early and often

Donald Trump Is Rallying Like It’s 2024

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Last month, Donald Trump lashed out at Colorado GOP Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, prompting The Hill to run the unintentionally hilarious headline “Trump attack leaves GOP wondering if he cares about Senate majority.” If any Republicans are still confused about whether Trump is more invested in his personal brand or his party’s performance in 2022, his rally schedule for the final days of the midterms should clear things up.

On Saturday night, Trump will appear in Pennsylvania with U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. Then on Monday night, he’ll be in Ohio with U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance. Both states’ close Senate matchups could determine which party controls the chamber in January, so it makes sense that they’re attracting a high-profile surrogate — though some have questioned whether it’s smart to deploy the former president. As The Hill notes, the Pennsylvania rally is a bit of a risk for Oz, who has been trying to present himself as a moderate in his extremely close race against Democrat John Fetterman:

Some Republican strategists are questioning the wisdom of Oz appearing on stage with Trump and Mastriano, who is trailing by double digits in the gubernatorial race, so soon before Election Day.

One Senate Republican adviser said appearing with Trump and Mastriano is “probably not” a good idea given Trump’s penchant for controversy and his negative approval rating in the state, but lamented: “What are you going to do?”

And a few local political scientists told the Dayton Daily News that Trump’s visit could wind up backfiring for Vance, who’s ahead of Democrat Tim Ryan by 3.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics averages:

“There is some evidence from political science research that campaign visits can mobilize voters on the other side just as much as, if not more than, the party organizing the event,” said Christopher Devine, an assistant professor of political science at University of Dayton who has written a book about presidential campaign visits.

“For example, one study shows that Trump’s visits in 2016 increased local donations to his campaign, but also increased donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Devine said. “It’s possible, in this case, that Trump’s visits could galvanize Tim Ryan’s supporters or alienate undecided voters, especially if Trump goes off-message or creates controversy, as he’s known to do.”

But in general, deploying Trump in Pennsylvania and Ohio makes sense for the Republican Party. The same can’t be said for the ex-president’s Thursday-night rally in Iowa or his Sunday appearance in Florida. Both events seem like they were selected for their significance to the 2024 presidential campaign, not the current election cycle.

Iowa’s U.S. Senate race between Democrat Mike Franken and seven-term incumbent Republican Chuck Grassley did tighten recently, but the Cook Political Report still rates the contest as “Likely R.” Several GOP sources told CNN that the appearance caught Iowa Republicans off guard and suggested that the rally is less about Grassley and more about Trump trying to keep up with potential 2024 rivals, who have already started visiting the state:

“In this climate, there is zero chance Chuck Grassley is truly in trouble. There’s a major opening [in the Iowa caucuses], so this is a 2024 thing,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg.

Yet several top Republicans in Iowa were caught off guard by the former president’s decision to choose Sioux City for a rally on Thursday night, as Gov. Kim Reynolds was already scheduled to be on the opposite end of the state for a bus tour, officials said. When Trump decided to parachute in days before the election, she and other candidates adjusted their plans to join him for the first stop of his pre-election rallies.

“This rally is about President Trump’s future, not about the Iowa Republican,” a longtime Republican strategist in Iowa said.

One Trump adviser said the former president wants his appearance in Iowa “to be a show of force for 2024,” adding that Trump’s Sunday night rally in Miami should be viewed through the same lens.

Trump’s Florida rally makes even less sense as part of the GOP’s midterms strategy. The Cook Political Report rates the matchup between incumbent Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Val Demings “Likely R,” and some sources close to Republican governor Ron DeSantis complained that the Trump team didn’t reach out to them before announcing the event. The New York Times reported this week that Trump’s people had notified the Republican Party of Florida and “extended an invitation to all of the party’s officeholders” — but DeSantis still isn’t coming:

After the Trump rally was announced, Mr. DeSantis, who is a favorite to win a second term next week, instead sent a save-the-date to fellow Republicans for his own event, about 250 miles away near Tampa. The DeSantis campaign has not officially announced the rally, but it has booked the event hall at the Sun City Center, a community for older adults, according to people familiar with the planning.

Trump’s rally in Miami-Dade, a heavily Hispanic part of the state that has been shifting toward the GOP, will certainly overshadow DeSantis’s competing rally near Tampa. As sources told CNN, that’s the point:

Two Trump advisers, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said DeSantis would gain a major selling point in a contested presidential primary if he won Miami-Dade county, a feat that some Republicans consider attainable.

“I really think DeSantis is going to outperform expectations — especially around Miami — and this rally is all about setting Trump up to take credit if he does,” said Nunberg.

Is this mean and petty? Sure, but it might work. On Wednesday, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported that DeSantis may be rethinking a 2024 presidential run:

Sources told me DeSantis recently indicated to donors that he would not challenge Trump for the Republican nomination. “He’s led them to believe he will not run if Trump does,” a Republican briefed on the donor conversations told me. Another source told me DeSantis’s calculus is that, at age 44, he can easily wait until the next presidential cycle, so why risk a brutal primary fight against a pugilist like Trump? “He can walk into the presidency in 2028 without pissing off Trump or Florida,” the source said. “What would you rather do? Be the governor of Florida for certain or go run for president?”

Trump may not be doing what’s best for the Republican Party, but he is doing what’s best for Trump. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s really important here?

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Donald Trump Is Rallying Like It’s 2024