Trump, Seeking Re-election Since His Inauguration, Will Now Make It Official

ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost four years to the day since he announced his first, improbable run for public office from the basement level of Trump Tower, President Trump will officially begin his campaign for re-election on Tuesday night at a special presentation of his signature “Make America Great Again” rallies.

Giant television screens, food trucks, a band known as the Guzzlers and a celebration of all things Trump will turn the 20,000-seat Amway Center in Orlando into something between a playoff game and a music festival before Mr. Trump’s speech, scheduled for 8 p.m.

A new video is in the works to introduce the president, and his entire family will be in attendance, mirroring his iconic first announcement on June 16, 2015, which presented to the world the glossy, stiletto-heeled Trump aesthetic and the combative, anti-immigrant views of the candidate at the center of it.

For a president who wants to be seen as an outsider despite occupying the Oval Office, Tuesday night’s rally presents an opportunity to, at least for one night, turn the clock back to 2015, when Mr. Trump began campaigning as a disrupter with little to lose by making bold promises like the construction of a wall along the southern border.

But the stakes this time are much higher, as Mr. Trump heads into the election as the first incumbent in history who has never had a day of his presidency where his average approval rating cracked 50 percent. And despite the accessories, and a crowd size Mr. Trump will be able to brag about, aides privately acknowledge that the candidate is expected to offer little new in his message.

Mr. Trump, after all, has been running for re-election since he moved into the White House: He filed papers with the Federal Election Commission for his re-election campaign on Jan. 20, 2017, the day he was inaugurated. The MAGA rallies he has regularly held in friendly red states have lost their novelty and much of the news media’s interest.

But the rally is expected to help consolidate his base in a must-win state where advisers view his poll numbers as too soft to be comfortable. Campaign officials are also hoping that packing a 20,000-seat stadium with an expected overflow crowd, a show of force no Democratic candidate can match, will reassure Mr. Trump, who has been rattled by his flagging poll numbers and frustrated by watching from the sidelines as the Democratic primary race heats up.

Without a new message or a clear agenda for a second term, Mr. Trump’s advisers are banking on the belief that the same basic playbook — Mr. Trump’s preternatural ability to shock and entertain — will again animate his core voters and retain the swing voters who gambled on him in 2016.

It remains to be seen if that strategy will succeed again or whether something new will emerge. “Trump hasn’t yet said how he wants to define the race,” said Jason Miller, a communications adviser on his 2016 campaign. “That’s ultimately going to be up to him.”

Republican strategists said that creating a contrast with progressive candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is his best bet for re-election, and Mr. Trump seems to agree.

During a visit to the battleground state of Iowa last week, the president warned that the United States could tumble into a state of decline like Venezuela under the wrong leadership. And he notably name-checked Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Trump needs “to make suburban voters ask themselves by going to the polls, ‘What am I more annoyed by, Trump’s or the Democrats’ beliefs?’” said Steve Deace, an influential conservative radio host in Iowa.

But that calculus gets muddled in a scenario in which former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. emerges from his party’s nominating fight. Mr. Trump has been telling advisers that running against Mr. Biden would be a reprise of his 2016 race against Hillary Clinton, another more centrist candidate with a long track record who was anathema to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Optimistic Democrats see danger ahead for the president.

“Trump begins the race in a perilous place,” said David Axelrod, a former top political adviser to President Barack Obama. “He is viewed unfavorably in the very Midwestern states that delivered him the White House, and it isn’t obvious where he would pick up states to replace them.”

Mr. Trump’s dreary polling numbers come despite a strong economy, which generally portends good things for an incumbent president. But Mr. Trump’s advisers have found, alarmingly, that voters do not credit him for it.

And Mr. Trump often steps on his list of accomplishments on jobs, tax cuts, deregulation and the appointment of conservative judges.

Still, his campaign aides feel confident of his re-election chances, mostly because of their dim view of the Democratic field. He is backed by a campaign operation that is sleeker and more sophisticated than the ragtag team he ran out of the 26th floor of Trump Tower in 2016. The campaign has invested millions of dollars in a digital strategy to harvest emails and phone numbers from potential supporters, and to advertise on sites like Facebook and YouTube, where his supporters can be found.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump remains his own biggest asset and liability.

“This is a candidate, a president and personality who just throws out the script and improvises,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican political consultant. “He’ll probably operate within the stagecraft they provide him, but the message discipline you would expect from an incumbent campaign launching a re-election? It’s not going to look anything like that.”

There are also some basic principles of Trumpworld that have not changed. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is overseeing most of the operation, as he did last time. Mr. Trump primarily trusts only his family members and a small handful of other people, and he is a begrudging recipient of bad news.

That point was on public display over the past six weeks, after The New York Times and other outlets reported that early campaign polling from March showed a bleak landscape for the president.

Mr. Trump ordered aides to deny that there were numbers showing him trailing Mr. Biden, and to say instead that the full array of numbers were more favorable. Such numbers “don’t exist,” Mr. Trump told ABC News last week. Within days, the network obtained those numbers and proved him wrong.


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