On June 20, 2018, President Donald Trump presided over a raucous political rally in Duluth, Minnesota – the state with the highest number of residents with Swedish ancestry. Let’s examine his rhetoric to gain some insight into his broader political strategy.
This text is written by Steven Schier.
“I hate to bring this up — but we came this close to winning the state of Minnesota. And in two and a half years, it’s going to be really easy I think. . . . But obviously, one more trip. Aye yai yai. That won’t happen again.”
2018 marked the first time in many decades that the GOP presidential nominee gained a larger percentage of the Minnesota vote than the national vote. Trump has long thought that one more trip to the state would have resulted in him carrying it and netting its ten Electoral College votes.
Trump next makes an economic development promise for the historically Democratic Eighth Congressional District, home of the rally, which he carried by a remarkable 16 percent in 2018.
“Under the previous administration, America’s rich, natural resources, of which your state has a lot, were put under lock and key, including thousands of acres in Superior National Forest. You know what that is, right? Tonight, I’m proudly announcing that we will soon be taking the first steps to rescind the federal withdrawal in Superior National Forest and restore mineral exploration for our amazing people and miners and workers, and for the people of Minnesota — one of the great natural reserves of the world.”
This initiative aims to boost Trump’s 2018 prospects in the state and also help Pete Stauber, the GOP candidate in the 8th US House district which includes the forest.
Earlier in the day, Trump had attended a “Roundtable on American Workers” in Duluth to celebrate the economic base of the Eighth district. At the meeting, the president happily proclaimed: “We’re joined by wonderful union members and workers at the great American steel and iron mining companies.”
At the later rally, Trump addressed his proposed tariffs: “And I have to say, you know, you’ve been reading where I’ve been putting very large tariffs on China. Very, very large. [Applause] We hit the $250 billion mark. But I want to say, and we have to do that because it has to be balanced, it has to be fair. It wasn’t fair. “
Foreign competition contributed to considerable job losses in Minnesota and other states in recent decades, so Trump’s touting of his protectionism found a receptive audience at the rally that night. He’ll continue to hit on that theme in future 2018 appearances across the nation.
“And we need people, because we have so many companies now — and you know very well in Minnesota what’s happening. They just gave me a run-through. What’s happening in Minnesota is incredible. But we have so many companies moving back into our country.”
Credit claiming is a time-honored incumbent strategy in which Trump indulges here. His touting of the prospering Minnesota and US economy will remain a staple of his 2018 campaign rhetoric.
Other themes that we’ll encounter frequently in the coming campaign months appeared: Trump’s criticisms of illegal immigration “they’re not sending their best,” and his castigation of the Democrats’ “radical agenda” featuring “open borders.” He aimed harsh attacks on the media — “fake news” — and a protestor in the audience: “So we have a single protestor. He’s going home to his mom. Say hello to mommy.”
Late in his speech, the President wrapped himself in the mantle of the common people, launching a sarcastic attack upon the “elites” who are denizens of what he has termed the Washington “swamp.”
“You know, we talk about the forgotten men and women. They’re the smartest people. They work the hardest. They pay taxes. They do all of the things. And yet, they were the forgotten people. And believe me, our people are the smartest and the hardest working. Smarter than anybody, and the hardest working.
You know, a little thing I was talking about today. You ever notice they always call the other side — and they do this on – ‘the elite.’ The elite. Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became President and they didn’t. [Applause] And I’m representing the greatest, smartest, most loyal, best people on Earth — the deplorables. Remember that? The deplorables.”
Trump’s appeal, revealed in this speech, is a grab bag of themes. His positive topics focus on economic renewal and the virtues of the common people with whom he is anxious to identify. The negative themes – and there are many – are aimed at a variety of enemies: foreign trade at which, he argues America has been “losing,” supposedly dangerous illegal immigrants, radical Democrats promoting suffocating government and an end to national borders and, of course, the “fake news” media.
It’s a varied stew, assembled to rouse his base and appeal to voters in rural areas and metropolitan area exurbs disaffected with the increasingly progressive tilt of America’s central cities.
As the 2016 Minnesota election results revealed, it has a real chance of bringing off some previously improbable victories in the North Star state with its long Democratic tradition of Scandinavian liberalism. As with the Swedish Democrats’’ surprising strength in that nation’s polls, Minnesotans may be demonstrating a new willingness to move in new and surprising directions – or so Trump hopes.
Steven Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.