Virus nixes Trump's stadium rallies, so campaign draws virtual crowds through digital TV

Pioneering 'virtual campaign' rallies on Facebook and Twitter have attracted more than a million viewers apiece, campaign says.

Updated: April 1, 2020 - 11:34pm

President Trump is known for his signature, raucous, stadium-sized rallies drawing thousands of in-person supporters to stadiums nationwide. Supporters often stand in line for hours to pack in closely together to clap, cheer, and, presumably, share a few germs. 

But with tight federal guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic recommending that gatherings be capped at just 10 people and state orders to shelter in place, those rallies are a thing of the past. Through at least April 30 and the end of “social distancing” to stop the spread of the coronavirus, campaigning is going virtual to keep voters and campaign staff healthy. 

Against the backdrop of a country fighting a global pandemic, the Trump campaign is embracing its unorthodox, David-vs.-Goliath mentality that catapulted an unexpected GOP political newcomer into the White House. The campaign is in some ways building its own startup, digital television network, a coronavirus-inspired version of “Trump TV,” that could rival any of the conservative digital television networks, from OANN and Newsmax to The Blaze and Fox Nation. 

Americans are camped out inside their homes, and they're turning on their televisions, with Fox News seeing Q1 2020 as its most-watched quarter in its history, and the New York Times reporting that the president’s daily Coronavirus Task Force briefings are drawing roughly 8.5 million viewers on cable news each night (to the angst of some members of the mainstream media who want to nix carrying the briefings live and in full).

Those at-home coronavirus campers are also turning to their social media, with the Trump campaign reporting that more than one million viewers participated in each of the campaign’s first two online broadcasts, for coalitions of “Women for Trump Online” and “Latinos for Trump Online.” The broadcasts airing on Facebook and Twitter have featured top surrogates like Lara Trump, senior advisor to the Trump campaign and daughter-in-law of the president, Trump campaign political director Chris Carr, and strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp. 

“There’s no playbook for political campaigning in the age of coronavirus,” Lara Trump wrote in a Fox News op-ed Wednesday. “Now that in-person campaigning is off the table, we’ve had to adapt to an almost exclusively digital approach to presidential politicking. Fortunately, the Trump campaign has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to online outreach, allowing us to rapidly implement an exciting new strategy for this unique moment in history.”

On Friday, the campaign is holding an online event with national press secretary Kayleigh McEnany hosting a yet-to-be announced guest; McEnany is also hosting “American Heroes Online” on Saturday night. The campaign’s “War Room Weekly,” on Sunday nights starts this weekend, “Hosted by senior members of Team Trump to get out the facts.”

“I’m excited to help pioneer ‘virtual campaigning’ over the coming weeks,” Lara Trump wrote, and “with luck, it will even become a permanent feature of our efforts to connect with voters.”


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