations despite the challenges caused by the pandemic. President Trump’s 2016 wins in North Carolina and Florida were a direct result of aggressive early voting campaigns.
While Mr. Biden believes his path to victory lies through traditional television advertising, Mr. Trump must aggressively push out digital ads. The art of targeting voters using specific and personal data to send out rapid, short and highly focused ads is largely why Mr. Trump won in 2016. His ability to blanket states with authentic messages was highly effective. He reached tens of millions of voters more frequently and at a substantially reduced cost than that of traditional television advertising. Team Trump must win the digital battle if it wants to win the election. There is no amount of resources too small to throw at this effort.
Mr. Trump’s path to victory at this moment is very real. The Biden camp is cautiously worried, and they should be. There is a pointed expression in politics particularly during a presidential cycle. A day in a political campaign is like an eternity. Anything that can happen usually will and does happen. With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, Americans have no better idea of what to expect today in this political race than they did yesterday. In the end, just as the 2016 election showed us all, the real power rests with the American voter. Each of us has a voice in this race. We should all exercise that privilege and right to participate in this consequential election.
• Rick Gates is the former deputy campaign manager for Donald Trump, and is the author of “Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost.”
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