The Trump Rallying Cry That’s Also a Math Problem

The Trump Rallying Cry That’s Also a Math Problem


Donald Trump and his supporters can’t quite seem to agree: Should he be labeled the 45th president, the 47th president or both?

As he takes the stage at rallies, he is sometimes introduced with both titles, making it almost sound as if he were two different people.

Last Friday, he was treated to a birthday celebration in West Palm Beach, Fla., by a group of supporters called Club 47 USA — which used to be called Club 45 USA, but changed its name. The group’s website, however, is still club45usa.com.

And the day before, Republican senators regaled him with a birthday cake containing two sets of numbered candles — a 45 and a 47. (According to a video posted on social media by one of his campaign accounts, only the 45 appeared to be lit when Trump received the cake.)

Trump was, of course, the country’s 45th president, and now might become its 47th — a number he has plastered all over his campaign’s infrastructure, including the name of his joint fund-raising committee, a URL for his fund-raising website and his grass-roots organizing program.

There may well be a strategy at play here. Trump has not been elected the 47th president, and his embrace of the figure came well before it was even clear that he would be his party’s nominee — making it an attempt to burnish the air of inevitability he often tries to project.

His references to 45 could be an antidote to the voter “amnesia” about his presidency. But the tussle between both can get confusing — and it serves as a quiet reminder that, no matter what he says about the 2020 election, someone else is No. 46.

Trump is not the first president to try to serve nonconsecutive terms. That distinction goes to Grover Cleveland, the nation’s 22nd and 24th leader. But I could not find evidence that Cleveland slapped those numbers on his campaign buttons and pamphlets the way Trump has on his oversize hats and stickers.

Trump seems to be officially embracing the “47.” Visitors to his campaign website can click a button to donate $47. And he mentions the number frequently on the trail.

“As soon as I lift my hand from the Bible as your 47th president, I will seal the border, shut down the invasion of millions and millions of people coming into our country, and we will start an energy revolution,” he declared this year in New Hampshire.

Trump’s effort to claim the number 47 before he has won it has darker undertones, coming from a former president who tried to overturn the last election and won’t commit to accepting this year’s results. Many of his Republican allies continue to refer to him as “the president” — a choice that could either be seen as routine usage of the highest title he has held or as a reflection that much of the party rejects President Biden’s legitimacy.

But he can’t quite let the 45 go, either. Last summer, my colleagues reported, when Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa was trying to persuade all of the Republican presidential candidates to sign a football helmet she wanted to use to sell tickets to one of her annual political events, Trump returned it with his name plus the numbers “45” and “47.”

And as he campaigned in arenas during the primaries, his team often set the scoreboard to 45 and 47, my colleague Michael Gold told me — as if to signal that both the primary and the general election were already over.

This numerical tussle has also made its way to Trump’s merchandise. The Trump Store still stocks a “45” collection, offering blankets, pickleball paddles or flags emblazoned with the number 45.

At his campaign website, however, one can buy polo shirts, hats and stickers that say 45-47 — with the two numbers separated by a small hyphen that also reads as a minus sign. It almost seems like a simple math problem: 45-47 = -2.

There appears to be some disagreement, at least among merchandise providers, about the house style for capturing this unusual campaign twist.

Last week, at Trump’s rally in Las Vegas, I noticed that some of his supporters wore MAGA hats that said 45/47 on the side. That looked like a fraction (45/47, for anybody counting, equals .9574).

Others had the hats that said 45-47 on the side — and Antwon Williams, 42, was selling them, so I asked why he had chosen to use a hyphen rather than a slash in his designs.

To Williams, a private seller of Trump merchandise who has no connection with the campaign, the hyphen was sending a particular message. It means Trump is presidents 45 through 47, he explained.

“I believe he never stopped being our president,” Williams said. It was an intentional effort, he said, to erase the 46th president, Joe Biden.

