“This is the craziest race. How do you lose to a guy like this?” Trump said of Biden, predicting that he will defeat the Democratic nominee in North Carolina once again.
But wedged in between Trump’s rollicking campaign rallies is an apparent acknowledgement that he is losing — and needs to do more than animate his MAGA fans to be competitive on Election Day. Following his stop here, the president will participate in an NBC News town hall in Miami. The hour-long special is expected to include hardball questions from undecided voters and will compete with a Biden town hall airing at the same time on ABC News.
“I’m doing this town hall… and it’s NBC — the worst. So, they asked me if I would do it and I said, ‘What the hell? We have a free hour of television. Why not?’” he said in Greenville.
The town hall format — past versions of which have proved challenging for the president — is precisely the type of event Trump would permanently omit from his campaign schedule if he could. But at this late juncture in the 2020 contest, as his own aides search for last-ditch maneuvers to salvage his reelection bid amid spiraling poll numbers with older voters and women, Trump can no longer afford to ignore audiences outside his base.
“The reality is this president has been indulging in a campaign focused solely on nourishing his narcissism,” said veteran GOP strategist Rob Stutzman.
Trump’s Thursday night appearance on NBC comes after the president withdrew from the second presidential debate over objections to its virtual format — a change that was made after he and numerous aides tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The dueling Trump and Biden town halls have confounded Republicans who viewed the second debate as a golden opportunity for Trump to showcase a different version of himself in front of millions more viewers than he is expected to reach in a solo town hall.
“They have given up a much larger audience that the debate would have had versus the single-network town hall. For a campaign that’s behind, that’s a tactical mistake,” Stutzman said.
With a crowded campaign schedule in the final three weeks before the November election, Trump and his aides are hoping to shift undecided voters into his column by highlighting his stamina and increasing his chances of reaching audiences that have drifted away from the GOP.
Ahead of a campaign rally in Ocala, Fla., on Friday, the president will speak to hundreds of seniors in nearby Fort Myers as he works to halt their exodus to Biden. On Tuesday, the Trump campaign released a new TV ad arguing the 74-year-old incumbent Republican is more committed to the interests of senior voters than his 77-year-old opponent.
“The senior citizens are liking us more and more every day,” he said Thursday.
Biden’s advantage among senior voters grew to 10 percentage points — 54 to 44 percent — in a national NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey released ahead of the candidates’ town halls this week. Meanwhile, Trump is holding onto a steady edge among men, white voters and white men and women without college degrees.
Part of the reason the Trump campaign is searching for more traditional ways to reach demographics that have gravitated toward Biden — including roundtable discussions, more intimate events and themed speeches such as remarks on the “American Way of Life” that he will deliver in Michigan on Saturday — is that their cash-strapped candidate has struggled to attract earned media to the extent that he did in 2016.
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have begun fact-checking the president’s public claims and regulating dubious articles about his policies on their sites, while television networks that once aired his rallies uninterrupted — including the president’s favorite channel, Fox News — have begun cutting away in favor of other segments.
During his midafternoon rally in North Carolina, Trump stood before a parked Air Force One and encouraged his supporters to watch him Thursday evening. The president claimed the televised town hall, which his own campaign officials pushed for after he backed out of the second presidential debate, would likely be stacked against him.
“I’m being set up,” he said. “Watch tonight if you want to have a little entertainment.”
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