Trump campaign rallies: What happens at the US president’s MAGA events and how is he approaching the midterms?

Donald Trump is currently touring the US campaigning ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

On Wednesday evening, he pressed ahead with a gathering in Erie, Pennsylvania, in spite of Hurricane Michael making landfall on the Florida panhandle, a surprise decision given he cancelled speeches in Missouri and Mississippi in September due to Florence and because he publicly criticised Barack Obama for campaigning during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“I don’t want to disappoint people. So, we’ll probably go because what are you going to do? Tell thousands of people who’ve been waiting there all night that we’re not coming? That’s not fair either,” he told assembled reporters at the White House this week.

Here’s a guide to the president’s approach to the midterms.

What is Donald Trump’s strategy?

The president staged his first speech to promote the Republican cause at Pittsburgh International Airport on 10 March and has found time in his schedule to attend rallies at least twice a month ever since, greeting fans in 24 locations across 18 states, all but two of which – Minnesota and Nevada – he won in the 2016 presidential race.

Upcoming dates in California and Virginia are his only other planned visits to states won by defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton at present, indicating Mr Trump is primarily coming to the aid of Republican candidates in areas where he has a pre-existing fan base, rather than seeking to convert unbelievers.

Critics have accused him of exploiting the midterms as a publicity vehicle for himself, with one eye on his own election campaign in 2020.

But so far he’s been in typically boisterous form and entirely on-brand, telling a crowd of Iowa voters: “The Democrats have become too extreme and they’ve become, frankly, too dangerous to govern. They’ve gone wacko!”

What does the rest of the president’s schedule look like?

President Trump’s next two confirmed engagements are at the Warren County Fairgrounds in Lebanon, Ohio, on Friday 12 October 7pm EST and at the Alumni Coliseum in Richmond, Kentucky, on Saturday 13 October 7pm EST.

Other dates are pencilled in for October in Texas, California, Wisconsin and Michigan, and in Arizona, Georgia and Virginia in early November when the race intensifies in the run up to election day on Tuesday 6.

The highlight of all of this promises to be the appearance of Ted Cruz in the Lone Star State, a politician President Trump sparred with repeatedly in pursuit of the Republican nomination, deriding him as “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” and sharing an unflattering picture of the Texas politician’s wife Heidi on social media.

Mr Trump also once alleged his opponent’s father, Rafael Cruz, was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald, the inference being that he had played a hand in the assassination of John F Kennedy in Dallas on 22 November 1963. 

All of which has seen Mr Cruz’s acceptance of the president’s backing roundly mocked by his opponents. The Texan film director Richard Linklater has even shot a promotional video on behalf of the Fire Ted Cruz Political Action Committee to ridicule his perceived hypocrisy.

How well have Trump rallies been attended?

Of the data available, a typical Trump crowd has so far consisted of around 10,000 people (no doubt the man himself would estimate it much higher).

The exception was his address at the Total Sports Park in Washington Township, Michigan, where 32,000 loyalists brandishing “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) placards and caps turned up still hopeful he could revive their state’s faltering post-industrial economy.

How does President Trump’s approach differ from previous candidates?

Donald Trump officially filed his campaign for re-election with the Federal Elections Commission on 20 January 2017, the very day of his inauguration.

He has already begun fundraising and announced his slogan for 2020 (“Keep America Great”), all of which is highly unusual for a president of the US.

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Barack Obama, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan all waited until their third year before declaring their intention to run and doing so so soon puts Mr Trump in the position of being perennially on the campaign stump, his every decision, gaff and insult made in front of a public certain he will run again with Mike Pence once more at his side – and as the oldest candidate ever at 74.

For the midterms, this means his priority appears to lie squarely with appealing once again to committed Trump supporters, and the actual Republican candidates he is ostensibly taking to the podium to endorse left as something of an afterthought.

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