Once again, Trump complained about reports that his inaugural crowd was small. Aides tell him that “nobody cares,” Trump told the CPAC crowd. “But I care,” he said.
There were already signs heading into the 2020 race that key voting blocs were disenchanted with Trump’s act. Democrats regained the House in part by making inroads with suburban voters in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other battleground states.
Read: Tuesday showed the drawbacks of Trump’s electoral bargain
Sarah Chamberlain is head of the Republican Main Street Partnership, made up of dozens of Republican members of Congress. Last month, she took part in a discussion with suburban women living in South Carolina. One takeaway, she said, was that while the women generally liked Trump’s policies, they objected to his rhetoric, in particular his criticism of McCain. “I would ask him to tone it down,” Chamberlain said. “Whether you like him or not, he [McCain] has gone to rest. His family is in mourning. He has a widow. He has children. Let him be at peace.”
Sherrie Gibson, a former vice chairwoman of Colorado’s Republican Party, said that the GOP has lost ground in suburban districts, and that the White House might consider sending the president’s daughter Ivanka on the campaign trail to help bring back disaffected women voters. “We need to focus on the positive outcomes that he’s had versus the tweets and some of the stuff that the media gets riled up about,” Gibson said.
Other parts of Trump’s coalition appear to be unmoved by the president’s tone. Evangelical Christians may not like the name-calling, but they’re pleased to have a champion in the White House, Reed said. “Some of Trump’s insults and attacks on his critics may offend the evangelical sensibility. But for too long, evangelicals saw their leaders smeared, caricatured, and called every name in the book,” he said. “So part of them feels their team has been playing by Marquis of Queensberry rules, and therefore losing.”
Explaining Trump’s anger, past and present White House aides said he was unnerved by the Mueller investigation. He needs space and time to vent, and rallies provide a kind of cathartic release, they said.
Inside Trump’s reelection campaign, aides see value in the rallies. It’s not just core Trump voters who are showing up, they said. At a rally in El Paso, Texas, in February, half the crowd consisted of new or sporadic voters, said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director.
“We’re talking about attracting new voters, not just about energizing the base,” Murtaugh said.
With the probe now over, Trump has a chance for a reset. There’s a viable path if he wants to seize it. He could open talks with Democrats about rebuilding the nation’s aging roads and bridges. Let go of the grievances that suffuse so many of his tweets and public statements. Rededicate himself to the 2016 campaign themes that attracted even some of Obama’s voters.