As Republicans and Democrats continue to isolate and national divisions deepen, next year’s presidential candidates increasingly neglect America’s ideological center. They opt to galvanize their polarized bases. When President Trump visited Tupelo earlier this month, he did exactly that. Though both parties are searching for intensity, Trump already has it. Consequently, the president will start the 2020 race with a clear advantage.
As I joined nearly 20,000 people in Tupelo for Trump’s rally, most people eagerly awaited a chance to hear from their president. For perspective, Trump’s audience amounted to over one fourth of Tupelo’s population. Other rallies have yielded similar crowds. In Minnesota, a state Trump lost in 2016, he attracted nearly 20,000 people. In Dallas, a blue city, he garnered 18,500 people. Trump’s rallies are known for being raucous events, and the Tupelo rally was no exception.
Outside the BancorpSouth Arena, zealous Trump fans purchased shirts, hats, posters and beanies. Inside, they filled the arena with chants, fervor and anticipation. When the president’s arrival was announced, the rally-goers quickly rose to their feet in palpable anticipation. Seconds later, the arena erupted as Trump ambled toward the podium to begin speaking.
During his long yet captivating speech, the president touched on a variety of hot topics. He quickly abandoned his prepared remarks, choosing to extemporaneously discuss trade, impeachment, foreign policy and even Hillary Clinton. During each tirade, the crowd remained engaged, actively cheering, booing and laughing when appropriate. Trump’s address lasted over an hour, but he still retained the audience’s attention throughout the night.
In contrast, when Trump brought fellow Republicans to the stage, such as Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, scores of the president’s supporters left the stadium. Trump was no longer speaking, so there was no reason for his loyal supporters to stay, not even for other Republicans.
Trump’s rally proved that going into 2020, his base remains as steadfast as ever.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead a packed Democratic field while his crowd sizes falter. Though earlier in his campaign, he drew a crowd of several thousand in Pennsylvania, a recent New Hampshire restaurant event attracted only 30 attendees.
Biden may defeat Trump in matchup polling, but he can’t match the president’s hardened fanbase.
Other Democratic candidates have fared somewhat better. Sen. Bernie Sanders recently drew a crowd of 26,000 in New York City. In the same city in September, Sen. Elizabeth Warren brought in at least 20,000. However, none of the candidates aiming to evict Trump from the White House have consistently garnered crowd sizes similar to the president’s — especially in states and cities that typically support the Democratic party.
Whether this disparity in intensity results in a Trump victory in 2020 remains to be seen, but its implications are significant. Politics are optics. If a candidate appears to be extremely popular, it makes it easier to vote for him or her. Polls contribute to these perceptions, as does media coverage. Crowd size is a fundamental component of this process. When candidates draw in bigger and louder crowds, the media flocks to them, vaulting them ahead of a crowded field and potentially into the Oval Office.
Leadership is inspiring others for a common vision. In politics, the winners simply inspire more voters all the way to the ballot box. If any candidate is to beat the president next November, they cannot rely on only polling data and corporate money alone. If President Trump is to last another four years, he can rely on his rallies. Intensity brought him to the White House in 2016, and it can do so again.