Is Trump Transforming Midterms With Arena-Size Rallies?

Is Trump Transforming Midterms With Arena-Size Rallies?
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Is Trump Transforming Midterms With Arena-Size Rallies?
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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One of the new dynamics in this midterm election is President Trump reprising the rallies that helped fuel his victory in 2016. While it’s common for presidents to campaign during midterms, arena-size crowds at rallies all over the country is a new phenomenon, and these events have proven to be a powerful way to communicate with, and excite, base voters.

The big question, however, is whether Trump’s supporters will turn out on Nov. 6, because it’s one thing to go to an energy-filled rally, another to find time on Election Day to go a polling place and put an X beside a candidate that isn’t nearly as motivational as the president.    

In 2016, Trump had the ability to fill arenas in multiple states on the same day, but some in the media played down the importance of rallies even after he won the election.  In response, White House aide Kellyanne Conway said in a post-election analysis: “The size of rallies matters.”   Recently, the president echoed that point in a tweet:

Trump isn’t alone in this assessment. “If people stand out in the rain and sun for hours, camp out overnight and take off work to attend a rally, then they’ll certainly show up to vote,” said Trish Hope, publisher of “Just the Tweets,” a compilation of the president’s first-year tweets.  Hope’s sold more than 4,000 books at rallies, nine of which she has attended in the last month. “What the media misses is that people just want to be part of the Trump movement.  And they are in denial that something big is going on here.”  She added, “The media is going to be more shocked this year on election night than in 2016.” 

 A quick comparison reveals Trump’s appearances have generated much larger crowds than those of prominent Democrats.  In Nevada last weekend, the president hit the campaign trail with a rally in Elko County, which drew 8,500.  Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for Democratic Senate candidate Jackie Rosen in Las Vegas -- before an audience of about 500. Former President Obama was also recently in the state, but only 2,000 people attended his event in the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s 18,000-seat arena.  On Monday, Trump held a rally in Houston where 100,000 people requested tickets even though the Toyota Center there can accommodate just 18,000.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump held a whopping 323 rallies in almost 40 states.  Since his inauguration in 2017, he has held nearly 50 more, with eight to 10 more expected before Election Day. “The rallies motivate the base, create excitement and momentum,” said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster. “Trump needs to get the 63 million voters who supported him in 2016 to turn out for him in the midterms.  If he can do that, then the Republicans will control the House.”

At the Trump rallies, it’s customary now for there to be an overflow space outside for those without tickets.  “Each rally is bigger than the last, and there are never enough seats inside,” said Hope. “Outside has become as much fun as inside.” That area typically features food trucks, bands playing patriotic music, vendors selling Trump swag, and big screen televisions to watch the president’s remarks.

In addition to boosting Senate and congressional candidates, the rallies have given the president an opportunity to skirt -- and answer -- the national media’s often negative coverage.  In addition, a presidential visit to any media market outside of Washington, D.C., and New York is a major news event, and Trump capitalizes on this by typically giving one-on-one interviews to local media outlets before and after the rallies.  Usually, the local media hype the event days before and afterward.  Following Monday’s event, the Houston Chronicle prominently featured reports on the rally and included a top-of-the-fold picture of Trump and Sen Ted Cruz.  

There’s also a subsidiary benefit of these events to the GOP and the president: Trump’s 2020 campaign recently announced that it had raised a $106 million war chest, with 98 percent of it coming from low-dollar donors.  Some of that likely comes from those attending rallies, who provide their email and cellphone information to obtain a ticket.  This creates a useful database for the Trump campaign and is critical to get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day.  Jennifer Kruse, who attended the Houston rally, said she has already “received text messages from the campaign, a robo call from Lara Trump and a reminder to vote early.”

And each person who attends a rally is potentially a force multiplier as they recount the experience to their friends and relatives either directly or through social media.  It’s hard to measure this impact until votes are counted, but the size of the rallies is an indication of something potentially powerful afoot in the 2018 election dynamics. 

Adele Malpass is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She was formerly chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party and money politics reporter for CNBC.



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