Read: Trump is kicking off his reelection campaign 29 days into his presidency
The president continued to host sporadic campaign-style rallies over the next year. Then, in March 2018, while House Republicans were scrambling to hold back a Democratic wave, Trump decided to pitch in for the effort by … announcing his new slogan for the 2020 race. Only it was the same slogan he’d previewed to the Post in January 2017. (This did not prevent the media from dutifully reporting he had unveiled a new slogan.)
Two months later, in May 2018, Trump once again presented the slogan as a brand-new reveal. “By the way, this is the first, for Indiana,” he said. “Our new slogan for 2020. You know what it is? ‘Keep America Great.’ Because we’re doing so well that in another two years, when we start the heavy campaign, ‘Make America Great Again’ wouldn’t work out too well.” Reporters once again gave him credit for novelty. Six months later, Trump’s allies were whomped at the polls. Meanwhile, his reelection campaign has rolled on, with Orlando its latest stop.
When Trump went to Florida in February 2017, I identified the rally as an example of the “permanent campaign”—a notion dating to the 1980s and since ensconced, in which officeholders maintain some of the methods and tactics of the campaign while remaining in office, from rallies to poll testing. It’s a staple for every president now. Bill Clinton, the president most associated with the permanent campaign, had the earliest “official” launch in recent memory, according to NPR—but Trump will edge him by three days.
But labeling Trump’s rally a part of the permanent campaign turned out not to be prescient so much as an egregious understatement. The point of a campaign launch used to be to signal that the period of governing—of passing legislation and enacting policy—was largely wrapping up, and that the focus would shift back to electoral politics. In the permanent-campaign paradigm, a president would run a policy track and a politics track in parallel.
Read: ‘Keep America Great’ and the power of the small lie
Trump has fully unified them. He can’t turn back to campaigning from governing, because he never really bothered to start governing in the first place. With the exception of cutting taxes and especially building a wall on the Mexican border, he’s never shown much interest in learning how the levers of power work or in using them. Whereas Barack Obama held rallies in early 2009 to support the passage of his health-care bill, Trump held rallies in early 2017 for the purpose of being reelected nearly four years later.
The problem with skating from crisis to crisis with few accomplishments to show for it is that eventually the public becomes fatigued. There are signs of growing public boredom with Trump. A newsy, blockbuster interview with George Stephanopoulos this past weekend drew disappointing ratings. The New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger has noted declining reader interest in political news. The president’s outlandish remarks generally make a smaller splash than they once did. He seems to have tried to compensate for that by tweeting more, but the result is something like inflation in a market flooded with currency: Every tweet is less valuable.