Don’t vote? The Trump campaign would like a word with you
Ashley Arentz is a political unicorn.
The 28-year-old Marine from Jacksonville, North Carolina, didn’t vote in 2016, and she wasn’t even registered to vote in the state. But there she was on Monday, standing in line for hours in the 90degree heat waiting to enter President Donald Trump’s rally in Fayetteville. That made her a golden target for the volunteers in day-glow yellow T-shirts working to register new voters.
Arentz said she likes the president because he’s “just being straightforward.”
She filled out a registration form on the spot.
Less than 14 months before Election Day, the president’s team is banking his reelection hopes on identifying and bringing to the polls hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters such as Arentz — people in closely contested states who didn’t vote in 2016. The campaign is betting that it may be easier to make voters out of these electoral rarities than to win over millions of Trump skeptics in the center of the electorate.
It’s a risky wager borne of political necessity, and helps explain Trump’s provocative communications strategy, from his attacks on the media to his racially polarizing rhetoric. Trump, aides and allies say, knows he needs to fire up his supporters, and anger is a powerful motivator.
“People trying to persuade swing voters are probably wasting their time because nearly all voters have already put their jersey on,” said GOP strategist Chris Wilson. “Trump needs to bring more of his fans onto the field.”
Tens of millions of Americans choose not to vote in federal races every two years. The president’s campaign is determined to turn out the Trump supporters among them. It views them as an untapped stash of Republican support that can help him overcome stubbornly low poll numbers and his difficulties in winning over voters in the shrinking political center.
“There’s a new math spurred by a new candidate at the top of his ticket,” Trump campaign senior political adviser Bill Stepien told reporters. “And I think we need to throw out the old way we look at how elections are won and lost.”
That’s not to say reaching them or getting them to vote for Trump will be easy.
The surest predictor for whether someone will vote in the future is whether that person has voted in the past. This political truism has long informed campaign strategies.
Still, attempting to shape the electorate is nothing new.
Barack Obama’s campaign in 2012 shocked Republican opponents when it attracted Democrats who didn’t vote in 2008. George W. Bush’s campaign relied on the same tactic in 2004. But both campaigns tried to expand their bases while also focusing on trying to claim more voters in the center.
“The strategy was never one of simply looking at identifying red Republicans and getting them out to vote,” said Karl Rove, Bush’s strategist. “It was also a campaign of addition and persuasion.”
Trump’s gamble comes in deemphasizing the persuasion game as it focuses on boosting turnout.
The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have held events geared at reversing an erosion of support for the GOP among women and Latinos. But the central message of the campaign — as delivered by Trump, its de facto chief strategist and spokesman — is targeted at those who already support him.
At campaign rallies such as the one in North Carolina, the Trump campaign, the RNC and an authorized super political action committee work the long lines outside to register voters.
At a February rally in El Paso, Texas, the Trump campaign says, two-thirds of registrants had voted in two or fewer of the previous four federal elections. Before a June rally in Orlando, a geo-targeted digital campaign by a Trump super PAC directed about 3,000 people to the state’s voter registration website.