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March 31, 2020, 8:35 a.m. EDT

Trump’s daily televised coronavirus briefings are campaign events, replacing his raucous rallies

The Rose Garden strategy seems to be working for the president — for now

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By Joshua Spivak

Getty Images
President Donald Trump appears to be a powerful leader when he conducts the daily briefing on the coronavirus. Medical experts are props in Trump’s campaign for re-election.

No one imagined that Donald Trump would run a traditional re-election campaign, and with his ultra-combative attitude towards the press, a willingness to contradict experts directly on the stage next to him, and a rosy outlook to the possibility of the end of the coronavirus, it certainly doesn’t look like he’s doing that. Trump’s daily press briefing has been viewed as a new version of his raucous campaign rallies.

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But that may not be the right way to look at them. In fact, at the moment, Trump is modifying that most traditional of strategies — the Rose Garden campaign. And so far, it has been paying off for him.

The Rose Garden strategy

The Rose Garden strategy has long been used as the go-to campaign for any president looking to run for re-election. Presidential candidates did not actively campaign for office until the early 20th Century. Before that, with the notable exceptions of Stephen Douglas in 1860 and William Jennings Bryan in 1896, candidates either had surrogates argue for them or simply stayed at home and had the supporters brought to them under the “front porch” strategy.

Breaking news : Follow the latest on the coronavirus.

Following the 1912 race, which included the first primary battle between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, most candidates decided to take an active role in their campaigns race.

Since the dawn of the mass media age, sitting presidents have also taken advantage of their role as leader of the country. The president drapes himself with the trappings of the office, taking control of the media narrative by signing laws, jetting off in Air Force One, appointing officials and meeting foreign leaders, while holding press conferences, frequently in the Rose Garden itself.

This allows the president to stand above the campaign and, rather than descend into fighting an insurgent challenger, show that he is the leader of the country and deserving of re-election for his success. It is frequently a good strategy — unlike in the 19th Century, most 20th Century and 21st Century presidents sought and won re-election.

Trump’s pivot

Before the virus, it was not clear that Trump would ever really use this type of strategy. While he has had Rose Garden events, and while he does love pomp and circumstances, they have not been the focal point of his presidency, nor have they seemed to be a major point in his presidential campaign.

Breaking news: Follow the latest developments in Election 2020

The campaign seemed to be a mix of touting one fact — the then-roaring economy — and base turnout in the swing states. With the economy now underwater, and with the rallies off limits for the moment, it may not be a surprise that Trump has looked to a tried-and-true method of re-election success.

What he has now done is use the daily briefing as the equivalent to Rose Garden ceremonies.

The first briefings did not involve the president. They were headed by Vice President Mike Pence. But Trump soon took over the briefing and has served as the public face of the effort, with the ability to spend up to two hours in front of cameras.

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