Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects of the 2020 campaign season, including the race for the White House and key elections around the country.
Cody Lyon: In a nomination acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House, President Trump officially, and enthusiastically, declared his intention to be reelected.
His speech had two objectives: appeal to suburban and working-class voters who dislike much of the rhetoric but like many of his policies and instill the fear factor for the Biden-Harris ticket. Fear is a hugely powerful motivator in campaigns. As Trump seems content to focus on his opponent (Trump used Biden's name 40 times during his 70-minute speech. Last week, Biden didn't use Trump's name once.) rather than his policy accomplishments, the campaign’s tone will be stark in the battleground states where key voter groups will decide who gets the state’s prized electoral votes.
Poll after poll and conversations with voters in these states show that Americans are unhappy with where the country is right now and how Trump has handled his first term.
The choices in 2020 are as diverse as likely any in our country. Between now and Election Day, can the Trump campaign change the focus from firing Trump to fearing Biden and Harris?
All campaigns have the rhyme and rhythm of a performance for the voters.
Randy Dwyer: In many ways Trump’s acceptance speech was structured like a three-act play and was very similar to every candidate who is asking voters to return him/her to another term in office. The first act is a litany of accomplishments. This included domestic and foreign achievements such as standing up to Iran, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, strengthening the military, restructuring funding for NATO and brokering an unpresented peace deal between UAE and Israel. Domestic achievements were under the umbrella of “Made in America” and focused on signing USMCA, tearing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a humming economy with low unemployment.
In the second act, Trump turned his attention to Biden, painting him as a do-nothing legislator after nearly 50 years in office. He called Biden a “Trojan horse” for the radical left, with the intent of swaying voters who might be fearful of social unrest.
The third and final act was Trump’s vision of what another term in office would bring America: a country cured of “the plague,” an end to unending wars overseas, and a return to a strong economy that benefits everyone. This scenario had a caveat: the only person who could bring this vision to reality is Trump.
If we put this speech and the Trump campaign in the context of a play, what remains to be seen is how many tickets will be sold at the box office; that is to say, how many voters will choose Trump? Only then will we know if the play runs for another four years.
Mike Sistak: In keeping with the theme of a stage play, I’d describe President Trump’s speech as on-script, touching on many of the themes presented throughout the convention.
The question for me is whether the audience, as in the television viewers, had seen the play before and were returning for a repeat performance, or was this a new audience drawn to a headline performer?
A further note on the audience: both conventions were way down in viewership compared to previous years. The third night of the Republican convention, when Vice President Pence gave his speech, drew in just 10.5 million viewers.
We don’t yet know what the television ratings were for the final night of the Republican convention, but it’s unlikely Trump’s speech did anything to sway undecided voters because most viewers likely fell into one of two categories: his fans or his most ardent critics. I think most box office sales (getting back to the stage play metaphor) are going to come in the following weeks as the election intensifies with a deluge of paid media, grassroots politicking (however unconventional during a pandemic) and in the debates.
Cody Lyon: With both conventions behind us, the campaigns will be running at the highest of levels for the next 66 days. In that time, there are planned debates, multiple campaign events each day and campaign messages that will be delivered through our TVs, social media channels and other avenues.
Two things are certain: both Trump and Biden believe that the 2020 election is the most important in the history of the country and, despite the scripting and high drama, the 2020 presidential election is not a play.
Cody Lyon is AFBF’s managing director of advocacy and political affairs.
Randy Dwyer is AFBF’s director of advocacy & grassroots development.
Michael Sistak is AFBF’s director of grassroots program development.