Can a campaign that never ended really start anew?

Updated

After the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Donald Trump with a 38% approval rating, while also showing him trailing each of the top Democratic contenders by sizable margins, the Republican published a curious response to the data on Twitter:

“This is a phony suppression poll, meant to build up their Democrat partners. I haven’t even started campaigning yet, and am constantly fighting Fake News like Russia, Russia, Russia. Look at North Carolina last night. Dan Bishop, down big in the Polls, WINS. Easier than 2016!”

Much of this is easily dismissed nonsense. Major American news organizations, for example, do not concoct polling results as part of a political conspiracy. The Russia scandal was not, and is not, “fake.” Rep.-elect Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) was not actually “down big” in the polls ahead of this week’s congressional special election.

But it was that other phrase that stood out for me: “I haven’t even started campaigning yet.”

As Trump really ought to know by now, in order for a lie to have its intended effect, it has to be at least somewhat plausible. If most of the people who hear a claim respond by quizzically responding, “Um, what?” then the attempt at deception has fallen short.

In this case, the idea that the president hasn’t started campaigning yet is bizarre. As we discussed several months ago, Trump’s focus on the 2020 election has been a constant of his presidency, including his decision to file a re-election letter with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 20, 2017 – literally the first day of his term.

The president also began fundraising for the 2020 cycle before he was even sworn in, “pulling in tens of millions of dollars in the months after his election and through his inauguration.”

There’s no modern precedent for such an aggressive fundraising schedule, but Trump did it anyway. Indeed, the Republican hasn’t just been raising money, he’s been spending it: according to the Federal Election Commission, as of this morning, Trump’s re-election campaign has already spent more than $75 million. For context, note that this total is more than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg have spent combined.

What’s more, he also kept open his 2016 campaign office’s headquarters, hired staff to work on his 2020 bid in early 2017, and headlined a swing-state campaign rally in February 2017 – not quite one month into his presidency, and 44 months before Election Day 2020. He returned to Florida in June 2019 to officially kickoff the re-election bid that’s been ongoing for years.

The Wall Street Journal noted at the time, “When seeking re-election, past modern presidents have taken their time to shift into politics, believing that campaigning can diminish the power of the White House. Mr. Obama launched with a video announcement in April 2011 and didn’t hold his first rally for over a year.”

Of course, Barack Obama wasn’t just concerned about appearances: his principal focus was on governing, not campaigning. For Trump, the dynamic has always been flipped, whether he’s prepared to admit or not.