It’s safe to say that if most political campaigns had seen its candidate, campaign manager, and more than a dozen associates test positive for COVID-19 within days of each other, they would likely reassess the strategy of holding large, in-person events that could be potential breeding grounds for the highly-infectious and deadly disease.
Not so with the Trump campaign.
While briefly pausing in-person events after President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump disclosed their positive diagnoses on Oct. 2, the campaign announced, just a day later, that “Operation MAGA”—a series of in-person events that the campaign touted as a way to “energize and mobilize the MAGA universe to maintain full speed until the President returns to the campaign trail”—will commence later this week. Trump himself tweeted on Oct. 5, the same day he was discharged from the hospital, that he “will be back on the Campaign Trail soon.”
The Trump campaign’s schedule is already jam-packed. On Oct. 8, Vice President Mike Pence will hold a rally at a tactical gear manufacturing company in Peoria, Ariz. On that same day Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to hold an event at a Holiday Inn in Panama City, Fla., Lara Trump will join Trump campaign advisers Mercedes Schlapp and Katrina Pierson for a “women for Trump bus tour event in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Eric Trump will host two events in North Carolina.
“I expect us to have upwards of fifty folks all around the country,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, “flooding the zone in the battleground states later this week.”
Republican strategists say that one main reason the Trump campaign struggled to pivot after the President’s diagnosis is because its strategy, unlike many other Presidential campaigns in the past, is almost entirely dependent on the man on the top of the ticket. Instead of switching the focus to messaging about specific policy promises or other moves a second-term Trump Administration might embrace, they’re hamstrung by their dependence on Trump’s personal draw as a candidate.
“This campaign relies on the candidate to carry [it] more than most campaigns do,” says Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 016 presidential run. “It’s clearly not helpful to not have the candidate traveling the country in the final weeks of the election.”
But the Trump campaign’s decision to stick to the current strategy carries its own risks. Trump is trailing Biden in the polls by double digits, and a CNN poll released on Oct. 5 found that two thirds of Americans thought he handled the risk of coronavirus irresponsibly. It’s unlikely that continuing to hold in-person events will improve the President’s standing on this latter point.
Pence and Trump Jr.’s in-person rallies this week pose a particular issue. If these