Largely gone as well are major themes of Trump’s speeches during his years in office. He’s not vamping about the “Russia hoax” these days. The impeachment saga makes only a relatively brief appearance. He’s not complaining about the “coup attempt” or the “deep state” much either.
Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: Trump is boring now, and he can’t do anything about it
So what is Trump’s case for reelection?
The argument proceeds as follows—with the important proviso that we are imposing a bit more discipline and organization on it than is obvious in Trump’s speeches themselves:
First, Trump wants voters to support him based not on the current state of the economy—crushed as it is by the coronavirus pandemic—but on how well the economy was doing before the pandemic. Or as he put it in a June speech in Phoenix: “Before the plague came in, we had the best of everything. We had the best interest rates. We had the best employment rates. We had the best job numbers ever.” Having made the economy great prior to the pandemic, he argues, he is the best man to, well, make the economy great again—unlike the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who, Trump says, will “raise your taxes like crazy.”
Second, while declaring that he can help the country recover from “the plague,” Trump also insists that the plague is not really that bad. “I have done a phenomenal job with it,” he told the crowd in Tulsa, trumpeting the limitations his administration imposed in late January on travel from China and ignoring the skyrocketing number of new coronavirus cases in the United States. At the same rally, he suggested that “my people” should “slow the testing down, please,” to keep the number of new cases low. The president seems to believe he may not need to do anything to address the pandemic at all. As The Washington Post reports, he has suggested 19 times since February that the virus might just “go away”—most recently on July 1.
The president’s other themes place him in familiar culture-war territory. In what The New York Times politely describes as an effort to “exploit race and cultural flash points,” Trump has, third, positioned himself against protesters pulling down or defacing statues memorializing the Confederacy or other racist figures or causes. To listen to his rhetoric, the issue isn’t one of a handful of demonstrators but an immense, coordinated effort to blot out American history—though just how remains unclear. “The left-wing mob,” he warned in his Mount Rushmore speech, “is trying to demolish our heritage so they can replace it with a new repressive regime that they alone control.”
Trump thus links statues to a fourth theme: the “unhinged left-wing mob” seeking to “punish, cancel, and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands.” Trump is all in against such repression, calling it at Mount Rushmore “a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.” He promises to stand against this.