Trump Campaign Turns To Online Daily Shows Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON - Evangelicals For Trump. Women For Trump Empower Hour. War Room Weekly. Once a day, seven days a week, the Trump re-election campaign now streams shows online amid a massive shift to digital campaigning.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has forced electoral campaigns online, the Trump campaign has adapted in a big way - livestreaming talk shows that sell the President's stewardship of the country, bash his rivals, and keep his supporters fired up for the November election, now six months away.

Although Mr Trump himself has not made an appearance so far, many of these online events have each attracted more than a million views between YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms, said his campaign.

The shows are much more personal than the President's rock concert-esque rallies that fill huge stadiums.

They feature a semi-regular cast of characters from his orbit, including his children and their partners, as well as his campaign advisers, discussing theories which typically get short shrift in the liberal media, and using shorthand that Trump supporters are familiar with.

On April 24, the President's eldest son Donald Trump Jr hosted a show named Triggered, which is the title of his latest book and a term used by some conservatives to mock liberals who take offence at social and political issues, such as racism and sexism.

"We figured since everyone's been locked up in their house for a few weeks now, we're going to have a little bit more fun.

"We've been doing a lot of town halls getting in front of everyone, but I said we gotta do something a little bit different. Let's infuse some personality, some levity back into the news of the day," said Mr Trump Jr at home on a couch next to his girlfriend and former Fox News presenter Kimberly Guilfoyle.

Joined by Trump campaign political director Chris Carr and campaign manager David Bossie via video, the couple went on to discuss a Fox News story that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had contemplated assassinating former President Barack Obama so that Vice-President Joe Biden could be president.

"Osama bin Laden essentially endorsed Joe Biden because he believed it would destroy America," said Mr Trump Jr, in the first of many attacks against his father's chief rival for the presidency.

"And endorsed Joe Biden before Barack Obama did. Fact," added Ms Guilfoyle, who left after the show's first segment to cook dinner for Mr Trump Jr, explaining that it was the second-year anniversary of their first date.

Other programmes are tailored to more specific audiences: Catholics, evangelical Christians, African-Americans, Latinos, mothers and veterans all have their own shows.

A Thursday night episode of Faith In America - Black Voices For Trump featured African-American pastors and Christian singers discussing their approval of how Mr Trump was tackling the coronavirus crisis, which was disproportionately affecting the Black community.

Latinos For Trump Online, hosted by Ms Guilfoyle whose mother is Puerto Rican, had community leaders opine on why Mr Biden was the wrong choice for Latino voters, and how Mr Trump was the champion of the Hispanic community's conservative and pro-business values.

With door-to-door campaigning now off the table, Team Trump is also leaning more on phoning voters and fund raising online in the absence of the glitzier fund-raising events typical in the lead-up to the election.

The online shows feature links and discount codes to buy campaign merchandise, from US$25 (S$35) Trump-Pence 2020 playing cards to a US$35 "freedom hat" - a cap featuring an eagle emblazoned over the American flag.

Since March 13, the Trump campaign has signed up 76,000 new volunteers, making over 13 million volunteer calls to voters, ABC News reported in mid-April.

Trump volunteers made five million phone calls last week alone, said Mr Carr on Twitter on Tuesday.

"We didn't make that many calls in 2018, until the week before Election Day."

Mr Biden, who ran his first campaign for office half a century ago, has been slower to adapt to digital campaigning, wrote Mr Obama's senior campaign strategist David Axelrod and his campaign manager David Plouffe in the New York Times on Monday (May 4).

Mr Biden is experimenting with livestreaming town halls from a studio in his basement. He has also charged US$2,800 for supporters to join him in a "virtual fireside chat" in mid-April.

"Team Trump knows where and how voters get their information and tests a tremendous amount of content to find the winning material their targets will consume and share," they said, pointing to an analysis by the Axios news site, which found that Mr Trump's massive digital following dwarfed Mr Biden's by a factor of 15 to one.

Mr Biden will need to embrace an array of digital media, as well as lean on the popularity of his allies - from Mr Obama to Mrs Hillary Clinton and his former rival Elizabeth Warren - to boost his reach on social media, given that candidate travel and voter contact are severely limited now.

"Online speeches from his basement won't cut it," they wrote. "Biden In The Basement is not a strong enough show to hold the audience."

But even for Mr Trump, nothing beats in-person rallies in terms of data collection and sheer levels of crowd energy.

The Republican National Convention, which 50,000 people are expected to attend, is still scheduled to go ahead in the last week of August.

Republican officials announced this week that they had hired a public health expert to advise them on how to safely host the event in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mr Trump himself has been vocal about his hopes that his mega rallies will return.

He told the New York Post on Tuesday: "I think that would be a big - a big disadvantage to me if we didn't, if we couldn't have the rallies back. People are wanting the rallies. They want to have them so badly."