Why did Donald Trump choose Orlando, near Disney World, for his campaign kickoff Tuesday night? Because he appears to be living in a fantasy land.
Trump reached the White House by promising a border wall, a national industrial policy and a restrained foreign policy. He has delivered near none of those things, but the Mickey Mouse president is running for re-election anyway.
Trump repeated some familiar cartoons on Tuesday, ridiculing Hillary Clinton a mere three years after defeating her. But it was a night for the hits. He also served up an old slapstick favorite, claiming that the media deflate his crowd sizes. The New York Times confirmed the number in attendance to be north of 20,000. Trump’s goofy claim that there were ‘over 100,000 requests’ to get in remains unconfirmed. Inexplicably, Trump missed the opportunity to mention that other fixture of Disney World and Trump’s daydreams: Pocahontas.
Trump runs the presidency like one big family. The Washington branch of the Mickey Mouse Club was out in force on Tuesday night. Donald Trump, Jr., was the emcee of sorts — it really is a small, small world,
‘You can’t just hire your children,’ conservative firebrand Ann Coulter told Trump when he was president-elect. Yes, he can. Vice President Mickey Pence played the Donald Duck to the Donald’s Mickey.
President Trump has made a bet with his campaign commander, Brad Parscale, who happens to be a lieutenant of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump wagers that he presides over full employment, has delivered criminal justice reform and a tax cut, and has at his disposal a majority that fears the Left.
‘Our country is doing great, far beyond what the haters and losers thought possible — and it will only get better!’, Trump promised.
‘It’s all bluster,’ a former senior administration official told me Wednesday. ‘And Trump laps it up.’
Parscale, furiously rubbing his lamp like Aladdin, believes this hot-air strategy can drastically expand Trump’s 2016 map, or at least grow it. Parscale told CBS this week he is ‘comfortable’ that Trump will hold the Midwestern states that delivered him the presidency and added, ‘I think we add New Hampshire, we add New Mexico, and we add Nevada if it was today.’
As I’ve reported, the Trump team’s tack to the Sun Belt is thin gruel — happy talk to cover for deep internal anxieties about the president’s chances of wedging his foot back into the glass slipper in 2020. Many are discreetly worried that the Trump team’s carriage is about to turn back into a pumpkin.
‘Twenty-five percent,’ a campaign official told me earlier this month on Trump’s re-election chances.
’Twenty percent,’ added another.
’Ten percent,’ added a top employee at Fox News.
People are taking notice. ‘If you’re not going to build a wall (that Mexico pays for) or drain the swamp, Keep America Great is a better fit than Make America Great Again,’ said Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group, scaling back Trump’s re-election slogan.
Trump’s savvier Democratic rivals also commented on the bizarre approach. ‘KAG really doesn’t have the same ring as MAGA in my opinion,’ said Andrew Yang.
‘Listening to Trump made me think he is a man very much living in a parallel universe,’ said Bernie Sanders. He should know.
There are three ways this plays out going forward.
The first scenario is that Parscale is right, and I’m wrong. Trump will be able to transition his political profile from populist pugilist to moderate steward of the economy, albeit one who still talks a lot of smack. Tax cuts and prison reform will make Trump a country-club Republican, the type not immediately rejected by Colorado, New Mexico, or my father. Trump will have gone from traitor to his class to traitor to his cause, but it won’t matter. His re-election will look like Bush 2004: rally around the flag, rally against the Left, and let the good times roll. And it will work.
‘The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,’ former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told The Weekly Standard upon leaving the administration two summers ago. ‘It’ll be something else.’
The second scenario is the inverse. If Americans want a moderate steward of the economy, they’ll pick Joe Biden, thank you very much, even though they’ll thank Trump for never getting around to that border wall. Trump will be the new Mitt Romney. He’ll lose politely in the Sun Belt and surrender the Rust Belt. He may even up his popular vote count, while dropping the electoral college. More likely, though, is that polls — including internal polls from Trump’s campaign that the president has now banished — will be proved right. Quinnipiac found Biden up 13 points nationally on the 45th president. Trump could be demolished. And his campaign cult will have drank the jungle juice.
The third scenario is perhaps most likely. Trump is the Steve Jobs of politics. Like Jobs, he re-invented his field. But Trump shares the late Apple founder’s remarkable capacity for ‘reality distortion’. Still, Trump has proved time and again he’s nothing if not nimble and, like Jobs, constantly re-inventive. He knows when he’s truly struggling, as shown by his unprecedented willingness to shake up his staff. Trump had three campaign chiefs in 2016. A late pivot to Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, favorites of the influential Mercer family, won him the election. Alexander Nazaryan, referring to conversations with the president, suggests that Trump could eventually hire Bannon again. The question, then, under this scenario is: how long can this current charade even last?
Then again, they said that when Disney World opened, too.