At the end of every presidential election, national candidates tend to focus their message, settle on core priorities, and make every effort to close the sale in the most compelling way possible. It's Campaign 101: the closing message is the one voters are most likely to hear and remember, so make it a good one.
Four years ago, Donald Trump had a closing message. It was ugly, but it was unavoidable: the Republican candidate told the electorate that he'd build a wall, drain the swamp, and turn back the nation's clock to a time in which the United States was "great." As George Condon Jr. explained in a National Journal piece this week, the incumbent president has no comparable pitch in 2020:
Now, President Trump is concluding his run for a second term with a broad, shotgun-style message that is diffuse, disjointed, and undisciplined. In place of the tight message of 2016, Trump has uttered in just the last seven days of his 2020 campaign almost 200,000 words and what often seemed to be just as many messages. A challenger's stretch-run clarity and simplicity have been replaced by an incumbent's disdain for anything that appears scripted, edited, or -- most of all -- short.
I watch or read most of Trump's public appearances, including rallies and interviews. I also see most of the president's tweets. But as Election Day arrives, I can honestly say I haven't the foggiest idea what Trump wants to do with another four years in power.
He has no platform. He makes few promises. He has no policy agenda or substantive priorities. On the stump, he fixates on trivia, and is obsessed with petty grievances and self-pity, but he never even hints at possible solutions to national challenges. Donald Trump's core message in recent weeks has been that Americans should expect the next four years to look like the last four years.
The Washington Post recently reported that the president's "lack of a consistent and coherent closing argument is alarming some Republicans, raising fears among his allies that his undisciplined approach to campaigning could render him a one-term president."
This isn't a prediction. In fact, I feel far less certain about Trump's defeat than many of my contemporaries, and I've seen little to suggest most voters actually care about candidates' platforms, promises, agendas, and goals.
But it's nevertheless difficult not to marvel at the unique nature of the incumbent president's message: it is a pitch without a pitch. Trump has no closing message because he's a post-policy leader with nothing to say or offer.