The nation may still be battling its way through the end stages of a pandemic, but the 2020 presidential candidates are forced to turn their thoughts to the election which – almost unbelievably – is less than four months away.
While former Vice President Joe Biden, who seems to be enjoying favorable poll numbers of late, tries his best to woo voters in a constituency he should own, his birth state of Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign is looking southward and focusing on a constituency long coveted by Republicans: Latinos.
What’s more, according to John Pence, senior advisor to the Trump campaign (and nephew of that other Pence who serves in the White House), the campaign is taking a page from the progressive left as far as tactics employed to win votes.
“The first community organizer in the White House was Obama,” Pence told Townhall from Florida last week, where he accompanied the President on a visit to take part in, among other things, a roundtable discussion with Latin American dissidents of communism and socialism. “The second community organizer in the White House, who is doing it way better than Obama did, is President Trump.”
Pence, who speaks fluent Spanish, talks proudly of the campaign’s efforts to reach out to voters through a massive coalition of grassroots groups designed to reflect individual communities. The goal, says Pence, is to foster support for Trump’s campaign agenda that seeks to remind “every community in every part of the nation” that they’re Americans, and that a vote to re-elect the president is a way to empower themselves. One of the most important groups helping convey this message, says Pence, is the Latinos for Trump Coalition.
“This coalition has advisory board members from all over the country supportive of the president and his mission to put America first and they know that his policies are helping their communities,” Pence says. “We’re taking that model – organizing in communities, getting folks involved, and doing it in a way that is representative of the community in which they live – and building a ground game to re-elect Trump. And not just President Trump, they’re working to help elect Republicans up and down the ballot.”
The issues the Trump campaign and his network of coalition groups are focusing on – notably trade, and specifically the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal – also, like community organizing, hearken back to the Obama administration, but in a different way.
“We have created a trade deal for the modern era, one that will replace Joe Biden’s NAFTA,” says Pence, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement that Biden supported and that is seen as something of a weakness in Biden’s preferred image of “friend to the blue collar worker.” Politico predicted that conflict of interest back in May 2019.
"[O]ne staple of Democratic stump speeches heard across the Rust Belt was missing: Middle-Class Joe, as he’s dubbed himself, didn't once mention trade.
There’s probably a reason for that. In the Senate, Biden voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement and permanent normal trade relations with China. As then-President Barack Obama's No. 2, he supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“Biden’s advocacy for NAFTA and the TPP would suggest that the Washington-driven conventional wisdom that he has solid support among union households in the Midwest and elsewhere might be more complicated than the media is currently presenting," said Waleed Shahid, communications director for the left-wing Justice Democrats. "Biden hasn’t been held accountable for his policy record, and he’ll increasingly be exposed for not really being the populist hero he likes to present himself as.”
Talking trade is arguably risky for the Trump campaign as well due to a steady deterioration of relations with China over the COVID-19 crisis, a situation that has put the Chinese trade deal in limbo.
But it’s apparently worth the risk as Pence says the USMCA, which he predicts could mean over a hundred thousand new American jobs and billions in trade, gives America a stronger supply chain closer to home that ultimately will “bring less dependency on other regions of the world.”
And he’s quick to point out other emerging trade relationships currently in play as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Wednesday talks with Kenya were scheduled to begin in coming weeks that, if successful, would solidify America’s first bilateral trade deal with a sub-Saharan African nation.
“America first doesn’t mean America alone,” Pence said.
Sarah Lee is a freelance writer and policy wonk living and working in Washington, DC.