Take, for example, the question of money. Here’s an announcement Trump’s campaign manager made Monday:
Every campaign likes to tout its fundraising success, and that is indeed an impressive haul for one day. But here’s the inescapable reality of fundraising in 2020: Trump will vastly outspend Joe Biden and not get much for all his money.
In fact, as of April 30, the Trump campaign had already spent an incredible $172 million; affiliated outside groups had spent another $36 million on his behalf. And what did they get for it? The consultants are certainly getting rich, but Trump trails Biden by an average of eight points in polls, and his approval ratings are falling.
And if anyone should understand the limits of a fundraising advantage, it’s Trump. Hillary Clinton spent nearly twice as much as he did in 2016, and we saw how that turned out.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is so determined to convince everyone that he’s headed for victory that they’re having their lawyers write cease-and-desist demands to news organizations that publish polls showing Biden widening his lead.
It seems the Trump reelection campaign has come to share the philosophy he lives by, which is that repeated and loud predictions of success, no matter how absurd they might sound, can transform perception into reality.
Throughout his life, Trump has believed firmly in the power of projecting confidence. Growing up, his family attended the church of Norman Vincent Peale, whose bestseller “The Power of Positive Thinking” counseled readers to “Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.”
Despite all the signals of danger — weak poll numbers, a mismanaged pandemic, an economic disaster — Trump supporters have stamped in their mind a mental picture of Trump succeeding, and they are holding it tenaciously. As Politico reports, local Republican officials are brimming with confidence:
“The more bad things happen in the country, it just solidifies support for Trump,” said Phillip Stephens, GOP chairman in Robeson County, N.C., one of several rural counties in that swing state that shifted from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. “We’re calling him ‘Teflon Trump.’ Nothing’s going to stick, because if anything, it’s getting more exciting than it was in 2016.”This year, Stephens said, “We’re thinking landslide.”
Will Trump win all 50 states, or merely 45 or so? It’s a bit early to say.
Campaigns can be a bit schizophrenic on this score; one day they’ll be loudly predicting victory, and the next they’ll send you an email urgently pleading that if you don’t contribute $25 by midnight, they’ll probably have to concede right now, so dire is their situation.
But overconfidence is always a danger, particularly because from the candidate on down, everyone involved spends a lot of time talking to people (donors, supporters, reporters) about how everything is going great and triumph is assured. Do that day in and day out, and you almost inevitably wind up convincing yourself as well.
And maintaining the perfect balance is difficult. You want your supporters to be afraid enough of defeat that they work their hearts out to stave it off, but not so afraid that they conclude there’s no point in trying.
But Trump has trained his people well, from his employees all the way down to his rank-and-file supporters. They know the immediate response to any bad news — say, a poll showing him trailing Biden by 10 points — is to shout “Fake news!” and banish it from their minds. And they know Trump’s improbable victory in 2016 was the result not of a remarkable confluence of circumstances but of Trump’s brilliance, which if anything shines brighter today than it did then.
Just to be clear, in no way am I saying this election is anything close to over. There are 4½ months to go, and there will be twists and turns along the way. Things could change radically. Biden has a long history of stumbles and mistakes on the campaign trail. Someone could find a cure for covid-19 tomorrow. Anything is possible.
But one can’t help but wonder how long Trump’s advocates and supporters can keep telling themselves that not only is he going to win, but it’s going to be a blowout. It must be awfully tiring.