Trump's Schedule Has Republicans Seeing Red
Donald Trump’s road show has detoured this month to states with no political value to a Republican nominee in a general election.
The celebrity businessman’s schedule has again raised eyebrows this week, with a rally Tuesday in Austin, Texas, and another Wednesday in Mississippi. Both states have favored Republicans consistently for decades and are expected to land in Trump’s column.
“In Texas we wanted to highlight border security to a larger audience, and in Mississippi we wanted to present Mr. Trump's message to the state and nationally,” said Trump’s spokesman Jason Miller, “which is a sharp contrast to the napping, vacation style that Hillary Clinton is bringing to the campaign trail.”
Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has not exactly been keeping a relaxed schedule, traveling during the first part of this week to California for a two-day fundraising swing. Although she made time Monday to record a segment with Jimmy Kimmel, she did not rally supporters in the firmly Democratic state.
Trump’s campaign has pointed out that most of his rallies in unusual states have been linked to fundraising events scheduled nearby, to maximize the value of his travel. But this tack has bewildered some political professionals, who worry Trump is squandering the campaign’s most valuable resource: the candidate’s time.
“What he’s not realizing is, there’s a cost to everything you do. Every additional rally gives you a chance to create a controversy or make a mistake,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist based in Austin. “I can probably think of eight or 10 things that would be a better use of his time. Debate prep, policy briefings, meetings with staff. Literally, taking a nap would be a better use of his time.”
Trump’s allies have stressed that the candidate is able to amplify his campaign message from his rallies, wherever they may be. Meanwhile, the crowds that a state like Mississippi can draw for Trump project an aura of excitement and momentum around his campaign.
“Having a backdrop in a friendly state is sometimes a good thing as a candidate,” said former Rep. Jack Kingston, a senior adviser to Trump. “Whether he’s in Texas or Virginia, he’s still talking to the entire nation.”
Trump running mate Mike Pence will travel to Kingston’s home state of Georgia later this month to raise money, Kingston said. But should the campaign target Georgia for campaign events? Even as the state has begun to look more like a battleground this month, Kingston isn’t advising it. “I’m telling them not to come to Georgia,” he said. “I don’t think they should come unless it’s for a serious fundraiser.”
Campaign events in deep blue or red states tend to be unusual following the party conventions, which kick off the general election. But such jaunts are not without precedent.
Following the Republican convention in 1980, in early August, Ronald Reagan stopped by the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, where he was greeted by thousands of supporters.
And in late October 1996, Bob Dole staged a campaign rally at Southern Methodist University in Dallas — the latest a Republican nominee has traveled to Texas during a modern general election, the Dallas Morning News reported in advance of Trump’s visit, which is now the second-latest stop.
“Sen. Dole, make no mistake about it. When Texans vote, they’re going to vote for you,” George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, told an energized crowd of Dole’s supporters. “And they’re going to vote for you because Bob Dole understands Texas. He thinks like a Texan, and he’s going to act like a Texan.”
Bush was not wrong: Texas backed Dole. But the victory was not commanding, with Dole besting Bill Clinton by fewer than 300,000 votes, or roughly 5 percent.
Trump’s allies have emphasized that his public events in Texas and Mississippi are not a signal that either state is in play. But the strategy suggests that Trump and his allies still have not fully united or energized Republicans around him.
“We’re not going to lose Mississippi, we’re not going to lose Texas, but at the same time you’re going into those states because you want to energize your base,” former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Trump supporter, told CNN on Tuesday.
Still, Hoekstra predicted Trump’s schedule would soon shift away from deep red or blue states as the calendar turns to fall, with a more traditional focus on battlegrounds.
“Once we get to Labor Day, I expect to see him in ... Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida,” Hoekstra told CNN. “He can’t spend all of his time in those states, but he will spend the vast majority of his time in those kinds of states.”
Since the Republican convention, Trump has traveled to Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina, states that may or unquestionably will be in play come November. He has staged rallies in Ohio and Iowa, also key battleground states. But in the past week, his schedule has been focused on red states, and he canceled events in the battleground states of Colorado and Nevada.
On Tuesday, Trump seemed content to be spending his campaign time in the Lone Star State, which will almost certainly support him. When a protester briefly interrupted Trump’s rally in Austin, the candidate mused, "Is there any place that's better to be or safer to be than a Trump rally right in the heart of Texas?"
Some Republicans, even Trump’s supporters, might have thought of a few places — in Ohio or Florida, perhaps — that would have been better.