President Donald Trump has serious slogan issues going into the 2020 election. His 2016 campaign promise “Make America Great Again” has become a rallying cry for conservatives who harken back to the old ways of doing things. Keeping the slogan around makes things difficult for a man who has been leading America for over two years. It leads into a problem with his second 2020 slogan, “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” If Trump continues running on “Make America Great Again,” isn’t that admitting he didn’t make America great in his first four years? That could be his most significant problem promise to his voters.
A piece in the Los Angeles Times walks through the complicated messaging Trump faces as he heads into his second election.
“Do I go with ‘Make America Great Again?’ Or do I go with ‘Keep America Great?’” Trump asked Republicans at a black-tie fundraiser this month. He wandered aimlessly through an 88-minute speech.
Trump twice asked the audience to clap for the slogan they liked. They seemed to be split.
“It’s hard. It’s the greatest theme in the history of American politics,” Trump said. “How do you give that up for a new one?”
During an interview, George W. Bush’s former strategist Karl Rove explained that Trump won because he was “the candidate of change,” precisely like President Barack Obama was in 2008. Running on change the second time around doesn’t make sense when you’re the incumbent. Then again, neither Trump nor his supporters are known for their nuance.
“Given that a majority of people today think the country is off on the wrong track, it will be difficult for him to win reelection if the message is just, ‘Look, I put us all in the right place.’ He has to both describe his next chapter of changes for the country while disqualifying his opponent as the wrong kind of change,” Rove explained.
In 2016, Trump’s campaign was a scrappy team of those close to him. Today it’s located in a highrise building overlooking Washington, D.C. Nothing could be more “Beltway.” Yet, somehow, he must find a way to convince his supporters he’s still a Washington outsider.
“The difference this time is that we have a lot of professionals, a lot more resources,” Jared Kushner said at the Time 100 symposium. “As long as the president is able to keep delivering on his promises of keeping the economy strong and keeping us safe, I think there’s a lot of people in this country who are very appreciative of the sacrifices he’s making to do the job he does and are very pleased.”
Keeping his promises, however, runs in conflict with the facts. While that’s never stopped Trump in the past, Americans aren’t dumb enough to see a wall where none exists. After a Republican tax bill left many paying more in taxes in 2019 and the president’s 2020 budget shows enormous cuts to Social Security and Medicare, some voters might be questioning their loyalties.
“He’s going to have to engage in some verbal gymnastics to be reelected on a message promising to make the country as great as it was before he was elected president,” said NYU presidential historian Tim Naftali. But, “if you inhabit his special reality, you do not see the dissonance or inconsistencies.”
According to former Obama strategist Dan Pfeiffer, Trump’s biggest problem will be explaining to his supporters why he governed as a corporatist after promising to be a populist.
During his “Pod Save America” cast, Pfeiffer said Democrats must “pierce that image of [Trump] as a working-class champion.” He encouraged them to point to the “massive corporate tax cut paid for by jacking health premiums and trying to cut Medicare.”
“There is an ample body of evidence to make a case against Trump,” he said. “We just have to do it.”