Analysis: Buoyed by polls, at Florida rally Trump paints impeachment as probe of all conservatives

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a rally at the BBT Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)
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By John T. Bennett CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

Donald Trump strode onstage Tuesday night in Florida — king of the battleground states — and began slinging “Make America Great Again” caps into the crowd. Minutes later, the president prompted a new “Bull—t!” chant and a familiar one: “Lock her up!”

But perhaps no moment was more telling about his emerging reelection message than what he told the crowd inside Sunrise’s BB&T Center about House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Trump has been noticeably agitated about the probe for weeks, and again on Tuesday night he dubbed it a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.” But he also described the impeachment inquiry as more than just an investigation into what multiple witnesses have described as his withholding of both a $400 million military aid package to Ukraine and a White House meeting until Ukraine’s new president would announce investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden, now a candidate for president.

Trump told his backers House Democrats are out to get all conservatives.

“The lies of the Democrats are being exposed, their schemes are unraveling,” Trump said to boos before accusing Democrats of “crimes” without describing them or providing evidence. “These are crooked people, but their crimes are being revealed and their sinister plans are failing at a level that nobody thought, even me, possible.

“The radical Democrats are trying to overturn the last election because they know that they cannot win the next election — it’s very simple,” Trump said of an impeachment probe and allegations against him.

But the Tuesday rally showed the president appears to be betting that voters will decide House Democrats have failed to uncover enough evidence to justify removing him from office — and that his conservative base will be energized to punish the opposition party in November.

“The failed Washington establishment is trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you and because we’re winning. It’s very simple,” the president said as the crowd cheered.

In short, Trump is banking that the longer the impeachment drama plays out, enough voters in a handful of 2020 battleground states will conclude of the probe, in his words: “That’s really bull—t!”

He and his team sense a shift in public opinion, with aides citing polls showing opposition to the inquiry growing in swing states like Wisconsin. Trump mocked Democrats Tuesday night, suggesting they already have shot themselves in the foot.

“A lot of bad things happening to them, because you see what’s happening in the polls,” Trump said as his supporters applauded.

‘Florida is crucial’ The president was in the Sunshine State for a reason. The importance of Florida and its 29 Electoral College votes is difficult to overstate. His campaign organization already has held a number of 2020 rallies there and in other battlegrounds, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire.

“Holding Florida is crucial to his reelection,” said Patrick Murray, director of polling for Monmouth University. “It makes sense for him to try to shore up support in Florida before the Democratic primary process is over.”

Florida has gone to the eventual winner of every presidential election since 1996. It has helped elect both Democratic and Republican presidents, including Trump. He took the state narrowly in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, 49% to 47.8%.

Barack Obama had close victories there in 2012 over Mitt Romney (50% to 49.1%) and 2008 over John McCain (51% to 48.2%). George W. Bush scored what amounts to a comfortable win there in 2004, besting then-Sen. John Kerry by 52.1% to 47.1%. The Supreme Court handed Bush a victory there over Vice President Al Gore in 2000 after they tied with 48.8% of the vote each.

The last time Florida failed to go to the eventual Electoral College victor was 1992, when President George H.W. Bush won the state with 40.8% of the vote; Bill Clinton got only 39% and was harmed by third-party spoiler Ross Perot, who netted 19.2%.

Trump told the Sunrise crowd that Democrats “can’t win” next November, but polls suggest the race is wide open.

A list of recent surveys show Trump leading the top Democratic candidates by between 2 and 4 percentage points. All are within those surveys’ margins of error, indicating a series of hypothetical dead heats. But those latest surveys are collectively good news for the president.

That’s because Trump trailed those same Democrats in polls conducted as recently as June, with some showing as much as an 8-point shift.

Murray said there are reasons to be skeptical of head-to-head polls before Democrats pick a nominee. Still, “Trump’s support in the head-to-heads tends to correlate with reelect, so that side of the result is meaningful.”

“His current base of support in Florida is between 43% and 46%, according to recent polling. That is not great, but still puts him in striking distance of winning Florida if voters there do not like the Democratic nominee,” Murray said Tuesday.

“If he can get his reelect number closer to 50%, it gives him some breathing room to focus on the Midwest battlegrounds.”

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