A slash, he said, would mean Trump is 45 or 47. A period, he said, would indicate some kind of pause in his presidency. And a comma? “Never,” he said.

The symbolism was lost on at least one of his customers, David Ramirez, who had picked up a couple of red hats with 45-47 on the side.

“He’s the 45th president, and will be the 47th president,” Ramirez said when asked to explain its meaning.

“He’s not the 46th president,” Ramirez added. “Joe Biden is.”

Kevin McCarthy is on a revenge tour.

In a Republican primary for the House in Virginia, Representative Bob Good, the chairman of the ultraright House Freedom Caucus, is fighting for his political life in tomorrow’s race against State Senator John McGuire, an election denier and retired Navy SEAL who has Trump’s seal of approval. The contest is the second in a pair of high-profile primaries driven not by issues, but by an attempt from McCarthy, the former House speaker, to seek retribution against the lawmakers who voted him out of his post last year.

My colleague Annie Karni, who covers Congress, explained to me that what seems like a big drama is almost more of a “Seinfeld”-esque sitcom — a primary about nothing. Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.

It seems like there is a lot of bad blood in Washington right now. What’s a revenge primary? And who’s got one?

Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen two high-profile Republican primaries that were not about any issues. Last week, Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina beat back a challenge from a Republican backed by McCarthy-aligned outside groups, who spent millions trying to punish Mace for voting to oust him last year.

But Good has made even more enemies. He voted against McCarthy, who is now hellbent on revenge. He also angered Trump by endorsing one of his opponents, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, in the presidential primary race.

So the Good primary is, essentially, a campaign about nothing. He and McGuire are both very far to the right and don’t have any major or even minor policy disagreements, as far as I can tell. It’s a reminder of how the MAGA movement is based as much on allegiances and personal feuds as much as it is on ideology. And when Congress is not actually doing that much, it can start to feel as if personal feuds are central to the job.

Mace won easily. Good, though, appears to be in real trouble. Why do their fates seem to be diverging?

One word: Trump. Mace, a onetime Trump critic who now says she’s “all in” on him, landed his endorsement in March. Good never drew his support — even though he’s plastered Trump’s name on his lawn signs in an attempt to make it seem as if he did. If Bob Good had not endorsed DeSantis, he would most likely continue to be the chair of the House Freedom Caucus. He made a bad bet early, and it’s probably going to cost him his seat.

OK. McCarthy played a role here in recruiting primary opponents, but the force that really matters is Trump. How are voters making sense of all this?

During my reporting in Virginia, I watched a voter ask a McGuire volunteer why Good and McGuire were fighting each other. The volunteer couldn’t explain all the back and forth, so she just said that McGuire was a retired Navy SEAL with a Trump endorsement, and the voter said that was all she needed to know. She went from knowing seemingly nothing about the race to grabbing a McGuire sign and waving it to support him as he arrived at the rally.

You get to this place where voters are really just confused, because it’s not about anything that has actually has to do with them. They’re being asked to weigh in on something that actually is about the egos of very powerful people and not much else.

Where do you think this is going to take us, after the primaries and into the fall, if the main lesson is, “Cross Trump at your peril”?

On the Republican side of the aisle, the people who don’t want to become Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Greene are more often resigning and retiring, and more and more of the politicians in the mold of Trump are coming in. We’ll have more of the old-school Republicans gone, less middle ground.

You see in the Senate — every younger Republican senator is an isolationist, like J.D. Vance. All the younger ones are MAGA. You’re just seeing it take over and the people who aren’t like that and don’t want to bend to that faction of the party don’t want to be there anymore.

INTO THE REPLIES

The first presidential debate of the general election is set for next Thursday, Jun. 27 — a summertime showdown with rare potential to shake up the race for the White House.

I’d like to know how you’re feeling about it. Are you excited? Are you dreading it? Are you planning to tune in at all?

And — crucially — what would you ask the candidates, if you could?

Let me know, using this form, and I may use your answer in an upcoming newsletter.



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