The week before the 2020 election — with the number of coronavirus infectious surging in many states — President Donald Trump has drawn a great deal of criticism from medical experts for holding a series of large MAGA rallies in which social distancing was nowhere to be found and protective face masks were few and far between. Terms like "superspreader events" and "Petri dish rallies" have been used by more than a few Trump critics. But MAGA rallies, as journalist David Smith explains in an article published in The Guardian on October 30, are a crucial part of Trump's reelection strategy. And Smith argues that the rallies are Trump's "last best hope of clinging to the presidency."
"Opinion polls suggest that Trump could be a dead man walking, hurtling towards a psychologically crushing defeat like one-term President Jimmy Carter against Ronald Reagan in 1980," Smith observes. "Yet on the trail, he continues to project the image of a happy warrior cruising to reelection — regaling big crowds with selective poll numbers, bogus conspiracy theories and his own brand of humor. And his base remains loyal to the end with cheers, merriment and chants of 'Four more years!,' 'Lock him up!' and 'Build that wall!'"
Smith adds, "If Trump does lose next week — and the polls have been wrong before; so, that remains a big 'if' — he will go down with all guns blazing."
Trump, Smith argues, enjoys MAGA rallies more than he enjoys governing.
According to Smith, "Trump has always been in his element campaigning rather than governing. He continued to hold rallies even after winning the 2016 election, throwing out populist red meat and feeding off the energy of fervent crowds. Whereas Washington is difficult and messy, these public events offer simple affirmation. Free from the constraints of the White House, its protocols and its officials, he uses the rallies to indulge in free association riffs and play to the gallery."
Charlie Gerow, a GOP strategist in Pennsylvania, told The Guardian, "The rallies are not the be-all, end-all by any stretch. But they are an important show of strength to rally the base and increase the intensity of those people. Folks who attend a rally go home, talk to friends, talk to neighbors, talk to their family about what happened…. Trump has thousands of little ambassadors going to their little corners of America, and the Biden campaign doesn't have that."
But Tara Setmayer, a senior adviser to the anti-Trump conservative group The Lincoln Project, has nothing good to say about Trump's MAGA events. And Smith notes that to Trump critics like Setmayer, Trump's rallies are "not so much a vaudeville act as the last stand of a demagogue."
Setmayer told The Guardian, "Donald Trump is a salesman. He's been a pitchman con artist his entire life, selling things that are not real, that are not authentic — and convincing people that they are. This is exactly what he's doing with his campaign."