Trump, out­sider-turned-in­sider, sells self as rebel for 2020

The Saline Courier - - NEWS - As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump cap­tured the Repub­li­can Party and then the pres­i­dency in 2016 as an in­sur­gent in­tent on dis­rupt­ing the sta­tus quo. As he mounts his bid for re­elec­tion, Trump is of­fer­ing him­self as the out­sider once again — but it’s a much more awk­ward pitch to make from in­side the Oval Of­fice.

Trump is set to for­mally an­nounce his 2020 bid on Tues­day at a rally in Or­lando, Florida, where ad­vis­ers said he aims to con­nect the dots between the prom­ise of his dis­rup­tive first-time can­di­dacy and his goals for an­other term in the White House. His prom­ises to rock the ship of state are now more than an ab­stract pledge, though, com­pli­cated by his tu­mul­tuous 29 months at its helm.

Any pres­i­dent is in­her­ently an in­sider. Trump has worked in the Oval Of­fice for two years, trav­els the skies in Air Force One and changes the course of his­tory with the stroke of a pen or the post of a tweet.

“We’re tak­ing on the failed po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment and restor­ing gov­ern­ment of, by and for the peo­ple,” Trump said in a video re­leased by his cam­paign Mon­day to mark his re­launch. “It’s the peo­ple, you’re the peo­ple, you won the elec­tion.”

That pop­ulist clar­ion was a cen­tral theme of his maiden po­lit­i­cal ad­ven­ture, as the busi­ness­man­turned-can­di­date suc­cess­fully ap­pealed to dis­af­fected vot­ers who felt left be­hind by eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tion and de­mo­graphic shifts. And he has no in­ten­tion of aban­don­ing it, even if he is the face of the in­sti­tu­tions he looks to dis­rupt.

He un­der­scored that on the eve of the Or­lando rally, re­turn­ing to the hard­line im­mi­gra­tion themes of his first cam­paign by tweet­ing that “Next week ICE will be­gin the process of re­mov­ing the mil­lions of il­le­gal aliens who have il­lic­itly found their way into the United States.” That prom­ise, which came with no de­tails and sparked Demo­cratic con­dem­na­tion, seemed to of­fer a peek into a cam­paign that will largely be fought along the same lines as his first bid, with very lit­tle new pol­icy pro­pos­als for a sec­ond term.

Those in­volved in the pres­i­dent’s re­elec­tion ef­fort be­lieve that his brash ver­sion of pop­ulism, com­bined with his mantra to “Drain the Swamp,” still res­onates, de­spite his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cozy ties with lob­by­ists and cor­po­ra­tions and the Trump fam­ily’s ap­par­ent ef­forts to profit off the pres­i­dency.

“He’s still not viewed as a politi­cian,” said Ja­son Miller, Trump’s 2016 se­nior com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­viser. “Vot­ers don’t de­fine him by the party la­bel, they de­fine him by his poli­cies and his mes­sage of shak­ing up the sta­tus quo in Wash­ing­ton. That’s the big­gest rea­son he was able to win blue states in 2016.”

Democrats, though, pre­dict Trump won’t be able to get away with the out­sider branding.

“How can you say: For­get about the last two years, he is an out­sider, he is bash­ing down doors,” said Karine Jean­pierre, a for­mer se­nior Obama cam­paign of­fi­cial now at Moveon.org. “Peo­ple’s lives are harder be­cause of what he has done as pres­i­dent. Vot­ers are pay­ing their at­ten­tion and are not go­ing to buy it.”

Re­pub­li­cans work­ing with the Trump cam­paign but not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about in­ter­nal con­ver­sa­tions said cam­paign ad­vis­ers be­lieve that Trump is still perceived as a busi­ness­man and point to his clashes with the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment — in­clud­ing Congress, the so­called Deep State and mem­bers of his own party — as proof that he is still an out­sider rather than a crea­ture of the Belt­way. Help­ing fur­ther that im­age, Trump ad­vis­ers be­lieve, is that his main Demo­cratic foils are all ca­reer politi­cians: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and, yes, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“He promised that he’d go to Wash­ing­ton and shake things up, and he cer­tainly has,” said Trump cam­paign man­ager Tim Murtaugh.

Still, it’s not as though Trump is run­ning from Wash­ing­ton. If any­thing, he’s wrap­ping him­self in the trap­pings and au­thor­i­ties of his of­fice. Last week, Trump granted be­hind-the-scenes ac­cess to his limou­sine, Ma­rine One he­li­copter and Air Force One for an hour­long ABC News spe­cial meant to high­light the sin­gu­lar ad­van­tage he has over his ri­vals — that he al­ready has the job they want.

And Trump is ea­ger to use the power of the of­fice to fur­ther his case for re­elec­tion. Last month in Louisiana, he promised vot­ers a new bridge if he wins, and in the piv­otal Florida Pan­han­dle, he pledged new dis­as­ter re­lief money would flow in a sec­ond Trump term.

Trump ad­vis­ers also point to his pop­u­lar­ity among white work­ing­class vot­ers, who con­sider them­selves “for­got­ten Amer­i­cans” left be­hind and mocked by elite in­sid­ers. For those vot­ers, many of whom in 2016 cast their first bal­lots in decades, Trump re­mains the em­bod­i­ment of their out­sider grievances, their anger stoked by his clashes with po­lit­i­cal foes and the rest of gov­ern­ment (even when his party con­trols it).

Ad­vis­ers be­lieve that, in an age of ex­treme po­lar­iza­tion, many Trump back­ers view their sup­port for the pres­i­dent as part of their iden­tity, one not eas­ily shaken. They point to his seem­ingly un­mov­able sup­port with his base sup­port­ers as ev­i­dence that, de­spite more than two years in of­fice, he is still viewed the same way he was as a can­di­date: the bomb-throw­ing po­lit­i­cal rebel.

Amer­i­cans ac­knowl­edge Trump is a change agent, but they are di­vided in their views of that change. Early this year, a CNN poll found about three­quar­ters of Amer­i­cans say­ing Trump has cre­ated sig­nif­i­cant changes in the coun­try, and they split about evenly between calling it change for the bet­ter and change for the worse. More re­cently, a March poll from CNN showed 42% of Amer­i­cans think Trump can bring the kind of change the coun­try needs.

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