190712 Donald Trump
Donald Trump Image Credit: AFP

Washington : As Democratic presidential contenders race to draft the boldest and most detailed policy plans, President Trump has stuck to the signature issues that helped him win last time: “Build the wall,” “jobs, jobs, jobs” and “America First.”

In other words, the agenda for Trump’s second term is largely a set of pithy slogans that have been crowd-tested at rallies and have defined Trump’s governing style since he first announced his unlikely bid for the presidency in 2015.

Aides, allies and adversaries expect more of the same as Trump campaigns for 2020. Not a lot of what George H.W. Bush called “the vision thing” this time around. No “Bridge to the 21st Century,” as Bill Clinton dubbed his second-term agenda.

Until Trump fully reshapes immigration and trade, as he promised to do repeatedly in 2016 -- and as long as the economy keeps growing -- he is likely to keep offering the same rallying cries.

As one supporter put it at a May 8 rally in Panama City Beach, Florida.: “Just keep doing what he’s doing.”

Trump did just that at his official reelection kickoff rally in Orlando last month, conjuring an homage to his 2016 victory that included chants of “lock her up” and accusations that Democrats and the media were trying to “erase” the “greatest campaign and the greatest election probably in the history of our country.”

The backward-looking strategy carries some risk. Elections are often defined as debates about the future and opportunities to set the governing agenda for Congress. They ultimately are about change - or continuity.

And Trump, who has registered low approval ratings since taking office, faces highly motivated Democrats, meaning he will need to win at least some converts to repeat his narrow electoral triumph.

But the old game plan matches Trump’s instincts and may be his best play. Trump won last time with few policy details, instead offering broad themes, a heavy dose of nostalgia for a certain idea of midcentury America and a brand built around his out-sized persona.

“He’s a reinforcer of motto, not an innovator of new policies,” said Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian.

“He’s not a guy who necessarily runs on agendas as much as raw nerve endings,” said David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief political advisor.

Trump has oriented his first term around proving to his core supporters that he has kept promises.

His campaign website lacks new initiatives, but it includes lengthy “promises kept” checklists intended to bolster the argument that he has altered nearly every aspect of domestic and foreign policy. Many claims lack the substance that Trump says, but almost all of them point to his central “Make America great again” slogan.

His campaign advisors believe his reelection depends on motivating those core voters and defining his Democratic opponent, whoever it is, as a far-left socialist who will endanger America.

“Every moment that the Democrats are on the debate stage, the president is winning,” said Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump campaign.