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Rushmore Fourth of July rally 'to backfire on Trump'

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Come out swinging: Donald Trump holds a baseball bat while looking at exhibits during a Spirit of America showcase at White House. Photo: Reuters

Come out swinging: Donald Trump holds a baseball bat while looking at exhibits during a Spirit of America showcase at White House. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Come out swinging: Donald Trump holds a baseball bat while looking at exhibits during a Spirit of America showcase at White House. Photo: Reuters

President Donald Trump will celebrate American Independence Day by staging a fireworks show that frames him before a granite mountain carved with four of the nation's most celebrated presidents.

But Democrats are hoping the latest display of self-flattery by Mr Trump at Mount Rushmore today will have a different effect than similar efforts in the past, following a shift in public sentiment that suggests the 2020 presidential race is being fought on different terrain than Mr Trump's first campaign.

"In 2016, Trump's buffoonery was held up by some as a refreshing rejection of an ineffectual status quo. He would step up to the plate eventually, they thought," said Robby Mook, a former Hillary Clinton campaign manager, explaining the thinking dominating his party's strategists. "Today, it's the same buffoonery, except it is killing people."

About 7,500 guests are expected to gather to see Mr Trump. In keeping with the president's preferences, the rally will occur without any mandates from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, to socially distance or wear masks, despite federal health guidelines that suggest them and overwhelming public opinion against such events.

A recent Fox News poll found eight in 10 Americans favoured mask wearers and less than one in four thought it was a good idea for presidential candidates to hold large political events or rallies right now.

This contradiction has become a central target for former vice president Joe Biden's presidential campaign, which has been drawing on Democratic polling and focus groups that find enormous new vulnerabilities for Mr Trump that have contributed to his recent slide in the polls.

"Mr President, this is not about you," Mr Biden said in a summary of his message. "It's about the health and well-being of the American public."

A gut political player, Mr Trump has for years dismissed criticism of his narcissistic style and proved his naysayers wrong when they predicted it would lead to his downfall.

He boasted his way to the top of the Republican nomination fight in 2015 and won the White House with a great-man theory of governance summed up with his convention declaration: "I alone can fix it."

Since then, he has repeatedly declared himself the best, most knowledgeable and most righteous as president. "Nobody's ever done a better job than I'm doing as president," he said in 2018.

But he has struggled this year, as a pandemic and economic shutdown took hold, to wield that self-regard against national fears about crises that have affected nearly every American in painful ways.

In the last two weeks, Mr Trump has pushed for largely maskless mass gatherings in Arizona and Oklahoma, two states seeing spikes in coronavirus cases. He also pushed for the relocation of his nominating convention to Florida, another state battling an outbreak, to increase the odds he is greeted by roaring crowds in late August.

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee who did not vote for Mr Trump, said voters took note when Secret Service agents and campaign officials had to self-quarantine after the rally Mr Trump staged in Tulsa last month over the objections of public health experts. Two agents and at least six campaign staffers tested positive for the virus.

"The challenge for Trump is that all of the risks being taken are done solely for his own benefit," Mr Heye said. "That is, without question, going to cause some voters who would otherwise approve of things that his administration does to turn away from him."

Democratic pollster Jefrey Pollock conducted focus groups on Mr Trump in 2016 that found many Americans who disliked both presidential candidates were still attracted to Mr Trump's self-important declarations, because they felt economically secure enough to take a chance.

That same category of voters - those with a favourable view of neither candidate - now favours Mr Biden over Mr Trump by 55pc to 21pc.

"Three years later, it is the voters who need attention," Mr Pollock said of Mr Trump. "Voters are looking at an individual who has a sense of entitlement, when they need more attention to their own needs."

© Washington Post